Bataclan gets its mojo back after pain and grief of Paris attacks

Some said it should never open again - and others doubted whether the public would ever return. But two years after 90 people were massacred by jihadists at the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall has got much of its old mojo back.

Bataclan gets its mojo back after pain and grief of Paris attacks
Photo: AFP

Even after reopening with an emotional concert by the British rock star Sting on the eve of the first anniversary of the November 13, 2015 attacks on the French capital, some bands were still reluctant to perform there again.

“The months after the reopening were quite difficult in terms of putting a programme together,” the venue's co-director Jules Frutos told AFP. “But
little by little it has come together.”

Frutos said he has been hugely encouraged at how music fans have returned in force, with the 1,700-capacity venue 90 percent full on average over the year.

Such high turnout also came despite greater competition from other Paris concert halls, Frutos added.

However, French musicians in particular remain hugely divided over the venue.

While singers Saez and Vianney quickly volunteered to play the Bataclan to show their defiance of terror, others like Francis Cabrel said could not bring themselves to return.

Nicola Sirkis, the lead singer of Indochine, was even more vehement, declaring last month that he thought it was “ignoble to reopen” the venue which should have “remained a sanctuary… a memorial to the dead”.

Venue not a 'mausoleum'

“The families of the victims have been incredibly dignified,” he said.

“What happened was of an extreme violence. That the city of Paris has not build a monument to their memory is a shame… I will never return to the
Bataclan nor play there again,” he said.

“What happened there was too serious, unforgettable and unforgivable.”

But a defiant Frutos hit back, “I can't understand how an artist can say that. How can he say that a concert hall become a mausoleum?”

The impressario has also crossed swords with Eagles of Death Metal, the US band who on stage on the night of the massacre, turning lead singer Jesse
Hughes away from the reopening for suggesting that the Bataclan's security guards were in on the attack.

“There are things you can't forgive,” Frutos told AFP at the time, pointing out that staff had saved lives during the bloodbath.

“For us the most important thing is the public,” Frutos added. “It was they who were targeted, not Eagles of Death Metal.”

(A plaque bearing the names of the victims of the Bataclan attack was unveiled on the first anniversary of the mass shooting. AFP)

Rock 'n' roll spirit is back

“What we feared was that people would have a blockage” about returning to the Bataclan. “We wanted to see how people would behave, if they would be comfortable again” in the reopened venue, given what had happened.

“Now we no longer have that fear, even if what happened in Manchester (with the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in which 22 people died) brings it all back to us,” Frutos added.

The Bataclan has been under close police protection since its reopening, but Frutos said the management had “worked with the authorities to make sure that security was much less visible” than it was in the weeks after the doors reopening, when streets were around the concert hall were blocked.

Around 50 bands have already been booked for the first three months of 2018, and “the next year looks promising”, he said.

“Now we are trying to get our heads around normal everyday problems of running a venue, which is actually quite soothing,” he joked.

For Frutos, the moment when he realised the spirit of rock 'n' roll was alive and kicking again in the Bataclan came during the concert by the renegade British rocker Pete Doherty (see photo above) five days after Sting's.

“But it had nothing to do with what was happening on stage,” Frutos laughed. “I went into the toilets and saw the toilet bowls had been smashed and I thought, 'That's good. Everything is back to normal.'

“I burst out laughing standing there on my own. When you have damage like that you know the place is alive again.”


Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks

The biggest trial in France's modern legal history begins on Wednesday over the November 2015 attacks on Paris that saw 130 people killed at bars, restaurants, the Stade de France and the Bataclan concert hall.

Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks
A memorial to the 130 victims of the November 13th attacks in Paris. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

The suicide bombing and gun assault by three teams of jihadists, planned from Syria and later claimed by the Islamic State group, was France’s worst post-war atrocity.

The only surviving attacker, Salah Abdeslam, will be in the dock at the purpose-built facility at the historic court of justice on the Île de la Cité in central Paris, along with 13 other defendants.

Six others are being tried in absentia. Twelve of the 20 people on trial, including Abdeslam, face life sentences if convicted.

“We are entering the unknown,” said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan music venue attack and president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association. “We can’t wait for it to start, but we’re asking, How will it be for the next nine months?”

The trial will last until May 2022, with 145 days for hearings involving about 330 lawyers, 300 victims and former president François Hollande, who will testify in November.

The case file runs to a million pages in 542 volumes, measuring 53 metres across.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti this week described the trial as “historic” and “one of all superlatives” as he inspected the courtroom.

Surviving gunman Abdeslam, now 31, who was born in Belgium but has French and Moroccan nationality, fled the scene of the carnage after abandoning his suicide belt, which investigators later found to be defective.

He was captured four months later in Brussels, hiding in a building close to his family home.

Abdeslam has resolutely refused to cooperate with the French investigation and remained largely silent throughout a separate trial in Belgium in 2018, where he declared only that he put his “trust in Allah” and that the court was biased.

A major question is whether he will speak at his scheduled testimony, set for mid-January.

Another focus of the trial will be on how the squad of killers managed to enter France undetected, allegedly using the flow of migrants from Islamic State-controlled regions of Syria as cover.

Fourteen of the accused – who face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks as well as weapons offences – are expected to be present in court.

They include a Swedish national, Osama Krayem, who Belgian investigators have identified as one of the killers of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage by Isis in early 2015 in Syria. He is also under investigation in Sweden for war crimes.

The alleged coordinator, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police northeast of Paris five days after the attacks.

Of the six tried in absentia, five are presumed dead, mainly in air strikes in Syria.

The horror was unleashed late on the night of Friday, November 13th, when jihadists detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where Hollande was in the crowd watching France play a football match against Germany. One man was killed there.

A group of Islamist gunmen, including Abdeslam’s brother Brahim, later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants in the trendy 10th and 11th Arrondissements of the capital, which were packed with people on the balmy autumn evening.

The massacre culminated at the Bataclan music venue. Three jihadists stormed in during a performance, killing a total of 90 people.

While the trial’s initial phase will be devoted to procedural issues, testimonies are expected to begin on September 28th from some 300 survivors and relatives of victims for five weeks of harrowing statements.

Security forces will be on high alert.