Swinging Paris: c'est cool, c'est top

Something new and fresh is happening to Paris. It's not just that the bars around the Bastille are busier than ever, new record shops and fashion stores are opening weekly, and more and more young, creative types are moving in. Or that over the last year street fashions and hairstyles have got funkier and more outrageous. Somehow, young Parisians have developed an infectious, almost delirious sense of optimism, catalysing something fresh from club culture - which they regard as a European, not simply British, phenomenon. And it comes with a notion of resistance that has long since been sublimated in Britain's club scene.

Three Saturdays ago was the annual Fete de la Musique. Last year, not a single public rave-style event was allowed in Paris. This year, everybody knew it would be different, permission or not. And so, despite a torrential thunderstorm, 3,000 people danced for several miles behind a trailer loaded with a 50kw sound system, before regrouping for a free all-night rave organised by a young collective called D-Mention. Held at an hour's notice under the sleek, minimalist Charles de Gaulle bridge, with booze being sold from the back of a truck while the crowd went berserk to hardcore techno, it was reminiscent of the pre-1991 underground raves.

This new-found attitude is neatly balanced by the cosmopolitan nature of Paris. "There's still a jet-set feel to this city and people still like to party," says Rudolf Peiper, who moved here just over a year ago. Before that Peiper ran nightclubs in New York and Los Angeles. "But," he says, "New York has lost its balls because [Mayor] Giuliani has turned it into a nice, safe city where yuppies can bring up their kids. And LA is so goddamn boring. Everyone drinks mineral water and wants to go to bed before midnight." Peiper says that London's club scene may be more frantic, "but at 4am, your options are much better in Paris".

"The Parisian cinema industry and the culture surrounding it is fantastic," says Tom Forwood, a 23-year-old English actor who has lived here for two years. He prefers "the general way of life and mixture of people that you meet". He grew tired, he says, of the tyranny of British pop culture. "I mean, who really cares what the Spice Girls get up to?" Claudia Hess, a 28-year-old press officer, moved here from Dusseldorf two years ago. She appreciates the cosmopolitan feel of the city, the way that everybody is expected to speak at least two languages. "You get the feeling this is really the centre of Europe. London is so one-dimensional."

French pop culture is gaining ground fast. "Paris is burning!" proclaims trendy tipsheet i-D magazine this month, celebrating the local dance-music scene. Muzik magazine also noted recently, "There is a wonderfully refreshing lack of purist snobbery in the French club scene, and the result is some of the best dance music we've heard in the past couple of years." New Paris-based dance labels such as Yellow, Source, Versatile, BPM, Roule and Solid all have the English music press salivating. Artists such as Motorbass, Le Funk Mob and DJ Dimitri are among the hippest names to drop, while techno-disco duo Daft Punk are widely considered the best thing since kir royale.

Paris is currently plastered with Eurostar posters urging young Parisians to come to London's Ministry of Sound for the "ultimate clubbing experience". In a couple of years' time the trains will probably be bringing clubbers the other way through that tunnel.

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