Our writer travels to the french capital to meet three groups that symbolise the city's thriving attitude towards acceptance, despite what the far right would have you believe.
Outside the Bataclan on a brisk and wet October morning there is little about the building that indicates what took place here almost a year ago. Currently closed and under refurbishment, the building is wrapped in metal sheets that are scribbled in messy graffiti. People walk past, joggers jog, cars drive by, scooters whizz past, a homeless man with a thick white beard flashed with nicotine yellow plunders the bins for salvageable foods and the washing machines in the neighbouring laundrette spin and continue their cycles. Life moves on.
Like any public tragedy, often the only thing to identify an atrocity has taken place is the limp and scattered flowers that remain. The Bataclan is no different and where a mountain of flowers, candles and message of love and grief once lay in a kaleidoscope of colours, now are just three small bunches: a dulling handful of white roses next to a dying bunch of red ones and a rotten and drooping pair that bend over in half, saturated from the previous evening’s heavy rainfall. A laminated French poem with Clip Art flowers clings to a nearby lamppost but beyond that there is little indication of the attack in November of 2015.
Two people stop in front of me for a moment and stare, soaking it in in quiet reflection as though they are paying tribute at a graveside. They soon pull out laminate wallets stuffed with map print outs and it becomes clear they are essentially sightseers, turning the place into a grim tourist attraction for a fractured world. I realise I am fundamentally doing the same and I leave.
To say great art stems from trauma or prolonged hard times – be them fiscal or social – is often as true as it is a cushioned cliché to press your face into in the hope that it wasn’t all for nothing. France is certainly not alone in its turmoil surrounding national identity and a creeping rise in racial and religious bigotry (even a cursory glance at the tabloid headlines in the UK is enough to realise we’re living in troublingly pernicious times) but the city of Paris currently seems to be bustling with activity, in which the nightlife and the music it produces are being reclaimed as an inclusive, expansive and unifying creation – sonic bridges that connect cultures, countries and religions.
This hasn’t been taking place in the wake of – or as a reaction to – last year’s terrorist attacks, necessarily, it’s been going on for years, but its impact feels stronger and more defiant in the fallout. Three artists from the city, all who represent a globetrotting exploration in one way or another, have all recently released new material. La Femme, the pop-rock-psych-surf-new wave outfit who recently released their second album ‘Mystere’; electronic duo Acid Arab (who sound exactly as the name suggests) just put out their debut album, ‘Musique de France’, and the suave disco outfit Bon Voyage Organisation’s ‘Geographie’ EP is newly released also.
Each in their own very distinct ways – and in positions that weave between the deep underground and the mainstream of Paris music – embody a multi-cultural musical examination and expression of the city they live in. La Femme have their ears and minds open to sounds and genres from anywhere in the world; Acid Arab are intent on exploring and giving a platform to various types of Eastern music (with various contributors from all over the world) through the channel and template of western electronic music and BVO’s Adrien Durand is as fascinated with exploring African and Chinese music as he is cosmic disco. Some people may suggest that people taking on the sounds of North Africa and the likes to be a form of cultural appropriation but the point being made here is that this is part of French culture. It’s ingrained within in. The two are entwined.