Anna Barie is a musical expatriated Brooklynite living in Lyon for love. This is her take on the local arts and music scenes.
Alligator is the Lyonnaise pop duo of visual artist and musician Lisa Duroux (Reveille) and American expat musician and comic artist Elizabeth Hargrett (Moms on Meth). They are 'charmantes'–meaning charming, not to be diminishing, but in the sense of someone with integrity that is just genuinely a great person to be around.
Similar to Coasting and Grass Widow, Alligator kill with sweet vocal harmonies and the immediacy of practice space recorded drums and fuzzy bass. In this boom of electronic bedroom producers, the simplicity of two people rocking together becomes like a defiant and celebratory act.
Their S/T cassette is currently sold out but can be downloaded via Paris collective/label/distro ET MON CUL C'EST DU TOFU? (ET MON CUL C'EST DU TOFU is a play on the weird French expression of “And my ass is made out of chicken?” which you say to someone when they are pulling your leg.) Alligator will tour Europe Summer 2012.
Why Lyon? What is it like to live here?
Lisa Duroux: The idea I had when I first moved here, from a town in the northeast, Dijon, is that Lyon is the start of the south. Lyon is a medium sized town. The streets are steep and narrow on the slopes, giving a particular flavor to the neighborhood. The buildings are often ochre and yellow, and the narrow architecture also gives the feeling of closeness with your neighbors.
The quality of life is good in Lyon because the standard of living is affordable, there is the Ecole des Beaux Arts and many young artists and musicians can afford studios. The traditional cuisine is good, we eat well and drink nice wine. The Lyonnaise are reknowned bon vivants.
The city is pretty with its squares, monuments and the design of its geography. The landscape is hilly and the rents are affordable so you don't have to work full time to survive. Most of my friends live in the neighborhood and it's cool, you can organize parties last minute, people will come because everybody lives nearby. This is one of the major differences from Paris because in Paris there are many neighborhoods and people live far from each other. You have to have a few days advance notice just to go have a coffee with someone.
What does it mean to be an artist in France?
Elizabeth Hargrett: I find that it’s a bit easier to be a musician here than it was back in Georgia–unemployment benefits, crazy vacation time, and the retarded amount of artist grants being thrown around free people up, and give them the resources and time to be creative.
Lisa: It means having a strong network in order to exist, and to be supported. Without a network it is not possible to gain visibility. Being an artist or musician also means having some sort of double life to eat and have a job, but I don't think it is really different from other places.
France has a social system that allows artists to have aid, and it is an interesting advantage. For the visual arts, it is not really possible to be an artist without being a graduate of a school of fine arts. The medium of contemporary art is over-institutionalized, there is no network like an alternative music scene. Places of art are only funded places and we recognize the value of the work of an artist if they are approved by good residencies, art centers and galleries. This is why expositions in small places like l’oeil de Boeuf (Ed note: a collective atelier and gallery run by young artists in Lyon) are rare and precious.
Networks are also hyper centralized, particularly in France, with all art galleries in Paris. It is not so easy to make your way in this environment, so undertaking events unsubsidized and by institutions is fundamental.
Otherwise overall, there is a French tradition of institutionalizing the arts. In the history of this country, and also in the case of artists or musicians, there is a class system, with an importance given to certain kinds of education. For example, the scene of Versailles in the Paris region (Ed note: Lisa explains Versailles is known as the home of French Touch, or mainstream acts like Air, Daft Punk, Sebastien Tellier, Phoenix and Dmitri from Paris. It has a reputation as kind of a wealthy and elitist scene.) What is happening in Lyon, may be seen as an alternative to that.
I have an example of a French group that sought in vain for dates in Germany, and despite all their emails, no response. The following year, they decided, without really believing it would work, to write as if they were from the United States. All the same promoters responded that they were interested.
Tell us about the music and art scene in Lyon.
Lisa: What is interesting about Lyon is that there are a large number of young people who have the freedom to try things, like opening places to show art, or places to squat and organize concerts. The music scene in Lyon, is pretty awesome, there are so many good bands and a lot of concert venues. There is also a large micro edition salon (ed note: zine and art book fair) held in Grrrnd Zero the past two consecutive years that includes one hundred artists, illustrators, and screen printers associated with micro-publishing.
(Ed note: Grrrnd Zero is a collective and instutionalized squat with rehearsal spaces and large concert hall in an old office building that is currently facing eviction by the city of Lyon.) Grrrnd Zero is the height of the alternative scene. The association has organized concerts for seven years, with groups from all over, including many American groups. The scene here is starting to be famous because of these ties. There were an average of seven to eight concerts per month at GZ last year.
The problem we are facing this year with the expulsion of Grrnd Zero is that in September the city warned that the building would be destroyed and we couldn't have more concerts because of safety standards. In recent months, we launched a fierce campaign of resistance and are enlisting the support of cultural collectives everywhere.
How did you meet? What is the story of Alligator?
Elizabeth: We actually met in March 2009, when Lisa came to Athens, Georgia with our friend Nico to start a fake band and go on tour. I’d lived in Lyon the previous year, but we’d never crossed paths.
We played a couple of shows in Florida, and while we were there, I convinced our friend Jutta (who we knew from Lyon, and was visiting from Germany) that alligators were fucking everywhere down there, and you had to watch your back. We had her convinced that they were the leading cause of death in Florida, and whenever we went swimming outdoors we’d keep saying stuff like “OH GOD GET OUT ALLIGATOR oh wait it’s just a log, false alarm Jutta!”. That story’s not so much funny as it is indicative of what an asshole I was when I was 21, but there you go. Our band name came from the week where we terrorized poor Jutta.
Alligator started practicing together in January 2011, and we played our first show last June.
Who or what inspires you?
Lisa: The womens choir in which I sing is a source of inspiration, we sing Holtz and Britten, composers of the early 20th Century, and the melodies are very beautiful. I listen a lot to 90s groups like the Breeders, the Pixies, The Amps, The Pastels, Sebadoh, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, and The Ex. I also listen to Cryptacize, The Evens, Robert Wyatt, and Broadcast and super pop music like Kate Bush, Abba, and the last album by PJ Harvey.
What inspires me is art, from conceptual art, to collage and assemblage. I studied fine art and in making installations I realize something very direct, a balance between art and life. I think there is a link with the music I make.
Elizabeth: Musically and lyrically, I’d say my buddy Cara Beth Satalino. It’s really hard to win me over with nothing but your voice and a guitar, but every single time I hear her play or read her lyrics, it absolutely kills me. Lifewise, and I’m awful and predictable for saying this, but the 11-year-old dorks in the English club I run at the middle school where I work are just SO STOKED ON LIFE AND LEARNING AND MAKING NEW FRIENDS that I can’t help but be moved by it.
Do you have any jokes?
Elizabeth: Definitely not. We have terrible senses of humor.
Lisa: The galleries I think are the most interesting are Chez Néon, BF15 and Roger Tator. These are the galleries that expose young artists and give room to experimentation. There is also the IAC (l'Institut d'art contemporain) which has a very interesting exhibition program.
Lisa: Elise Cam, Anabelle Czyz, Cuquel Gregory, Sarah Duby, Magalie Lefebvre, Jean Alain Corre, Samuel Moncharmont, Clemence Torres, Benjamin Collet, Simon Feydieu
Elizabeth: Lexomyl (RIP), Pizza OD, Telecommande, Morse, Course à la Mort, and Coche Bomba
Lisa: Clara Clara, PAN PAN PAN, Robe et Manteau, Commune, NED, SIDA, Top Affaire, Andrew Diamond, Telecommande, Passion Armée
Lisa: My favorite concert venues are Grrrnd Zero, The Triperie, Periscope