THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE | DJMag.com! Skip to main content

THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE

 Already a staple sound of Ibiza at DC-10 and Parisian clubs like Concrete and Rex, French house is now truly going global…

It’s August 2013 and the trio of Dan Ghenacia, Dyed Soundorom and Shonky are coming to the close of an eight-hour showcase of their trademark deep, groove-laden house music at their second all-night long DC-10 party as Apollonia. The Ibiza club is at capacity, and it’s the middle of what’s already been a huge summer for the three Frenchmen, which has seen them release their first EP as a collective on their self-titled label, as well as mix the ‘fabric 70’ compilation.

They’ve just dropped Matthew Herbert’s Tasteful Mix of Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’ and, despite being a relatively low-key track, its deep sunken bassline ignites the dancefloor. At that moment, the trio realised that many years of hard work had come to fruition.

Despite what some might believe, with Ghenacia, Soundorom and Shonky only forming the Apollonia collective in 2012, success hasn’t come almost overnight. The trio first met at after-parties at the La Batofar boat venue in Paris during the late '90s. There, Soundorom played a selection of avant-garde house music bathed in the psychedelic grooves of the US West Coast, inspired by artists released on Grayhound Recordings as well as often forgotten legends like Mark E Quark.

Almost 20-years later, the Parisian scene is now rife with DJs, producers, labels, crews and parties all pushing music with a clear lineage back to those La Batofar days.

And it’s not just people in Paris getting behind the sound. Since that party in 2013, the music has caught the attention of some of Ibiza’s biggest nights.

Apollonia are doing a number of all-night long sets at Marco Carola’s fabled Music On at Amnesia, Djebali was drafted in for the opening of ANTS at Ushuaïa alongside John Dimas, whilst DC-10’s Circoloco has become ubiquitous with French purveyors of the trippy after-hours house music that has become the sound of the summer. It’s fair to say, France is having a moment.

“We’re happy we’ve managed to bring the sound of the after-parties to the big time,” Shonky, real name Olivier Ducreux, explains. “Before, it wasn’t possible to play the druggy sounding house that we were playing together at smaller parties or poolside in the bigger venues, as people there wanted something more banging. But through the group of friends that met years ago, over time we’ve succeeded in taking it to the bigger clubs.”

Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

PARIS, IBIZA... THE WORLD

The road to taking their music out of the after-parties and towards the world’s biggest venues can be traced back to Ghenacia starting his Freak N’ Chic label in 2002, running parties with residents including his two Apollonia co-founders, and a network of French DJs including D’Julz, Terence: Terry:, Franck Roger and Phil Weeks.

Towards the end of that tenure, they also started doing parties at DC-10. The label ceased after eight years, with the Apollonia collective rising from its ashes, but the foundations had already been laid for the island to fall for their intoxicating blend of timeless music, which pulls from Ghenacia’s favoured US West Coast house, permeated by New Jersey sounds like Kerri Chandler, a universal appreciation of the disco music their home country pioneered through Cerrone and clubs like Le Palace, minimal techno, and early Chicago and New York house.

It may have taken the rest of the world until now to catch up, but through Freak n’ Chic and their parties at La Batofar, the artists around the label have been chipping away for almost two decades.

And although the sound is everywhere on the White Isle this summer, nowhere has taken the hypnotically deep and dubby house to their heart quite like the Parisians.

“Before that, French people that were into underground music moved to other cities that had a vibrant scene as Paris was so boring,” Ducreux says of the years before the current boom in French house. “Everything was closing early as the authorities had done so much to stop the parties, so the motivation from the crowd wasn’t the same. Now they are everywhere again, and they’re getting more and more crowded with people coming from all over Europe. It’s a proper boom.”

And it’s a combination of factors which led to this moment. At a time that many young people had grown tired of the electro sound that had been dominant in Paris’ biggest venues, the government, who had placed restrictions on the night-time economy after the free party scene of the '90s, were beginning to see the benefits of allowing events outside of clubs again. That paved the way for the likes of the open-air Sundae parties at Café Barge, as well as a number of other collectives like Sonotown to plan raves in warehouses and unused spaces across the city. It was the perfect storm, and essentially lit a fuse under a dormant scene.

The introduction of Concrete and their Weather Festival was another catalyst to driving this forward. Opened just 100m from where the Sundae day parties were hosted, everybody connected to the scene says the venue has had a huge impact since opening in 2011 under the creative direction of Brice Coudert. “After the '90s, the government were scared about this new movement, whilst the media turned out all the clichés about drugs,” he explains.

“That meant the following generation were too scared to organise events, which left a big cultural hole in the '00s.” He says that clubs like La Batofar educated those behind Concrete in how to run an underground venue. “We didn’t just want to open a club,” Coudert explains. “We wanted to create an institution to help to promote the French scene.”

And its the energy that Concrete and other collectives around them injected that led to the current boom in French house. “People had been waiting too long,” he continues. “So a lot of young people fell in love with the culture, buying turntables and studio gear and producing music at home the same way they would play video games together before. Now, they’re all ready to release their music.”

He says there’s a good energy between the new and old generation of French producers too. “Everybody is working together,” Coudert concludes. “And I’m still meeting new people whenever I go to Concrete, which proves the scene is still growing up.”

Somebody that has been omnipresent in electronic music in Paris since the first wave of French house is D’Julz, aka Julien Veniel, who runs the Bass Culture label that he launched in 2009, as well as holding residencies at the city’s Rex Club and Circoloco at DC-10. “There’s definitely a rebirth,” he explains. “After French touch, house music here got a bit lost, but this new surge of promoters over the last five years has changed all that.”

And he can’t be complementary enough about Ghenacia and all involved at Freak n’ Chic.

“Those guys were still doing it when everyone else was into different music,” Veniel explains. “Now they’ve given huge exposure to a style that was much more underground and really helped put that French sound back on the map. That’s brought a new audience of young people that are going to the clubs. We’re right at the beginning, but it reminds me of what happened in the '90s, but 10 times stronger. And that’s going to bring a new French touch.”

RANGE OF INFLUENCES 

Rex Club, where Veniel hosts his label nights, has stood at the centre of underground French music since it was opened by Laurent Garnier in 1992. And Alexis Mauri (aka Alexkid), the long-standing Parisian DJ that cut his teeth there in its early years, feels the venues’ continued support of new music is vital to the city’s scene. “They’ve never just booked something in order to make more money,” he explains. “By not falling into trends, keeping an open-minded spirit and bringing different music in, they’ve helped underground music in the city a lot.”

Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Mauri also feels the Romanian minimal scene centered around the [a:rpia:r] label, with artists like Raresh and Rhadoo, also did a lot to pave the way for the new wave of French house to permeate larger dancefloors. “It taught people to appreciate a groove-based sound that isn’t built on big breaks,” he explains. “Each track is an exercise of stripped-down elements and taught people the elegance of not overdoing it,” he says of the new sound of French house. “Now suddenly there’s a generation of younger kids that have really started crate-digging and finding out where the music is coming from. A lot of these new producers are clearly-educated musically.”

One of the younger artists to rise through the ranks of the new wave of French house is Mehdi Djebali. After getting the support of Terence :Terry: early in his career, who put the Parisian on at his After Party Is Not A Crime night at Rex Club, he then became a resident during the final years of Freak n’ Chic at La Batofar. He says the collaborative nature of the city’s scene has done a lot to push it forward.

“It isn’t all about people working alone here,” Djebali explains. “There’s crews of artists popping up everywhere, making labels and parties. The organisation is huge, and people are more powerful when they do things together. That network is a great support for the music, and the reason it’s so big. It’s more than a renaissance now, as it’s never been this huge. It’s getting bigger and bigger and it seems like there’s no limits.”

He launched his own (djebali) label in 2011, as well as going on to run the Ideal Juice night at Rex Club.  He then launched his (djebali) presents sub-label in 2013, releasing material from new artists including Mr KS, Rhythm&Soul and Two Diggers. On it, every artist released must then remix a track from the next EP, creating collaboration between new producers. “What you need when you first start out is to get connected,” Djebali explains. “Getting that early support like I did is vital as it gives you confidence to try different things.”

Ralph Maruani (aka Flabaire) is the co-founder of one of the new crews Djebali speaks of, who are beginning to make waves on the Parisian scene with a “French chic” through his D.KO Records; a collective of young producers in their early 20s that include Mézigue and BrAque. They are also involved with Paris’ 75021 parties, run by the Sonotown collective in a former social housing building that’s now been turned into an arts space.

“There’s a real sense of freedom here with lots of new promoters and small collectives who all know each other,” Maruani explains. “It’s very different to the clubs. People were attracted to this kind of party as there’s a really good vibe with this whole DIY spirit. Now the city’s been revitalised, you might as well do it yourself.”

But the scene of artists playing and producing deep and groovy house is by no way limited to Paris. Shonky and Dyed Soundorom have both lived in Berlin for nine years, after growing tired of the city whilst deep house was first having an impact in the German capital. And Mandar, the collective whose label Oscillat Music has become increasingly prolific since its inception in 2014, is made up of Lazare Hoche from Paris, Malin Genie from Amsterdam and Samuel Andre Madsen (aka S.A.M.) from Copenhagen. They met through sharing music on social media, and bonded over a mutual appreciation of the emotive music they now produce as a trio.

Mandar don’t organise parties themselves, but argue that the collaborative nature of the scene also helps push it musically. “You take each other’s ideas further when you work together,” Genie explains. “We all come from a different background musically, so our sound is defined by that. And that’s when something interesting can happen. Having our names behind the brand also means we can be more ballsy, as the risk is divided by three. That means we have more freedom to say fuck it and try things we might not on our own.”

Hoche says there are suddenly collectives cropping up all over France too, with Jardin Suspendus taking French artists like Point G and Le Loup, and international names including Kerri Chandler and Lil Louis, to their rooftop in Marseilles, as well as labels like Mad in Lyon and Art Feast starting in Lyon, art collective La Verger running parties in Bordeaux, and vibrant scenes in Nantes, Montpellier and Lille.

“There are suddenly parties where you didn’t realise there was anything but generic nightclubs,’ Hoche explains. “That’s common in the UK, but in France it’s totally new. Everything is connected to the Parisian hub, but its feeding into smaller cities with crews all trying to raise the bar.”

DRIVING FORCES

It’s also starting to shift into the UK. Birmingham-born Lopaski has been warming up for a number of French house DJs through his residency at the city’s The Rainbow Venues, known himself for spinning an elegant brand of house music. His productions subsequently garnered the attention of John Dimas’ Elephant Moon label earlier this year, who released his ‘Trinity’ EP on wax in February.

Lopaski says that the vinyl-only nature of many labels connected to the scene has helped protect it from becoming overblown. “Releasing something on vinyl costs a lot of money, so the music has to be worth it,” he explains. “That means you get a lot more quality coming through.”

Liam Willers, of Egg London’s residents The Willers Brothers, agrees. “Because most of this stuff isn’t commercial music, it hasn’t been in the Beatport charts,” he explains. “That means within the UK there haven’t been many of us playing the sound, which is why people are amazed they don’t know what a lot of the music is, even though many of these guys are now on top,” adds Sean.

Through their residency at Egg London, they’ve warmed up for the likes of Djebali and D’Julz. “The whole scene is built on face value,” Willers explains. “Being out there at the raves and actually meeting the people. And that’s how Lola ED have become a real driving force of the sound.”

The agency Willers is talking about is the “entertainment developer” launched by Apollonia man Dan Ghenacia seven years ago, which represents a number of the scene’s key players including Djebali and Terence :Terry:, as well as supporting newer talent like Molly and Nicholas Lutz. It’s an unsung hero, but something that has affirmed Ghenacia as the kingpin of Paris’ underground music for those within it.

But the artists they represent aren’t restricted to France. Diego Krause, who is one of the driving forces behind Berlin’s Beste Modus label, was recently signed up to the agency.

And he says what it’s offered him has been invaluable. “It’s a big deal,” he explains. “Having a release on Apollonia and joining Lola ED was a huge step towards an international career for me.” And Krause says there’s something distinctly old-school about the scene’s web of artists and their crate-digging nature. “The back-to-basics network is taking everything towards its roots again,” he explains. “And that’s helped push it forward.”

Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Krause started Beste Modus with a collective of artists that includes Cinthie. And the label now collaborates with Parisian imprints including Rutilance Recordings, and others pushing a similar sound outside of France like Berlin’s Unison Wax and London’s Axe On Wax. She says they started Beste to bring house music back to Berlin. “We’re only playing the smaller clubs here,” Cinthie explains. “As we still can’t compete with Ben Klock.

But as people are starting to look for something different, they definitely appreciate our sound more.” Elsewhere, it’s clear their music, equally adept at entrancing dancers on the sun-drenched terraces of the White Isle as it is an intimate after-party in a city’s dark nightclub, is slowly beginning to challenge techno’s heavyweights. And Cinthie says she’s quite clear as to why that is. “When people hear these super deep tracks, there’s one thing that makes them want to shake their ass to it,” she says. “And that’s because it’s all about the groove.”  

Topics