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Setting out to find the top five record shops in Buenos Aires is a sisyphean task; every shop you explore a vendor or friendly customer recommends three equally or unique other music outlets. Although mp3s and iPods have crippled music retailers’ sales worldwide, it would seem as though Buenos Aires has resisted more than some other major cities. In almost every one of the central shopping galleries there’s a record shop, if not three. The result is that this list is by no means exhaustive: there are great record shops I visited that don’t appear here. This is rather an attempt to cover a broad mix of genres and formats that should suit all manner of different tastes.
Minton’s is probably the only record shop in the world to have its own wine. “This isn’t just a bottle with a label on it,” explains the owner, “it’s really good stuff in there.” It’s a statement that could easily be made about the shop itself. Then again, Minton’s is unlike any other record shop, from the moment you walk in you are unsure whether you are in somebody’s living room, a removals company warehouse, or the best jazz record store in Argentina. Luckily for us music aficionados, it’s the latter.
The pillar that keeps Minton’s standing is a short man with an easy smile. Guillermo Hernández, judging by the empty whisky bottles, shot glasses, and wine-stained cups laying around his shop, equally enjoys a casual drink when sharing a deep discussion about jazz. And jazz is a subject he can talk about: his shop is crammed with an eclectic collection of musical gems, from classic international jazz records to the more modern interpretations of the genre coming out of Argentina.
Minton’s was founded 20 years ago and after thirteen years in Belgrano moved to its current central location on Corrientes. “We are going to be celebrating 20 years of existence sometime next year, around May or June, the location is not defined but it there will be a couple of nights of good music guaranteed,” Guillermo says enthusiastically. That should be a night to look forward too for any porteño jazz lover.
Minton’s, Corrientes 1382, Galería Apolo Local 26, Congreso,
Open Monday-Saturday 1pm-9pm
Entering this tiny record shop in Palermo Hollywood is like entering a temple where Hendrix, Isaac Hayes, and other gods of rock stare down at you solemnly from its walls. “I don’t sell a product,” explains Paco, the young owner, “I deliver a service.
“To me records are like a religious object, here you enter a sanctuary and you can browse and listen to music and if you choose to take a record home you continue the rite in your own space,” he adds.
Exiles specialises in rock vinyls and CDs and has a large selection of these imported from Europe and the US. Although in quantity it is outdone by some of the other vinyl retailers of Buenos Aires it largely compensates this shortcoming with the quality and taste of its selection. Add to that the excellent service -both shopkeepers speak good English and enjoy sharing their knowledge of the Buenos Aires night scene with the music-loving tourist – and you’ll be sure that you won’t leave Exiles without reward, be it material or spiritual.
Exiles Records, Honduras 5270, Palermo, www.exilesrecords.com
Open Monday-Saturday 1pm-8:30pm
To prepare this article I asked musicians, shop owners, journalists, and music-lovers from all backgrounds what their favourite record shops were. A few names, some in this Top 5, came back with a certain frequency but the only one, without exception, that appeared on every single list I was given was Miles.
Miles, more than a record shop, is an institution. No one would oppose a move to declare the knowledge of its owner, Gustavo Broic, one of Buenos Aires’ cultural treasures. One satisfied customer, now living in Paris, even told me how she would still e-mail the owner to ask him for advice on what to buy half way across the world. A query he happily complies with.
Although the shop has existed for over 30 years, Broic says times are tough and that music shops are suffering from the digital revolution. “We are one of the few record shops with our head above water because, in Spain, they are starting to sell records out of apartments so they don’t have to pay rent. We’re not far from that here,” he explains. Miles offers a wide variety of music and if what you’re looking for is not there they offer to get it for you it in under two weeks. If you’re not sure about what to buy, be it for yourself or as a gift, Miles should be your first port of call.
Miles, Honduras 4912, Palermo, firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Monday-Saturday 10am-10pm Sunday 1pm-9pm.
Bonus Track is the mecca of vinyl collectors. Situated in the Galeria del Optico, just two blocks from the Obelisco, there is no doubt it has one of, if not the, largest selection of vinyl in Buenos Aires. Although it is the largest shop on this list in terms of size, it could well also be the most cramped with mountains and crates of vinyl menacingly towering everywhere you look.
Fortunately the owners offer a great service and are here to help you navigate their realm. Andrés and Nacho have been holding the shop since the early 90s and have always believed in the format. “We always decided to deal both in CD and vinyl even at a time where no one wanted vinyl anymore,” explains Andrés. This might go some way to explain the extent of their collection. In every genre, from Argentine and Brazilian rock from the 60s and 70s, to jazz, rockabilly, and pop, Bonus Track has a little gem in stock. All you need is a bit of courage to sift through the heaps of music.
Bonus Track, Corrientes 1246, Galería del Optico, Congreso,
Open Monday-Saturday 11am-8pm
Maniac specialises in a unique product: Japanese edition CDs that collectors would die for. To explain this fetish you have to go back to the fact that, the Japanese, having always been at the spearhead of technological innovations, probably understood earlier than the rest of the world that the CD format would become obsolete. Along the lines of what happened to vinyl, they bet was that the CD would soon become more of a collectors item than an a mass consumption product. So they dedicated themselves to producing high quality limited editions of well-known albums to sell to collectors. Boy did it work. The vendor at Maniac tells me how one of the latest re-releases of Kiss’ entire discography was sold out worldwide in under three weeks. Japanese editions do not only generally come in higher quality audio than regular CDs (Audio DVD, SACD, etc…), most of the time the packaging itself is worth the (rather high) price tag.
Even if you are not obsessed with the quality of sound and rely on your mp3 player to listen to music, Japanese editions make great presents. Maniac has been in the Los Andes Galeria in Belgrano since its creation nine years ago, although its success allowed it to expand to a larger outlet within the same gallery. “You can’t go too far with our type of clients,” explains the vendor, “some get upset if you fail to classify the CDs strictly by serial number so if I were to change location I’d probably lose half my clientele”. Whether you are one or not, Maniac is worth checking out.
Maniac, Cabildo 2040, Galería Boulevard Los Andes Local 90, Belgrano
Open Monday-Friday 2pm-8pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm