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'I want to break free': Underground Paris party defies lockdown

Daphne Rousseau

Agence France-Presse

Paris, France  /  Tue, November 24, 2020  /  07:01 pm
'I want to break free': Underground Paris party defies lockdown

People attend an underground free party (rave) in Paris on November 21, 2020. (AFP/Daphne Rousseau)

On a darkened residential street in Paris, a gate left partly open signals the entrance to an abandoned train tunnel -- and an illegal rave party for 300 people looking for an escape from France's COVID-19 lockdown.

"Close the door," whispers a doorman hidden in the shadows, ushering towards tracks lit only by revelers' phones.

The 15-euro ($18) tickets for the Saturday soirée, baptized "I Want to Break Free," were sold to members of a private Facebook group, and snapped up within hours.

But the address in the 13th Arrondissement was kept secret until the last minute, and the rules were strict: arrive alone or in groups of two or three maximum, between 8:00 and 9:00 pm.

Pulsing techno music beckoned from a vast underground cavern some 20 meters high, festooned with lights and neon that framed the psychedelic images being projected on the walls.

Dancers swarmed the dusty floor complete with a DJ stage and a bar.

"We decided to mount a resistance and issue this call to hide together and party because there's no longer any place for young people to be together," says the 27-year-old organizer, who declined to give his real name but asked to be called "Alexandre". 

"We know how to do this now -- In less than two hours we can set up anywhere and have a very private party like this," he said.

If caught, Alexandre could be fined up to 15,000 euros on charges of reckless endangerment.

Read also: Paris raves draw crowds as virus shutters nightclubs

'Mental health'

Seated on tracks that vibrated from the blaring speakers, Ivan, 23, and his girlfriend watched as people poured in, the majority without face masks.

"I just got my first job, a permanent contract, and I've been working a lot so I really needed to blow off some steam," he said.

"The lockdown has knocked my life out of balance, I haven't left my apartment in a month -- this party is necessary for my mental health."

The sentiment is apparently widespread, since French police have had to crack down on dozens of illegal parties since the partial lockdown was announced in October to combat a new surge in coronavirus cases.

On Sunday, police shut down a party at a private home in Joinville-Le-Pont, just west of Paris, and issued fines to around 15 people for flouting the lockdown, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.

It came just a week after a huge gathering of nearly 400 people was held at the same address, leading to charges against the house's owner and a security guard at the event.

But no officers showed up to shut down the Paris party, a police source told AFP on Sunday.

"Generally we take action against secret parties when neighbors complain, about the noise especially," the source said.

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