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  1. In a church

    Eglise Saint-Eustache 

    This imposing church has witnessed its fair share of historic moments since its consecration in 1637: the baptism of Molière, the first Communion of Louis XIV, Patti Smith's triumphant concert in 2011... Nope, that last one isn't a mistake – Saint-Eustache is a broad church indeed, hosting everything from punk gigs to envelope-pushing jazz sets within its monumental nave. Don't miss free performances on its gigantic organ (every Sunday at 5.30pm). 

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  2. In another church

    Eglise Saint-Merry 

    The last of the so-called 'daughters of Notre-Dame', this fine example of late gothic architecture is somewhat dwarfed by its two neighbours, the Centre Pompidou and the Châtelet complex. This means that its juicy programme of classical concerts tends to pass most Parisians by; a pity, for the free weekly performances on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 4pm showcase some of the most promising musical talent around. The church also dabbles in other musical events, notably the Les Femmes s'en Mêlent festival. 

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  3. In an hôtel particulier

    Le Carmen 

    This grand hôtel particulier (private mansion) is named after Bizet's famous opera, which he is said to have composed in its plush surroundings. Fast forward a century and a half, and you'd be hard pressed to find any traces of Romanticism here: where great composers once trod, hipsters now party. Le Carmen now hosts regular electro nights, though you wouldn't know it from their website – the venue only lists its events on social media. 

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  4. In a garage

    Garage MU 

    For want of a 'proper' concert venue, the MU collective puts on its monthly music nights in its very own garage, where its members saw planks of wood and generally busy themselves with their artistic projects by day. The result is 'garage music' in a new sense of the term: an eclectic programme of rock and electro gigs set in a venue that's at once homely and very, very hipster. 

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  5. In a converted funeral parlour

    Le Centquatre 

    Where once there were cadavers, now there are creators. The notorious former funeral parlour reopened in 2008 as Le Centquatre, an elegant new home for 'culture' of all stripes: dance, cinema, cookery, and of course music. Since it opened, the venue has already hosted an impressive variety of acts, taking in everything from contemporary pop to ballroom and traditional French chanson. The building's drop-dead gorgeous, too. 

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  6. Inside a giant fridge

    Les Frigos: Les Voûtes 

    Any self-respecting Parisian keeps their distance from the soulless stretch of modern developments that surrounds the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, with one exception: Les Frigos ('The Refrigerator'), a former storage depot for refrigerated railway wagons, no less. Once the facility had been shut down and the refrigeration turned off, it wasn't long before destitute artists began to squat inside. By 1996, they'd also colonised its underground vaults; today, Les Voûtes has become an unlikely venue for concerts, exhibitions, and a whole lot of multidisciplinary artistic happenings. All in all, a great place to 'chill'. 

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  7. In an old theatre

    Le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord 

    From its opening in 1876 to its first death in 1952, Le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord led a cursed existence, repeatedly forced to close down on the back of unsuccessful productions. It was eventually done up and handed over in 1974 to British stage director Peter Brook, whose spirited input gave the venue a new lease of life as a concert hall of sorts. Chamber music is the order of the day, though recent years have seen adventurous additions to its concert calendar – such as the recently inaugurated Worldstock, a festival dedicated to world music. 

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  8. In a swanky cultural institute

    Institut du Monde Arabe 

    As its name suggests, this is the go-to place for those who like their music mystical and Middle Eastern. Within the subtly ornate walls of this shrine to Arab culture, Sufi choirs, Coptic bards from Egypt and Zanzibari multi-instrumentalists channel their musical traditions before captivated audiences. The institute doubles up as a museum, library, exhibition space and a somewhat unlikely venue for the occasional dance festival (notably Weather Festival). 

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  9. In a bric-a-brac shop

    Robert Mr Smith 

    An unlikely venue for a concert, perhaps; but then bric-a-brac shops are all about surprising discoveries, and on this count Robert Mr Smith delivers in spades. Amid the second-hand armchairs and miscellaneous crockery, a few dozen scenesters gather every now and then to sip on wine and check out a set by some up-and-coming local musician. The shop's charm is in the intimate setting and unpredictable musical programme – a more informal gig venue you're unlikely to find in Paris. 

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  10. In a catacomb

    Les Catacombes 

    If you're looking for 'underground' gigs – in either sense of the term – you're in the right place, though we should point out that getting here is far from straightforward. First of all, you need to know where 'here' is: Paris's network of subterranean tunnels stretches to some 3,000km, taking in one official entrance (at Denfert-Rochereau) and scores of unofficial ones. During and after the Revolution, it served as a dumping ground for the hordes of cadavers left lying on the battlefields; nowadays, you're more likely to happen upon a hipster rave than a fresh corpse. Most of these parties are illegal and invite-only, but once in a blue moon an adventurous promoter will organise a legitimate gig in one of the tunnels – a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dance with death. Keep your eyes peeled. 

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    Teddy Morellec
    Teddy Morellec
    Teddy Morellec
  11. In a former train station

    La Flèche d'Or 

    This was once the site of Charonne station, which served the railway that's since degenerated into La Petite Ceinture (an access point for which can be found around the corner). Now done up as a pub, the venue still retains a pleasantly shabby appearance. It takes its name from the Golden Arrow, a luxury boat train that ran from London Victoria to the Gare du Nord back in the '20s; the British connection endures in the form of a gig programme that favours British rock and pop, though French bands are also a regular fixture. 

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  12. In a circus

    Le Cabaret Sauvage 

    Life is a cabaret at this charming venue in the Parc de la Villette, as a succession of disparate but consistently brilliant musical acts take to its stage. If there's a vintage charm to the wood and velvet furnishings, the programme is anything but backward-looking – in recent years, everyone from trumpeter Roy Hargrove to Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, via psychedelic funk maestro George Clinton, has performed at Le Cabaret Sauvage. We've never had a bad time here. 

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  13. In a sports centre

    Mains d'Œuvres 

    When in 2001 Mains d’Œuvres set up shop inside a vast former sports centre in Saint-Ouen, it signalled a gradual shift in cultural activity from central Paris to the banlieue – a trend that has continued apace. Occupying a 4,000-square-metre site around the corner from the Saint-Ouen flea market, the multidisciplinary cultural centre is at the vanguard of a contemporary arts scene that's spreading through the suburbs; with its multiple exhibition spaces, concert halls and theatres, it makes for a more versatile venue than anywhere in Paris proper. The crux of its events calendar is a gloriously eclectic musical programme, which covers rock, pop, electro, hip-hop and more. 

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  14. In Europe's smallest cabaret

    Le Zèbre de Belleville 

    For half a century following the end of the Nazi occupation, a succession of neighbourhood cinemas stood on this spot: first the Nox, then the Berry. In 1994 the cinema closed its doors, and there ensued an uneasy period of squatting and dilapidation which lasted until the Cirque de Paris bought the building and converted it into Europe's smallest cabaret. If that's not enough of a draw, just check out its events schedule: cabaret dinner shows, kids' spectacles and concerts of all genres. No matter who's playing, you won't get bored at this snug and snazzy little venue. 

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  15. In a Chinese restaurant

    Le Chinois 

    The name isn't an indicator of the kind of music you'll hear inside, but a reference to the Chinese restaurant that once occupied this spot. If anything, the programme at Le Chinois tends toward indie rock, and is particularly strong on young up-and-coming bands such as the Velvet Veins (who we've been raving about for some time now). Not the most eclectic of venues, then, but certainly one of the trendiest. 

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Alternative music venues

Looking for a change of scene? Read on for our guide to the quirkiest concert venues in Paris, from far-flung churches to converted funeral parlours

Written by
Louis Victor
Lorraine Grangette
Alex Dudok de Wit
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