A City By The River: Lyon Bubbles
Lyon is a city steeped in history, a beacon of cultural independence of which France should be proud and others jealous. From the cobbled back streets of the medieval old town through to the sprawling open spaces and futuristic architecture of Confluence – there is a sense of fierce identity as to the people of this city and what they hope it to be in the future.
In recent years the city has seen a significant growth in population, whilst some might assume this is as a result of external movement it is in fact as much a result of internal relocation within France. Many have grown tired of the demands of Parisian life and the fast paced extremism of the city, let alone its prices. Lyon has offered creatives a suitable and charming alternative in which to hone their craft and connect with likeminded individuals in a new space. However, this is certainly not to say that there is not a fundamental core of artists, producers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, designers and beyond whom had helped establish a creative presence within the city for themselves long before the influx… Far from it.
This is an article about the people of the Lyonnais, their influence and unrivalled passion for progression and exploration within music.
Sacha Peinetti is the man behind the infamous Macadam Mambo record label, a joint venture founded between himself and Guillaume Des Bois back in 2012. The imprint has set an unmistakeable benchmark for quality control amidst not only Lyon but France, Europe and the international community as a whole. Since its formation the record label has been responsible for showcasing some of the most innovative talent in modern day electronic music, blurring the lines between eclecticism, krautrock, house, techno and disco as well as pretty much anything else which takes the pairs fancy at any given time. Artists to feature on the label include the likes of Mori Ra, Traxx, Eva Geist, Albion, Samo DJ, Giorgio Luceri and many more. However, it is the longstanding commitment to the integration of local talent from across France which has helped define the direction of Macadam Mambo as a project. Both Sacha and Guillaume have appeared on the label under a variety of guises whilst the label has also acted as a platform of distribution for the likes of The Pilotwings, Raphael Top Secret, Acid Square Dance and more.
Having moved from Paris to Lyon Sacha reflects on the differing ideologies as well as the history of club culture within the city.
"I lived in Paris for eleven years and can tell the difference, there is much more competition, it makes it more difficult to promote parties but it’s much more interesting in term of the musical proposition. On one night you can have three or four parties with interesting music but you must be connected with the 'cool people' in order to evolve in a good direction. Lyon is more DIY and the crews are all connected and working together. I prefer this spirit, – small town and a small scene but strong connections."
Sacha & Guillaume at Nuits Sonores in Lyon, 2014
When Sacha first moved to Lyon there was already a place for house and techno, however, Macadam Mambo required perserverance and persistence in order to stick. It has evolved as the city began to diversify and expand from a creative perspective. It's present success perhaps helps to demonstrate and highlight the nature of the changes which have taken place within Lyon. Sacha discusses the early days of the imprint.
"The early inspiration was to provide good, interesting and obscure music to new audience unaware of it. I won’t say it didn’t work because there is now more interest but I wouldn’t say Lyon’s environment helped a lot. I guess people like me have shown young guys news musical horizons for 'special' music, I know that I brought something new at a period when Lyon was more Techno and House focused, I talk for what I know.. Elsewhere a lot of people helped push House classics and Funk, like Mush and Pablo Valentino, or African music with James Stewart, but I don’t know how much they influenced new artists."
Lyon has witnessed a remarkable rise in musicality with a variety of new producers now making headway on the wider circuit. The Pilotwings, Folamour, LB, Raymonde, The Prince Stoner, Franck Gerard, J-Zbel and Sentiments are but to name a few.
Sentiments is the alias of Arthur Galliot, a producer who has recently launched his own record label in the form of Light On Earth. He has previously released on Groovedge Records, an imprint run by the samely named record shop. In a short time he has amassed a reputation for his intriguing take on house music, he blurs the lines between 90's rave culture alongside modern day technology and futurism. He describes watching the city change.
"In recent years, many things appeared here in the city – vinyl shops, a lot of labels and vinyl distribution. It's hard to say, from where it came from, but quite a small community of people started to do a lot of things. They started to party together. It's a bit like Lyon mutated from flower to fruit. The city was ready, ready to do something."
He goes on to explain that he feels that this mutation is the result of a core crew of individuals who helped shape the present for the city. A message which is clearly important in his perspective. When asked whom he might say had the greatest sphere of influence over his own taste and the city as a whole he recites a vast scroll of names.
"It’s hard to choose. I could mention many promoters, record shops, label owners. The obvious names which would surely be amongst those are Judaah, Quentin Groovedge, CLFT, Macadam Mambo, Lucas & Simon from Lyl Radio, Simon Gi aka Stahan, Gaetan from Le Sucre. All of these names are of the ones who helped to give the city local opportunities to play and listen to music together."
The Groovedge Record Shop, 2016
Lyon has been a city associated with rebellion ever since the Second World War, it was a stronghold which the French Resistance called home. Secret passages remain scattered across town and are known as traboules, they acted as escape routes for those under the threat of the Gestapo and the Nazis. They remain a physical representation of comradery and strength in unity. There is a pride in place and community throughout the breadth of the Lyonnais region. Times may have changed, the unified ideology of a city has not.
There is a friendly, wholesome attitude to the musical community and the heritage of the people who reside in Lyon. Smiling faces, handshakes and a genuine sense of interest have went a long way and it would appear that each member of the system is connected via a mutual friend or some other acquaintance.
Guillaume Klaar is the face behind the recently launched Hard Fist label and party series. However, for many years he helped pave the way for a new generation of house inclined party goers and musicians via his Art Feast imprint. The likes of Dj Rocco, In Flagranti, Kresy, Jacques Renault, Okain, Anaxander, Terrence Parker and Daniel Bortz have all released music via the record label whilst the parties operated adjacently alongside. He too has watched new faces emerge from beneath the underground and has his own theory as to why Lyon punches above its weight.
"I'm part of the new generation that started events on a smaller scale, ten years ago with Art Feast. On a small level we began to influence young people, who went on to start their own events and so on… Lyon is the second biggest city in France, but Paris used to attract artists, media, and young people looking for a first job. Therefore what's happening in Lyon now is remarkable. My opinion is that the cultural offerings created the audience. Now artists from Lyon feel more confident about working on their career from the city, when ten or fifteen years ago they would go to Paris. There's a strong cultural policy from the city, a growing number of artists in Lyon, which created strong local networks and a new audience for artists."
However, Guillaume also feels that there is a degree of debt to be honoured to the team behind Nuits Sonores, the music, arts and culture festival which has helped push and promote dance and electronic music throughout the city for many years.
"There was a multitude of people in the 90's defending electronic music culture, but i'm not the best person to talk about this. I will focus on 2000 and beyond. Nuits Sonores festival was the cornerstone of the development of electronic music in Lyon. Many musicians and promoters grew up with the festival, and the other events organised by those guys. It was the first time that the city was officially supporting and electronic music festival."
La Sucrière, Lyon
Nuits Sonores will return to Lyon next month for what promises to be the biggest edition of the festival yet. The longstanding event has been in operation since 2003 and continues to grow in scale and merit with each passing festival.
Gaetan Bouvachon has been involved in the programming and organisation of the festival for many years and has established himself as a pivotal figure amidst the Lyon electronic music community. He describes his own view on how the festival has helped shape both the local community and in attracting international awareness of Lyon as a cultural hub.
"It has a strong influence on the city. I think that without the festival the scene wouldn't be like this. Before there were clubs the festival helped mark Lyon as a key city for electronic music in Europe. I think that this is something really important to the development of the scene. The fact that the festival brings headline acts to the city can be a form of inspiration for local artists. Also the festival has helped push some artists whom have gone on to play at peak time. It has acted as an accelerator for the local scene and for culture in Lyon."
One of the defining elements of the festival is in its willingness to include a variety of clubs in the festival programme. Local clubs and venues all share in the growth and development of the festival via a round robin evening which sees guests play at spaces across the breadth of Lyon. Gaetan reflects on the essence of clubbing in Lyon.
"Lyon has a strong history in terms of culture. It has been a strong city for rock music, especially between the 60’s and 90’s. For techno culture and the rave scene it was very difficult in the 90’s, it was maybe the only city in France were there was strong repression against the scene. It was the worst city for techno. It was then followed by a golden age…
There was not much happening when I arrived in Lyon, it was only DV1 Club which had a great programme. When we started to organise parties there were only few promoters but then it all started to grow up very quickly. Some started to produce music, build their own labels, record stores began to open and there were new clubs. From 2010 to now there has been a really strong progression.
Clubs are of course a major tool for the construction of a local scene, like Concrete in Paris or Salon Des Amateurs in Dusseldorf. It has been the same in Lyon. It’s local clubs and promoters that have put Lyon on the map as one of the most important cities for electronic music in Europe. In the end they have played an important role, even if it’s not always a direct link."
Nuits Sonores, 2017
Considering the size of the city Lyon remains a fearsome force amidst the French outback. Whilst many cast their eyes towards the capital there has been a bubbling undercurrent brewing south. Local producers, promoters, clubs, record shops, labels and party goers are helping to build the potential for quite the legacy, a fresh approach to electronic music in a city which was one adamant to dispel the notion. It is estimated that some 140,000 will touch down in Lyon next month for the festival which will see appearances from Kamasi Washington, Floating Points, Four Tet, Laurent Garnier and a vast many more. They might just be in for a surprise.