Counterculture. The hive of alternative scenes in Lyon

[Dossier Lyon underground 1/3] Behind its appearance as a wise city, Lyon vibrates with a powerful culture outside the institutional circuits. Underground rap, punk concerts, electronic raves, micro-editing of fanzines, street art or drag shows… Tribune de Lyon went out to meet those, young people and artists, who shine in the shadows and end up —sometimes— landing in the light. Reportage.

When we talk about culture in Lyon, there are institutions that immediately come to mind: the Opera, the Maison de la danse, the Célestins theater, the Auditorium or the Halle Tony-Garnier, to name just a few. At his side, ingenious artists and musicians work to offer something more. Alternative, independent, emerging, underground…

Definitions are as sensitive as the strings on a guitar or the turntable on a mixing console. If the underground has an illicit dimension and is destined to remain in the shadows, “indie” offers an alternative to the marked paths of music oil paintings. All its actors have in common the taste for doing things for oneself, for the love of art, for the desire for emancipation and above all… for pleasure.

Precursor movements

“We don’t really come to Lyon for its underground culture, like we would go to Paris or Marseille,” notes Umwelt, electronic musician behind the first rave parties in Lyon in the 1990s (read his interview in the rest of our archive). However, the alternate scenes are extremely alive there. Modest, hidden, far from the images we have of France’s second city.

Antoine Boj, a journalist from Radio Nova Lyon, gives them the microphone every week on his program Le Reservoir. You can listen to the stories of the pop group Balladur, of Yanka, punk and rap DJ at the same time, or of the graphic designer Félicité Landrivon on the origin of Ventoline, an exclusively female music magazine.

“Since these are circles with very progressive political demands, these questions are central. They were also first asked in these circles, before emerging in public debate. They are places of refuge for people who do not fit the norm. That’s why it’s also fascinating and often beautiful to watch.” Antony describes.

A point of view shared by Charlie, ex-singer of the punk group Schlaasss and today Cœur, a queer rapper: “There’s something about those places, something infinitely sexy and infinitely ‘pirate’. These are often people with very chaotic backgrounds. They’re beautiful what they’ve been through, there’s a fucking resistance. »

There’s something about these places, something infinitely sexy
and infinitely “pirate”.

Precursor movements in social issues, but also at an artistic level. “In Lyon, many counterculture movements are emerging: neo-graffiti, ignorant tattoo, underground rap, digital arts… Then it will develop nationally”, analyzes Mathilda Saccoccio, co-founder of Boomrang, a cultural space dedicated to young people aged 18 to 25 in the heart of La Guillotière.

35% of the population of Lyon is under 25 years of age. For Mathilda, listening to the voice of this generation is fundamental: “You must not think that innovation comes from the Museum of Fine Arts, it comes from ultra-underground circles! It is very important for us, who will be the new generation of workers, not only to say that we are creating the culture of tomorrow, but also to show that there is an alternative, another way to consume it. »

And the City in all this?

When asked about supporting alternative cultural venues, Deputy Mayor for Culture Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert replied that “There are many initiatives of cultural associations in Lyon and not all of them seek the support or guidance of the City of Lyon. Some, by definition, precisely want to be on the fringes of a more institutional culture and voluntarily avoid applying for public subsidies”. However, he says he is concerned “That public aid reflect the diversity of creations and arts in the city, such as the structures that they request from us”.

He mentions in particular the accompaniment of three alternative and self-managed places of residence of multidisciplinary artists or in the field of visual arts: Gamut, Au 46 and Pôle Technique, as well as the recent labeling of “discovery scene” of Sonic. Also take the example of Grrrnd Zero (Vaulx-en-Velin), “Interesting because it illustrates the city’s desire to find its rightful place in supporting more underground initiatives: long-term provision of premises, great confidence in the team to develop and implement their project, and support via investment aid.

Through culture, a portrait of the city

To better understand the challenges of alternative culture in Lyon, a little pink bible made its debut in early 2022 on bookstore shelves: The hard. Lyon 1980–2020, portraits and stories of the underground music scene is a collective book, led by Sébastien Escande, better known under the name of its independent publisher Barbapop.

One of the goals of the book is to explore the notion of counterculture: “All the people we went to see have a sensibility that questions the norms, and in particular the city. In hollow, it is a portrait of the city, and its evolution, its gentrification»explains during a meeting organized at the Part-Dieu library around the launch of the book.

Justine, sitting next to her, says that at curfew time she organized concerts in apartments in the center of Lyon to recreate the sociability that had disappeared for months. She also evokes the need to have places to meet to party without financial logic.

“Often what comes up in my interviews is that the fact that there are no gorillas, that they are all housed in the same boat and that it is cheap brings a different mood. For some, a concert should not exceed five euros.Sums up Antoine.

Because creating with few means allows you to overcome many social barriers and meet the expectations of the youngest, as confirmed by Mathilda with Boomrang: “In just two years we have mixed many social classes and we have managed to make social diversity among young people an almost utopian bet in cultural third places. »

Utopia is perhaps precisely the fuel for those who want to do things differently. After the first round of presidential elections where the political gaze was everywhere except in culture, the youth – whose abstention reached 42% among young people between 18 and 24 years old – has a hangover. The places where you meet to create or vibrate speak volumes about your aspirations. Immerse yourself in some of the countercultural places in France’s second city, where everything usually begins.

Mathilda Saccoccio: “Boomrang is the bastion of Lyon youth”

Located in the Guillotière district, the building at 5 rue de l’Épée has had several lives: it housed La Taverne Gutenberg, later transformed into Halles du Faubourg, then Le Cartel cocktail bar, where Mathilda made her weapons in training at parallel to his studies and his media dedicated to urban cultures in Lyon, Yöshka. She was 23 years old when she created Boomrang. In just a year and a half of existence, the place is already followed by more than 8,000 people on Instagram.

Was it important for you to anchor this place in La Guillotière?

“The Taverne Gutenberg had a huge impact on Lyon in terms of cultural influence, it was one of the first places for free artists. Having a youth building was an incredible opportunity. From a rap point of view, La Guillotière is great. It has also become my favorite neighbourhood, I am not afraid of it and I am against the clichés of “la Guill”. I don’t have any problem with the neighbors in my neighborhood, apart from the thirtysomethings who piss us off because of the music.

Those who are really from the neighborhood, Africans, North Africans or Chinese, there is never a problem with them. It’s a place that’s becoming more gentrified, there are a lot of artist places everywhere and I think that’s really the future of a whole part of Lyon. We are also neighbors of a mosque, with whom things are going very well. The most interesting thing is that we do drag queen shows: we see them with 13 centimeter heels in a miniskirt next to the mosque, and there has never been a problem.

You define this place as alternative. What differences do you make between alternative and underground?

Vocabulary is super important. For my thesis I have relied on the thesis of a Parisian student, in which he defines the concepts: for him, alternative does not necessarily mean underground, there are squats, but also contracted squats, temporary occupation, etc. There is a whole lexical field of the alternative, closely linked to the urban since we live in places.

Some cultures do not speak the same language and may or may not wish to blend. Often the people who interview us are intensely curious about how it works, and it’s a big focus: we’re for the democratization of these places. But there are also cultural movements that do not want it at all, and that consider that it is not necessary.

Isn’t it a bit paradoxical to want to democratize countercultures?

Today, the so-called countercultures and underground cultures —graffiti, rap or rave-party— are currents that have a cultural history. They have evolved, been commercialized and reappropriated by capitalism. For example, in line with rave-parties, today in Lyon we are witnessing the appearance of Secret places at 25 euros. There is vandalism graffiti, but also Overlay that gentrifies street art. There is rap in Sucre with artjackings where the place costs 30 bucks, but there are no bridges to the suburbs.

The luck we have here is that we have a structure and the skills to organize events. I am addressing young people between 18 and 25 years old and I am at the center of our generation: we are truly the bastion of the youth of Lyon. It allows us to have a hyper-eclectic look: we do both rap and electronic music and jazz.

For example, to prevent the gentrification of street art for liberal purposes, it would be good to show the general public the history of graffiti, and show young people that it is necessary to differentiate between street art and vandalism. It is important to educate in certain languages ​​of the culture.

What is your business model based on?

Mainly in the bar, and it is usually the case in places like that. There is also a membership system. We have a hybrid operation, alternative but born from the codes of the underground. I have a program that is for everyone, but focused on a young target. I also do business and ventures in culture, in a completely assumed way, because I am for the multiplicity of places. Without profit, there would be no Boomrang, and I think that today in Lyon it is necessary to open places like that. »

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