Reggaetown: a taste of Paris
It’s important to move slowly around vinyl specialists in Paris. It’s not that people are nervous there, but space is at a premium in Paris and there’s a lot of vinyl around. IRIE UP recently spent a few days in the French capital, knocking over stacks of vinyl in shops, basements and apartments all over the city.
In continental Europe, France has probably the biggest reggae scene, with new roots labels emerging regularly, and a big market for roots reggae music in general, especially favouring singing styles. There is new reggae music being produced all over France, but Paris remains the nerve centre.
While most of the reggae record shops in Paris have closed in the last years, there are still plenty of spots to check for reggae vibes in Paris, and plenty of rare vinyls, especially in the roots selections. For visitors to Paris, one place to start is Patate Records on Rue du Charonne in the Bastille district, where there’s a constant flow of selecters, producers and collectors, exchanging news and stories. It’s also a good place to pick up flyers and tips for live shows and sessions.
The original Patate Record shop opened in 1993 in the Belleville area of Paris as a funk and reggae shop and then developed its focus on reggae, and began releasing music on its own Belleville label. In 1996, Pierre Patate asked Emmanuel ‘Manu’ Jassely to put together a compilation of international ska ‘Let’s Skank!’, which became the first release on Belleville.
“Actually, the label started with CDs,” says Pierre, a cheerful character, reclining on a seat in the basement of the shop, surrounded by records. There’s a photo above his desk – it looks like a picture of Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio. Written above the picture: ‘Don’t tell me my office is badly organised.’
“So some of our first releases were from Jim Murple Memorial, who are a leading French ska band, they play one hundred times a year and everytime a big crowd. We released French and international music, ska and rocksteady. We also did some compilations of late 60s and 70s artists. There are several branches of the label, which is run by me and Manu. Manu knows all the French and international ska and rocksteady bands. We produce some ska revival as well. We have Belleville Hill, Belleville International, King Patate, which is me, voila!”
As we talk, there’s some sweet rocksteady playing in the background. “I started out in a rocksteady band,” says Pierre. “I like singers. Freddy McKay, his Studio One album ‘Picture on my Wall’ stayed on my turntable for about one full year. Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson. Delroy Wilson could do everything.”
Patate Records, along with Dubwize Records on Rue Hermel, is one of the survivors from the thriving vinyl shop scene around the turn of the millenium, when Patate moved to its current location.
“I keep it simple,” says Pierre. “If you come back next year, I’ll have the same t-shirt.” He looks at his feet. “Probably the same shoes too.”
“I’m one of the last shops in France, there are six or seven still. The internet changed things and I guess most shops were not ready. Ten years ago people were queueing in the street for vinyls. The thing is, now everything is free on the web. Why would you pay? Especially in this period of crisis – and I don’t think it’s going to get any better soon – because you can spend a week on the web and get more tunes than you want.”
“At first I was not really into the internet! But I had to be ready. Now we have most of the information on myspace and the website. The internet is complementary to the shop and the website is slowly starting to sell more than the shop.We send a mailing list almost every week, so now our customers check the mailing list and they know what they want before they come to the shop, because there is a lot more information on the website. But at the shop there are lots of things hiding!” He smiles and promises: “I will impress everyone who comes into my shop!”
“We have ska and rocksteady and all kinds of reggae. I have some dancehall but I’m specialised in new roots, revive from the 80s – it used to be revive from the 70s but now it’s from the 80s. When you stick to one kind of reggae there is no point to have a shop. I survived because most of the others stuck to one style. Now you cannot survive with one style. If you want dancehall, you don’t need records. Nobody buys dancehall records any more. Jamaica is over now. They don’t really press.”
Patate has lots of new material waiting for release. “Yes, plenty, here are the masters,” says Pierre, holding up a big Ziploc bag full of CDs. We have 100 more seven inches for release. The shop supports the label, otherwise I wouldn’t have the money to release all these.”
I’ve already knocked over a few piles of vinyls and I can’t see where there is space for any extra records. “I know,” he says, ruefully. “Please tell someone to come and buy all my stock so I can go and take a holiday.”
Martin Weiss, is the former owner of the Deep Roots record shop on Rue Lucien Sampaix, near Place de la Republique in Paris, which closed last summer. He continues to work as a producer and distributor from his office in north Paris. His speciality is roots music on vinyl.
When we visit, he’s listening to tunes in a soundsystem style, running a deck through a pre-amp. There’s a siren on the desk too – it gives the feeling of what the tune will sound like in a dance. “I used to select in the past,” he says, “and I plan to do it again.” For the moment, he is concentrating on the distribution business, selling vinyl worldwide through the web. The office is stocked with vintage, revive and modern roots releases.
“You have to sell worldwide now to survive,” he says. “Probably in the end though, the UK is still my top market. At the moment, everyone is crying. The people who made big money still make money, but not as much as usual. The people who made small money are making nothing now. Everyone is crying.”
“Yes, I produce also,” he says. “You want to hear my next tune?” He puts on a tune called ‘Keep Jah Love’, by Colonel Maxwell, and follows it with a version from Maxwell’s son, singing in a White Mice style. Ones to watch for. firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in central Paris, Eric Black runs Black Catalogue out of an office on Rue Saint Sabin, close to La Bastille metro station.
Contact information is on the website: www.black-catalog.com
Once again in Paris, many people trace their reggae influences to the UK scene of the 1990s, and the late 1990s gave birth to Heartical and Soul Stereo, two of the best known reggae crews in the city. From 1995, the Dub Action crew began organizing parties with UK producers, bringing Rootsman, Disciples and Manasseh, and running the House of Dub from 1998 to 2000. From this experience, the Hammerbass label was launched, releasing music mostly from UK artists. The label continues to be active www.hammerbass.fr.
North of Paris, in Rouen, Normandy, the Blackboard Jungle crew built up the soundsystem that would become the resident sound at the first Paris Dub Club, and more recently, the Paris Dub Station has become the main soundsystem event, running at the Trabendo, and featuring three sounds at each session.
On Saturday evening, IRIE UP heads to the Glazart club in north Paris to see Revelation Hi-Fi in session with Idren Natural and Young Warrior. Revelation are one of the few Paris crews with their own sound. “We are a crew of three, we grew up together as youths,” says Revelation selecter Greg. “About five years ago, we started to play on our own soundsystem.”
In the yard at Glazart, we talk to some of the patrons about the Paris scene. There’s a free listing magazine showing 14 different reggae events in Paris that night, so the scene looks very lively, but many people say that the atmosphere is tougher than in previous years, repressive even. “People are afraid here,” says one patron. “It’s like a police state in France now. Too much police controls, too much laws.”
“Fucking Sarkozy,” someone says. It’s a phrase we hear over and over in Paris.
Back in the session, the Revelation set has finished and Young Warrior, the son of Jah Shaka, is carrying a bag of 70s dubplates along with some of his own productions. “You can see already that it will be hard to clash with him,” says Jacques Golub.
On Sunday morning, we visit Generations FM, a soul, reggae and hip-hop station based in the 20th Arrondissement in east Paris. We’ve been invited to the Sunday Culture show, which celebrates ten years on air this year. Selecter K-Za is playing the first tune as we arrive. The door of the studio is open, and in the lobby outside, there’s a crew drinking coffee and adding to the atmosphere with whistles and shouts when K-Za plays a hot tune, and he’s playing one hot tune after the next.
K-Za emerges from the studio for a moment to introduce himself with a big smile. He points skywards. “Sunday, sunshine, that’s the vibe!” More guests arrive: today the show is featuring French artist Dragon Davy, who does a confident live set in the second hour. When the show finishes, at two, we sit for a moment to talk with K-Za and co-host Prince Keman.
“Generations Radio is 15 years old,” says K-Za, “and I’ve been doing the Sunday Culture show for ten years. There was a lot of dancehall on the scene at that time and I wanted to make a show for new roots music. So we play lots of new roots and early digital, you know. Beres Hammond for example, is a favourite for Sunday Culture.”
K-Za has roots in the hip-hop scene, and started playing percussion in a band before being drawn into the reggae scene. “I started listening to reggae everyday, and I discovered reggae really when I visited London in the 1990s and went to some soundsystem shows.”
“I was invited to make a show on the radio and I agreed – if they would give me this time, from 12 to two on Sunday afternoon. We invite artists to visit the show, and many soundcrews from Paris ask to come and play, we welcome them as friends. You see, here’s the sofa, and the door is open! We feature lots of artists who aren’t so well known, we select with the focus on the music more than the artist.”
Prince Keman does the interviews with English-speaking artists for the show; he also selects for Rezident Sound and runs the VI Connection label, promoting music and artists from the Virgin Islands. Sunday Culture has listeners worldwide – to listen live on Sundays, go to www.generationsfm.com and click on the 88.2FM link box.
After the radio show, IRIE UP is invited to join a picnic on the gardens at the Louvre on Sunday afternoon. It’s the warmest day of the year and we eat and drink in the sun. After an hour, a security guard arrives and stands over us, pointing at two bottles of beer on the blanket. “No alcohol is allowed after 4.00,” he says.
The people protest – they’ve been coming here for years for picnics, and drinking wine or beer. “It’s a new law,” says the guard. “It just came in.” Everyone speaks at the same time: