This chaotic Paris rave collective has thrown sexually-liberated parties in squats, parking lots and gym halls since 2016 and instilled a much-needed sense of humour in an overly-serious nightlife.
If you’ve been out in Paris recently, you’re probably familiar with the sinuous body of Austrian artist Matthias Hermann. When the founder of Fusion Mes Couilles, Emma DJ, stumbled on the ‘90s DIY zine Sluts in a Brooklyn bookshop, Hermann’s erotic self-portraits captured his imagination. It’s easy to see why.
Once back in France, Emma DJ photographed the entire booklet with his iPhone and created a stock of flyers for his next events, unwittingly making Hermann the face of Paris’s most talked-about party. “One day someone tagged [Hermann] in one of our posts and I freaked out,” Emma DJ tells me, “but he just added me on Facebook and liked all our events. He lives in Italy and goes for daily runs with his boyfriend now. I think he must have found it random to see 20-year old pictures of himself on some flyer for a Paris rave.”
This throwaway approach to event promotion sums up the spirit of Fusion Mes Couilles well. In less than three years, and with little publicity beyond word of mouth and a small social media presence, their events have become so popular they’ve generated roadblocks at best and street riots at worst, spurring us to collaborate with them for our first Boiler Room tour last March. So what’s the story behind Fusion’s ascent?
The story begins in 2009, as the post-Ed Banger/Justice hype lull took over Paris. There were good parties, but more ‘strass and glitter’ than rowdy all-nighters. Concrete opened in 2011 and helped re-energise the city’s nightlife, but “even then it was purely house, techno, disco, quite calibrated and professional,” remembers Fusion resident Toma Kami. All in all, quite serious, and not very fun. “The landscape wasn’t really relaxed enough for people interested in hybrid club sounds and partying past traditional venue curfews,” adds Emma DJ.
This period of stagnation sparked Emma DJ's desire to start a new night for his friends that would break away from what he felt was a rigid, bland status quo. The very first Fusion Mes Couilles took place on NYE 2016 in a weird loft in Oberkampf. Having failed to arrange a cloak-room, a fairly significant fuck-up deep into December, Emma was taken aback when 1200 people turned up to the venue. Half way through the party, the toilets simply spilled over onto the dancefloor – a perfect metaphor for what turned out to be an epically messy night. The amateurish vibe didn’t seem to bother the guests, though – nor did it stop Emma and his event producer friend Isaac (aka IASUKE) to start drawing up plans for the next one.
Their second event, in April 2017, brought that Fusion Mes Couilles madness to a massive school-turned-graffiti-artist’s-squat in the suburb of Seine St Denis. DJ Slyngshot, K15 and Emma DJ’s friend Bambounou were among those booked for a 24hr party kicking off at 6am on a Sunday. “The crowd was crazy,'' recalls Julia Lemaire, who deals with all production on-site. “We didn’t sleep for almost 50 hours, Emma ended up lying in starfish mode on stage. I came back home in a comatose state, thinking: “This is what I want to do with my life’.”
images courtesy of Lola Venin
images courtesy of Victor Maitre
Everyone who was at this marathon event shares the feeling to have made Parisian nightlife history. Things snowballed from there, and Fusion became the ad-hoc, lawless, ‘be-there-or-be-square’ night in the capital. The name of the event itself played a massive part. Fusion Mes Couilles translates word for word as Fusion My Balls or Fusion My Ass; the sort of nonsensical phrase that will send any native French-speaker into hysterics.
It’s also a direct piss-take of self-serious raves named after aftershaves. “People had enough of techno flyers looking like Sleepy Hollow posters, and Facebook essays to introduce some unknown cold techno DJs”, Emma DJ comments. Instead of bricks of text, he opted for snappy Instagram captions coupled with cryptic visuals to promote his party.
The way the whole crew communicate about FMC events has helped build a mythology, via a joyous vocabulary made up of Parisian lingo, sardonic pop culture references, self-referential in-jokes and techno memes. Not unlike many nightlife collectives born out of the social media era, the visual narrative they patch up online goes a long way into generating interest; even if 50% of the group’s sense of humour relies on zoomed-in pictures of their friends’ faces. When you engage with the FMC constellation online, it feels like reading through a private WhatsApp group - there’s no pointed effort to make things understandable to people on the outside.
images courtesy of Victor Malecot
Emma DJ and IASUKE form the core team of Fusion, as artistic director and head of production respectively, closely helped by Julia on site and Felix Ward, Toma Kami’s brother, who handles stage production. The family-first vibe translates to line ups, which puts residents (Emma DJ’s best DJ friends, Hanah, Charlene aka DJ Sacom and Iasuke) high on the bill, almost as a side note to international guests. What started as default is now a conscious creative choice.
All residents have regular shows on Rinse France and Station Station, and a healthy dose of competition among them mean their sets are always varied. “Hanah is one of my best friends,” explains Emma DJ, “Even though we’ve known each other since we’re teenagers, he really works on his sets everytime I book him. I discover so much new music through him.”
The success of Fusion Mes Couilles feeds the collective’s own creative output. Hanah just launched the label High Digital, whose concept revolves around releasing music through various physical objects from SD cards to CDs. In addition to running the Manband label, Toma Kami has released a second EP of fiery percussive bass on Livity Sound, whilst Julia works full time for Peacock Society and We Love Green, two of Paris’s most-reputed electronic music festivals. Iasuke dabbles with modular synths, while Emma DJ prolifically releases his own tracks too, recently putting out 'Support Your Local Enemy' and 'Global Pharmaceutical,' two brilliantly ear-grating mixtapes, released shortly after his experimental ode to Slipknot’s self-titled album.
Going through the process of finding new spaces for each Fusion is as labour-intensive as it is stress-inducive. “It’s like shooting yourself in the foot, you don’t know if you’re going to get fucked over by the owner,” Emma DJ states; “the stress gave me psoriasis for months.” Making life hard from themselves seems part of the appeal, as routinely changing locations brings an addictive sense of urgency. “Each party has it own DNA and atmosphere,” says Julia. “We worked with squatters, hotel bosses, club owners. It’s impossible to get bored.”
FMC has also built a reputation for being a playground for intense drug-taking. There are stories of people shitting themselves but continuing to party, walking straight into the Paris canal after an all-nighter or doing flips on gymnasium trampolines in endless after-parties. Julia recalls a night where “a guy was so high during Textasy’s set he decided to tip him. He was throwing coins at him, yelling ‘More, More!” Absurd tales and surrealist scenes abound in the Fusion folklore.
The collective is somewhat ok with this messy image as long as the crowd respect themselves and others. “I once called an ambulance because a guy was going into a G-Hole, despite the fact it was a semi-illegal rave”, says Emma DJ. Thankfully the guy was ok and the ambulance didn’t call the police.” Julia praises the work of nightlife organisations helping people manage their consumption. “Our audience is educated,” she adds, “and we don’t attract that many young people who are careless with drugs.” This topic feels particularly sensitive, as Paris mourns a tragic drug casualty at Dehors Brut a few weeks ago.
The team is also fully aware of the potentially short lifespan of hyped events like theirs. “We’ve been super lucky,” admits IASUKE. “We’ve packed crazy spaces with challenging, non-club-friendly lineups. With the internet, genre preferences come and go.” For them it’s a balance between between staying relevant and enjoying themselves. “If we want to keep going, we need to keep our identity and adapt to future changes.”
The rave is still, at its core, driven by its power to bring strangers together. “We were doing this party in a 4000m² venue called Le Consulat,” IASUKE remembers. “I was in my production tunnel mindset, unable to really enjoy the party. My friend stopped me and said, ‘Isaac, who the fuck are all those people?’ I stopped to look at the 300 faces in front of me totally bugged out. There were people in trance, sweaty, surrendering. I realised I didn’t know anyone. That’s the real satisfaction.”
So what’s next for Fusion Mes Couilles? It sounds like the very platform that built the night’s success could also bring its own demise. Ramped up by the timeline algorithm, and with up to 15,000 people attending each event on Facebook, recent parties have been so popular close friends and music fans have been unable to get in, to the frustration of the organisers. “The challenge is to remain a public event while attracting a crowd that comes for the right reasons,” points Toma Kami. “We want to attract people who would go the extra mile to check a newsletter”.
The solution to maintaining the frantic energy of their early parties may be leaving Facebook. “It’s become a puritan marketing network,” laments Julia, “I hope that we won’t have to give them a cent very soon. Other promoters are going back to older ways of promoting events, with hotlines, flyers, mailing lists … Fingers crossed, in one year Fusion will have left the Zuckerberg sphere.”
Written by Anaïs Brémond
The next Fusion Mes Couilles is on Saturday 5th October with Gabber Eleganza, Low Jack, Lizzitsky, Emma DJ and Hanah.
Here are Emma DJ’s French nightlife tips
Bruit de la Passion - “They are a group of friends (DJs and record collectors) who run a night called Fugu, which they organised in a bikers’ club in Bagnolet. They also run a yearly festival called Zone Disco Autonome, on a weird & experimental dance music tip. They do this really well, always choose incredible places, with open bar and open food, but the entry is only 100 Euros. They do it for the right reasons and it shows.”
Audrey AZF & Qui Embrouille Qui - “She exploded when she did a Boiler Room in Paris two years ago. She plays intense, angry techno, but when you speak to her it’s like she’s part from Migos or some other rap crew. Her team is her number one priority, so she created a collective and festival called Qui Embrouille Qui, with a yearly festival at La Station, which gathers a lot of young DJs. Now she organises tours in clubs all around France, and makes sure all artists are paid fairly. She also has a project called Soft War with our friend December.”
Metaphore Collectif - “I still don’t understand how they manage to do what they do [Metaphore Collectif run a venue and a regular party in Marseille]. When I spend one weekend there I’m happy not to go back for six months. Last time I played there I got so exhausted I feel asleep in the office, they locked me inside and I woke up at 5pm alone in my socks. There’s such a good atmosphere in there. Julie runs the space with Rafa and Simon, and she stills mans the door herself. She kinda scares me.”