Paris raves draw crowds as COVID-19 shutters nightclubs

PARIS: Unauthorised rave parties, long a fringe pastime with a hardcore techno following, have found a new fan base among young people in Paris denied a dance floor by the coronavirus outbreak.

Licensed nightclubs have been closed in France since March under measures to contain the epidemic, prompting DJs, who claim their sector risks "extinction", to launch an urgent appeal to the government last month for the authorisation of "emergency party areas".

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In the meantime, "free parties" have sprung up around the capital, drawing new followers in young people unfamiliar with the underground techno dance scene, but desperate for a chance to let their hair down.

The Bois de Vincennes, a massive park with lakes, woods and open green spaces in the southeast of Paris, is at the epicentre of the phenomenon.

From the nearest metro stop, partygoers walk about 15 minutes, following the beat of the bass, until they find one of dozens of clandestine parties, hidden in the woods, in clearings illuminated by fairy lights.

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Revellers have to jump through hoops to find the locations and access points for "free parties". (Photo: AFP/GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT)

In July, "free parties" in the park attracted as many as a thousand people at a time, many flouting guidelines to wear facemasks and keep a safe distance from others to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

"I had never seen anything like it, it was completely crazy," Illa Giannotti, cofounder of the Soeurs Malsaines (Sick Sisters) party-planning collective, said of the clamour.

Raves first appeared in France in the 1990s and were popular until a 2001 law forced organisers to register with the police beforehand, pushing a large, rebel section of the scene, and its faithful followers, underground.

"PARTYING IS VITAL"

Raves involve dancing from dusk till dawn to loud techno music, blasted by DJs over massive speakers in abandoned warehouses or the depths of forests. Recreational drug use is a common feature.

Now the pandemic has made clandestine "free parties" popular again, with licensed nightclubs to remain shuttered throughout the summer due to the high infection risk they pose to revellers getting up close and personal in enclosed spaces.

In the United States and other countries, authorities have observed infection surges centred around gatherings of young people partying at close quarters on beaches, in bars and other outdoor venues.

READ: US death toll soars as global COVID-19 cases top 19 million

"When lockdown ended, there was a lot of pressure (to organise parties)," said Antoine Calvino, DJ and head of the collective Microclimat (Microclimate), which began hosting parties in the Bois de Vincennes in May after France's strict stay-at-home rules were lifted.

"The nightclubs and even bars were still closed and there weren't many alternatives to see friends again and party," Calvino told AFP.

"Partying is vital. For some people, it's a parallel way of life, a moment to let off steam and meet up. It's a pressure outlet and a zone of tolerance without equal," he added.

SURPRISE AT THE SCALE

To find out the location for a clandestine rave called "Trance ta race" held recently, prospective partygoers had to phone a number and listen to a voicemail message for the address.

To get in, they had to climb over a wall, put on a mask and disinfect their hands with gel before paying a 10-euro (US$11.8) entry fee to cover the costs of the organisation – but also any potential fine.

Many flout guidelines to wear facemasks and observe social distancing to prevent coronavirus infection. (Photo: AFP/GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT)

The police have cottoned on and, since mid-July, have conducted busts to disperse revellers and seize party equipment.

But the Liberation newspaper has reported that the law enforcement response has been ambiguous – sometimes putting an end to the raves, sometimes not.

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