French connections: people and sounds refining the French electronic scene right now

    Artwork by Eugene Shylov

    F Communications, Roulé, Ed Banger Records, Institubes, ClekClekBoom, Sound Pellegrino, MLIU, Concrete Music, Yoyaku… There’s always something interesting cooking up in France. Smoothly surfing through styles during the last couple of years we all have been focusing on the French house scene mostly with its signature Concrete/Yoyaku-like sounds (and a slight touch of MLIU, of course).

    Yet, it seems, that times are changing again and a lot of new artists are ready to enter the game. This will be a story of newcomers (some of them you might be already familiar with) and their fresh sounds (with a lot of connections drawn to the previous waves) that keep haunting our ears at the parties, music shops and web pages.

    Let’s go.

    Forest Ill Records

    This whole story starts from the green apple of FIR001 that hit the online shelves in 2019. Unique sounds from the beginning of A1 preview clip, totally unknown names for some Ukrainian guy (Nemo who? Forest what?) and a little “Fuck Reissues” sign near the label’s name caught huge attention from the start. After the blitz sold-out it even doubled and kept growing with every new announcement on their SoundCloud page. With the earlier additions of Rakya and Lumbago, the picture was gradually getting clearer – these were not merely labels with their own unique sound, but parts of a bigger scene, which in its turn, by all the classical rules of scene evolvement, had to be already governed by certain connections and influences.

    But let’s get back to the FIR story with the kind help of Nemo Vachez: Nadir (Sanchez) and I were in high school together. We met Idris (Bena) 8 years ago partying together (there are 3 of us on FIR). We used to party a lot together, digging and buying records, then we naturally began to produce music. And in 2018 we finally got enough money to launch the label. It came so naturally, we were even a bit bored of the music produced at that moment and very passionate about the 90s music so we felt that it could be nice for us to try to release stuff that was more “connected” to our influences and the music that we were listening to back then.”

    If you listen to FIR tracks (especially the ones made by Nemo Vachez), you can notice its broken structure. Double-broken, if you will. The explanation seems quite obvious from the previous paragraph: “I love tracks with a lot of variations, that are telling a complete story like all the proto hardcore from 90/91, when the track changed completely every 16 bars. I think it was my main influence at the beginning. Then came my love for all the emotional stuff, like pads and kitsch melodies… I think club music is a lot about structure, so I tried to find elements that I love on my records and tried to find out why I love them. Then – reproduce it in my productions. To cut the story short, all my tracks are created for the club, and I tried to figure out how to create all the spectrum of feelings possible for the listener. I’m not a musician at all, I don’t know how to play an instrument or how to read keys. I just love music and I love digging records, so I think it was inevitable…”

    Idris Bena, another part of FIR and musician with a great background (rock and dub groups, batucada…) added another point to description of FIR’s music: “All my pre-FIR activities created those inspirations and diversity in my music too. All of us don’t want to put barriers in our music, it comes from our backgrounds and shared emotions – I think, this is one of the real strengths of our label. We’re all very close musically but also very different in our production approach, that creates a perfect balance between us.”

    If you ever tried to buy a FIR record, you probably noticed, that their way of distribution is quite unusual and did not change since the first release: announcement – Bandcamp presale – release date – regular shop appearance (with an immediate sold-out – true story: last year’s 3-days online absence almost cost me the possibility to buy FIR003 for a non-shark price). Why? It’s all about the money, Nemo says: “We started our label with the minimum budget, so we were doing everything by ourselves to reduce the costs.

    I made the design and the music, then we found a factory to make records, pressed them and decided to sell one half on Bandcamp, and the other half through Subwax BCN that distributed them to the regular shops. This model worked well for us. We were super lucky and everything was sold in a few weeks before the presales, but the problem was that Subwax didn’t tell the big shops that they just had 150 copies for them, so lots of people who pre-ordered them, saw their orders cancelled after – that created some kind of hype after the release, with high prices on Discogs etc., so we had a lot of angry people, thinking that we intentionally kept copies to resell them… Yet, despite this small problem the reception was pretty good and we are keeping this method of distribution for the next releases – I think it’s a good compromise to get a bit of money for the artists.”

    You won’t argue on that, right? Especially in 2020, when every penny became much more important for artists than it used to be in the pre-COVID era. At some points I thought that they will even change their mind about reissues, but they did not: “The pandemic affected us a lot, we had to delay Idris’ album for 2 months and all my gigs were canceled so it is difficult to get enough money to pay rent, but we’re confined all together with the crew so it’s nice, at least nice time to make music. We decided not to put stuff in digital to stay true to people who trust us and buy our records. Same for the repress thing – when people buy our records, they can be safe, there won’t be more. It’s important for us to keep the magic thing with the records, if everybody had it and listened to it at home every day, they would have felt bored when they heard it again in the club.”

    You have just read the words “magic” and “records” in one sentence – so it seems to be just the right time to ask about his own collection of records and ways of getting them… “Actually, I don’t know, I think, I have, like, 2500 records… Usually I’m digging online – Discogs offers a way to have a complete overview of all records, so I think it gives a good way to be more comprehensive on the music that was made back in the days. I’m not into new stuff, unless that’s music from my friends so I’m just trying to find overlooked stuff from the 90s. Miclea and Wendy are inspirations for us. We’re half-kidding sometimes that they just finished exploring Discogs from 92 to 99, haha…”

    Hearing names, like, Miclea and Wendy is another little showing of the FIR and Rakya connections: “They [Rakya] are party friends too, so when I released the first FIR record, they offered me to take care of my bookings and join the agency, and the pleasure was mine. Afterward, I invited Idris to join us and three of the best Parisian diggers who’re also my best friends: Miclea, Muelsa and Wendy. Basically we’re all super good friends so everything is very simple, like at the old school music scene, you know. We’re all partying together every weekend and we’re deeply influenced by each other, I think, it is a great opportunity to develop our sound.”

    His answer on the wider range of connections revealed a lot of people from the next parts of this article… OPAQ crew are super good friends of ours too. Lumbago are good friends too but we don’t see them as often cause they’re in Lyon. And Distrikt Paris and the girls from RA+RE are making a lot of parties so we saw them every month too…”

    After the last year’s Concrete closure, finding a new venue became first on the list. And 2020 didn’t make it easier: “There’s no club in Paris for our scene, just promoters making good parties in cool places. Breakfast Club is the most important, I think. A new party called Radio Pirate is really good too, otherwise the guys from Distrikt Paris are making nice parties too, and Rakya from time to time.”

    Briefly speaking, 2020 for FIR was as hard as for all of us. Nevertheless, it is gradually coming back to normal. Idris Bena album, one of our artists-to-watch-in-2020, was sold out in Air Dior speed. A great compilation on FIR006 is being prepared to break even this record. Gigs are making their slow comebacks… One more thing that was bothering me at the end of our talks… “No, unfortunately, nobody ever bought the 999 euros’ Bandcamp digital files, haha.” (and I could say, it was a bit sad “haha”)

    Rakya

    Almost full crew of Rakya (Wendy and Hdv are missing) Photo: Courtesy of Rakya

    If you want to book Nemo Vachez in your country one day, you’d have to do it by e-mail that ends with “rakya.fr”. Even this little fact tells us that Rakya is more than just another nice little label, but a strong organization. It includes events, a vinyl-only label, Bandcamp-only U-A sidekick, a podcast series and the booking agency. All this stuff grew once from a couple of friends with same ideas, vision and a great passion to do something good for their local scene and talents. That was explained to me on one of those quarantine lockdown days during the call with three co-founders of Rakya. They do most of the talking in this part, explaining how their creation became such a valuable piece of Parisian, French, and, actually, worldwide scene. Let’s start from the very beginning, of course:

    Stephane: Rakya was founded 5 years ago by three of us: myself, Alex which is half of Charonne duo, and Pierre. There was also another friend, but he’s a bit far now… We’re all very close (Pierre is my friend since we were 5 years old, and in general we all are friends for at least 10 years. We’re more focused on the label and the agency now, and as a consequence, Jean Charles took over the focus on parties, while Nicolas is helping Alex in communications… We started the agency 2 years ago, and since then we’re growing, with Paul and Robin are helping us with bookings. Then there are our graphic designers which are Celia and Louis… And of course, our artist roster – Charonne, who were the first joining, Miclea, Muelsa, Hdv, Nemo Vachez, Idris Bena, Raphael Carrau, Wendy… This is pretty much the whole crew (it’s always hard to have dinner all together, but we still do sometimes).

    Most of us (and all of us three) have full-time jobs, so Rakya is a passion of friends with the same ideas and goals. We started from very intimate parties in Paris (100 people max) – always in the center of Paris and at non-club locations… At those times we wanted to have some “original” venues that were not used for parties – art galleries, gardens, “cool places”, you know? It was that idea of intimacy, and even when our community started to grow, the idea still is central. We even used to have membership cards at some point…

    Alex: At first, it was like, no FB-events, only text messages, but then it evolved with friends inviting friends, we got a website… the number grew from 100 to 500-600 people instead and here we are now…

    Stephane: That was a time when we understood that the Rakya brand needed to grow and that we need to keep doing it, especially when we have a great roster of resident artists that are going better and better with every day. So, after one year and a half we started to do “public” parties inviting people we like (and who never played in Paris before) – And.rea, Domenico Rosa, Saverio Celestri. At the same time, we didn’t forget about our core artists – that was the main thing.

    It was easy (especially if you’re not living in Paris) to miss Rakya parties in the beginning, but it’s getting harder and harder to miss their impact on music because of their label that keeps getting more and more attention with every release. Focusing on local artists, of course…

    Alex: The evolution of our organization goes hand to hand with the evolution of our label, started in 2016 – you can see it on Discogs, for example.

    Stephane: The label started after we went more “public”, and after it we got the agency. Through the years, nothing has changed – we’re still firstly a team of friends, hard-working, that share the same vision and passion.

    Alex: We are very serious about feedbacks. When, for example, we are preparing an EP, everyone in the team can say anything about it: “I don’t like this drop, can you change some here, here and here?” – it’s not about the Rakya brand, but about the people who are making it on a daily basis.

    It’s hard to believe, but the sounds of Rakya could be totally different now. You’ve probably noticed the division between TAMA and ZORA on their label. I was curious about it so I asked more info…

    Alex: When we started all this, we had something like two “parts” in our crew – one was more into house and minimal (which is where Rakya sound is now now), and another one that was more into the Scandinavian techno, cold and dark… Our side kinda overcame, so that is why you can hear it the most in our tracks now.

    Stephane: They left the crew but nothing changed in our relationship, they’re still great friends. And we still have the TAMA side on both our Bandcamp and Soundcloud. But in the end it is good to have this separation as it was just not working anymore for Rakya.

    Staying with “the sound of Rakya”… I tried to classify it for myself many times. And failed every time. I asked people from Rakya to do the same thing. And failed again. Too many inspirations…

    Alex: There’s a lot of people asking us about it. If we go back in the years when there was a big trend for the Romanian sounds, or the Berlin minimal (Perlon, etc…) – I think we were definitely inspired by those sounds then. All of the styles, the elements of which you can hear now in our music, are still there, because of our love for music that we’re hearing now. We (or Charonne, to give you an example) like everything, we don’t want to put ourselves into some boundaries. There’s always a blend of inspirations.

    Stephane: It’s really hard to fit Rakya into a specific style, we don’t have a signature sound (like FIR, for example). Every artist of our crew has his own pool of inspirations and they are always evolving, you can hear it in every release.

    Since their main series of eclectic sounds became FIR-like hard to get (the EP by Charonne was named “The Most Highly Desired Release Of 2019” by Discogs), they stayed accessible and launched a Bandcamp-only digital U-A series Epicerie

    Stephane: We had a lot of unreleased tracks from friends, and, while we wanted to keep the main label vinyl-only, why not have some sort of side-project? We wanted to focus on music from our audience, so there’s always an “Unknown Artist” – the name itself shouldn’t be important.

    Alex: I want to point it out also – all our “vinyl” music stays on vinyl, no digital or Bandcamp release. But is great to have our Bandcamp-only project, and is feeling great.

    Being part of the big Parisian music biosphere, they see it from the inside. And the situation currently seems quite well, from their words (just as their future plans)

    Alex: It’s nice to see the scene growing, we have a lot of great producers, a lot of cool stuff is going on.

    Stephane: Sometimes we think that there are even too many promoters. But we have to push it forward if we want to focus on our locals and compete with other great cities.

    Alex: It’s a hard competition, but it’s a good competition. More parties, more people, more interest… the scene will benefit

    Stephane: Our biggest challenge is our evolution– we started just from being a promoter to be really focused on the music and the artist base. For example, we used to do 8 or 9 parties per year, now max 3 or 4. I think some other crews in Paris are doing better parties than we are doing, but we are trying to be more than just this.

    Alex: It was nice when our parties started to grow: 100, 200, 300 people. And then, when our releases started to appear. Our first vinyl was sold out in a second. It was really good to see it. But if you would ask me about one “moment” – there wasn’t such a thing. It was growing naturally, and slowly, all the time.

    Pierre: We always got our “challenges” – the parties, the label, the agency. So the real breakthrough for me is to see that everything is going well now, and all our activities are interconnected. I think the next challenge for us, will be the transformation of our label into a bigger imprint that will last longer and will become really important inside the musical world.

    Stephane: …and also I think it would be great to have some big event with only our local talents, without some big guests (but, have to say, it’s always a pleasure to host artists from all over the world here and exchange our experiences). I remember the times when there were, like, too many great parties in Paris, with a huge aim on international guests. It would be great to overturn it a bit into the local side (even for a short post-COVID moment). And, of course, to sustain during these hard times without touring and playing…

    With our aim to push our friends forward, it’s great to see, that all our stuff is going great now. Every EP is kind of breakthrough for us, every new project too – we’re getting very bored if Rakya doesn’t change for too long.

    I can’t say how many times the word “friends” was used in our full uncut conversation. But it seems, that even if Rakya changes in some ways, this attitude will stay with them forever. And it’s a beautiful thing to know.

    Distrikt Paris

    Distrikt Paris crew hanging out at Bassam’s studio (even Kizoku!). Photo: Courtesy of Distrikt Paris

    The recently established label and well-known Parisian event series Distrikt Paris will be our next stop in the French capital. Five years of parties plus starting the record label with one of the best tracks of 2020 so far – it just can’t be missed. So, with a little help from the Distrikt Paris co-founder Bassam (you may also know him from Antam Records) and Escko, we’re taking you on a quick tour of their organization. Let’s start from the very beginning…

    Bassam says “Escko and I co-founded Distrikt Paris at the end of 2015. We didn’t really know what we were doing (hah!) but we were given the opportunity to throw some events in an awesome warehouse and took it immediately! At that time, there was really only the techno scene in similar underground venues in Paris, we were the first to bring the minimal house vibe to it.

    Now Distrikt Paris is a collective that includes 6 Resident DJs (Bassam + Blanco + Escko + Kizoku + Poggio + Taïeb Chékir) and a team of six other beautiful human beings that work in tandem on different event production and label processes. The team has changed a bit since the very beginning – we’ve all met in different ways but mainly through Distrikt events and we’re all friends now!”

    Five years of partying – a great time to pick some highlights to make us feel bad for missing them live: “It’s hard to pick only one, but our 4th Birthday Party last December with Quest, Christian AB and a live by TC80, followed by a mad afterparty with our friends from Binarysound, has to be one of the highlights of our club events. And, as a resident DJ, my best Distrikt event was the afterparty we threw at the main floor of Concrete (b2b with Escko) and our first Dehors Brut closing after Nicolas Lutz (again b2b with Escko).”

    From the previous parts you should already know that asking the heroes of this article to categorize their music… is not really the best idea. But, Bassam, actually, gave me a perfect word for that. That word is “U N D E F I N A B L E”. And here’s why: “We started Distrikt Paris with a minimal house vibe. We never did too much Romanian music or so… According to the musical evolution of our residents, we started booking all kinds of musical styles. Obviously, some of the finest selectors/diggers in the scene have played for us and that makes our music undefinable. We just go with the flow and book the artist that plays music we like – it may be housey, techy, electro/breaky, it could be still minimal or whatever sounds good to our ears.

    People in Paris still associate Distrikt with the minimal house vibe or “micro-house” as commonly said here. Nevertheless, we really play any kind of electronic music. Our residents are the finest selectors in the city and can play several genres according to the venues they’re playing in or the guests they’re playing alongside with.

    This point of view is related to our label too. The first release is techno with a breaks remix. However, the upcoming releases are different. What is sure, is that we’re going to have a beautiful musical journey.”

    So, the label. The huge long-awaited debut (thanks to the pressing factory for the delays!) by Kosh and Janeret, followed by the second one by John Shima – that’s the kind of approach you’re waiting in 2020 from the crew, that was (and sometimes still is) associated with minimal sound, right? “Both of these artists are our great friends, we have supported them since the very beginning. We gave Kosh his first European gig, and since then we had many great opportunities to work together. The opportunity to have him on the first release was almost the main motivation to start the label. About Janeret – we loved his sound and we knew he is a versatile producer. So we asked him if it was possible to switch roles and make the electro remix for a 4/4 track from an electro artist such as Kosh. The challenge was quite interesting and that is how it gave us the first release.”

    Because of their constant hard work to establish their local scene it would be natural to ask Bassam about some thoughts on it: “the Parisian scene is kind of leading the French scene obviously. It is literally blooming for the last years. My personal point of view is that the Parisian scene is starting to get credits abroad and achieving maturity levels when it comes to events and artists. Despite the already established French artists we have, there are a lot of newcomers, that are very talented and extremely passionate producers and selectors showing off day by day.

    For me, the Parisian scene needs to establish a spirit of mutual supportiveness! Unfortunately, I feel that somehow the scene has this “inferiority complex” that pushes people to venerate the hype coming from abroad instead of pushing their locals who have absolutely no reason to envy the foreign DJs. The audience is also responsible for this as they need to support their locals and not only be always waiting for the hyped names to attend an event.” It seems that every local scene in the world has the same problems, you know…

    With the hope, that there won’t be THAT big delays on DKTP002, it’s time to leave DP, mentioning their Bandcamp-only digital series and a great collection of podcasts, and wishing them to come back into their usual partying rhythm ASAP with their original Distrikt vibes that usually “are kicking off from the 1st minute of the party”.

     Lumbago

    Lumbago in full effect: Canza, Alexis, Nicolas Bailly, Prince de Takicardie. Photo: Courtesy of Lumbago

    I guess, it’s time to leave Paris and see, what the other cities of France have to offer for us. Our next stop will be Lyon and their prominent Lumbago crew. We have to be thankful for the existence of Lumbago at least because of their discovery of The Signal Phantasm (if you missed that album in 2018 – daaaaaaamn!). Why else? Nobody will tell us about it better than the co-founder of their ninja team – Alexis Llorca. From the very beginning, as always…

    “Since 2016 we run a label called Basse Resolution. During the artistic process of the first release, we realized that we had some tracks that fit together well but not on this imprint as we defined a precise musical line. We then decided to set up another label on our own, mainly with compilations, as we found ourselves in this format as DJs.

    So, Lumbago was founded by our eponym DJ duo of Clément Canzano and myself. We are running most of the aspects of the project, which includes releasing records, organizing events, running a podcast channel, etc. Within the years some of our closest friends joined the project also and we now have a team of skilful and talented DJs in our roster of residents: Prince de Takicardie, Nicolas Bailly aka Golden Tooth and Axcel aka Astroboy. Not to be missed also, our partner since the first hour and responsible for most of our identity, our graphic designer Antoine Coste, who does an amazing job.

    The first idea behind Lumbago, after we decided to go on, was to release everything we liked as DJs and not to fix a traditional artistic direction focused on one style. Most of the time we released people we met along the way, especially for our EPs and LPs. That’s why you’ll find diverse flavours on the first 4 releases, tech house, electro-ish minimal, technoid experiments… After LMBG05 we finally decided to focus on what represents us the most, that particular driving techno that is hard to describe precisely as it takes influences everywhere: body-moving music, always a bit psychedelic, acid house and trance infused but still minimalistic in some ways. It doesn’t mean we turned our (broken) back in favor of other influences, the tree will grow!!”

    Oh, so what do we have here – another label with a tree of influences, perfect. Remind me, please, never to ask about that again, ok? I’m kidding, of course – actually, that’s one of the things I like the most in this so-called “new minimal/post-minimal” scene: you’ll never know what track you’ll hear in the DJ-set next, also, it is becoming much harder to predict what your favorite label will release next. By the way, releases… let’s come back to Lumbago:

    “Our first release came out just a bit before a certain revival of the early 2000’s tech-house era (Swag, Surreal, Wiggle, all the works of Terry Francis, etc…), which saw the return in front of the scene of guys like Mark Ambrose or Silverlining, for example, and loads of represses. So people were quite into this gangsta tech-house flavour and the release was quite well received by the audience, even though we didn’t have that much promotion skills and the best distributor for our scene at that time. After that our evolution was quite regular but I think we can see two releases that really helped us develop. 

    LMBG03: This second edition of our Ninja Tools series (VA compilation) has been well received by our (growing at that time) audience and had different inspirations that permitted us to touch different people. It happened so that this release was rapidly sought after by many and the prices raised quickly, which naturally got attention from people on the label. At this moment we realized it was worth the involvement (haha), people were following us.

    LMBG05: We’ve all put a lot of efforts into our first LP, and the efforts paid back, I guess… From the producers to the graphic artist and the promotion (made by ourselves) to mobilize our fan base, everyone was really involved… It was definitely a breakthrough moment which I remember really well. I was moving to Barcelona and traveling a lot around Europe at that time, it was rare that I didn’t hear it during a party and sometimes the album was played twice or three times during a single night(!!) – hard to believe, especially when you’re attending to your favorite parties.”

    LMBG05 is THAT album by The Signal Phantasm I was talking about earlier. A rare example of the album, that could be heard in the club in full (if your DJ is that lazy during one night) – all tracks are suitable for crazy peak-time dancing. That album was their second introduction to the world after LMBG02, but I was also curious what was their introduction to Lumbago. So, coming back to Alexis and a mysterious guy in a dragon shirt:

    “In 2016 I went to a party in Marseille where Nicolas Lutz was playing. A good friend of mine told me that the guys that were doing the warm-up are probably the most interesting DJs in the city even if they were unknown. It’s simple, and in my opinion, they even did a better job that night. I naturally decided to talk to that guy who was wearing a golden embodied dragon shirt and asked him who the fuck he was: it was Raphael aka Prince de Takicardie and I discovered he was also producing, so we kept in touch closely. Two days after I decided to release his productions based on his demos, and he introduced me to Vincent aka Man/Ipulate, his partner at that time. We then did quite a lot of meetings between Marseille and Lyon, going to studios to improve their skills as their sound wasn’t 100% ready, but ideas were definitely nice. They worked a lot since we got interested in them and now they can are proud that this challenge is beaten and surpassed!”

    By the way, that project is defunct and now they are fitting the rosters separately. You can see them on LMBG07 and LMG08. Also, Lumbago label and parties became a nice place to shine for a lot of… Ukrainians like Sasha Zlykh, Bejenec, AC130, Borys – not an obvious choice for a French label. So how did they meet?

    “Algorithms & destiny? A big part of our followers are from Ukraine, we don’t really know why it grew so quickly there. Naturally, it had an influence on our SoundCloud interests, researches and then algorithms. I found Bejenec like that as he’s well known in Eastern Europe. We just loved everything about the man so we decided to release a track from him on our LMBG06.

    At that time, Sasha met Clément in the digger sphere thanks to the internet (hehe), they liked each other a lot so he decided to invite us to play in Kyiv. We had an amazing time, met only nice people (including Bejenec, whose record on Lumbago was just out) in real life. We had such a great time that we also invited them plus Borys to play on our stage at Nostromo Festival in Paris. I’d call them friends now.

    AC130, by the way, is a completely different story – he reached us to propose his demos for the label, and we decided to talk further for a new project we have in mind.”

    Let’s now make a quick stop to summarise the label’s plans: “First, Lumbago’s first digital release will see the light in 2020, a collaboration between two of our main artists. Second, Basse Resolution will revive from his long hiatus. And third, another sublabel is in the making.”

    Ok, enough with Lumbago. Since they represent Lyon, let’s see, what else is happening in Lyon besides them. It seems in fact that not really a lot of people are asking about – bad for them!

    “Quite a lot actually. The city always had an electronic music culture, thanks to the main festival here: Nuits Sonores. Concerning the parties – the scene evolved a lot those past years, with an offer in terms of venues that didn’t evolve at the same level, so we can see interesting things going out of that. More and more collectives are now doing atypical parties in a freer spirit, investing in new places and exploring new formats. (Weird Weird World, Everybody Trance, Ya.R, In/side…)

    As much as it helped us, the birth of a dedicated electronic music distributor (Chez Emile) in 2015 helped the scene like no one in my opinion. Because of them a lot of labels have found the opportunity to press their music and step up, the process became simpler and everything was in your city. It helped to put Lyon on the map of different styles of music, from experimental to electro-ish bass music, to house and disco, and to styles in our range…”

    You probably know, that in France historically local derbies in football are a very rare thing (city of London just left the chat) – all their major rivalries are cross-cities. The main (geopolitically, at least) is Le Classique between PSG and Marseille, but, since we’re in Lyon…

    “There’s no rivalry between the capital and the other cities in our opinion and knowledge. Of course, Paris is drawing more attention because the scene is bigger and therefore the audience is bigger: in fact, even our audience is more present in Paris than in our own city and the event activities are huge at the moment, which gives a lot of attention to Paris and naturally to Parisian labels. 

    What we can see, and maybe it’s something that could be improved in a way is that most of the labels out of Paris are going off the radar when it’s about media coverage. Sad thing as they represent a big part of the French imprints universe and are quite often trendsetters for what will happen there later…

    There’s maybe a little jealousy at some points, but it’s not up to the crews – it’s about the policy and the opportunities that the city and the actors of the nightlife are giving to you. Parisian nightlife has been sustained a lot for those past 8 years and you could see a handful of afterparties going on every weekend. In Lyon you have maybe 2; per year. You quickly realize there is a big gap and maybe not the same chances to evolve, which can annoy sometimes. On the other hand, Lyon is less competitive which creates better relationships between the local crews.”

    Their musical Ligue 1 also seems to look well: “France is flourishing in terms of producers, we receive more and more demos from unknown artists who have super great influences, ideas, and rough talent… that needs to be polished but it shows you that our scene has a bright future ahead, with more and more people dedicated to the art, everywhere in France.

    It’s hard to describe a segment, as we all have strong differences in our sound even if we have similarities, which has the effect not to touch exactly the same crowds. Some are more rave-orientated than others, who are more into club atmospheres, and others like us are in-between. The boundaries between those worlds are becoming thinner and thinner though, and more and more connected which is a good thing.

    I think it’s what we like the most in our scene. A lot are focused on one style, maybe with different touches here and there but mainly that’s it. We like how DJs on our scene are able to play ambient as much as minimal, breaks, trance, house, new beat… depending on the hour, the mood, the crowd etc… and still supporting each other. That versatility is something that keeps it really interesting cause it’s surprising and creating links between different communities. We have a lot of ravers in our crowd, as much as people who followed us first for our minimal house sound.”

    It’s early to predict, but if 2021 isn’t the same piece of crap of 2020, we might see a huge bloom of Lumbago. At least, I’m honestly hoping for that. Alexis is too: “This crisis happened at a key moment for Lumbago, as we are ambitious and want to have a more sustained plan of releases. Parties were also running very well so it’s quite a hit in our plans of evolution. We need to find solutions in order to be able to make those plans happen now…”

    OPAQ 

    Our next shortstop will be the island of Corsica and their OPAQ Records project that had a short but banging life. The crew of Corsican origins and Paris-based producers and friends Charlou, Mare, Stephen, Ziad and Steve Marie gave us a bunch of top EPs with their quite aggressive trancey/ravey sounds that became signature for them.

    Interesting transformation if you go back a few years, when Steve Marie could be found on Mulen Records with sound, that has nothing to do with the one we can hear on his tracks since 2018.

    As he said in one interview before his gig in Kyiv last year – he started from minimal and micro-house, but all the influences that popped up here and there were driving him into trance and acid sides of production… Sounds like a typical situation for this article, right?

    Anyway, because of those influences now we can hear him on labels, like Libertine, Opia, Cymatique or Griffé, but not OPAQ… Yes, I’ve been told by Steve himself (but you can easily see it yourselves too from their silence): OPAQ Records is on standby and it seems that it won’t come back from it soon. Charlou, Stephen and Steve Marie started their new label S·A·C·S 89, but after news about its launch in March, there were no updates (I guess again we all can figure why). Their productivity as separate musicians is quite well rounded – we just spoke about Steve Marie, but in the post-OPAQ era Charlou also could be found, for example, on Lumbago and Griffé too – but I think, we are all waiting for their reunion of some kind.

    I only hope it will have their original OPAQ energy.

    RA+RE

    We’re going to make one more stop in Paris. This time it will be to meet the female collective RA+RE that manages to handle a quite successful label, nice podcasts series, not one but two series of parties and even a clothing line (and we’re not talking about merch). RA+RE co-founder Claire Abitbol (or ABI) is going to tell us how do they do it – as you may have guessed – she’s the main speaker in this part.

    “Originally, we were friends, Clara (aka Rohmi), Jessie and myself (ABI) who met in New York 8 years ago. We were all living there, were hanging out at the same underground parties like ReSolute or BlkMarket. We decided to create our own project in 2013 to enhance women in the electronic music world. We wanted to create a community to push them to produce and help to play more and more. Then, we met Ethel and Melody who were a duo in Paris and they immediately integrated into the group, we had the same vision, played the same music etc. Then more residents arrived, Charlotte, Mari.te, Mayssam and RUBI. As of today, we are a crew of 9 residents: ABI, Rohmi, Ethel, Melody, Charlotte, Mari.te, RUBI, Mayssam and Jessie, all spread around the world.”

    Then the parties and releases started to pop: “Well, it started with the launch of our first EP in June 2014 –  we did our first showcase in the Parisian club Badaboum, inviting the artists of that EP and presenting the project. And then when Ethel & Melody arrived, we really began to be a proper crew and started to do RA+RE Showcase, playing b2bs all together all night long, that was amazing. We also started to have more and more residencies, especially at Club Der Visionaere and Hoppetosse in Berlin which was a real springboard…”

    My and, probably, your favorite part of the article already is the categorization of sounds. Once again – don’t expect anything simple here: “It’s pretty hard to describe our music because we actually love and play many different styles. People usually ask us about this, but the response is a vast topic. We definitely go from house to techno through minimal, breakbeat, ghetto house, bleep… But always in a groovy way. We know that we are here to make people dance and have fun, and for us the most important thing is the groove. And also, I guess that we bring a little feminine touch – this is the feedback that we have from our crowd – trying to bring an elegant and dancing sound.”

    Still, the answer looks rather complete. Now let’s see, where sounds like that could be heard. And why it has to be two series of parties (one of which seems pretty secret): “Well, Breakfast Club is an afterhour party we have been organizing for 4 years now with our brothers from Playground Paris crew. The first event was on January 31st in 2016 and it was supposed to be a one-shot event. We decided to do it in Café Barge which is a restaurant, but inside. In the beginning, there were parties on the dock of the barge, very famous Sundae parties organized by Celine for years. 

    What happened later was pretty unpredictable, because everything was pure coincidence. We wanted to do parties there because the space was very special, but because it’s a restaurant, it was impossible to open before 2am, and that was definitely too late to start a nighttime party. So we had the idea to make an afterhour. 

    The guest who was supposed to play couldn’t be announced, so we decided to go with Secret Guest. The first event was a success, crazy and fresh. People had so much fun, so they started asking us to do more and this is how Breakfast Club became a proper appointment. Since then, we never announced ANY ARTIST, EVER. And we are lucky because the crowd trusts us – they come, they know that they will listen to good music and will have a wonderful Sunday. The problem now with the scene is that you must have a big or hyped headliner on your line-up if you want to bring people; we have the chance to bring very famous artists and also small but talented ones, who maybe didn’t have the chance to play on a good system in peak-time in a room full of people on fire yet; it’s so grateful and satisfying for us to give them this opportunity and allow the crowd to discover them. 

    RA+RE Showcase and Breakfast Club are 2 different things. RA+RE showcases are our original parties where we invite women only to play and we do it all over the world since the very beginning. Breakfast Club is an afterhour as I said above. It’s from 6am to 8pm; there is a membership to get in, we wanted to create a community to keep the vibe and keep it intimate; we want the people there to know why they come. We obviously invite men to play at Breakfast Club, we want to invite artists that we respect and admire for their music and we want them to spend a special moment, have fun like if they were playing in afterparty with their friends in their living room…”

    So, four years of very impactful parties and six years of the label. There are plenty of moments for looking back, right? “It’s really hard to name the best or breakthrough party because we had many unforgettable moments, mostly at Breakfast Club. The fun fact is that party after party we were feeling that the next one was even more insane than the previous one; they were actually so different. I would say that the 3rd Anniversary of Breakfast Club on March 2019, where we required costumes was definitely one to put in the books. And for the gigs, for my part (ABI), I guess the b2b I did with Melody and Rohmi during the closing party for the French festival Nuits Sonores in Lyon was a very special moment.

    If we’re going to look wider and go into the history of our organization, the key moments are:

    First – the very beginning, when we launched the first EP in 2014. The project of a female artists’ record label proposing parties with female-only line-up was something really different and people started to have more interest in what we were doin

    Second – winter of 2015-2016 was a huge moment for us because we also launched our clothing brand and we benefited to huge visibility because we earned many awards as a “company” so that definitely permitted us to do bigger things.

    Third – the start of our residency at Club Der Visionaere and Hoppetosse in May-2015.

     

    And fourth… The beginning of 2016 when we started to organize the Breakfast Club. The Parisian scene was overloaded and people were looking for or waiting for something new, fresh, real parties in Paris where they can have fun, enjoy, listen to amazing music on a proper soundsystem. Something intimate where you can party for hours.”

    Staying on the line with the “Parisian scene” mentioning: “It’s crazy what is going on in Paris now. Paris used to have this image of a sleepy town where nothing was happening and now if you go on Resident Advisor and check what is going on in Paris, it’s so busy. So many clubs, warehouses, open-airs, night time, after hour, small rooms, big rooms… And that’s amazing! There are so many promoters who try to bring something different, being inventive, trying to find new spots, trying to move the people in the suburbs, which was totally impossible 10 years ago. Concrete definitely was one of the foundations of this movement and made electronic music more accessible and less connoted.”

    As you might understand – that answer was about the pre-pandemic times. Now, when things are much more difficult than they used to be in 2019 – how are they trying to manage it? And what should we hear next on the label (that just delivered an EP with probably the best RA+RE’s B-side ever, coming from someone we warned you to watch carefully during 2020, remember)? “Well, we actually canceled our 6th anniversary which was supposed to happen on June, 6 and also we had the 4-year-anniversary party of the Breakfast Club on March, 22 that we canceled too. Like many-many other plans, unfortunately. During the lockdown, we launched a video series, not Livestream (there are too many!), but interviews of our favorite artists during the lockdown titled “AT HOME WITH…” by RA+RE.

    EP of our resident Ethel finally came and we’re very proud of it. Also, we’re working on a little compilation and hoping that we will be able to start doing normal parties again soon, let’s cross fingers.”

    One more thing we didn’t talk about so far is the clothing line, that allows them to have names like Nastia or Xosar in their roster. “The idea of RA+RE was to propose a 360° project around electronic music and women. Passing by the music and also, the attitude. We wanted to create a line of clothing that would allow women to party for hours feeling confident, feminine, and sexy. The idea is to assume their femininity in a world usually darker and surrounded by men. And, yes, if you check the names of our clothes, they all have female DJ names. It’s our way to show them our respect and support…”

    Through all these years RA+RE gave us great music, top-notch parties and a solid attitude. We expect the same after things go back to normal – we can just hope that their next EP will hit the shelves soon and won’t be delayed that much.

     Chat Noir Distribution

    So far, this article was totally about crews and labels. Let’s end it with a different subject – the distribution. Not Yoyaku – their story and legacy can make up an article of the same length already (+ we already did a full feature on them a few years ago). We’re going to look into the collection of slightly less-known labels that Chat Noir Distribution is spreading to the world. Quite successfully, I must say. Some of them could be described as minimalistic, others could be described as such a few years ago, some of them never had that vibe, and the rest you better not try to categorize at home.

    Starting from the “house wine” – official imprint of distribution. Chat Noir Rec., that takes its history since 2018. We can see two “House Of France” compilations there, the “main” series, that, obviously, is trying to tell us a story of some very naughty cat…

    …and (in my opinion – the best here) “Chat Noir Tools” series, that already gave us pumping releases by Vitess, Occibel and Jo’z (just listen to that “Drop The Bass”!)

    Now – the others. We’re going A-Z, without mentioning some that were mentioned above, like OPAQ. Also, not all of them are from France. But their distribution is, so…

    Starting with the sparkling 2-step and garage on 3 Feet Deep Records

    …going to compilations of high-flying artists and spacey sounds on Cymatique Records

    …then – more minimalistic approach of DXL Records where the nice EP of Pressure Point just landed (and title track premiered by us)…

    …some trancey stuff from the Paris-based Griffé label…

    …some mellow vibes from the France-based Happiness Therapy label…

    …some hypnotic tunes from the Ukraine-based Hypnohouse crew…

    …housey touch of Increase The Groove Records (damn, those “Ob1 Kenobi” remixes!)

    Pont Neuf Records with their unforgettable “Habemus Paname” series…

    …even some disco vibes by Petrole

    …and some electro beats by Vernacular Records.

    That seems to be all we wanted to highlight.

     Conclusion (a sort of)

    If you made it here – congratulations! And even if at times it was very hard to categorize some sounds (which was the main intention of this article when the whole idea popped up) – it still could be clearly seen, that all that great French scene of nowadays has connections to its minimal past.

    Now it looks more like a “Class Of ####” meeting after some years – you know all these people used to have that influence but now they graduated from Minimal High School and went into all possibly different directions far or near. And that’s totally OK, of course.

    Also, the hidden question in all our chats above was a list of other great crews, so the chances of missing somebody important was as minimal as their sounds used to be (haha!). So, here’s the list:

    Antam Records (Paris), Automatic Writing (Paris), BinarySound (Hossegor), Comic’s Trip Records (Paris), Les Disques De La Jungle (Paris), Luminære (Rennes), nifo records (Paris), Nostromo (Lyon), Radio Pirate (Paris), Sentaku (*UK-based, run by Josh Rawl & Massai), Shadow Play (Paris),  Shotgun Records (Avignon), These Tasty Records (Lille), Vaporized Records (Toulouse), Voiceless (Nantes)

    There’s also a chance, that some new crew is launching their label or party series right now as we speak. If so – well, we’ll see you in a few years, when this article will be revisited. And I’m going to have a little rest now. Phew, that was really some trip!