Interview | Supersonic
For a while now, one name has been regularly popping up on the radar of the Parisian music scene: Supersonic. So we’ve conducted a little investigation, which lead us to meeting some of the team behind the rejuvenation of the identity and atmosphere of the place which has replaced the late, great OPA Bastille.
So we find ourselves back there, in all its 300 people-capacity intimacy, admiring the revamping job that’s recently been finished. The space is laid out with a stage to the right of an airlock to stop noise, which you have to go through to enter, facing a beautifully decorated bar. At the top of the grand staircase, there’s a mezzanine where there’s sofas and a « fake food truck » and a small smoking area where you can find sustenance. Don’t worry, we can see and hear just fine from up here.
The two people welcoming us and answering the questions that piqued our curiosity are Aurélien, concert booker, who we could have bumped into in Belleville (northeast Paris) where he organised some gigs in association with Jaam Sono; and Cécilia, communications manager who was in charge at the very nice Espace B.
- Could you introduce yourselves to our readers? What is your role at Supersonic? Are both of you behind this project?
Aurélien: I was contacted at the end of August. I officially started at the beginning of October with Supersonic‘s booking. After the end of Buzz, in July, where I organised concerts with my associate, Jaam Sono, I was contacted for the January launch of the new Supersonic complete package, with the new name.
Cécilia: I was at Espace B and there were stories of closure…the article was published in the French music magazine Les Inrocks on the day that Aurélien organised a Jaam Sono evening at Espace B, so we were chatting and he said to me, « I just saw the article, what will you do next? » So, we discussed it and then I met the bosses for interviews. Artistically, I was completely on board with the idea of changing the name, to start again from scratch. Because OPA…
- So that was really the aim of the project, to redefine the identity of the place?
Aurélien: Yeah, that was the challenge. The project was to redefine a completely new space, start from scratch. I had had a bad experience with Buzz, with continuing to work with a place that already had a reputation that wasn’t exactly good. It wasn’t as big a worry as it was to start over with OPA. At the beginning, the bosses didn’t want to change the name at all, and only by asking them to do it, and showing them OPA‘s reputation, did they realise that we had to change the name. What I like most about the project is that it really comes from our team, it’s our identity that we’re putting out there. That was really important.
Cécilia: The same for me too, when I arrived at Espace B, there was this image of a really decaying place, stuck back in the 19th century. And that was how complicated it was, but we managed to do some really nice things in just two years. So, when I heard about OPA, honestly I said to myself, « oh my god, this will be difficult ». But, it was a great challenge and when it came to changing the name, I was more like, « wow that’s great ».
- So where does the new name come from? How did you find it?
Aurélien: By nagging our bosses (laughs). We started thinking of a name change mid-October, and we decided we’d have chosen the final name in mid-November. Then it was the beginning of December…
Cécilia: We decided on the name only ten days before opening!
Aurélien: They didn’t tell us so we only got to know last minute.
Cécilia: Because, at the beginning, it was more a choice that the whole team was making. Except there were too many suggestions.
Aurélien: They told us that they had chosen the name. And looking at everything that happened, we’re pretty happy with the name. In any case, I always say: it’s not the name that makes the place, it’s the place that makes the name.
- So you reopened in January, and for the moment, all your events are free…
Aurélien: And they’ll stay that way, no matter what happens. We hesitated at the beginning about the club but I think it’s on track to staying free too. And the concerts, whichever concert, will always be free.
- And you manage, financially, when you have those big posters?
Aurélien: We had Mademoiselle K and Archive do a DJ set, so yeah.
Cécilia: These are super happening concerts so it makes more on invitation.
Aurélien: But whatever happens, people will never have to pay to get in, and the challenge was keeping the bar cheap with a pint for €5, or €4 before 9pm, and in the club it goes up to €9 but only after 1am on Friday and Saturday evenings. The cocktails cost around €8-9 so we’re sure that the bar is really reasonable considering the free entry for concerts. It’s that sort of thing that we want to keep: it’s a bar with free entry and unique products, beer from independent brewers. It’s a concert hall with a real artistic vein, a real concert ambiance with what I call a head-on relationship with the public, and it’s a quirky club. Our aim is to have all three going at the same time.
- When it comes to scheduling, would you say this aim really focuses on discovery, on emerging bands?
Aurélien: Emerging but very open in the sense that it has to stick to a certain aesthetic to try and keep the public interested. The goal isn’t just to be a filler, which is sort of what OPA did and what lots of struggling clubs in Paris are doing. Here, we’re really trying to define something and it’s initially difficult because I have lots of people asking me and there is a calendar to fill up. So, I’m starting more and more to make my choices and it’s working well at the moment, and we’re really doing the things we want to do.
Cécilia: So yes you could say emerging bands but there’s also a bunch of already names well known in our little environment.
Aurélien: That’s it, we’re dipping into an indie scene, these are the names that will appeal to people. We’re also looking for bands who don’t often do free concerts, the ones who play, not necessarily very expensively, at places like Mécanique Ondulatoire, Espace B or other alternative places. This is what makes the strength of the scheduling and the goal is to have less and less big names and have the littler names because the place will already have enough people to fill up all the evenings. We can only have emerging bands because if not we’d crash, financially speaking. The place has to work. At Buzz or Espace B they’re happy with 50 to 100 people. Here it’s 150 every night.
Cécilia: When we have less then 150, it’s a bit bad when at the time it was sold out, it was crazy.
- On Wednesdays, you invite labels and collectives, what happens there?
Cécilia: We give free rein to labels every Wednesday.
Aurélien: It was an idea that we wanted to take a stab at since the beginning, to try and recapture that constantly moving indie environment with the new name.
Cécilia: And quite simply putting labels at the front of all that.
Aurélien: It’s the most daring and most experimental progs as well. And these aren’t the most successful evenings but the ones that get the most press, because those are the ones we talk about the most. It’s important to keep these evenings and we’re going to reflect on the format of what we’re going to be doing from September.
Cécilia: We want to do them less frequently but better.
Aurélien: It’s important to motivate above all the labels because they are all run by amateurs who have jobs on the side, and who can’t be on the ball 24/7, and communicate with them regarding these evenings. En faire plutôt un gros pas mois, et peut-être un plus petit mais pas quatre. I think this is a bit much.
Cécilia: Generally it’s just concerts.
Aurélien: We’re surrounding ourselves a bit but the goal is that they really fill up the place. The more evenings we have like that, the more it pleases me personally in terms of scheduling. We’re going to start to develop after shows for the big bands as well, and we want the guys to fill up the place, which, though small, is very nice.
- Another of your regular rendez-vous are the « tributes », can you tell us about about them?
Aurélien: On the contrary, they’re really for attracting the mainstream public, crossing our fingers for filler on Sunday…and these are the evenings which work the best, in fact. There’s rarely less than 300 people there for the tributes. And the three or four most recent ones went really well, since we did Bowie…now I’m looking at the bands who are going to die this year, so we can prepare (laughs). It’s cool, it’s a Sunday so it starts early, the concerts begin at 7pm, half of the audience already has a hangover from the day before so it’s quite laid back. There’s singing, there’s dancing and the bartenders say that the Sunday audience is completely different from the rest of the week; super cool, super attentive. We generally have between 4 or 6 bands each evening who play for around 20 minutes, only cover versions.
- How do you find the bands who take part in these tributes?
Aurélien: I admit that it’s often friends, compared with the network that I had at Buzz which we launched without really developing. It’s a friends thing, I often play with my band and it’s almost the same bands that come back each time.
Cécilia: It’s no bad thing that they contact us and rehearse on purpose.
Aurélien: It’s often supergroups; the guitarist of one band, the drummer of another who release and it’s deadly because it’s really cool stuff. It’s really fun to play, as if you’re a star. The Bowie tribute was impressive because it was packed full of people.
Cécilia: But it wasn’t expected! Well, it had been booked since September…
Aurélien: We’re doing Bob Dylan in June, perhaps it’s a sign! (laughs)
- Oh no, he just announced his US tour, we hope he’ll make it through!
Aurélien: In the new few tributes there’ll be Pink Floyd and Queens of the Stone Age in April, The Beatles and Depeche Mode in May, Dylan and The Cute in June, and Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground in July.
- Nice schedule! It helps you give colour, give an identity to your scheduling. Do you influence it at all?
Aurélien: The first ones we did were Joy Division, Bowie and Radiohead so yeah, that’s definitely a thing; after all everybody asks for Motörhead but I don’t think we’ll do it…There’s one that everyone asks me to do that I just won’t, on a personal level. I won’t do The Smiths!
Cécilia: I’m campaigning for The Smiths but he doesn’t want to. But I think we’ll wear him down! (laughs)
Aurélien: We ask all the bands who play here to tell us their three influences so we see the bands who return often and you know that these are the bands talking to the public. We did Arctic Monkeys for example, and everyone thought that it would be a flop because it’s not very mainstream. For now, it’s been the biggest tribute we’ve done, apart from Bowie. We don’t really understand, Nirvana was fully booked, Radiohead wasn’t at all, but it was at the beginning. We did Blur recently, which was fully booked as well.
Cécilia: I think there are more events where we’re not in control, we have a ball!
- Would you say that your most vivid memory from the launch of Supersonic’s new formula is the ‘tribute’ evening?
Both: No, that would be the Balladur evening!
Cécilia: With Pyrite as the opening act.
Aurélien: I’m completely in love with their music. And Balladur was one of the big things I wanted to do here, it was my little headline act en temps qu’indé-dawa. They played in the middle of the audience, like it was completely usual, so in a way we put the audience on the stage, it was packed to the brim. There was really a super sound.
Cécilia: And an amazing ambiance.
Aurélien: Afterwards there were plenty of memories…I remember one evening, limite allongé on the bar with Archive, who came to do a DJ set, doing shots at the end of the evening. Mademoiselle K’s concert was a great hit, she played songs from her latest album and it was really cool. I was scared that she was too big an artist in too small a place but the place really took a beating: it was packed to the brim but not unbearable: no queue for the toilets, no queue to get a drink, you could see, there was a really amazing sound (their sound engineer had a residency the day before), and all of it made for a really great concert.
Cécilia: Marietta was quite cool as well.
Aurélien: I freaked out, there was a queue to the end of the road all night!
Cécilia: We weren’t able to manage it, we hadn’t thought there would be so many people.
Aurélien: People waited an hour to get in and it was mental. Marietta really liked this messy atmosphere.
Cécilia: The opening night was great as well.
Aurélien: We had a tattoo artist in one corner, it was open bar and open crêpe. We had a real little Parisian atmosphere. Mais de grosse grosse anecdote, on n’en a pas encore.
- Do you get good feedback from the bands who play at yours?
Aurélien: In general, yes! What was surprising was that when you’ve just played, you mostly bump into your boss first since the sound engineer is always in a rush, it’s one of his characteristics. So, bands are always met with a coffee and a beer, and in a Parisian cafe, it’s not common. There’s a country concert-hall edge to it, something convivial, the bartenders are interested in what happens even if it’s not necessarily their type of music.
- What’s the craziest thing you dream of doing here?
Cécilia: Frustration! An evening with Frustration, that would be great. But I think people would jump from the top of the mezzanine… (laughs)
Aurélien: The biggest thing, I don’t know how to do. Since I came here, I’ve already scheduled the events I’ve dreamt of. Or a foam party, that would be really funny. What is wicked here is that we don’t have fixed ideas, but we have plenty.
Cécilia: We can propose plenty of things and if we prepare the groundwork, the boss trusts us, whatever the budget.
Aurélien: Ah yes! There is one thing I’d really like to do; a Sunday afternoon party with Philippe Katerine from 6pm to 10pm; a project with big artists but which stays convivial and relaxed. Or, a masterclass with A Place to Bury Strangers who explain for a whole afternoon how they make their pedals, stuff like that. So that the place becomes an HQ for a Parisian atmosphere which no longer has a place of reference, where you can go whenever, a bit obliviously, to see concerts and drink cheaply.
- More concretely, what are your future projects?
Aurélien: The biggest project we’ve got is to still do some works. We would like to move the staircase to create a really big space, and they a new sound system is arriving before September.
Cécilia: I’d really like to have a little gallery as well.
Aurélien: We’re full of ideas for the decoration here. Every 6 months, we need to find a thing, we’re already reflecting on what to do for January 2017…
Cécilia: A terrace!
Aurélien: That would be crazy, can you imagine! We’ll see if the bosses are into it, it’s not impossible.
Cécilia: The terrace will be here one day, you’ll see.
Aurélien: We really want to maximise the space. New scheduling and when it comes to sound operation, it’s already pretty optimised and we only need to spend 2-3 months perfecting it. We know where we want to go, we have the budget to do it and the figures which let us come up with ideas without going wrong.
On veut vraiment optimiser le lieu. Niveau programmation et dans son fonctionnement, c’est déjà quasiment optimisé et ça ne fait que deux-trois mois qu’on l’exploite comme ça. On sait où on veut aller, on a les budgets pour le faire et les chiffres qui permettent de concevoir des projets sans se planter.
- Imagine that we’re 5 years in the future. How does Supersonic look?
Aurélien: I see a number of venues, all around France. In every big city, there will be a Supersonic which would be the club-bar-concert hall where you can go at any time of day knowing that there will be something cool with affordable prices and free entry.
Cécilia: Yes, that sounds good to be. I hadn’t thought of expanding Supersonic to other towns…
Aurélien: In fire years, we’ll have a job to do!
- What are your personal favourites, your discoveries, which are playing on repeat in your brain right now?
Cécilia: Car Seat Headrest played at Mécanique Ondulatoire recently and it was crazy. They were super live. We were going to schedule them at Espace B but it got cancelled, so I was happy to have seen them. A great live show.
Aurélien: I’m stuck on the end of 2015, nothing that has been released since has really struck me. I’ve not been surprised by anything for a long time, it’s almost a bit sad. I am always pretty sure of myself when I go to see things, but there are lots of big deceptions as well. We didn’t expect big things of Mademoiselle K and bam! I didn’t think that neither I nor the public would enjoy it to that extent, seeing as how the people there weren’t necessarily fans. We have a good niche for discovery and there are great things on the way…
- Finally, Limonadier’s signature question: if you were a drink, what would you be?
Cécilia: Easy! Supersonic‘s cocktail, the Sonic Gin. It’s great! It’s a mojito base, with ginger beer and gin. And I love beer too.
Aurélien: I’d be a Get-Perrier. I drink it all the time but without the vodka because I am more in concert mode than club mode. It’s light, fresh and sparkling. Another one which is fun but which only I seem able to drink: beer, Ricard, and lemon syrup. It’s a bit licorice-y…
Thank you so much! We’re very happy to have pushed our noses up against your windows and we’ll keep an eye on what’s to come.
To stay up to date with Supersonic’s news and events, take a look at their Facebook page. We strongly advise you to go and visit and see for yourselves.