Photos by the author unless otherwise stated
"Of course we are feminists, because we are girls and want to be respected. But we don't want [others] use it as, 'Oh they're girls it's so trendy,'" says Pauline Ferrandiz, looking up from her plate of fried pork and sticky rice cakes. It's an afternoon in late March, and I'm in Paris' Belleville neighborhood, scarfing down lunch in a Chinese restaurant called Mian Guan with Paris-based female DJ collective These Girls Are on Fiyah (TGAF). Ferrandiz, better known by her stage name DJ Ouai, is a member of the group, along with Aurore Dexmier (AKA Miley Serious), Nina Orliange (AKA Carin Kelly), and Marylou Mayniel (AKA Oklou). The Chinese restaurant is one of TGAF's haunts; they affectionately renamed "#46" after their favorite dish to eat between sessions at their studio in an artist squat a few blocks away.
Though TGAF is now a force in Paris' next-generation club scene—playing shows all over the city, broadcasting their weekly show on local radio, and debuting mixes on stations like BBC—the collective's beginning was nearly accidental. In 2015, Mayniel was invited to do a Sunday guest spot on French internet radio station PIIAF, and told she could invite friends. Mayniel brought Dexmier, Orliange, and Ferrandiz, who were merely acquaintances at the time. While they came to provide moral support, the other girls ended up hopping behind the decks as co-performers for the hour. The group's chemistry and diverse musical tastes were infectious, and they were soon offered their own show. Now happening weekly, TGAF's Sunday hour on PIIAF is an eclectic mix of pop, experimental music, and house.
TGAF's rise over the past few years is happening in tandem with the next evolution of Paris' underground party scene, where the inclusive, DIY spirit of the 90s is making a comeback after years of restrictive legislation and stuffy club culture. "The parties that represent the best of this spirit [of inclusion] are mostly organized by LGBTQ. That's a fact," says Mayniel. TGAF cites parties like PARKINGSTONE and I've Seen the Future as prime examples of events that are creating spaces that are both accepting and musically divergent.
Paris nightlife has taken many shapes. During the Belle Époque, the city made its name as a center of free expression in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war. In the 90s, it birthed the distinct French house sound with acts like Daft Punk, and nurtured a vibrant scene of underground raves and clubs like Le Palace and Rex. But in the early 2000s, the scene slipped into a stupor due to noise restrictions, limited opening hours, and gentrification—earning titles like "European capital of sleep" from its frustrated club community. It all came to a head in the late-2000s, when a group of promoters, DJs, and club owners started to call for the re-evaluation of restrictive legislation suffocating local club culture. Working with the local government, they established The Council of the Night, which meets to ensure the city's nightlife policies are keeping things both safe and fun.
Today, local nightlife is graduating from the dress-shirt-required clubs of the recent past. A more musically and culturally diverse scene is cropping up throughout the city, centered around roving parties where partygoers in sneakers dance to experimental tracks culled from around the world. "We like clubs that mix several kinds of music. It can be dancehall, RnB, house, techno, different kinds of African rhythms. That's richest thing we can find," says Mayniel of what TGAF looks for in a night out. While no scene is perfect, venues are also becoming safer places for POC, women, and the LGBTQ community, with the TGAF crew crediting online communities that allow people to discuss harassment and discrimination without relying on the often unreliable systems set up by clubs and promoters for these problems.
The newfound diversity of the city's after-dark scene affords TGAF a certain amount of freedom—to start a DJ collective nearly by accident, be passionate about both top 40 hits and obscure producers, and focus on the music they make instead of the pronouns they use.
Finishing the last bits of our fried pork, the TGAF crew and I head out into the busy Sunday streets for a tour of all the spots—from their studio in an abandoned high school to local radio stations—that are cornerstones for the next generation of Parisian party goers.
1. La Java nightclub
Aurore Dexmier: It's cool because it's in an old building of Paris with kind of modern art stuff, like two staircases and these big windows. It's a big space, and it can get crowded. They have live shows before it turns into a club, and when you play there, the bass is really nice because it's kind of space-y. Musically, it's very open minded. You have techno house stuff—
Nina Orliange: But you can also go to Latino parties [at the club] to dance flamenco. Actually it's weird because you can find this club in guide books, so there's a lot of different people. I never understand the audience.
Pauline Ferrandiz: Sometimes people come because they like the party. Sometimes they're in the neighbourhood and saw the club. It's cheap and it's a good mood. You can chill on the couch or go and dance, and you can get in with sneakers, or drunk.
Marylou Mayniel: We follow DJs and parties, not venues. We discovered the club because the Bye Bye Oceans [a seminal new-gen party] is thrown over there. But it's different from other clubs because La Java already has an established reputation and it's a downtown club that has been there for so many years. So it's a bit harder to gain the owner's trust.
2. PIAFF radio
Dexmier: PIAFF is an internet radio like Rinse or something. They are private so they really work to get their slots good, and they have really good intentions. They're a part of a different scene than we are, they listen to different music, which is why they're interested in our show.
Ferrandiz: It's really eclectic and there are lots of talk shows, which is different from a lot of the other online radio stations I listen to like NTS, Rinse, and Radar. You also have writers and journalists doing shows. It's not only a music radio, they are trying to offer lots of stuff.
Dexmier: Piaff likes us for how relaxed we are. It's like listening to your friends on the radio, because sometimes we just talk about what happened last night when we were partying. We're almost gossiping sometimes. It's like a slumber party on the radio. We don't hide that our first crush in life was pop music. Everybody was talking about the show we did on Justin Bieber. Just because we're four girls in this kind of [underground] scene doesn't mean we can't talk about how he's a genius.
Orliange: We want to discover things from others. It's about sharing everything.
Ferrandiz: We don't want to be inaccessible. Yes we know things, but we don't know everything, and we don't want people to think we know everything. Like, we aren't music historians.
Orliange: But we try to do our best, we're not just chilling like, "ah I like this," and making no sense. We try to do our best to reflect on the music and what it represents.
3. Le DOC artist squat
Marylou Mayniel: The building is actually an old abandoned high school, so it's huge and there are many rooms. It was discovered two years ago by some guys who are like some kind of squat masters [ laughs]. They created an association named DOC, and started to look for artists and crews to start flooding the place. Me and two friends applied to create a music space. We got the basement, which is perfect to make noise. For [TGAF], it's a secured place where we can practice DJing whenever we want, or just meet and make music.
4. Le Chinois bar
Mayniel: This venue is cheap to rent for people who want to organize parties with small budgets. The owner of the bar must be quite open-minded, and that's so cool because it's a place where you can find salsa, and the day after, you have some very dark experimental night, and the night after, you have a gay party where everyone is dressed up. Montreuil is a cheap neighbourhood. It's very popular, it's very simple, it's dirty. And the owners are not trying to pimp the place or whatever, but it's big inside.
Ferrandiz: [La Chinois] is important to the Paris scene because it doesn't work as a typical club and requires a certain open-mindedness. It helps to understand that having fun on a Saturday night is not necessarily listening to 135 BPM songs all night. You can also be carried by the atmosphere and the emotion. The music here is always complemented by other artistic dimensions like performance, projection, and scenography.
Dexmier: Unlike the other spots we've been talking about, Rinse is not a place where you can go and play whatever you want, because you have to be invited by Rinse. It's one of the biggest electronic radios in France, so I think for everybody [here] it's the first one to push another side of the club scene in Paris.
Ferrandiz: It's like the reference for club music in Paris. I think the people that run Rinse France are more into house and techno, so the people listening to Rinse France are more interested in house and techno. I like Betty's show because she's into [our] scene and she invites really cool people like DJ Deeon. She was in Girls Girls Girls before. Aurore has a residency now on Rinse, and she was part of the Women's Day thing recently where they had some lectures and live sets [on air].
Dexmier: [Rinse] give attention to small people in Paris trying to do their things, and on my show I get to invite whoever I want. For the Women's Day [program], I was representing TGAF. It was important to connect all the female musicians in Paris.