Jason Orlovich is a freelance journalist and touring musician based in Paris, France.
The Souix (Metz) at Le Rigoletto presented by Arrache-toi un Oeil, December 2011. Photo courtesy of Jérémie Matz
Shows in Paris are like first loves. You always remember. Anyone who’s toured Europe without label support will be familiar with cellars that wouldn't be out of place in Brooklyn, weird train depots with full kitchen staffs, and squats any crust to the east might recognize.
I live here, in Paris, after years in New York, but this city distorts with age like any other and coming back has been strange indeed. Between Pitchfork’s nascent franchising or the New York Times finally discovering Vincent Moon, the Parisian underground is looking more like Brooklyn-the-brand every day. Yet it’s always been a strange and uniquely French experience for as long as I can remember. Neither early adopters in the hype sense, nor short on style, DIY culture in the outer arrondissements is at once fringe and still inherently populist for a city with just over two million — nearly half a million less than Brooklyn (not to mention the rest of NYC).
The strict social system doesn't support those of us nomads as well as, say, Berlin these days. Mention real estate here and you won’t be talking about the band. The Parisian underground makes the most sense in small town terms with one hell of a caveat: the local punks have nowhere to go. The touring bands have nowhere else they’d rather be.
“If I had a dollar for every time I heard a band say ‘I want to drink wine under the Eiffel Tower after the show,” one local promoter and Florida expat told me, “I would never have to work again.”
Jamie Lestoclet and husband Julien met at The Fest 9 in Gainesville in 2010 and currently book shows as Pop & Sandals, along with label/distros like ET MON CUL C'EST DU TOFU? and design collectives like Arrache-toi un Oeil. All three are drawing from a relatively small community within the Périphérique and suburbs like Gennevilliers, Julien’s hometown.
“We know each other pretty well,” Jamie says of the local punk/garage/hardcore/indie scenes, “and try to help each other out when we can.” But really, they say, bands love playing Paris for the easy routing to the north and curious diversity most nights. “Most of the punks in this town represent a different type of genre,” Jamie says, “but still continue to come out and support the local scene.” What’s left are unusually crowded rooms for a city so stratified in the worlds of high culture or guidebook formalism. The arrival of Pitchfork — “I truly and honestly don't give a shit,” Jamie says — doesn’t seem like it will pose much of a threat either.
Julien and Jamie were kind enough to answer a few questions about love and booking, pop and sandals, and the changing Parisian underground for Long Distance Relationship. And suddenly, after living inside that North American industry bubble for so long, I can finally say it’s been nice to fall in love again.
When did you start booking shows under Pop & Sandals?
Julien: I've been booking shows since 2006, but I started booking shows under the name Pop & Sandals in October 2010. I love late 70s, early 80s punk/power pop and 90s sloppy/snotty pop-punk records. At the time, some people on an “elitist” punk web board here were using the word “sandals” as kind of a derogatory slang term for folk and crust bands, people into doing a donation price for entry into a show or benefit shows, women sporting arm-pit hair and hairy legs in the hardcore scene, bands that were into eco-friendly vans, bands and people fighting for animal rights or using politically correct language in their songs and in life. I chose the name because I love booking Pop shows and “Sandal” shows and I wanted to continue doing both.
Jamie: Yeah, and when I met Julien at the end of October 2010 and joined up with him it was perfect because he is such a nerdy pop punk kid and I am more the sandals type. I started up the local chapter of Food Not Bombs with some friends of mine. I consider myself a feminist and Julien always tells me I'm too PC (in a joking way of course) so now we just say Julien is the Pop and I'm the Sandals.
Jamie: “I added this image because it's one example of helping out our fellow promoters. We added White Flag last minute (which ended up being a mistake because they demanded Coke Zero or else one of their members “couldn’t go on stage” and ended up breaking one of the mic stands). But the rest of the show was really great!”
Has there ever been a 'golden period' for local underground shows?
Julien: I think the golden period for shows is now. There are more people than ever that are booking and each night you can see some type of underground show. But even though there are a lot of shows going on right now it is definitely not a golden period for venues because a lot of squats are being shut down and a lot of bars have been told they can't have shows (related to smokers and drinkers in front of the venue or bad soundproofing in the basement) so a lot of Paris shows are happening in the same spots.
Would you say your audiences are usually from Paris proper?
Julien: Yes, I would say they come mostly from Paris. Taking the trains back to the 'burbs at night gets complicated because some of the trains stop at 11 and the shows aren't usually over until around 11/11:30. But it's also different when there is a show booked in the suburbs. Not a lot of people want to transport into the suburbs for a show when they're used to going to shows in the Northeast part of Paris with the fast subway.
What did you think about Pitchfork launching its first European festival?
Julien: Like Maximum Rock n’ Roll for the punks? I’m joking. The last Pitchfork-related experience in our life was when a popular well-known band didn’t have a place to stay in Paris after their show in a big hipster venue and we received them at our home. Thanks to the promoter!
What's the biggest difference you've noticed in organizing shows in Paris vs. the US and Florida?
Jamie: There is more of a sense of solidarity here. It was very rare in my hometown or other towns that I visited to see, for example, a street punk kid and a pop punk kid in conversation or just being around each other without some sort of drama. Here, punk is just punk and we are all in it together. Isn't that how it should be everywhere?
Jamie: “And yet again another example of cooperative booking. Our friend Papi Marc (oldest straight-edge dude in Paris) did most of the work booking this show and we helped him by cooking and running the door, etc.”