The 18th arrondissement so beloved of tourists has been transformed by indie record labels and musicians
Quentin Lepoutre takes a seat outside at seafood brasserie La Mascotte. As the mustachioed producer, otherwise known as Myd, looks up, he notices he isn’t dining alone. On his right is triple-platinum-selling French singer-songwriter Renaud – and on his left is Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of electronic music duo Daft Punk, eating oysters.
“On this terrace there are maybe four tables, and there were three generations of musicians,” Myd laughs. “Classic 18th life.”
They say that in Paris you’re never more than a few metres away from a boulangerie. Now, the same might be said of record labels, electronic musicians and radio stations in the city’s 18th arrondissement. These two square miles on the city’s northern fringes, once inhabited by Picasso, Van Gogh, Dalí and Modigliani, may be known for the tourists making a beeline for the Basilica Sacré Coeur. But away from the crowds, caricature artists and multilingual restaurant menus lies a scene of dance and electronic musicians collaborating on one another’s tracks, bumping into one another in bistros and crashing on one another’s floors.
While club culture in Britain struggles – a UK nightclub shuts every two days, according to the Night Time Industries Association – in excess of 200 independent music businesses have settled in the 18th arrondissement since 2002. The change is such that Rue André Messager is now fondly known to some as Rue de la Musique.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2023/07/archive-zip/giv-13425dIaggsRZ3w0Z/
Things haven’t always been so rosy at the bottom of La Butte Montmartre. Marc Teissier du Cros, manager of the band Air and Record Makers label co-founder, remembers a time when “the neighbourhood was dead”, deserted by tradespeople at the turn of the millennium.
“It was just people walking through to get home or from one point to another,” says Du Cros, who moved his offices to Rue André Messager after being priced out of trendy Marais in the 4th arrondissement in 2004. “Nobody was hanging out. In my area I would say it was almost a ghetto.” Only Eric Morand and his label F Com had “dared” to move to the district at that time. F Com took up residence in a former butcher shop; Record Makers settled in a dilapidated old bakery where famous 1960s chanteur Joe Dassin used to pop in for his croissants.
The organisation Marché Indépendant des Labels du Dix-huitième, or Mila, which describes itself as an “incubator of musical projects”, has played no small part in this transformation, working with amenable local officials to let abandoned stores for a low rent. The area was in a state of disrepair in the early 00s when Mila was formed, according to co-founder Enrico Della Rosa, with “shops abandoned and often squatted by dealers”. From vacant butchers, bakeries and barbers shops emerged new independent record labels, management offices and studios. And it’s not only cheap digs on offer. “The proximity means it’s easy for companies to meet and collaborate,” says Della Rosa.