The history of popular music in Paris is vibrant, and centers around its storied performance venues. By the end of the 19th century, contemporary music was enjoyed in a variety of spaces across the city. There were café chantants — cultural melting pots where patrons from varying walks of life met for libations and lightheartedly risqué entertainment provided by small groups of singers and musicians. Some, such as the Brasserie de Reichshoffen, have been immortalized by the artist clientele they attracted — like modernist painter Édouard Manet, who created an entire series based on his favorite haunts.
Then there were the café chantants’ occasionally underground, sometimes debaucherous, typically theatrical, and often politicized cousins, the infamous cabarets — such as the fabled Le Chat Noir and the iconic Moulin Rouge. Further adding to the city’s musical landscape were a dozen or so larger, more elaborate music halls — which made their way to France by way of Britain in the late 1860s — such as the Folies Bergère and the Moulin Rouge’s sister venue, L’Olympia, established by the same co-founders a year prior. These cabarets and music halls sparked the careers of many revolutionary women such as Mistinguett — reportedly one of the highest-paid female performers of her time, who insured her legs for 500,000 francs in 1919 — as well as the Jazz Age icon, African-American expatriate Josephine Baker, who rose to fame in Paris after renouncing her U.S. citizenship.
Graced by globally-celebrated artists for historic performances throughout the ages, from Miles Davis to The Beatles, many of these stages continue to operate today. In fact, multilingual singer, songwriter, composer, and producer Keren Ann — the first featured artist on our Paris playlist — recently performed at L’Olympia.
Born in Israel and raised in the Netherlands then France, the true global citizen has also lived in the U.S. — but calls Paris home. Her songs have been performed or covered with and by artists including David Byrne, Iggy Pop, Luz Casal, Rosa Passos, Anna Calvi, Jane Birkin, Henri Salvador, and Françoise Hardy. She also writes music for film, such as the Franck Ribière Netflix movie La femme la plus assassinée du monde (The Most Assassinated Women in the World), as well as theater and dance productions. Sung entirely in French, her eighth solo studio album Bleue was released in March, last year.
As reported in a recent DJ Booth feature, France is the second biggest market for hip-hop — with local rappers consistently topping the singles charts and commercial hip-hop albums being released "at a rate of one per less than every 48 hours." "If you look at most streaming platforms’ top 50 songs in the country, you’ll likely find that about the first 30 or so artists are by French-speaking rappers," Downtown's Senior Creative Manager in France, Laura Bedikian, told Music Business Worldwide. Parisian emcee Luidji is one such rapper and singer, with a rich body of work that transcends musical styles. The globally recognized artist recently collaborated with Canadian super producer WondaGurl — who has worked with a who’s who of hip-hop, including Jay-Z, Drake, and Travis Scott — for a Red Bull Music-sponsored EP titled Toronto / Paris, performing the project alongside its other featured lyricists at famed Parisian venue La Machine du Moulin Rouge last September. Luidji also has a sold-out date at the historic La Cigale concert hall coming up in March. With an ear for melody, relative newcomer Green Montana is another French-speaking rapper and singer from Belgium that has been quickly gaining notoriety in France as well.
Up next on our Paris playlist, we have Fakear — an electronic producer and artist who has toured the world with acts like ODESZA and Bonobo. Hailing from Normandy, he has established a fervent French fanbase and even sold out the aforementioned music hall L’Olympia in 2015. Fakear has also worked with other globally-minded artists such as M.I.A.
French producers David Spinelli, Ouai Stéphane, as well as Allo Floride’s Douran and Vimala, are all electronic-based artists too. Spinelli is a frequent collaborator of French DJ and producer Boston Bun of the highly-regarded Ed Banger Records crew. Downtown also represents his back catalog, including two albums by the French band Griefjoy. A favorite on the European festival circuit, Stéphane is known for his dynamic live show that incorporates self-made instruments and controllers crafted from everyday objects like clocks and drying racks.
Next up, we've got producer, instrumentalist, and DJ Neue Grafik — who effortlessly fuses jazz, funk, house, and hip-hop into a style all his own. He also records and tours with his band, the Neue Grafik Ensemble, which released their debut album Foulden Road in September.
Finally, the multi-talented composer and producer Victor le Masne, co-founder of Housse de Racket, is featured as well. As a touring musician, he has also played over 300 concerts worldwide and worked with acts like AIR, Metronomy, Paradis, The Rapture, and Chilly Gonzales.
In addition to our Paris playlist, listen to our previous Postcards from London and New York. Stay tuned for future installments, highlighting Downtown talent from each of the cities we call home — including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Sydney, Nashville, Los Angeles, and beyond.
Downtown Postcards is a content series launched as part of our Songwriters Across Borders initiative to foster global collaboration between Downtown songwriters, artists, and producers from around the world and highlight their work.