The collective spirit at the heart of Bordeaux’s music scene
How does one define a “scene”?
A useful concept to group together artists and actors of the same cultural sphere, the notion allows us to understand the interrelations and interactions within a territory – we then speak of a “local scene” – or of the same artistic practice – “musical scene” or “jazz scene” for example. The Bordeaux scene can thus be understood as the ecosystem of actors, artists and organizations that are working to animate and shape these cultures at a local level.
Between the predominance of collectives, the renewal of producers and the structuring role of certain emerging actors, the city of Bordeaux has everything to make it through the map of French electronic music landscape.
Labels, clubs, festivals, media, collectives, radios… In a few years, these actors have developed and are part of a collective emulation that has made Bordeaux a hot spot for electronic music cultures.
Collective is key
It’s Summer 2019. A few months before the pandemic would make a lasting impact on the local musical landscape, Bordeaux vibrates, powered by the engines of sound-systems set up by local DJ collectives in every corner of the city. The open-air parties have multiplied, even become institutionalized. Now not a single summer weekend passes free of such daytime festivities. Quays of the ‘Rive Droite’ (right bank of la Garonne), Vivres de l’Art, municipal gardens, Square Dom Bedos… The whole city is occupied by different promoters, from L’Orangeade to Bordeaux Open Air, Banzaï Lab or tplt which would go on to set up the venue, Le Verger Grand Format.
Several months of quarantine later the impressive rate of recovery in events confirms this trend: DJ collectives rule Bordeaux. Far from the familiar concerns about local music scenes, in Bordeaux the main apprehension is oversaturation. Recently, collectives were able to attend a meeting organized by the City Hall, where they proposed dates on the calendar. The meeting was conclusive: every Bordeaux collective wanted to have their own festival.
Today, these collectives, by constituting important communities at a local level, hold the capacity to mobilize audiences. They are therefore becoming major actors for the other stakeholders of the Bordeaux scene, starting with nightclubs, which entrust them with residencies, like Hangar FL or IBOAT. The latter offers many carte blanche to DJ collectives such as Les Viatiques, Hill Billy, tplt, SUPER Daronne or Fugitiv’ with its trance project Kinesia.
These same collectives are often the ones who initiate new projects that can make the city and its surroundings more dynamic. Take for example “tplt vision”, the first edition of which was held last September. Its initiator, Thibault Perceval, considers it a “good way to express a broad artistic direction, to mix electronic music aesthetics. With, always, the desire to highlight the local scene, as part of an event that can have an echo nationally or even internationally.”
Similarly, Les Viatiques collective are launching the Viatica Esperit Festival “for 3 days in an idyllic place in the South of France”. One of the organisers, Romain, explains that his collective has “acquired the experience necessary to carry out this exercise. We are going to invite artists from Bordeaux to join other national and European rising stars to promote these artists artistically.” For him, this initiative is not the only one in Bordeaux, where he notes that “several crews are in the same dynamic. This is another indicator of the good health of the scene.” The same goes for SUPER Daronne who initiated his SUPERCAMP festival in the summer of 2020 and whose third edition is scheduled for September 2022.
Nonetheless, “collective takeover” to quote the former IBOAT program manager, Florian Levrey, raises certain questions for lesser-established artists or collectives. With regards to the investment of public space, the Hill Billy collective, which celebrated its 4th anniversary this year, considers that “it is always the same three or four entities which always have priority access to public spaces, and which also benefit very often significant subsidies to produce their events, all allocated by elected officials…”. DJ and producer Laroze shares this perspective, explaining that “today the collectives have logically taken the monopoly of the stage. It is more and more frequent that it is no longer the DJs who mainly appear on the line-up, but rather the organizers of the event, because it is they who mobilize the public.”
The diversity issue
The issue of unbalanced gender representation remains prevalent – despite a few exceptions like techno crew Demain Kollectiv or BLIND – but it feels like we’re going in the right direction. The IBOAT club has announced the launch of training courses to empower women DJs, in partnership with Move UR Gambettes and Act Right. Involved in this programme is Marie Boidron, head of communication for the Bordeaux club. She explains: “Like all artistic sectors, electronic music is riddled with inequality and bias. Women are less represented, and several studies reveal a gender gap in most electronic events programs. Therefore, the Move Ur Gambettes courses (also implemented in other cities such as Lyon for example) are one of the ways we can “promote the inclusion and better representation of women and gender minorities in our events“. Marie adds: “Our objectives are that these women can improve their technique, develop their artistic project, gain self-confidence, create a friendly network, take ownership of the issues surrounding djing and make their first gigs”. A way for the IBOAT to act sustainably on the Bordeaux electronic landscape, by becoming “a place of support in order to work towards a more parity and inclusive local electronic scene.”
A similar trend manifests in the local queer electronic scene, seeing an increasing number of actors who are committed to improving the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ communities such as Maison Éclose, Cave à Kings, Bordelle or more recently: La Sueur.
This diversity and multiplicity of DJ collectives often raises questions about the synergies and links that unite these actors, as in the past certain practices have led to misunderstandings and a lack of communication. To address this issue, there exists an agenda between promoters, launched as a Facebook group in 2016 by Thibault Perceval, director of the tplt collective. “It was important to be able to create this group to be able to discuss between promoters, to not step on each other. There are enough weekends in the year to exchange and create synergies,” he explains.
And things do seem to be improving, proven by the Bordeaux Electronic Weekend which took place last March: an unprecedented union between 4 local collectives (Distill, Bruit Rose, Mates and Les Viatiques) who joined forces to propose a ‘parcours’ of various events during a single weekend: “The scene in Bordeaux is so much more alive than 5 years ago; that’s why it is essential not to reproduce the mistakes of the past. COVID condensed a lot of events in the spring, and we realized that several nearby collectives had planned to organise an event. So what better way than to get together to propose a party marathon?’ Les Viatiques explained.
Also involved in the organisation of the first edition of BEW was Distill who state: “We agreed to create a common communication that benefited all the events. I think that to develop the Bordeaux scene this kind of initiative is important to weave a network in which everyone is involved”. As well as The Fugitiv’ collective who add: “The cohesion is beautiful to see. A lot of collaborations’, with crews inviting each other’s residents, or collectives even merging to become one…“
Production at a local level
Equally worthy of consideration is production at a local level, the sounds that forge Bourdeux’s identity. Producers determine a scene’s outreach. In Bordeaux, the presence of producers used to be rather insignificant, making the Lyon-based artist and co-founder of the Hard Fist label, Tushen Raï, affirm: “There is a lot of passion in Bordeaux, but perhaps there are not enough names of artists who resonate, such as producers. There are probably a lot of talented people but they don’t make records, there are no “premieres”; that’s how I get information and discover new artists’ names”.
Laroze, one of the few electronic music producers from Bordeaux who has already released on several national and European labels, such as D.KO Records, the Austrian-based RTCT.records, Let’s Play House, Dance Around 88 or Flux Records expands on this: “Promoters no longer make the “production” part a priority for their curatorial choices. Is this a bad thing? For the public, I don’t know. For the producers, I’m sure. They have been deprived of income with the arrival of MP3 in the 2000s, and today they have to share their only source of income (gigs) with a growing number of non-producer DJs. They don’t feel encouraged in their production work, and this could demotivate many to continue. Who is going to fill in the USB keys of the DJs then?” Other artists in Bordeaux have been involved in this dynamic for several years, such as Djedjotronic, a figure on the Boysnoize Records label, Jus Jam, Memory Scale or Lilith, Porteix, Acouphènes or AD†AM on more techno aesthetics.
For the past few years, a new air seems to blow on this question, following a new wave of artists within the Bordeaux electronic music scene. In 2021 the former Bordeaux-based community radio (now based in Marseille) Ola Radio organised a triple compilation project which brought together 43 artists, majority local, such as the duo Simple Exposition, Hirschmann, Modern Collapse, Neida, Loule, Baron, Armand le Méchant, Insomni Club, Narcisse, Sevenbeatz, M3C.
It’s worth noting that these artists evolve in a wide spectrum of aesthetics, between the influence of UK bass, radical techno, downtempo, acid sounds, and deconstructed club. This makes it difficult to identify a sound specific to the city, but it does illustrate the richness and diversity of local electronic culture. Co-founder of Ola Radio, Alice adds: “Among the 45 tracks released on our 3 compilations last year, 25 were produced by local artists. The idea was indeed to make an inventory of Ola’s residents but also and especially of what the city of Bordeaux was offering musically. I was very surprised to discover that a lot of artists that I only knew as DJs were also producers! Unfortunately, on all these tracks, only 3 women artists are present and, for two of them, only appear for their voice.”
The beginning of this decade also marked a large number of EP releases from Bordeaux producers. Neida, member of SUPER Daronne, recently released on Nehza Records. ‘Slowing’ is a UK-influenced EP that echoes far beyond the local scene, having been played by DJs all over France and abroad. Other notable releases include Modern Collapse’s ‘Anti Club Music Club’, Hirschmann split EP on Ritmo Fatal and the releases of Sevenbeatz and Narcisse on their own label, respectively Le Ciel Records and Tustance.
Also worth mentioning is the establishment of several new local record labels – the beginning of producers promoting their creations by their own means. The DJ and producer Sevenbeatz, for example, created Le Ciel Records which, in addition to welcoming French producers (recently the Lyon-based Hyas), also gives a place to artists local to Bordeaux. He explains the reason behind the label: “I launched Le Ciel Records in the middle of a quarantine as I was receiving a lot of promos from friends and other artists (…) The aim of the label is to explore electronic music as a whole, as the description says “without limits like the sky…There are already 4 local artists signed on the label: Neida, Moody Gliani, Mendilabaz and myself. There is also Hyas who is from Lyon, 4 Belgian friends (Nathan Boost, Aymeric, Bass Toast, Toolate Groove) who produced a Various or even further with the Brazilian UNXST (…) We prepare a lot of beautiful things to come with new artists, and always our favourite locals”. The same goes for Tustance; a label based in Royan (one hour and half driving from Bordeaux, on the Atlantic coast) which released an EP by Armand le Méchant last February and, in 2020, a double-compilation which bridged the scenes of Brisbane in Australia and Bordeaux: BB Connexions.
In 2018, the label Broken District launched, operating in the intersection of jazz, house and hip hop. Initiated by one of the heads of the local media Electrocorp, it already has a dozen records, some of them produced by locals as recently with Jus Jam. Demain Kollectiv meanwhile sign local artists to present a more radical vision of techno, also the case with Fugitiv’, which in addition to its warehouse parties has launched a side-project label. The collective explains this approach: “ The aim of the label is to accelerate the development of musical projects imagined by the artists. It was obvious for us to put forward our local residents. So we took advantage of our modest visibility to shine a light on them.” Finally, we can add to this list the more recent appearance, in 2020, of a label dedicated to micro house, Canelura Records, with two records by Bordeaux artists, Klaän and Ën, on the counter, as well as the preparation of a first vinyl for 2022.
All these initiatives testify to the vitality of electronic culture in Bordeaux. But the question of specific identity remains. What does Bordeaux sound like? Beyond the collectives, DJs and producers, it is perhaps on the side of other organizations involved in the scene that part of the answer can be found.
The importance of spaces
Among these organizations, venues do play, as for any scene, an essential role. Bordeaux is a city whose downtown is sometimes perceived as bourgeois, which makes the establishment – and the sustenance – of cultural night venues complex. In a piece entitled Bordeaux la nuit c’est fini? (“Is the nightlife over in Bordeaux?”) local media outlet Rue89 Bordeaux counted 15 closures in 2015. In recent years, more and more venues have shut down, such as Le Bootleg in 2017, which mattered deeply to many local artists, as well as, more recently, the Void. These disappearances are disappointing for the scene’s actors, like Lionel Fantome, a DJ and promoter who organized many parties in these venues: “For a European metropolis with nearly a million inhabitants, I think it’s a shame that the prefecture (the local public authorities representing the national state) and the city town hall are not paying attention to the associative concert halls. Venues like the Bootleg, the Sonart, the Saint-Ex or the Void will never come back”. Losses that, according to him, have a direct impact on the scene: “The impact is negative, it significantly reduces the underground cultures on a daily basis“. At the same time, he can perceive the positive dimension of it: “It can be interesting, because it forces and gives desire to some local promotors to organize events in atypical, ephemeral or even experimental venues.“
Since 2011, in the Bassins à Flot neighborhood, IBOAT has been working to incubate Bordeaux’s scene. As a club and a multidisciplinary cultural venue, it is a real hub for the city’s DJ collectives, who see it as a place of experimentation for their parties. Also homing many international artists, the IBOAT is a crossroads for local audiences who can expand their knowledge of global electronic cultures.
In 2019 A new project was born on the Garonne’s right bank: Hangar FL. is also open to local collectives, but offers a more techno, hardcore and trance-oriented programme. Davy Torres, its program manager, explains how the club supports local actors: “Hangar FL helps all the electronic music collectives of Bordeaux. They have several parties during the year, like Fugitiv’, Marée basse, Vice City, Raeve, Trikar and many others! We also organize every month La Collective, a party that brings together B2B artists from several Bordeaux collectives of all styles.” Last February, this one gathered for example Distill, Amplitudes, Ciao!, OKOK, Marée Basse, Departed and Früor. The Parallel, another nightclub, not far from the Gare Saint Jean railway station, also contributes to this dynamic by regularly hosting artists from the local scene.
Specialized media outlets such as Electrocorp or SeekSickSound also play a key role. DJ and producer Laroze reflects: “Since we started, our media has in my opinion “educated” the Bordeaux audience to a house and techno movement emerging in France. Between 2012 and 2016, we booked artists who often played the day before or the day after at the Concrète or Berghain. We were a bit of a “relay” for what was happening in Paris. This was also in line with the work done on the webzine, which published daily reviews of EPs or albums, interviews, podcasts: we wanted to highlight producers, artists who were really coming out of the music.”
Alice La Terreur tells us: “When we launched Ola Radio with Rémi (Rasquin), we really had the idea of uniting and bringing together the collectives within the same media. We had, through our various experiences, noticed that the scene was fragmented, that the collectives did not really communicate and worked only in their own interest. We thought it was a pity that no one was trying to unite the forces of this very dense and prolific scene. I think that thanks to our work, which consisted in putting everyone on the same footing, to offer a platform to all the actors of the Bordeaux electronic scene, to let them express themselves through our media, we succeeded in uniting all these so interesting people and to make them see that they could finally work together and even become friends. The work of Fimeb and Technopol more recently have also contributed a lot. I think that the Bordeaux scene has become much more visible to other cities in recent years thanks to this new union.”
Now based in Marseille, the community radio is sorely missed due to the major role it played in platforming local artists. Nonetheless, since 2018, Le Protocole Radio has also been striving to support part of the local electronic scene in several ways, as one of its founders, Amaury Naval, explains: “We act as a medium of information on electronic music, with the aim of highlighting Bordeaux-based collectives and artists. We also decided to set up springboards at JAQEN Tuki in Bordeaux, and soon in a place very identified within the electronic music scene”.
Like community radio, the presence of music festivals in a city can offer a platform for its scene. For Bordeaux Open Air Festival: they must be the cool uncle of their local scene: a quiet force which supports and represents it at best. On the one hand a support because they can be a source of synergies between local actors and bring their scene up. And on the other hand, a representative, because they are obviously vectors of visibility for it but are also and above all witnesses of the cultural life of their region”. A reflection that “BOA” intends to push in 2022, “by diversifying our collaborations with the Bordeaux ecosystem through new formats, by giving more voice to our local talents and by doing our best to represent Bordeaux on the international scene.”
This year “the biggest electronic music festival in Bordeaux” (according to the social networks) will take place at the Parc des Expositions, with big headliners, a few artists from the local scene – and probably a big budget – Initial Festival.
Among the many new projects that have appeared in the Bordeaux electronic landscape, some seem to be taking place over time, beyond the framework of events. This is the case of Fimeb, and in particular of its Maison artistique (“Artistic House”) Omni, dedicated to the promotion of the local electronic scene. Launched last year by the Fimeb team, the project intends to support Bordeaux-based artists and especially producers, recognizing the importance of this type of actor in the development of a scene. An ambitious project, lucid on the lack of dynamism in Bordeaux. “There was no “artistic house” in Bordeaux for these aesthetics,” says Thibault Perceval, Omni’s artistic director. “It’s important to develop this type of project in Bordeaux with producers like Djedjotronic, Neida or Sevenbeatz. We offer support, management, booking … That was missing in Bordeaux, and that’s why the city is not on the map of France for electronic music.” Omni is currently working on the creation of a brand new record label with Djedjotronic, as a way to develop the toolbox of this artist.
In a wider perspective, Fimeb is part of this approach of supporting the scene and complementing it, as Clément Lejeune, its founder, explains: “Fimeb tries to be complementary to what already exists. Our action today is focused on the artists because they are the representatives of what is emerging in the city, outside its borders. We also try to encourage the professionalization of this ecosystem by dialoguing with partners, especially public ones, so that they can know more and better support what is being done.” The structure also pilots an annual event, Isulia, and has launched the production of a podcast that has recently become an “audio magazine”: Câblé.
The record shop Gimme Sound appeared in 2021, and also intends to support the development of electronic cultures locally. By offering diggers second-hand records for their sets, the structure plays an important role in the education of the local audience and electronic music community. “The shop is also a link between a part of the scene and the public. It often allows them to meet in different circumstances of a party!” adds Erwan Clermont, co-founder and manager of the shop. Another actor also appeared in 2021 to propose tool to support the development of the scene: Technopol, “Association created for the defense, recognition and promotion of Cultures, Arts and Electronic Music from the house and techno.” The organization based in Paris indeed wished to initiate a regional branch in Bordeaux. A commendable initiative, but a landing that has nevertheless raised some tensions locally and provoked some criticisms.
Bordeaux on the map
The Bordeaux scene, in terms of density assets, could undoubtedly be on the podium of the French cities as for its offer. However it still struggles to be identified at this scale, even if things are evolving in the right direction. The above-mentioned actors are working on it, with this objective in mind, as summarized by the collective Les Viatiques: “The goal of the Bordeaux operators is the same: to make our artists shine in France and, if possible, beyond”. The question is how to achieve this.
Speaking of events, initiatives have emerged to contribute to the influence of the scene. By organising the very first Boiler Room Bordeaux, the tplt collective is contributing to the scene’s visibility at a national level, if not international one both by legitimising the scene but also, by taking advantage of it to spotlight local artists and DJs, in this case Djedjotronic, Theorama, Jann, Blumm, Insulaire and Superlate.
The platform launched by local media Le Type, Scene city, is part of this same desire: to connect Bordeaux with other European scenes, as was proposed in 2019 during an event at Les Vivres de l’Art that highlighted the scene in Tbilisi, with local DJs. On June 18th, an event in Bordeaux will be held to connect local artists with artists from Lisbon. An event in Lisbon will follow to promote the Bordeaux scene. Takeovers and residencies on European community radios are part of this approach, with Scene city highlighting Bordeaux DJs on radios such as 20ft Radio in Kyiv, Mutant Radio in Tbilisi, Georgia or Bristol’s Noods Radio.
By thinking of the connection between local ecosystems and a more global circuit, Bordeaux can undoubtedly share the map of European electronic music cities. The quality and diversity of its offer is undeniable.
What is perhaps missing is a common impetus, a will to move forward collectively towards a recognition of this scene, which can come about through a stronger union of the actors of the local scene, far from the bickering that has undermined its development in the past. Without thinking of the city as a caricature of ‘city-breakers’ as some European metropolises have become, Bordeaux has everything it needs to forge its own identity and singularity. The narrative that its actors will produce will depend on it.
Photo credit: Miléna Delorme (@milenadelorme)
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