By Julien Gathelier
A behemoth of concrete overlooks Montreuil. White. Off-White. Grey. A mosaic of windows runs all the way to the crenelated roof. Even in a town that is a rugged panorama of factories, housing projects and waste grounds, this industrial citadel feels surreal. MOZINOR — MOntreuil Zone Industrielle NORd — was a futuristic utopia.
Like most utopias, it did not pan out. In the 1960s, architects Gilbert-Paul Bertrand and Claude Le Goas dreamed up a place that could provide 30,000 jobs on a surface as large as a football stadium. They wanted to create a synergy between the businesses, an “industrial ecology.”
It was meant to be “the world’s first vertical industrial complex.” It has its own highway: trucks carrying merchandise can drive all the way to the roof on one ramp, all the way back down on another. Construction finished in 1975.
The promoters had plans to build a Mozinor 2 and 3, but quickly abandoned them. The complex did not prevent the city’s deindustrialization. The fort could not withstand the seventies’ oil shocks.
Today, ultra-specialized manufacturers occupy most of the units. There’s a company creating film sets, another making parts for the aeronautic industry, and a third designing high-quality pepper pots. The main staircase is well maintained. The secondary elevators, covered in graffiti, have aged. Nothing indicates the place once was the cradle of the French techno scene.
WARNING : For your reading enjoyment, please start listening to the following playlist, courtesy of Manu Casana.
In the early 1990s, the Mozinor hosted some of the first raves in France; before techno spread through the country—before the drugs, before the bad reputation. But like all good things, the parties at Mozinor came to an end. Today, once again, Montreuil is stirring. Out of nostalgia, or because they are fleeing the crowded and expensive clubs of the capital, party organizers and partygoers are taking a new interest in the town. This new nightlife is ephemeral, exciting and sometimes on the borderline of legality. Some tried to reclaim Mozinor, but they haven’t been allowed in.
Crows jump through the grass on the rooftop garden. The aisle of lime-trees shows the first buds. An old red double-decker bus, the kind you would expect in the streets of London, is parked at the top of the ramp. Last year, two men set out to bring back the golden age.
One was Manu Casana, founder of the first French techno label, Rave Age Records. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the French rave movement. Joining him was Stef Fane, who runs the music blog Old School but Good School. They wanted to celebrate the third birthday of Fane’s blog, as well as the anniversary of the most important year for techno music in France: the year 1992.
That was the year Underground Resistance first came to France. The label’s most prominent DJs—Jeff Mills, Robert Hood and Mad Mike—embody what is now commonly referred to as the second wave of Detroit techno. They had risen to fame with their own grungy sound, and their political engagement in the black community of Detroit. Techno flourished from the smoldering remains of Detroit’s economic decay. The music combined allusions to this industrial desert of despair with futuristic themes—the hope that technology would lead to a brighter day.
It took over New York, London, Berlin and finally set foot in Montreuil, among other places. As techno spread, so did rave culture. The ravers adopted the values of the music. Parties were often held in abandoned industrial locations, mostly unauthorized. Breaking the rules together created a sense of community amongst partygoers looking for a feeling of freedom and happiness. “Wild parties… in wild places”, says Stef.
Mozinor was an ideal location. The parties took place in what the ravers called la soucoupe, because it looked like a flying saucer: a flat dome on top of Mozinor. “All the parties were amazing. The location was truly magical,” says Casana.
He organized some of the first raves in France under the name “Rave Age”, as early as 1988, the year he founded his label. Luc Bertagnol, a friend of Casana, had been a music journalist, until then, at the French news magazine l’Express. In 1991, Bertagnol started to organize parties at the soucoupe, associating “Rave Age” with the name “Cosmos Fact.” He had the support of Casana and Eric Napora, steward of Mozinor, who later founded the electronic music magazine CODA.
Through word of mouth, the Cosmos Fact quickly gained a reputation amongst partygoers. “It was one of the rare parties where you could stay until noon,” says Casana. “It became the party of reference around Paris.”
He and Bertagnol, the journalist, went their separate ways that year. While Casana committed himself to his label Rave Age, Bertagnol continued to host parties at Mozinor until 1994, at which point the soucoupe was shut down for security reasons.
Techno had won its spot in the limelight, but as happens often, with the fame came commercialization, substance abuse and increased scrutiny. The raves had lost their initial purpose. The illegal parties, the waste they left behind, the drugs and the noise became a public issue. They garnered media attention. Politicians decided to crack down.
Twenty years have passed. Electronic music moved into the mainstream, evolved relentlessly. David Guetta can sell 9,000 copies of his album with something he calls house music, but some people still look for another kind of experience. More recently, that’s something partygoers have found Montreuil, once again, can provide.
“There are a lot of factories, a lot of wasteland,” says Jeremie Feinbatt. He’s started a party series called Die Nacht. “I wanted to bring to Paris what already exists elsewhere”, says Feinbatt, who has lived in Berlin, Prague and Zurich.
The first party was hosted at an abandoned cosmetics laboratory three years ago. Three others took place at Montreuil’s convention center, the Palais des Congrès. Feinbatt’s motivations resemble those of Casana and his friends twenty years ago. “More freedom,” he says, is what he was looking for when he dreamed up his project. He wants people to have fun, but Die Nacht is “neither commercial, nor intent on growing.”
While a new generation of partygoers is discovering Montreuil, those who witnessed the raves of the 1990s still celebrate those moments.
A group called “Mozinor Mi Amor” counts about 2,200 members on Facebook. They frequently post videos of old house tunes and invitations to parties. In February, a Cosmos Fact compilation saw a release on Sun Generation Records. Put together by Bertagnol and Master Seb, the record is a homage to the legendary parties at Mozinor.
When Casana and Stef Fane decided to bring the party back to Mozinor, they knew there where others looking for the same thing. “We wanted to bring back all the happiness and the joy the ravers had when they came together,” says Fane. Fittingly, the logo of the P.U.R.E. party series is a big yellow smiley.
Two days before the party, they learned the prefecture would not authorize them to have it at Mozinor. In a panic to find another place, they settled for the Palais des Congrès. “The place didn’t have the same aura,” says Fane. “It’s not an abandoned warehouse. It’s clean. It’s not rough. It’s not rave.”
Despite the last minute setback, the party was a success for Casana and Fane. “The spirit is what’s important. To feel even a little bit free, and to have people meet,” says Casana.
And the two achieved what they wanted most, a mix of different generations, to have 20- and 50-year-olds dance to the same kind of music and enjoy each other’s company. “All the people had a smile,” says Stef Fane.
It’s late afternoon at Mozinor. The springtime thunderstorm suddenly hits the saucer. Waves of raindrops violently ricochet against the curved windows. Two workers sit behind their desks at Ecoeff, an ecological consultancy firm which now occupies part of the soucoupe.
There are two levels now. An artist atelier and an organic chocolate-maker are on the ground floor. Ecoeff and a startup that creates recycled designer furniture occupy the space above.
After a couple of minutes, the quiet has returned. The sun pierces through the clouds. The view extends across Montreuil and the east of Paris. Of techno, and Mozinor’s fleeting moment in the music spotlight, there is no trace.
Photo caption: The roof of Mozinor in Montreuil (credit: Julien Gathelier)