Please note: Since the time of writing, RMBA have indefinitely suspended all planned events in light of the Paris terrorist attacks in mid- November. Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragedy.
It’s lunchtime in Paris’ trendy 3rd district at the Gaîté Lyrique — this year’s home of Red Bull’s Music Academy — and American singer, drummer and percussionist, Sheila E is being interviewed about her career which saw her share the stage and collaborate with the likes of Prince, Billy Cobham and Lionel Richie to name but a few. She’s 57 — the same age as Prince — but looks more like 40; she’s confident, always smiling, and has the entire lecture theatre in the palm of her hand as she recalls how she went from a shy, young girl to one of the most accomplished percussionists to ever grace the stage.
She kicks off her talk with a group exercise to get the 61 Red Bull Music Academy participants from 37 different countries loosened up. The room is split into groups each clapping to a beat she is conducting. Everyone is in perfect time. “You see,” she excitedly exclaims. “You’re all really feeling it” as the lecture theatre is bubbling to the sound of a intricate jazz percussion line. Her candid interview is full of inspiring moments but one that really resonates when she describes her determination to make her voice, and music, heard by a music industry predominantly controlled by men: “Can I go through that door?” she sassily says. “No?”. “I’m gonna come through the window then.”
Red Bull’s Music Academy offers something of a utopian parallel universe, where all schools of music are given equal waiting — whether it’s gospel or footwork, acoustic or electronic — everyone who participates in the two weeks of master classes, lectures and studio time is given the opportunity to really express themselves away from the corporate machine, away from the pressures of managers, PRs, and journalists (well, almost).
It’s no picnic, though; during the day participants are expected to attend two lectures, and at least some of the shows in the evening across the city. Only then do they have full rein of the studios, and a fully fleshed-out mastering studio, which is available to them 24 hours a day for 14 days. For some participants it’s an opportunity of a lifetime — a Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, if you will — for others it’s time away from the pressures of daily life. “I work at Clarks,” explains Corey K, the only UK participant in the first term, “It’s really boring,” he chuckles. The two weeks, then, are a gruelling marathon of partying, lectures and studio time to see what they can do with Red Bull’s equipment room; a treasure chest of drums machine, synthesisers, and guitar pedals. “I didn’t really know what the RBMA was when I applied to be honest,” explains the young Birmingham-based producer who is impressing everyone at RBMA — including Sheila E and Just Blaze (who he exchanges a USB with downstairs). “But as soon as I saw it was for two weeks of just music I applied,” he adds. Having earned his spot with his productions, where he writes songs in an artist collective called, Verschieden. The producer explains his first musical inspirations came from an unlikely source. “I grew up listening to a lot of worship, like church music, you know Fred Hammond and that, many musicians that I know of come through the church actually”. Corey K’s 2015 EP displays a range of depth and ingenuity rarely seen in someone so young, and everyone DJ Mag speaks to is tipping the 19-year-old for big things.
RBMA’s Alice Grandoit — who is giving us a quick tour of the sights and sounds of the sprawling venue in the late afternoon — describes the famous Gaîté Lyrique as an “inspiring collaborative workspace” with studios that are meant to be “like their home studios”. Steeped in history, the Italian-styled former theatre has been given a new lease of life with a €70m makeover. As DJ Mag walks inside, we’re greeted by a stunningly opulent Italianate foyer, which leads up to a communal area where food is served throughout the day. There’s a raised stage with hollowed-out pits for your legs to dangle and a TV playing Sheila E’s lecture, which is taking place just next door. The stage is festooned with participants eating, laughing, talking, and generally enjoying themselves. There is something distinctly French about the juxtaposition between a historical building — where the likes of Igor Stravinsky performed his famous ‘Fire Bird’ ballet — and its new leases of life now, where it’s a hive of digital art installations, interactive exhibitions and pulsating music. After a slow decline, the theatre was closed in 1987 to make way for Planète Magique, a kind of low-rent Disneyland, a French Trocadero, if you will. Opened in 1989, the theme park closed just two years later, and this grand building, in the heart of Paris’ 3rd district, stood empty until its radical transformation began in 2003.
We return to the venue on drizzly Thursday evening, where French ambient legend Nicolas Godin (one half of Air) is taking to the stage for one of the many RBMA evening events. Tonight is especially exciting as it’s the first show of his solo tour. Having just released his solo album ‘Contrepoint’ — which is inspired by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach — he’s playing in the state-of-the-art 360 degree concert hall, and the French legend doesn’t waste any time giving the crowd a taste of his latest work opening with ‘Orca’; a stirring track that sounds like Bach experimenting with 8-bit chip tunes. It’s a powerful start, especially so, as the entire performance is besieged by 360 degrees of videos screens pulsing with images of abstract shapes, digital faces and splashing water. The crowd is somewhat stunned, as are we, stood motionless, as if dancing would somehow be inappropriate. Godin, vocoder in hand, rifles through some of the more tender tracks from his new album including, ‘Widerstehe Doch Der Sünde’, ‘Bach Off’ and ‘Club Nine’.
As morning breaks on Friday, it’s still grey and gloomy, and our next port of call in the evening is Concrete, a new club that is the talk of the town since its launch in the 2012. When we say ‘club’ we actually mean boat, because Concrete is actually a barge moored on the banks of the Seine. Tonight’s show — a 50 Weapons finale featuring Shed, Dark Sky, FJAKK and Modeselektor — is scheduled to run from 8pm until 12pm the next day. Since opening in 2011, two years after the city's nightlife was being described as “dead”, Concrete's all-day parties have an almost cult following, and tonight we’re greeted with huge queue, as it’s free entry until Midnight, and the great and good of Paris is taking the RBMA up on its rather generous offer.
On top deck there’s one stage, inside a makeshift tent, flanked by two bars at the bow and stern. The tent houses a decent sized stage, with an art nouveau row of intricate light bulbs suspended from ceiling giving the room a suitably chic feel. It’s early on and one half of Modeselektor, Sebastian Szary, is warming up the crowd with what’s meant to be disco set — but he’s actually dropping everything from low-slung hip hop to reggaeton. Downstairs is where the real party is though, below deck is a fully realised main room, understandably long and narrow, one side is a wall of glass where you can gaze out onto the river Seine, and the other is a neon-clad bar serving all manner of concoctions including a cocktail aptly called the technopolitan. At the bow of the boat is the DJ booth, and Benjamin Damage is going back-to-back with Doc Daneeka (picture above), unloading an uncompromising salvo of techno slammers including Eddie Hale’s ‘Hummidifier’ and more modern-sounding cuts like Deetron's remix of George Fitzgerald’s ‘Every Inch’. Upstairs, Szary makes way of for the one of the RBMA alumni, Kasper Marott, who shows no sign of nerves as he takes over with an upbeat selection of tracks including chromatic cuts of two-step infused house and propulsive slabs of techno, whilst keeping the crowd on its toes with curveballs including DJ Daddios’s ‘Why Waste My Time’. Downstairs, Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert is stamping his authority on the main room with chunky cuts of techno including EQD’s druggy ‘#111 06’ and Philippe Petit’s mind-bending ‘Remote’ both doing the business as night gives way to a crisp Parisian morning.
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