Few people get to know the cultural framework of a city as well as music journalists. Whether it’s tracking down far-flung venues, building networks of industry movers and shakers, interviewing artists about their lives and inspirations or navigating the mores and quirks of a local culture often hidden to the mainstream, good music journalists tell the stories of a city and in turn are granted intimate access.
Annabel Ross is one of them. Cutting her teeth as an entertainment writer at Fairfax in Melbourne, Ross is now based in Paris, France, where she covers news and events throughout Europe for the likes of Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vice and more. We spoke to her about some of her key tips for the music and culture fan thinking of heading overseas.
Record shopping at Hard Wax, Berlin, Germany
Along with visiting infamous power plant-cum-techno club Berghain, a trip to the Hard Wax record store ranks high on a music fan’s list of things to to in Berlin. Down a cobbled driveway in the trendy, immigrant-rich Kreuzberg district, the path to Hard Wax is not initially clear.
“There are no big signs or anything so it’s a bit of a mission to find,” says Ross. “But that’s half the fun.” Founded in 1989, Hard Wax specialises in techno, reggae, dub and dubstep. The records are all available online but Ross says it’s a wonder to see them meticulously organised in-store. “It’s also worth coming here in person because of the sheer history of the place,” she says.
Hard Wax began in the ’80s by approaching record labels in London, New York, Chicago, and especially Detroit, to stock their music, becoming one of the key players in the legendary techno alliance between Berlin and Detroit. Marcel Dettmann, DJ Hell and Electric Indigo are among the important producers to have worked in the store, and while the staff is known for a brusque style of customer service, “you might also be talking to the next big thing in techno,” says Ross.
See a show at L’Olympia, Paris, France
This iconic concert hall in Paris’s ninth arrondissement was co-founded by the team behind the Moulin Rouge in 1888. Greats including Edith Piaf, the Beatles, Jeff Buckley and Jacques Brel have performed there.
“There’s definitely something magical about the place,” says Ross of L’Olympia. “There’s that iconic neon red sign out front and a plush red interior. It’s a beautiful venue and the best place to see big names in Paris.”
Ross says her first time in the venue was to see Nicolas Jaar. Arriving late, she didn’t initially appreciate its grandeur. “We were late so we were right up the back,” she says. “But the floor is slanted upwards, so even from there you have a great view of the stage and feel much closer to it than you actually are. When you’d rather be standing or dancing than sitting down, the back of the orchestra section is perfect.”
Go to Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury, UK
“There are so many festivals happening in Europe, especially over summer,” says Ross. “It’s seriously overwhelming.” If she had to choose just one to buy tickets for, she’d stick with one of the biggest and still arguably the best – Glastonbury.
Attended by some 175,000 people, the huge five-day camping event has the most diverse line-up of just about any music festival and also includes dance, comedy, theatre and other arts. “For around £250 ($455AUD) a ticket it’s great value,” says Ross. “Headlining the Pyramid Stage is such a coup for an artist, so you’re seeing them perform at their very best and the vibe is always incredible, rain, hail or shine.”
Late at night an after-hours party area called Shangri La (formerly Lost Vagueness) is a whole other festival unto itself. “It’s a surreal wonderland,” says Ross. “There’s a boxing ring, you can get your hair and nails done in ’50s style, and they have an unofficial wedding chapel. Pete Doherty and Kate Moss supposedly got hitched there one year.”
Shop in awe at Musikhaus Thomann, Treppendorf, Germany
Whether you’re a musician or just a music lover, Ross says a trek to Treppendorf, Germany, 180 kilometres east of Frankfurt, to check out Europe’s biggest music store, Musikhaus Thomann is a must.
Every Saturday 2500 customers visit – a huge increase on the town’s usual population of 150. There’s a mind-boggling 65,000 items for sale in-store, from guitars, DJ equipment and sheet music, to lighting and stage equipment, much of which you can also buy online.
“If you’re a musician, this is your one-stop shop,” says Ross. “They have what’s called the “Great Wall of Guitars”, with dozens of models lining the wall. It’s a 5500-square-metre- store, you can spend the whole day there easily. I went for a look and berated myself for never learning an instrument. The staff are super friendly, too.”
Read classics at Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
You might have seen Paris’s most famous English bookstore, established in 1951, in films such as Before Sunset, Julie and Julia, and Midnight In Paris. “It’s one of those rare places that lives up to the hype,” says Ross of Shakespeare and Company. “It’s pretty small, quaint and packed to the rafters with the best, newest, most interesting books about absolutely everything including a fabulous selection of music and film books.”
Shakespeare and Co also hosts regular authors’ talks with writers such as Nicole Krauss and Jenny Zhang coming to discuss their work. In its early days it was frequented by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Anais Nin. “It really does bring to life that romanticised vision of literary Paris that you see in the movies,” says Ross.
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