• Obskure

The current underground French techno scene

THE ALTERNATIVE FRENCH SCENE - Since few years the French scene endorses an unprecedented dynamism. This scene is not really the same as the 2000's French Touch, which for a long time has been the image of electronic music in France. Moreover, some clubs are characters of this movement in Paris and linked in the export of French sound abroad but also in several large cities that open to a different kind of music; Techno music.

Concrete and Rex Club are often described as the incarnation of the techno scene's revival in the France, but the other local scenes are not outdone and have many recognized places (Iboat in Bordeaux, Le Sucre in Lyon, 101 in Clermont Ferrand, Le Bikini in Toulouse or l'Ostra in Nancy...).

CONCRETE © Jacob Khrist

A front of the proof of this exponential development and the need to establish an inventory of what is happening, the main characters of the musical scene took in consideration this dynamic*.
 But the acceptance of music by the institutions and the medias**, as well as its democratization towards the public and the development of the places which are the showcase, could give in recent years an image of a more accessible environment, perhaps less alternative.

This development raises the question of the term "underground", which refers to works, backgrounds or artistic movements produced outside traditional circuits, commercial.

We can try to draw a division between a "general public" techno composed by great actors - festivals, clubs - who drain most of the market, and a more alternative stage, although the border between these two categories is not obvious.

On the one hand, some collectives are now well established in the warehouse scene*** - Possession -. While others invest both clubs and alternative places - Exil - still others temporarily invest more intimate spaces - Subtyl with the ephemeral experience of Mega Destock -. There are also some who started as free parties and who are now heading for more expensive nights - Razance - or others who defend the queer codes - Myst -.

Megadestock © Subtyl

On the other hand, many collectives irrigate the scene throughout the country, from Qui Embrouille Qui in Paris , through Positive Education in Saint Etienne, or the Metaphore Collectif in Marseille, to mention only them, and places more open and hybrid that clubs grow everywhere. The specific esthetic and the particular ways of process of each collectives are representative of the dynamism of this alternative scene which transits outside the clubs and other big structures, and which is characterized by a plasticity and a capacity to surprise and to innovate. Events organization, but also sometimes creation of their own label or their booking agency. The actors of this underground scene are not confined to a particular activity, and continue to propose alternative experiences that the clubs or festivals cannot necessarily offer (because of a more standardized, controlled, regulated, and therefore less flexible organization).

In parallel with the clubs and festivals the emergence of this new scene reactivates the aspect "unsuccessful" and DIY is developing little by little. All this being motivated by the desire to leave the compartmentalized universe of the nightclub, and to reconnect with a rawest spirit.

The warehouse example seems quite relevant; these events invest the time of a night of the disused places sometimes on the borders of the illegality.

But the search for a return to the more transgressive aspects of the rave paradoxically goes hand in hand with the professionalization of the middle, a professionalization that seems to characterize the evolution of most underground / alternative cultures. Techno is therefore not an exception: to cultivate a transgressive image, but tend towards an (inevitable?) professionalization, these are the issues that work the underground middle of techno currently. The warehouse collectives thus play on the codes of the underground (industrial places far from urban centers and their economic and social imperatives, evening format which is declined over ten hours and thus going against the temporality of daily life, secret location sent at the last moment, sharp line up that calls an audience of insiders ready to move far enough ...).

EXIL © Alex Verhalle

Moreover, these evenings work with events in clubs or festivals on applications that talk about the professionalization of the environment, and that allow in one click to find an event - Kraze - and take his ticket - Shotgun -.

Professionalization is not bad in itself, it shows on the contrary the seriousness of the environment and the achievements of a certain know-how in the way of doing things. But it is sometimes accompanied by an entry into mainstream circuits. For example, the warehouses use the codes of event marketing (intensive communication on social networks, visual installations and light shows to offer a real show, sometimes touching the "entertainment" side ...). Their functioning also tends towards the legal way (concerning the Parisian scene which is extremely rich, one can quote the Docks, and more recently, the studios situated near to the peripheries of Paris, in Saint-Denis & Aubervilliers.

Can we call warehouse and attribute the adjective "underground" to these events?

The question remains open. Nevertheless this dynamic undoubtedly renews the experience of the evenings and the approach of the stage by participating in the mutations of the techno environment in general. This sometimes draws new stakes, even potential new rivalries (for example at the beginning of the year the union SNEG & Co decried the unfair competition of warehouse and their security issues). What about militancy?

But what about activism?

The current techno scene may give the impression of a smoother environment, as if the fact of fully representing part of the current cultural offer was accompanied by a decline in vivid political claims / quarrels, which are nevertheless often attached to any underground movement. A form of activism is found in the minds of certain groups, through issues rooted in contemporary issues of society (help to the poor and / or refugees, LGBTQ +, ecology ...). However, the commitment remains strong when it comes to issues concerning the environment: recently, the intervention of the police in the evenings was perceived as a stench of conservatism toward techno, provoking the indignation of an audience that has probably rarely faced such radical measures.

Such episodes then reactivate the sense of belonging to a community, which has its own codes, and a way to consider the party more flexible than it is offered in large structures.

The questions that arise are therefore:

What future for this alternative scene?

Isn't professionalization likely to impact this underground spirit? Or on the contrary, to allow Paris to shine internationally like our European neighbours?

Possession © Marianna Matamoros

*. In 2016, SACEM presented its first report word to electronic music, distinguishing techno / house from the rest of the sector, thereby recognizing the logics of operation and characteristics specific to this environment.

**. In 2017, Le Figaro's video platform invited Chloé and the president of Technopol to discuss the challenges of electronics in France.

***. Strictly speaking, the term refers only to a structure, a shed. By extension he designates today a type of techno evenings that are held out of places traditionally dedicated to this music (clubs etc.). Written by Naomi