Possession and the democratisation of Paris techno scene

Dawn just broke over Paris, but the dancers don't know it. There is no sunrise inside the walls of the warehouse: just a cloud of fog and sweat enveloping the huge crowd who are in it for the long haul. Shadows quiver in the dark, now and then struck by colourful spotlights. The room is filled with pounding techno. People here are gushing with ecstasy, dancing in every corner of the room, stomping relentlessly.

It is a typical night for Paris-based collective Possession. They have been throwing parties for three and a half years now, and with time, not only have the line-ups become bigger and better, so have the locations. “We went from a club of 800 people (where we had between 1000 and 1500 people coming) in the heart of Paris, the Gibus Club, all the way to atypical spaces a year and a half later. We now have 2500 - 4000 people per event.”, Mathilda of the Possession crew says.

Mathilda has been part of Possession since the beginning, when another founding member, Anne-Claire, asked her to join. Anne-Claire had been working in the techno scene for years. Her parties used to be LGBTQI focused - with Possession, she wanted to keep the concept. “The initial idea was to create a queer party. We wanted to bring people together in a safe space and listen to good music without worrying about homophobia or misogyny.”, says Mathilda. Back in 2015, parties beyond the heteronorm hadn’t really been part of Paris’ rave scene.

It’s never been easy for Paris to stand the comparison to its big-hitting nightlife neighbours London and Berlin. There may have been hedonistic parties in the 90s but post-millennium, Paris’ electronic music culture hasn’t shone. At least not until 2015. “When we launched our first edition on September 18th of that year, there were only a few techno collectives”, Mathilda remembers: “There were 3 or 4 very big ones like Blocaus,[BP] or Fée Croquer. So there was a public demand and I think that's why the parties were so successful right from the start. People needed to let off steam, to mix. We arrived at the right time, just when the Parisian and French electronic scene began to explode.”

And Possession’s success shows them right. Huge lines outside the venue and packed warehouses are typical for the events. The followership has stayed constant since the very beginning - regardless of the venue, whether in clubs like Concrete or Gibus where the collective started off, or its off-locations like abandoned hangars, cellars or cinema studios.

But what is Possession’s key? What makes them different from the typical club? The focus on providing a safe space for a queer crowd of all genders, religions, sexualities and skin colors plays an important role. “The crowd is eclectic”, Mathilda says. “But it is also the line-ups. We mix big names and upcoming artists and try to book more and more women.” At March’s edition of Possession, Mathilda and the crew booked British veteran techno DJ Paula Temple alongside female resident artists Parfait and emerging heavy-hitter VTSS from Warsaw.

“At the rave with Paula we were super proud about the 80% female line-up.The sets that particular night were absolutely beyond everything. That was definitely a memorable night”, Mathilda says. Other big names that have topped the Facebook banner of Possession events include Helena Hauff, Anetha and Nur Jaber.

With these names, Possession has brought a whole new style to Paris. EBM, acid, rave, industrial, hardcore - it always depends on the mood of Mathilda, Anne-Claire, Francois and Naila.

But today it’s not only Possession shaping the Parisian underground. Many collectives have arrived since 2015, providing ravers with all kinds of electronic music - and all kinds of quality. Not many remain as vibrant as Possession. But it shows the public demand for party nights different from what had come before.

“We all have become more serious and more professional over the years”. Mathilda says. And so has the organisation between everyone involved in the scene. In 2018, 40 collectives sat down together to form SOCLE (Syndicat des Organisateurs Culturels Libres et Engagés), a union and support network that lobbies for local authorities to allow and recognise their events. One of its founders, Antoine Calvino, once said in a Mixmag-interview that 20 years ago, raves were “interludes of freedom, a unique moment out of time. It’s their severe repression that led them to become free parties, pushed further outside of cities”.

Local collectives like Possession now aim to bring a modern French version of those raves back into town, one that encompasses house, techno, world music, theatre, circus and the arts, and that celebrates freedom and social diversity. Their manifesto reads: “The bubbles of poetry we create in our parties are a necessity in the ever-harsher, normative environment of our everyday lives. Let’s work together to preserve them”.

For Possession, SOCLE is rather a place of exchange: “We all get along very well and we discuss issues together. With other collectives that organize parties in hangars, we are working on a new association specialized in warehouse evenings.”, Mathilda reveals.

Although they cater to a crowd eager to find the freedom, affordable prices and thrill that regulated clubs don’t always provide, their illegal events don’t aim to compete against the existing institutions. That was never the goal for Mathilda and her colleagues: “We are certainly proud but we didn't look for this success at the beginning. This has been done over the years, by working hard and offering quality line-ups at low prices.”

Seeing the vast rise since 2015, one might assume that Possession, which started as an underground event, might have become a commercial party like any other in Paris. But as the book "Mainstream" says, any underground is doomed to become mainstream. “I don't find it disturbing as long as we always put the same passion into our parties and make our audience as happy as ever.”, Mathilda says.

The crew wants to stay true to themselves. Volunteers are a big part of the regular party preparations. They take care of preparing the venue and working during the events. A typical night at Possession? “At 10 pm we send the address of the place by email to all participants. 4 minutes later we’re harassed by emails from participants who didn’t receive our message. At 11.30 our staff arrives and half an hour later we open the doors. At 3 am we start to let off steam. We drink, talk to the DJs, see our friends and ask if everyone is alright. I usually leave at 10 in the morning. Anne-Claire stays until closing time. Then we sleep for 2 days until we launch the next event.”

It’s that passion driving the whole collective that made them seem like the perfect edition for Voltage Festival 2019. This year, they are going to host their own stage - putting their residents and other artists in the spotlight. “We had heard about Voltage through artists like 999999999 or Boston 168, but the actual contact was finally made on social media. It was fate!”, Mathilda says: “They are passionate and have a great taste in music. It’s going to be a good match.”

What can people expect from the Possession stage? “A family atmosphere like at all of our events. With a line-up of artists that we love both on a musical level as well as on a human level!”

- Text written by Lukas Hansen
- Pictures by Mariana Vasquez Matamoros