In a city famed for its architectural and cultural marvels, Paris’ Le Bataclan nightclub has always stood out. Built in 1864 and located in the bustling, cosmopolitan 11th arrondissement, Le Bataclan has been a longtime favorite of concertgoers, as much for its brightly colored facade and chinoiserie-style features — a specialty of architect Charles Duval — as for its welcoming atmosphere and prescient and eclectic booking policies. The queues to get into Le Bataclan on any given night snake far along the Boulevard Voltaire, and have so for decades.
“My father used to go when he was my age,” recounts Maxime de Abreu, 26, a music journalist for the popular magazine Les Inrockuptibles. “He’d drive all the way from the suburbs just to go to the disco there. The place is like family. Everyone in France is hurt by this.”
Sadly, Le Bataclan will now always be associated with the tragic events of Friday, Nov. 13, when three gunmen armed with assault rifles entered the venue partway into a headline set from Californian rock band Eagles of Death Metal and began indiscriminately shooting into the crowd.
At press time, 89 people had died as a result of the attack, with 99 critically injured. Eyewitnesses inside Le Bataclan described scenes of horrific carnage with the venue resembling a “battlefield” and “abattoir” as the three gunmen — who are all believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — calmly reloaded their automatic weapons between picking off wounded and trapped crowd members who had been unable to escape the bloody massacre. The attacks ended when armed police stormed the building, shooting one of the terrorists dead. His two accomplices then blew themselves up by detonating suicide vests, bringing the devastation to a violent close.
“The Bataclan has always been for me a place of music, sharing and joy. I never would have imagined that it would become the place of such a tragedy,” posted David Guetta, a one-time resident DJ at the venue, on Facebook.
Le Bataclan’s history is as storied as any of the star acts who have performed there. First opened in 1864 as Le Grand Cafe Chinois-Theatre Bataclan, the 1,500-person-capacity venue originally served as a cafe and music hall, hosting acrobatic, ballet and vaudeville displays, with acts from chanson singer Maurice Chevalier to William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, the first American “rock star” to perform there in 1892.
From 1926 to the late 1960s, the building operated as a cinema before being converted into a live music venue, with a 1972 concert from reunited Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico among the many memorable gigs to have taken place in the past four decades. After being heavily bootlegged through the years, an official live recording of the show was eventually released in 2004, titled Le Bataclan ’72.
Other notable shows that have been staged within the building’s pagoda-style walls include a 1995 concert from a then-little-known Jeff Buckley, which featured him singing (partially in French) a faultless medley of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas la Fin” and “Hymne a L’amour” to a stunned crowd. The four-track EP Live at Le Bataclan was released the same year, helping to cement Buckley’s reputation. More recently, Sam Smith, Prince, Hole, Blur, Kanye West, Paramore, Kendrick Lamar, Oasis, Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Jill Scott, 30 Seconds to Mars, New Order and Ellie Goulding are just a few of the thousands of artists who have performed there. In addition to music, the venue hosts stand-up comedy and can even be rented out for bar mitzvahs and college reunions (the rows of mobile, fluffy red-velvet seating, though shabby, make the space especially versatile.)
Although the events of Nov. 13 were on an unprecedented scale, it is not the first time that Le Bataclan has been subject to threats of intimidation and violence. In 2011, French newspaper Le Figaro reported that members of Jaish al-Islam, one of Syria’s largest rebel groups, had been planning an attack on the venue because of long-term owners Joel and Pascal Laloux’s perceived support for the state of Israel. Several years prior to that, the venue’s management had received threats from radical extremists for hosting a concert in support of the Israeli border army. These incidents have led to speculation that the venue was deliberately targeted by ISIS, but the terror group did not cite Le Bataclan’s Jewish links in its statement claiming responsibility for the atrocity.
Ownership of Le Bataclan changed hands in September, when the Laloux family sold the business to French media giant Lagardere, with French music companies Alias and Asterios, run respectively by Jules Frutos and Olivier Poubelle (who have managed the venue for more than a decade), acquiring a minority stake.
Fluctuat nec mergitur is a Latin saying that translates to “Tossed but never sunk,” and it’s a motto of sorts for many Parisians. Dominique Revert, the club’s co-manager who was not present the night of the shootings, conjures it now and says it will be Le Bataclan’s raison d’etre moving forward. “It will reopen, no question about it,” he says. “Hearts will be heavy for a few months, a few years. But we will reopen. We will not surrender.”
This story will appear in the Nov. 28 issue of Billboard.