Well, today was a good example of how differently a day can go, based on a simple change of plans at the beginning. You see, today was the day of the Paris TechnoParade, which I had planned on attending. The plan was to hang around and watch the parade begin and end—much like I had done a couple of years ago—then head home, have a light dinner, and head out to Le Rex to see Sasha Funke and Margaret Dygas, two Berlin-based DJs that I had seen during my time there this summer (and Mlle Caro and Franck Garcia, who deserve better than to be footnotes, but such is the fate of local DJs).
OK, so here’s What Really Happened, in Five Acts:
Act One: The Techno-Parade itself
I was invited to ride on the Rex Club float by a friend of a friend (who would become simply “a friend” by the end of the night), DJ Timid Boy, a.k.a. Damien. This invitation was made a little over a week ago over dinner, so I didn’t expect much to come of it. This doesn’t mean that I expected the invitation to be rescinded or that I was going to forego the offer; rather, it’s just that there tends to be more talk about doing stuff together than the actual doing itself. One of the more verbal forms of intimacy in this scene (and others, I imagine) is engaging in talk about a future together: let’s have a drink sometime; we should party together; if you’re ever in Chicago, I’ll show you around; and so on. Even if these future connections never happen, the talk of it has an effect on the present relationship; it conjures up the intimacy of a closer relationship in the context of a less serious or casual relationship. Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that there is a lot of talk in social scenes about “what we’ll do together” and it doesn’t always happen, and that’s OK.
So it was nice to get a text message from his the day before the parade, checking in and repeating the offer. A couple of messages later, I had a time and place to meet him. And so this morning I got up and headed out at 11h30 to get to the starting point of the parade around noon. This year, the parade route was going to start at Place Opéra and end at Bastille (as it always does). I got there just as the trucks started arriving with the floats, so I got a couple of shots of the floats and then waited until they parked along the rue du quatre septembre to wait for the parade to start. At this point, many of the parade attendees (those who planned to follow the parade rather than watch it from a fixed place) would walk past the floats, appraising the various floats and making decisions about which floats they would follow during the parade. The floats usually would roll along with a good 20-30 metres of space between each one, so that fans could cluster behind their favorite float and dance.
I waited for a while for Damien to arrive, and then I climbed onto the Rex’s float and set down my bags. Damien and another DJ named Molly (also a friend) started spinning back-to-back while the rest of the float crew showed up and got the van running. Finally, around 13h00, we started slowly rolling forward.
I wont’ give a play-by-play of the DJs that performed on the truck, as there was a lot of back-and-forth between the performers rather than discrete sets. Nonetheless, a Paris artist called From Karaoke to Stardom (cute, if a bit cumbersome as far as names go) did an excellent live set that was pretty minimal sounding, and Margaret Dygas spun a really lovely set that included a sort of “Greatest Hits” of the tracks I had been hearing in Berlin this summer. This includes a vinyl-only track called “Nasrib” or “Standing” (don’t know why there’s two titles), by an artist called SIS. I managed to find an online streaming of the track, so enjoy! This is the kind of sound Berlin likes right now. I’m actually thinking of making a post later this week with links to a bunch of the “Greatest Hits” of Berlin Summer 2008.
I took a TON of photos of the event, so rather than post them all here, I’m putting them on Flickr and I’m posting a link to the Flickr set. Here’s a few examples below. As you can see, there were a LOT of people this time (compared to 2 years ago), which may have something to do with the fact that this was the 10-year anniversary of the parade. Also, you’ll see that again there were lots of young kids standing on phone booths, bus shelters, lampposts and pretty much anything they could climb onto.
Now, I managed to get some video of the Techno Parade, but I also discovered that my new-ish camera uses horribly heavy audio compression, which is a very bad idea when you're recording in an environment that hits 100dB pretty frequently. So I'm going to apologize in advance for the horribly shitty quality of the sound here. I'm only including a couple of videos, but if you can find the rest of my videos on my YouTube Channel.
Being on the float this year was an interesting contrast to wandering through the crowd 2 years ago. To begin with, I saw a lot less of the small interactions between partygoers because I was physically pretty separated from them (about 15 feet above them, to be exact). So, from above, I tended to see the crowd more as a mass of bodies that occasionally drew attention to individual members. I wasn’t able to follow individual dramas between partiers as they played out, but instead I had a 6-hour-long ride with a set of about 30 people on the float.
People occasionally got on and off the float, as latecomers that had been invited got on and others who were tired or needed to pee got off. At the beginning of the parade, when there weren’t many people dancing on the main part of the float, the people running the float would sometimes pick someone in the crowd that looked like fun (and were usually alone), and invited them onto the float. Later on in the parade, they were only letting on people who were friends of staff / DJs.
Those who were on the float got a bright neon bracelet so that the staff could keep track of who was allowed to be on there. I didn’t realize this would be a potential problem until an hour or two into the parade, when adventurous (and usually drunk / high) guys and gals started scaling the float. I can see why you’d want to be on the float: there’s a good view of the parade; you can indulge your exhibitionistic side by dancing for the crowd; there’s free Red Bull, beer, and someone opens a bottle of champagne every 30 minutes (remember, this float is organized by a nightclub). Nonetheless, considering that there was a ring of stern-looking security people around each float and police not too far away, the only people crazy enough to attempt climbing onto the float were drunk and/or high. So, those few that managed to climb up when one of the security guys was looking the other way would start flailing around and generally being annoying / dangerous as soon as they got on. There was only one guy actually on the float taking care of this issue, so he would go up and down the float and kick off the interlopers.
As we passed Place République and started down the homestretch to Bastille, I noticed that there was a significant increase in the number of police officers standing standing around in sour-faced clots and watching everyone in the crowd very intently. What was up with that? When the float got to Bastille, they cut the music and the security personnel gave us 10 minutes to completely evacuate the float. What gives?
I found out later that night that there had been some violence at Bastille before our float arrived. Apparently, there were some fistfights and clashes with police, which ended with the police forcing the organizers to cancel the post-parade party at Bastille and send the floats away.
Act Two: Nonetheless, Post-Parade Party
As we climbed down from the float and got ready to head our separate ways, Damien turned to me and asked, “Are you coming with me?” I wasn’t sure where we were going, but I imagined that following the DJ that was associated with the foremost techno club in Paris was probably a good idea. So off we went to a small opening along a fence that had been recently erected on the plaza, where the same peevish guy that works the door at Le Rex was standing, guest-list in hand. “He’s with me,” said Damien, and I followed him into what was clearly the V.I.P. space for the parade performers.
Although things were supposed to be dissipating immediately after the parade (around 18h00), there were still two smaller parties going on. The large terrace area on the southern side of Bastille (the side that sits over the canal) had been surrounded by a fence and divided in two. A larger space hosted a post-parade thank-you party for the volunteers and staff of the event, while another smaller space hosted an area for the artists and their entourage. Here’s a picture I took of the artists’ space, where we were hanging out.
The space was apparently sponsored by Red Bull, as evidenced by their trademark splashed everywhere, the abundant and free Red Bull drinks, and the signs that said SPONSORED BY RED BULL. So, there was no ambiguity about the situation. Aside from the free Red Bull, there was a rather sizeable cold display case full of sandwiches, salads, pasta, fresh fruit, yogurt, pudding and other little custards. Apparently, this wasn’t the case in the staff/volunteer space, as a small group of volunteer security guards snuck through a gap in the dividing fence and piled their arms high with sandwiches before being briskly shooed out by Peevish Door Guy.
Anyway, we had a good time hanging out on the deck chairs and eating and drinking as the sun went down. Since the main post-parade party had been cancelled, the headliner DJs were back in the artists’ space with us. Since Margaret Dygas was already hanging out with us and the Rex crew have good ties with the Berlin scene, our corner of the terrace became the Berlin Minimal Corner. I got to meet Ellen Allien and Modeselektor, which was pretty neat (although their sizeable retinue kept me from really chatting with them very much).
At a certain point, the girlfriend of From Karaoke to Stardom returned from getting some food and said, “Na?” My frenchy companions didn’t know what to make of it, but I had just spent 2 months in Berlin, so my reaction was a reflex: “Ja, gut.” “Na?”, which literally means “Well?”, is a colloquial German way to say “How’re you doing?” without getting a detailed response. If you say “Wie geht’s?” (“How goes it?”), you might get a long list of the day’s events or a detailed health history as an answer. “Na?”, on the other hand, is an equivalent to “I’m just checking in,” and the answer always takes the form of a positive or negative.
Anyway, she was excited to hear that I spoke German, so we started chatting for a while in German, until eventually we both realized that neither of us spoke German as a first language. She was actually Polish, from Lodz, and she was more comfortable in English (as was I, obviously), so we kept on chatting in English. A bit later, another French DJ that had been standing next to us asked me how I had developed such a flawless American accent. I forgave him the conflation of American and Canadian-Anglophone accents and took it as a compliment that he thought I was actually Francophone.
So Damien had originally planned to hang out for a while, then head home and have some dinner, and then meet a bunch of friends for a birthday party near Bastille, and then head off to the Rex. However, this changed when he was informed that he would be spinning a warm-up set at Showcase for the “official” TechnoParade club night. At first he thought that he would have to skip the birthday party, but he soon got details: the warm-up set will last from 22h00 to 23h00. This was ridiculously early and ridiculously short, but a paycheck is a paycheck AND he could say that he opened for Ellen Allien and Modeselektor, so he wasn’t going to say no. Anyway, the upside of this off scheduling was that we could grab a taxi and be at the birthday party in time for Damien to bring out his records and spin for a couple of hours.
The problem at this exact moment, though, was getting to Showcase in the first place. At first, the plan was that we would just pile into the same van they had rented to bring Ellen Allien and Modeselektor over to the club, but the BPitchControl crew (all of them are on that label) brought an unexpected number of people with them as their entourage, so there was barely enough space for them and their equipment, let alone me, Damien, and the other performers.
Things were, to put it gently, not very well-organized at this point, and so Damien and I were left to sit around in limbo at the Red Bull Artists’ Space Or Whatever for another hour or so while they tried to figure out how to get us over to the club space. Finally they called a taxi cab, which was in itself a complicated undertaking, since we needed a van-sized cab to bring along some other equipment that Modeselektor’s video artist needed. In the cab, we were accompanied by one of the organizers, who had a really amusing phone conversation with some assistant about dealing with the complexities of “difficult” talent [i.e. superstar DJs].
Act Three: Drama at Le Showcase
We got to Le Showcase without too much trouble and schlepped our way into the club. There was a whole host of large-framed black men in suits (i.e., security guards) standing around the entryway, but since I was lugging a large piece of equipment, I could just smile and walk past them.
It was almost 22h00 and Damien should’ve been getting on the decks, but things had hit a snag. Ellen Allien and Modeselektor and their entourage were onstage for their sound-check, and things were not going well. Without going into too much detail, here’s what appeared to be the main problem:
Modeselektor had brought with them their huge inflatable monkey, which they were going to have behind them as they did their live set at the high point of the evening. The stage manager for the club had not been notified of this and was having none of it. Apparently, French law forbids any stage décor of that sort that isn’t clearly marked as non-flammable. Since the inflatable monkey didn’t have any markings nor anything that specified the type of plastic or rubber used to make it, one of the technicians offered to take it outside and put a lighter to a corner to test it. As you can imagine, the Modeselektor boys weren’t thrilled with that plan, seeing as that thing probably cost them a fortune. So, with the prospect of performing monkey-less, the boys started angrily setting up while their manager argued more and more intensely with the stage manager. Meanwhile, Ellen Allien nervously pointed out various technical problems with the turntable setup: only one stereo channel was coming through; the second turntable didn’t seem to be connected, there’s a cable missing here; there’s no way to switch monitor input between the live set gear and the turntables.
So it was not a happy time, and the Bpitchcontrol people still hadn’t had dinner. They eventually got the sound equipment set up (although they told Damien he would have to spin without monitors) and the star talent headed off to eat. By then it was already 22h30, so Damien was worried that we were going to be late getting to the birthday party. As we soon discovered, the management decided to just cut his set short so that the other acts wouldn’t be late, so in the end he only spun for 30 minutes. Ah well, at least we’ll be at the birthday party on time.
Act Four: B-day Party @ Café Charonne
The organizational disarray at Le Showcase seemed to be intensifying as Damien finished his set, so we packed up quickly and fled before we could get sucked in. We hailed a cab and headed back to the Bastille area, where we made our way to Café Charonne, a little café-bar not far from La Scène Bastille.
There’s not much to say about the birthday party; it was a lot of fun and I had a great time, but it was a private event and I’m not going to post publicly about it. In sum, Damian pulled out his records and started spinning and everybody hung out and chatted.
The only interesting anecdote that I think bears telling was an encounter I had just as I arrived on the scene. I was introduced to a group of girls from Brussels that were friends with the birthday girl. As we were in the process of introducing ourselves, I mentioned that I was Angophone-Canadian and they all said nice things about my French accent. One girl said that she had presumed I was a native French speaker, which was ironic because I also thought she was a native French speaker until she told me she was from Worcester, England. I don’t know what this says about negative stereotypes of Anglohpones, but nobody congratulated the Cypriot girl in our midst for her flawless French.
Anyway, I chatted with the girl from the UK for a good 10 minutes before another friend leaned over and pointed out that we didn’t need to speak in French, since we were both native English speakers. We laughed and continued our conversation in English for a good long while…but eventually we reverted to French. Having been “in immersion” in a French-speaking country (she more so than I), we both found ourselves pausing to remember words in English and making awkward translations of French colloquialisms in English. It’s hard to be properly bilingual, I tells ya.
By 2h00, the bar started closing and pointedly shooing us out the door. There was probably 10 of us heading over to the Rex for the event going on there, so we started organizing how we’d get over there. Damien jumped into a cab with his girlfriend (who had met us at the b-day party), so I had to figure out my own way to get to the club. Since the guest-list I was on for the Rex was only valid until 1h30, Damien was probably my only ticket for getting into the club quickly and for free.
Luckily, one of Damien’s friends that was at the party had come on a scooter and had an extra helmet, so I climbed on and said a prayer to the traffic gods. I’ll admit, driving around on the back of a motorcycle in Paris traffic is fucking scary.
Act Five: Wonderland @ Rex Club
We got to the club shortly after Damien and his girlfriend, but there was still another cluster of kids that we were waiting for. Damien was our ticket for jumping the line and going straight in, so we needed to have every one there with us. Fortunately it only took a few minutes, but it was fucking cold and everyone had to pee really bad. Nonetheless, everybody eventually arrived and we piled into the club.
Margaret Dygas had apparently been spinning since about 1h30, and she kept going until 3h00. Her set was really good, although it wasn’t quite as punchy and intense as the set she had done on the parade float. I suppose that’s to be expected, though, since she wasn’t in the headliner slot for tonight.
I only had 20€ on me at this point (I had totally forgotten to hit a bank machine on the way over), so I needed to budget my drinking accordingly. I had had the good luck of getting free drinks all day until the b-day party, but my luck definitely run out at the Rex. They had apparently upped the drink prices again since my last visit, as now a mixed drink costs 10€. That’s the equivalent of $14.50USD for a rum & coke. Seriously.
So I ordered a glass of champagne (in France, it’s the same price as a mixed drink) at the counter and while I was waiting for my drink, a guy that had been on the Rex float with me pulled up to the bar. In a friendly gesture, I asked him what he was having, since there were a lot of other people waiting to order their drink and he wasn’t likely to get his anytime soon. So I ordered his drink and then handed the bartender my 20€ bill before I realized that both the bartender and this guy were working under the assumption that I was buying him a drink. Dammit. Well, there was no graceful way out of the situation and he was kinda cute anyway, so I pretended that I had meant to buy him a drink and made small talk with him.
Seuil came on at 3h00 to do a live set, which was really good. It was on the “techno” side of tech-house, with an overall “minimal-but-pounding” aesthetic. A good mid-party set, I think.
At some point during the set, a short brown-haired guy in a Fred Perry ensemble (polo shirt and hat) shuffled past me and leaned on the barrier at the front of the room. He had a couple of friends with him, one of whom proceeded to simulate sodomizing him with his beer bottle (and he was really jamming it up there), then turned him around and rubbed the neck of the beer bottle against his crotch (again, going right in there), then rubbed the bottle against the guy’s face, and then proceeded to drink from it. Unlike the groups of guys I had seen last Thursday (and in other instances before), these boys didn’t spend the night feeling each other up in explicitly sexual ways, but they nonetheless did a lot of ass-grabbing and crotch-grabbing.
The guy in the Fred Perry made eye contact with me, then leaned in my direction and asked, “Do you have any ecstasy?” When I told him no, he pulled this doe-eyed pout that I found surprisingly feminine and oddly seductive (ironically, I would later see him use it on girls that he was hitting on). I thought that maybe he imagined that I had “personal use” drugs that I didn’t want to sell to him, so gave him the longer answer: I’ve only recently moved back to Paris, I don’t have any connections, you’re probably more likely to know where to find some, blah blah blah. He seemed to be satisfied with this answer, and then he handed his glass to me. I said thanks and took a swig of it before handing it back to him. As I did, he said, “It’s got GHB in it.”
Well, great. This guy was drunk/high enough to: a) make the possibility of him using GHB credible; and b) make his slurred delivery so deadpan that I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic. The French don’t really do deadpan humour, so I wasn’t expecting it from him. Anyway, there wasn’t much I could do at this point but wait.
I won’t keep you in suspense: there wasn’t anything funny in the drink as far as I could tell, but I did spent a good 30 minutes worrying.
At some later point in the evening, I found myself near the front of the room and that same guy was there again, drink in hand, looking totally trashed. Another guy showed up and leaned on the railing next to him. After a moment, the Fred Perry guy tapped the other guy on the shoulder, pulled me over, and then gestured for the two of us to introduce ourselves. A bit confused, we shook hands and exchanged names. My new acquaintance asked me, “Are you friends with him?” “No,” I answered, “he’s just drunk.” We laughed, and that was that.
Sasha Funke came on at about 4h30 and presumably was to spin until 6h00. His set started off very promising, dropping immediately the same track by SIS that I had linked to above (see Act One). However, he soon went into a deep / atmospheric and generally low-intensity house set, which was a big disappointment for me. Coming after Franck Garcia’s rather intense set, this felt like an overlong after-party rather than the main event. I nonetheless kept myself dancing until about 5h30, at which point I decided that it wasn’t worth making myself dance to Funke if I wasn’t enjoying it.
As I was making my rounds and saying goodbye to everyone, I saw the Fred Perry guy again as he was making his way to the smoker’s room. He handed me his near-finished drink and said, “Here…don’t ever change.” Umm…OK.
After that, I got my jacket and walked home (I’m still living in that dingy apartment in the 10th arrondissement). As I headed back up my usual street I noticed something: even the prostitutes are at home by 6h00.