Clubs are cool and all, but even the most immersive warehouse experience has nothing on the shining salt flats of Boli, or the vine-covered walls of the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, or the snowy crest of the French Alps, or an ancient French castle, or, y'know, the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.
It's against dramatic backdrops like these that Cercle prefers to host its parties. Since 2016, the Paris-based event organizer and broadcasting group has hosted Solomun, FKJ, Nina Kraviz and more at some truly unique locales — mostly places that have never before considered welcoming a public event, let alone a rave. Founded by Derek Barbolla, Cercle now employs a core team of seven, and somehow, these big dreamers pull off stunning streams every Monday night.
Tonight, Cercle makes its debut in Brussels with an open-to-the-public event pitting Belgian-born Amelie Lens alongside the city's iconic 335-foot-tall atom-shaped monument called the Atomium. It's a night nearly two years in the making, a production schedule that's par for the Cercle course.
We caught up with Pol Souchier, Cercle's Head of Communication who's been with the group since it's early days, to hear more about how the team pulls of these great escapes week after week.
Billboard Dance: How did Cercle get started?
Souchier: To be fair, I think the idea wasn't there at the beginning. It just came from reflection and experiences. At the beginning, Derek Barbolla was doing some radio shows on YouTube in his apartment, doing an interview, and [he was followed by] a DJ playing for an hour. Facebook started its API for Facebook live, and he decided to go on Facebook. It was still at his apartment. Then he had some neighbor issues with the sound and everything. It's quite complicated in a small flat in Paris to do these kind of shows, so he decided to go outside of the flat in the basement a restaurant, then he did a show on a boat for Music Day in France.
After that, Derek decided to do a massive show, and that was the first show we did at the Eiffel Tower in October 2016 with Mome. He was releasing his album Panorama at the time. I think this is the moment where Cercle was really created, the whole idea of doing shows in cultural heritage places with great sceneries. We saw a big hit in terms of views, like 700,000 views. We had maybe 20,000 or 30,000 people on the Facebook page. We got contacted by a lot of labels congratulating us, and that's when we decided to do a Cercle show every Monday in changing locations with different artists, creating a story with the artist and the location.
How did you pull off that first Eiffel Tower show? Did you have to do a lot of convincing?
Actually, I think there was a lot of luck involved in the production of that show. Derek sent an email through the website contact page, and they thought the project was interesting. I think the week after that, we scouted the location, seeing where we could put the artist, and everything got sorted in two or three weeks. We had a very intelligent, open-minded contact with the person that was handling the Eiffel Tower at that time.
What permits do you guys have to get, and what precautions are you responsible for taking when staging these events?
Usually, these locations have never received or hosted any concert or music event. We need to have permits to shoot the location and host an event there, and sometimes we even need to create rules around the event, because they've never received guests for music events or an event at all
We need to bring people to assess the location for security, for the number of people that can go into the event. They look at the exits inside the location, at everything that could be dangerous and then they say, "All right, we can do this, but the limit of people is this amount. These are the entrances, these are the exits." Arranging production around this… It's quite complicated. It can take from six months to even one or two years of discussion, convincing and getting all the permits.
What event was the hardest event to achieve?
FKJ in the salt flats. It wasn't the hardest in terms of permits, but in terms of production. We were inside a desert with water all around. We had a team of 19 people behind the stream; two sound engineers from FKJ's team, a cameraman joined by assistants. All the people that were there building the stage, getting the power generator running. The satellite connection came all the way from Peru. The guy that did the stage came from the north of Boli. The sound engineers came from London and France, and the entire crew came from Paris. The weather was quite unpredictable, and all the shows are really live. We can not shoot at, I don't know, 6:00 p.m. when the sun is good. This is a live show. So it's even more complicated.
I don't know how you guys are doing this week after week.
Now, we have like six to eight months of locations in advance, which is the hardest part of Cercle.
Who chooses these locations?
This is mainly the work of Derek Barbolla. We look at images on the Internet, sometimes people contact us, and sometimes we scout a great location that could fit Cercle's DNA. We scout the location to see if we can manage a Cercle show, if we need an audience, [and if so], how many people. If we need to do it without an audience, we need Internet connection, permits and everything around the production of the event.
When did locations start contacting you directly?
Maybe one year ago. We are quite choosy on the location. We have to say no to a lot of locations. There is a castle in in France called Chateau de Chambord that contacted us and, we've done shows with them. This year, it was the 500th anniversary of the castle, so they came to us saying 'we love working with you guys, and we want to make a really big event." We came up with the idea to do a festival. We hosted 20,000 people. You can see the video with Solomun.
Do you ever reach out to locations and they're just like, “What the hell is this?”
Yeah. There are some locations that just don't host events at all. Sometimes, locations just don't want electronic music to to be associated with them, so they say "no" and we move on to another one. There are a lot of locations that don't want this kind of show or event.
Do you have a personal favorite?
Still FKJ, for me. The result was outstanding. We are very proud of the entire direction and production of the show. Also, there was this feeling of relief knowing we could manage to do it. There were so many different issues that could have been wrong. At the end, we just hugged each other for a long time. It was very intense, very emotional.
Are their dream locations for Cercle?
For me, an erupting volcano would be something great – from afar of course. I would say the desert, not salt, but a desert with sand. Glaciers as well. Of course the big monuments. Machu Picchu could be amazing, or the Pyramids. This kind of very cultural [location] with a lot of history but also [high] aesthetic. We are here to promote the location and the history around the location.
What should we know about Monday's events in Brussels?
The first time we were contacted by the tourism office of Brussels was one and a half years ago. They really wanted to bring Cercle to Brussels, and we really wanted to go. We have a huge community in Belgium. After a long time of discussing, we scouted a lot of locations in Brussels, and we picked out this Atomium monument, because it's really iconic and really impressive in terms of aesthetic for the city. It's very good for us and it's been interesting to plan, because the City and the tourism office is involved.
Cercle shows have a tremendous cultural impact on tourism. There is a lot of people who say "I need to to come to this place and visit after seeing the show." Also, Amelie Lens is an iconic Belgian DJ. Two iconic monuments in this story is very interesting.
While tonight's Brussels event with Amelie Lens is open to the public, fans can tune in from around the world while it streams live the Cercle Facebook page at 6:30 p.m. CEST / 2:30 p.m. ET. Watch more of Cercle's shows on YouTube.