Gendarmes blocked access to this free party in the Cevennes National Park in August. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP
Ravers, called “teufeurs” in French back slang, speak of “resistance” against a crackdown by security forces encouraged by locals to restore order.
“The more they stop us from partying, the more we party,” said teufeur and activist Gregoire aka Pontu, who uses an alias to protect himself against the authorities.
France's “free party” movement has since the 1990s brought together techno music lovers who follow a nomadic lifestyle, often living in small communities with a libertarian or anarchist ideology.
“Because of the pandemic there have been fewer events this year than previous years,” free party organiser Robin told AFP, asking not to use his full name.
“But a lot of attention has been focused on those events and the crackdown has been much tougher.”
He works for the Sound Fund, an association that offers legal support for rave organisers who face fines or have equipment confiscated by the police.
The association has been called on to help in 22 confiscation cases this year, including four over the August 15 bank holiday weekend. The number is twice as high as in 2019, Robin noted.
The national gendarmerie police force said it would not respond to AFP's questions on the situation.
However one regional official said that the latest national strategy was to try to restrict the size of gatherings once they get started by blocking all access roads. The official added that site evacuations remained a rarity.
“We cannot allow 5,000, 6,000 people to get together, without shirts, masks or any respect for virus rules,” said junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa in July at the site of a rave that drew 4,000 people to the Nievre department in central France.
Police in the southern Lozere region blocked off a plateau in the Cevennes national park where 7,000 people, including small children, attended an illegal three-day festival in mid-August.
Lozere, France's least populated department, has been spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed more than 30,000 lives nationwide.
With infection rates rising again, locals were furious about the risks posed by the event.
About 200 gendarmes blocked off the mountainous site before slowly filtering out ravers and seizing material such as speakers and electricity generators.
Through the confiscations the authorities can sometimes track down the event organisers who risk fines of up to 3,500 euros for illegal parties.
If the fine includes “noise aggression”, the punishment can climb to a year in prison and 15,000 euros.
'The people who dance'
For local councillors, the arrival of crowds of ravers can be a major shock.
Patricia Bergdolt is mayor of the quiet village of Boutigny-sur-Essonne, near Paris, whose population is mostly elderly.
She said she felt “powerless” when hundreds flooded into the area late at night for two days of hard partying before they were kicked out.
“With so many people pouring into the place, boozing and stoned, who are no longer in a fit state to follow virus rules, how can you reassure people living here?” she asked.
For now, no virus outbreak has been linked to a free party by any of France's regional health authorities.
“We are outside, back to nature, not stuck together like in a bar,” said “teufeur” Gregoire.
Like many ravers he wants to see a stepping up of what they call “the resistance of the people who dance”.
“Free parties will adapt if the crackdown gets worse, either events will become smaller or very much bigger,” said legal fund operative Robin.
“And when 20,000 people turn up at some place, it's a lot more difficult to make them leave.”