samedi, octobre 11, 2008

Fairmont at Batofar

I had actually stayed out pretty late last night, about 4h30 or so, as I had hung out at a friends place with some others for a while. So I slept in rather late and got up slowly. I spent some time catching up on blogging, working on some of the photos I had taken in the last week, and caught up on some correspondence. My network router was giving me some trouble, too, so I spent some time tinkering with it and eventually updating the firmware. As it turns out the Linksys WRT54G has a whole range out open-source firmware available.

Anyway, my friend Damien (a.k.a. Timid Boy) was going to be spinning tonight at Batofar before one of the headliners, Fairmont from the Border Community label (also known as Jake Fairley on Dumb-Unit). Damien had put me on the guestlist and I’ve never been disappointed by a Jake Fairley live set, so I decided to check it out. I hopped on my bike for some much-needed exercise (I think I’ve gained a bit of weight this week, despite my bike-riding) and headed over to Batofar. The bar is located about 5 minutes’ walk from my workplace, so the route was familiar and easy to undertake, even in the dark.

When I got to the club—which is in a large boat floating on the river Seine—there was already a line nearly all the way across the pier. Ugh. I braced myself and sent a text message to Damien to make sure that, indeed, I was on the list. Fortunately, the line moved pretty fast and I was on the list, so I got in easily. Alas, the long line outside was a foretoken for the craziness inside; the coat-check was already full at 1h00, the interior was hot and sweaty, and the entire dancefloor was PACKED.

0h00-1h30: Timid Boy

One of the upsides of there being such a huge crowd this early in the night was that Damien had a lots of people to play to, which allowed him to play a more dynamic set. As a DJ, you’re expected to adjust the tone of your set to the crowd in the room; it can look a bit ridiculous to play pounding, high-intensity music to an empty room. So Damien was able to make the most of his rather early timeslot and lay down a very strong set. He stayed mostly in minimal-house and full-on house territory, with an emphasis on bassy grooves that had a forward, driving motion.

I ran into lots of people I know, including the group of people connected to Damien as well as other folks I know from the Paris scene. We hung out together and chatted a bit, but it was hard to talk very much, as the crowd was so tightly pressed together.

1h30-2h30: Fairmont

Fairley’s set was really fantastic. There was little about it that would qualify his sound as the sort of “minimal” techno that has been emanating from Berlin for so long; it was much more emphatically in the realm of straightforward techno, but with a focus on non-canonic sounds in the high registers that you would usually hear in “minimal” / microhouse. A friend standing next to me said, “I call this neo-trance.” I would’ve never thought of calling Fairmont’s sound anything approaching trance, no doubt because I’ve never been a fan of trance and so labeling this style as trance-like wouldn’t really be a good thing. But when I thought about it, I sorta saw what he meant. The underlying rhythmic groove is certainly techno, but his frequent use of sustained, spatialized samples (often called “pads”) and his attention to long build-ups do refer to the trance style.

It’s also worth noting that his live set was a “gear-only” live set. That is, his music was entirely produced by an assemblage of “physical” sound devices, like samplers and sequencers, rather than the “virtual” sound devices on a laptop. I’m a skeptic of that whole “live sets are better when the performer’s setup looks like an electronics pawn-shop” authenticity claim, but these days it’s pretty noteworthy when someone does a non-laptop live set.

I spent most of Fairmont’s set being stepped on or trampled by various people, as the place was totally and completely packed. I don’t think I’ve ever been in Batofar when it’s been this full. It also didn’t help that something about the water or maybe the sheer number of people on the boat made it sway back and forth all night, which meant that the dancefloor was shifting from right to left all night long, and at some pretty disorienting angles. This meant that the tall drunk people who were dancing on top of me would frequently lose their balance and careen into me. It was something of a miracle that I finished the night without any drinks on me.

2h30-4h00: Eric Labbé

I had last seen Labbé spinning at the last Happy People Only party, and he had impressed me with his selection if not so much with his technique. This time, I found his selection decent, and his technique pretty far off. He managed to create some pretty noticeable trainwrecks as he had trouble beat-matching. Considering the constant listing of the boat, I would’ve been willing to chalk up some of this to “technical difficulties,” except Timid Boy / Damien had given a flawless performance a couple of hours ago.

4h00-???: Popof

Popof started later than had been expected, and played a vinyl set instead of a live set. What I heard through the grapevine later on was that he showed up to the club late and announced that he was just going to do a short vinyl set instead of the planned live set. As you might imagine, this pissed off some of the people involved in organizing the night. Live sets are more expensive than vinyl sets; you can only demand 1 hour of work from the performer for a live set, as it is much more work-intensive to prepare, which means that you have to spend more money filling up the rest of your evening with DJs. I felt bad for Damien in particular, as he was supposed to do a second set from 4h30-6h00, but with Popof starting 30 minutes late and possibly running longer, there was a possibility that Damien wouldn’t spin the closing set.

I went outside onto the docks to get some fresh air, since I wasn’t really enjoying Popof’s set (too coarse and heavy), and saw a young girl, surrounded by a group of friends, yelling curses and insults at the top of her lungs, apparently directed toward the club or the club’s staff. After eavesdropping for a few minutes, I figured out that some guy had tried to feel her up in the club; she had gotten the bouncers to kick him out, but her own reaction was violent and loud and, when she refused to calm down, they threw her out of the club as well.

Her friends stood around her and smiled uncomfortably and occasionally tried to calm her down, but otherwise let her rant. What was interesting to me (aside from the mixture of empathy and exasperation that the spectacle elicited in me) was how she was self-stimulating. That is, she would begin by muttering to herself and to anyone around her about how she had been wronged, and then her own words would raise her affect and within seconds she had spiraled into a screaming litany of abuse. At times, when she got really angry / upset, she was practically incoherent; just a word-salad of insults. Then she would calm down for a moment, pull on her cigarette, and then start muttering again.

I went back down into the club to see if I could make myself enjoy Popof’s set, but after another 30 minutes or so, I gave up and headed out. As I left, that same girl was still alternately muttering and screaming while her friends milled about restlessly.

vendredi, octobre 10, 2008


My daytime activities today were relatively prosaic. After a successful morning at the market, I came home, fed myself some of the spoils of my shopping, and then set about doing some writing, take care of some business, and running a few errands.

In the afternoon, on my way home from some of these errands, I came across an Algerian pastry shop called La Bague de Kenza, which has this hard-to-resist storefront full of piles and piles and piles of little cakes made of various combinations of almonds, pistachios, honey, orange-flower water, and various other nuts. I went in and asked for an assortment of 12 pieces, with the idea that I could slowly work on them as the week goes on. When I got home, I ate 6 of them in 1 hour. Clearly, I’m not allowed back in there again without supervision.

All of the nuts in those Algerian desserts really filled me up, so I wasn’t really interested in dinner until around 21h00, and even then I was almost reluctant to eat. I headed over to Belleville (only a short walk from my new apartment!) and had a bowl of Pho at my favourite Viet soup place, TinTin. From there, I wandered over to L’Ile Enchantée, a café on the nearby boulevard de la Villette, where my buddies Molly and Damien (a.k.a. Timid Boy) were spinning; these were the folks I had hung out with on the parade float of Le Rex at the Techno Parade two weeks ago.

After hanging out with them and watching them start their sets, I said my goodbyes and headed over to my next stop, which was at On Cherche Encore, where Fantômette and Franck Valat were taking turns spinning. I ran into most of the Frenchy-Berlin Krew there, so we hung out and caught up and had overpriced drinks and generally had fun. I had planned on heading home a bit early and getting some good sleep, but then I got caught up in conversation and suddenly discovered that the bar staff had turned on the lights and cut the music. Was it already 2h00?

I spent the next few minutes explaining the expression “time flies when you’re having fun” to my friends.

jeudi, octobre 09, 2008

Kate Simko at Léopard

Well, I had totally forgotten to post my pictures from the Richie Hawtin / Minus label night last Sunday, so here’s one photo that I took that seemed to capture the madness of the event:

Anyway, most of my day today was pretty unexciting, but toward the end of the evening I went out to Café Léopard to meet a friend from Chicago, Kate Simko, who is a DJ and Producer that has been gaining attention with her most recent release and an interview on Resident Advisor. She was passing through Paris between her weekend in Berlin and an upcoming date spinning at Fabric in London (this Saturday).

She got a gig spinning Thursday night at Le Léopard café, which was kinda ridiculous. There were maybe 15 people in the whole café, the sound system was tinny and low-fi, she barely had any monitor to work with, and so on. The next day, as I talked with my Parisian friends that are in the scene here, all of them had the same reaction, “What was she doing at Le Léopard?!” Make no mistake, the next time Kate passes through Paris, I’m going to make sure she plays at a place that’s more her speed.

Nonetheless, she made the best of her less-than-optimal conditions, and I have the perky photo to prove it:

mercredi, octobre 08, 2008

Of Butchers and Bawdy Humor

Woo! Post-splosion! This will be my 4th post today, finally putting me back on schedule for blogging.

Aside from the sweaty fun of biking to and fro around the city, there wasn’t much of remarkable that happened during the daytime today. I taught another English conversation class like the one I did yesterday, and the kids were similarly timid but capable. This group had more “Masters” students (i.e., “Second-cycle” or something like our M.A.), who mostly had better English skills—but I still had to repeat yesterday’s gesture and tell students to stop talking when others are talking.

After biking home from work, I realized that I had biked intensively for about 90 minutes in total that day, and I deserved a good meal. I had a nice bottle of Burgundian wine waiting for me at home that would go well with some poultry, so I decided to hit the butcher / poultry shop on the corner of Oberkampf and St.-Maur. As I walked in, one of the butchers was busy teasing the old man at the counter:

“You want sausages? You like my sausages, eh? Yeah, I saw that twinkle in your eye, you perv, you want my sausage.”
“You want a good steak? What on earth makes you think you deserve one of my good ones?”
“Veal? I know you like them young, but that’s just sick.”

The old man was laughing and keeping up with the jokes, alternating between feigned outrage and equally lewd innuendo. At a certain point, the old man noticed that I had entered the shop and complained to the butcher, “This young man is going to think I’m some sort of weirdo.”

“Oh no,” the butcher replied, “I’m sure he’s been in here before and seen how we behave.”

“Actually,” I said, jumping in, “this is my first time in here.”

A round of laughter, as if this had just made things all the more hilarious.

“Well great!” the Butcher said, “What an introduction to the neighborhood. You see how friendly we are here, no?”

“No kidding.”

From the cash register, his wife groaned and rolled her eyes, “You can take both of them, please. They’re filthy, filthy men.”

“Do you see the abuse I take here?” said the old man, gesturing at the entire staff.

“Oh, come on,” chided the butcher, “you know you like it. You keep coming back for more.”

“Whatever,” said the butcher’s wife, chuckling and absentmindedly rubbing her tracheotomy scar, “As long as he’s buying our meat, I don’t care how rough he likes it.”

If anybody needed an argument for small, owner-run shops, this is it. They probably aren’t the cheapest place to get meat in this neighborhood, and the roasted chicken I got was actually a bit over-roasted, but I know that I’ll be back.

mardi, octobre 07, 2008

Teaching English among the smart kids

Well, yesterday was the day when I finished revising my proposal, but today was the day I spent actually re-formatting, proof-reading and otherwise preparing my proposal to be read and approved by my thesis advisor. I managed to take care of most of that during my work day, and then I headed over to the Ecole Nationale des Chartes to teach an English class. I got a small gig at a rather prestigious post-secondary school (part of the Sorbonne, grandes écoles [LINK] cluster in Paris), which involves conducting conversation in English for 2 hours twice a week in the afternoon. The school is almost exclusively about history and archivism, as the school's mission is described on it's website as "the education of curators of written heritage." One of the main "undergrad" programs is archivist-paleographer.

I biked my way over to the school in the 6th arrondissement (largely uphill, I might add), arriving well before the class would start. Since I have about 2 hours between my day-job and this teaching gig, I think I’m going to start making a habit of frequenting the cafés on the nearby rue Mouffetard. The students were timid but capable of struggling through a basic self-introduction and mostly understood what I was saying. I saw a few of them (I think straight out of high-school) look at each other with wide eyes when I switched from French into English, but I did my best to reduce my Canadian accent and slow my speech. We’ll see how it goes.

Oh, and just to show that things are often the same on either side of the globe, I had to stop discussion about 30 minutes into class to tell the students that talking in class was something that makes me very, very cranky. I taught them a new expression: “pet peeve.”

Anyway, I kept them busy until about 19h00 and then headed home. It was raining and awful outside, so I slouched my way over to the nearest subway station and made my way home the “traditional” way.

lundi, octobre 06, 2008

Got home from last night around 6h00.

Woke up at 10h00.

Climbed onto a bike and made my way, slightly dazed, to work.

Had a surprisingly productive day at work

Got home and ate some leftovers and





…wait for it…






I still have to take care of re-formatting everything and so on, but HOORAY I’M DONE SQUEEZING OUT PROSE.

For now. I suppose I’ll have to write my whole dissertation soon.


Well, that euphoria was short-lived.

dimanche, octobre 05, 2008

Richie Hawtin, Ambivalent and Gaiser at Le Rex


I’m just a little bit behind on this whole blogging thing. Like, nearly a week behind. Gah! Alright, let’s catch up.

Usually, my Sunday posts are the shortest, since I’m usually recovering from whatever I did on Saturday and I probably won’t be awake for very long (this was especially true in Berlin). Today, however, was different. Three DJs from the Minus label were spinning at Le Rex tonight, including the über-famous grand-daddy of minimal techno, Richie Hawtin. In fact, you can tell how famous this guy is by the fact that he wasn’t going to spin until 3h30 in the morning on a Sunday night / Monday morning, and the cover was 15€. And the place was PACKED by the time he got on the decks. It was madness. Anyway, back to my story.

I slept in for a good long while, then made some breakfast, wandered around the corner to get some bread, and spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening working on my proposal revisions. I’m so close to done I can taste it, and it tastes like relief.

I had a few friends planning on joining me tonight, and one of them happened to be near my neighborhood at a later point in the evening, so he came over and hung out at my place with a bottle of wine. Some time later, a friend from Berlin (French, but living in Berlin) came over and we met in the café downstairs for a glass of wine and some more chatter (mostly about US Politics). We waited for the final member of our group to show up, but he was taking a long time, so we told him to meet us in front of the club and we hopped on the subway.

In front of the club, I ran into Molly, the DJ I had hung out with at the Techno Parade and also the person who takes care of bookings for the Rex. On a busy (and expensive) night like tonight, she couldn’t get us in for free, but at least she was able to put us in the shorter guest-list line. I was surprised to find that the guy at the door recognized me and let me and the group through without question. Yay! Connections!

After checking our coats and grabbing drinks, we made our way over to the dancefloor, where I ran into a cluster of friends, including a few from the Berlin krew from the summer. Throughout the course of the evening, we would be split up and find each other again, sometimes separated by the crush of the crowd, sometimes simply by a short “mission” (i.e., peeing, getting a drink). We sorta migrated all over the place, but we eventually ended up front and centre by Richie’s set.

22h30-2h30: Ambivalent

The night started a lot earlier than it usually does for the club, but I suppose they wanted to give Richie enough time to play a long set, which meant pushing back the other sets a bit. Anyway, we didn’t really get inside until maybe midnight.

I had seen Ambivalent last week at the N.A.M.E. festival in Lille, and I had enjoyed the set, although some of my companions found his touch a bit “cold.” This set tonight, however, was pretty disappointing. He had consistent trouble beat-matching records and his track selection was pretty inconsistent; some good tracks, but also lots of so-so ones. It wasn’t horrible or anything, but it was pretty underwhelming, considering the prestige that usually comes with the Minus label.

2h30-3h30: Gaiser live

Gaiser’s had also played at the N.A.M.E. festival last week, and this set was pretty similar in sound, even if the content was a bit different. His set was more intense than Ambivalent’s, and the overall style was less house-influenced and more straight-ahead techno. It certainly qualified as “minimal” in the sense of long-looping structures with gradual changes, but the texture was pretty thick: heavy bass, lots of mid-freq stuff, but relatively light in the treble range.

I’m now totally convinced that there is something aphrodisiac about Panorama Bar in Berlin, because I was made to realize that I haven’t had the slightest lustful thought about a DJ since I’ve left Berlin. A friend that was dancing with me commented on Gaiser’s appearance saying, “Yeah, I could see myself fucking him.” And my reaction was something like, “Yeah, I suppose he’s cute. Never really thought of it, to be honest.” That is pretty much night-and-day contrast with my days at Panorama Bar, where I had to resist the urge to vault the turntables and jump on certain DJs (you’ll have to read through the Berlin chronicles to find out which ones).

3h30-6h00: Richie Hawtin

I was sort of worried about being disappointed by Hawtin. He’s actually from my region of Canada, so I’ve seen him a zillion times since I started in the rave scene back in 1995, and he has a tendency to oscillate between AMAZING sets and totally disappointing sets. The last time I had seen him (I think) was almost 2 years ago, here in Paris, on the same weekend as Nuit Blanche (does he come here every year at this time?). Anyway, that had been a really good set, so I was almost braced for a disappointment this time.

Thankfully, the set was fantastic. He was in his more heavy-handed minimal style rather than the fine and sparse style that he often employs for his recordings. He used the same form for his set as the last time I had seen him—episodic excursions into less conventional tracks that regularly return to “full” techno tracks—but he didn’t go quite as far afield this time. None of his “episodes” really went in a drastically different direction, but there was still that alternation between “departure” and “return” that makes his sets so dynamic (usually).

The crowd was almost unbearable at the beginning of the set, but by about 4h30 people had started going home (most of them preparing to work in a couple of hours), so the dancefloor opened up a bit. By 5h00, I was getting tired and realizing that I needed to be awake by 10h00, so I made my goodbyes and headed out. I managed to find a Vélib station about half a block uphill from the club and made my way home, which was thankfully not far away. Phew!