A Tour Through Montreal's Record District

posted by Safa Jinje on April 13, 2012

Montréal, the famed French metropolis in the province of Québec, has a rich musical tradition that has earned the city the esteemed distinction of being Canada's Culture Capital. Many great musicians and live acts have originated from the city, including Leonard Cohen, Arcade Fire, A-Trak, and Chromeo. Thus, it is no shocker that the city houses an abundance of diverse record shops that could please even the most discriminate of music tastes.

Two weeks ago, in anticipation of Record Store Day (or perhaps it was just another excuse to immerse myself in Montréal's sensational boutique culture) I went on a vinyl voyage through the popular Plateau district, searching for a few new records to add to my humble yet budding music collection.

364-B rue Sherbrooke Est
Montréal, QC H2X 1E6
+1 (514) 843-8484

My first stop was Atom Heart, an unpretentious shop located at the corner of Sherbrooke E. and Saint-Denis, which houses a phenomenal selection of new music, and has specialized in selling independent rock and electronic records since 1999. In this time, Atom Heart has consistently offered audiophiles a sundry selection of sub-genres that includes folk, ambient, techno, hyper dub, grime, and UK funky, all with a noble agenda of exposing locals to great global independent record labels.

Atom Heart was born out of the frustration of two music lovers, with what they believed was too limited a selection of records at many corporate run music stores. I spoke with Olivier, a shop clerk better known to some as Bowly, a local garage and UK funky producer who opened MUTEK in 2011 with a massive techno party at Berri-UQAM, Montréal's busiest metro station. He told me the best thing about Atom Heart is that the store only sells new vinyl, which has made them one of the last DJ record shops in Montréal: "A lot of young DJs are coming in and buying vinyl," but ironically, he continues "the older DJs seem to prefer digital music."

I leafed through nearly all of the brand-spanking-new vinyl before leaving with Actress "Meets Shangaan Electro" (2012), a 12" record released by British label Honest Jon's for 14 Canadian Dollars (CAD).

3770 St-Denis
Montréal, QC H2W 2M1
+1 (514) 842-0664

My next stop, just a five minute walk up St-Denis, was Beatnick: a new and used record shop that specializes in collectable vinyl. As I walked down the steps of the basement store-front I was immediately hit by a dank musk, an aroma exclusive to the most enduring vintage shops. And the cavernous lair-like-layout, cleaving out the shop by genre, only fortified the timeworn feeling of the place. Crates upon crates of records are stacked both high and tight, and loose and low. The rarest record in the store during my visit was a Beatles album valued at 300 CAD; however, Beatnick has sold records priced as high as 1200 CAD in the past.

What makes Beatnick so unique is that Nick, the owner, buys entire vinyl collections directly from collectors, making the store an eclectic display of musical tastes. I noticed a newly acquired jazz collection on display near the cash register. But what impressed me most was the extensive Francophone collection, featuring classic albums from Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf, as well as many local gems. After what felt like a century of digging, I left with lightly-used copy of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" (1977) for a very reasonable 7 CAD.

4333 Rivard
Montreal, QCH2J 2M7
+1 (514) 499-1323

My final stop was to the venerable L'Oblique, located on rue Rivard behind Mont Royal metro Station. I walked into the airy shop about two minutes to closing, but the shop clerk didn't mind, as he cracked open an end of day beer with a friend and told me about the shop's nearly twenty-five year history. L'Oblique is Montréal's foremost destination for indie and rock records. Self-dubbed as the "anti-HMV," the shop strives to not only sell great albums, but to offer audiophiles a great selection of local talent. Their biggest selling albums are in fact from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a Canadian post-rock band that originated in Montréal.

When I asked about how the store was planning on celebrating its twenty-five year anniversary this summer, the clerk said they couldn't look that far in the future when the store's most important day was only a few weeks away: Record Store Day. He didn't divulge too much of what L'Oblique has in store for April 21, only that there would be lots of special release vinyl and some live acts performing in the shop.

So in the spirit of supporting local artists, I bought a special edition of The Unicorns' "Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?" (2003) in a seasonable pastel-pink colored vinyl for 19.99 CAD.

With my new purchases in tow I returned to Toronto that evening with anxious ears and a satiated appetite for vinyl. So for all the music lovers out there, please support your favorite independent record store this month by buying a tangible piece of history that you can listen to and love as long the turn tables keep spinning...

Here is a run-down of other great record shops to check out on your next visit to Montréal, especially if you're making the trip for MUTEK or Osheaga:

207 rue Bernard Ouest
Montreal, QC H2T 2K5
+1 (514) 270-4442

This independent record shop is owned by local musician Nathan Gage of the indie rock band Shapes + Sizes. The store specializes in indie, jazz, experimental and blues.

Aux 33 Tours
1379 Avenue du Mont-Royal E
Montreal, QC H2J 1Y8
+1 (514) 524-7397

Since 2007, Aux 33 Tours has been specializing in selling Japanese Pressings, known for their "sonic superiority" as well as brand new audiophile and deluxe pressings.

Cheap Thrills
2044 rue Metcalfe 2nd floor
Montreal, QC H3A 1X8
+1 (514) 844-8988

This store is stocked with over 10,000 titles of new and used CD and vinyl records, specializing in jazz, avant-garde, and experimental records.

Sound Central
4486 rue Coloniale
Montreal, QC H2W 2C7
+1 (514) 393-4495

As one of the largest independent underground record stores in Montreal, this shop is your best bet to finding obscure and rare titles you can't find elsewhere.

Happy Hunting!