vendredi, septembre 29, 2006

Backstage Festival : Minimal Techno (Night 1)

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So tonight was the first night that my research collided with my job. There's a new batch of students arriving tomorrow (Sep 30) and Sunday (Oct 1) in preparation for the autumn programs here at the Centre. Although there's only 3 scheduled to arrive tomorrow, the first lands in Paris at 7:45am, thus probably arriving at the residences at 10:00am. The "den mother" part of my job requires me to be on site during the arrival of the students to help them get settled in, answer any questions, and eventually give them a tour of the building, the neighborhood, and help them buy their metropasses. Now, allow me to remind you that these clubbing soirées that I've been going to usually start at midnight and finish at 6am; with public transit, that means I get home at 7am. Obviously, this would make Saturday morning difficult.

By midday Friday, I made the decision to go and steeled myself for the oncoming sleep deprivation. In my high school years, I had more than once stayed up all night at a rave, slept at home for two hours, showered, and then run off to sing as a cantor in the town's cathedral at 10am. I'm certainly not 17 anymore, but I've functioned on little sleep before, I can do it again. Since the headliner (Dan Bell) would most likely spin from 2am to 4am, my plan was to stay for the entirety of Dan Bell's set, catch the beginning of the next DJ, and then head home around 4:30, with the hopes of being in bed by 5:30 or so. I had already given the front desk people at my residences my cell phone number, so I could come home and crash, put my cell phone next to my pillow, and sleep until someone called to tell me the first student had arrived. The plan worked fine, except for that "in bed by 5:30" part—but I'll get to that at the end of this post.

The event was held at Batofar, which is a club located on a boat more-or-less permanently moored on the banks of the Seine. (I totally forgot to take a picture of the exterior, so I'll make sure to do that Saturday night.) As it turns out, this whole club-on-a-boat thing is pretty popular in Paris, and there were at least 3 other "party" boats moored to the same quay when I got there. I guess it's a rather sensible solution to the problem of establishing a club in Paris. Thanks to the city's Haussmannian construction, it's almost impossible to turn a street-front space into a club without annoying the 5 floors of apartments above. Instead, these boat-clubs have a lounge area on the deck that pumps music at a volume that makes it barely detectable from the street level, and the loud, clubby spaces are located in the hull of the ships. In the case of Batofar, the hull was also sound-proofed, so very little sound escaped, and that which did carried off harmlessly into the water, rather than the air. On the other hand, there are some downsides to this solution. It's floating on water, which means that the boat was listing to one side for the entirety of the evening; not visibly detectable, but certainly unmistakeable when you're trying to dance. Also, the boat did rock ever so slightly. I didn't feel it, but I suspect that a person with a delicate inner ear might leave after 6 hours with a vague feeling of nausea.

The Batofar boat had two entrances, one for the lounge on deck and one for the club below deck. I totally missed the club entrance, and went to the lounge entrance. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to ask the guard before going in, "Is this the soirée minimale?" Without actually speaking, the guard shook his head, paused, then nodded towards another gangway at the other end of the boat. I headed over there, checked with the guard standing next to gangway and walked on board. As I approached the stairs descending below deck, another guard stopped me and told me to wait. He looked a bit perturbed at my presence, and he shouted to the guard on shore and told him that he needed to slow the flow of entry to create a line. Ah, this was a familiar annoyance. Clubs want to look popular and in-demand. Popular clubs have long line-ups (or so it goes). Moreover, a long line-up suggests to passers-by that the club is already packed full, promising intensity. If a club is in fact underpopulated and/or unpopular, a common (although frustrating) solution is to create a line-up by halting the entry of people into the club. The irony, of course, is that once you're done waiting in line for this fantastic club, you get in and it's empty and lame. A certain club in Toronto (*coughcoughBUDDIEScoughcough*) was notorious for this.

Anyway, I got inside quickly and the club was about half-full. The entryway was a network of half-flights and landings, creating a multi-tiered effect that took up the rear half of the hull. The front half of the hull was a flat-floored bar, stage and dance area—just like you would find in any typical club. By the time I got into the club, I had to pee like a racehorse, so I made hit the WC. The washrooms were located in a short hallway underneath the entry stairway; there were three full doors, and one set of saloon-style half-doors. I saw somebody's head through the half-doors, and before I could head to the other doorways, the bathroom attendant looked at me, showed three fingers, then gestured at the half-doors. "Oh, it costs 3€?" I said. In retrospect, what I said must've sounded like "Oh, there's thre uros?" ("uro" being an abbreviation of "urinal"), because he nodded. I wasn't phased, since I've noticed that almost everything costs at Parisian clubs. Unlike the little Chinese takout restaurant I went to on Wednesday—where the hostess gave a complimentary beer, aperitif and shrip crackers while I waited for my order—clubs and other night destinations (i.e. youth industry) take every opportunity to charge you money.

So, off I went to buy a drink and break a 20-note so that I would have 3€ for the washroom. I order a beer and, again, I accidentally order 2 beers; those of you who have been following this blog probably notice that I've had this problem before, here and here. With a mixture of shame and bemusement, I drank my beers and then hit the washroom. I knew something was wrong when I slid the 3 1€ coins into the washroom attendants hand and his eyebrows shot up. He said thanks with unexpected sincerity and I opened the saloon doors to find: three urinals. So, I just gave a washroom attendant a 3€ tip (i.e. about $5), after accidentally ordering double the amount of drinks I wanted. As I answered the call of nature in Batofar's filthy, filthy, filthy bathroom, I took relief (ha!) in the thought that, well, at least the "Luis does something stupid" part of the evening was over (it wasn't).

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DJ Choco

I had arrived around 1:30am (I'm getting a hang of the European bar schedule), to the opener DJ, who I *think* is DJ Choco. I tried to get his name from someone standing nearby, but I couldn't hear over the music. Nonetheless, I did get a couple of good shots of him and the stage set-up, as well as a short video. It's funny how the bass pretty much disappears from the audio recording.

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A couple of wide shots of Choco (I think)

Choco's set was good, minimal techno without much digression into the house-y or click-y sides of the genre. During his set, some guy approached me and asked me if I knew where to get drugs. I took it as an odd compliment; although I was the least qualified person to answer that question, I liked thinking that I looked "local" or "connected" enough to have that information.

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Daniel Bell

Daniel Bell's set (2am-4am), on the other hand, sort of shifted gears at several points. It started out as rather straightforward minimal techno, then shifted to something very tech-house-y, paused briefly in vocal Chicago house, and ended up somewhere on the click-pop side of things. Here's a brief video and some pics from an earlier part of the set.

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Some shots of Dan Bell (a.k.a. DBX) and a reverse angle on the crowd.

One thing that struck me throughout the night was how there would be these spontaneous moments of collective cheering. Certainly, the DJ would often make performative gestures that would elicit cheers from the crowd (e.g., removing and then returning the bass kick, tweaking the EQs), but sometimes everyone would cheer—including me—with little provocation. It always started somewhere in the crowd, one or two people making noise; sometimes it would spread into a room full of cheering, other times it fizzled away and left the impression of one or two overenthusiastic fans. Was this reducible to a quantitive equation of critical mass of excited dancers + individual trigger = mass euphoria? It seemed like the shape of things, but not necessarily the cause. In some ways, I wonder if it's maybe more rhythmic and cyclical. That is, the intensity of engagement and excitement in each member of the crowd has its own rhythm, affected by where they are, when they got there, what they're on, and who they're with; every once in a while, the peaks in these cycles line up. Hmm.

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At 4am, Darko came on. He's a Belgian DJ and party organizer who is connected to statikdancin and seems to have made minimal techno a specialty of his. Although I was planning to leave right away, his first few tracks were really solid, so I had to stay. In contrast to the other DJ's that night, Darko seemed to be leaning heavily into a bassier, funkier and darker minimal techno. However, after about 30 minutes the set began to wander and I finally decided to call it a night.

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Good shot of the stage lighting

As I headed out along the quay, I noticed this beautiful footbridge spanning the Seine from the front of the new Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French Nat'l Library) to a park on the other end. The bridge is named after Simone de Beauvoir, and the bridge makes use of two intersecting wave patterns to create a braiding effect. Both patterns are walkable, and they are connected at the intersection points. The upper level connects directly to the library grounds, while the lower level connects to the street.

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I decided to take the night bus back home. I was pretty far from home (actually, very close to my usual workplace), and a cab ride would be prohibitively expensive. I had already researched my bus route, and I would need to take a bus to Gare de Lyon, another one to Chatelet, and then a last one back to Porte des Lilas. I headed off to the bus stop and caught the first bus OK. I made it to Gare de Lyon and then spend nearly 30 minutes finding the bus stop for my connection. I caught the right bus, but in the wrong direction. Once I figured that out, I walked another 500m along a random street before I found a taxi. At that point, I had thrown in the towel. Apparently, Luis still doesn't know his way around Paris yet. Appropriately chagrined, I took my 16€ taxicab back home and crahsed for the night.

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