C'est super!

The alternative city guide to Lyon, France

Posted on: 08/09/2015

Walking by the Rhône river in Lyon. All photographs: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Walking by the Rhône river in Lyon. All photographs: Alicia Canter for the Guardian



By Benjamin Mialot, editor-in-chief of culture and leisure guide Le Petit Bulletin

Often regarded as being like Paris, but on a more human scale, Lyon is unusual among European cities in combining the museums and galleries of a cultural capital with the dynamism of a former industrial hub.

France is a world-beater in lots of things (strikes, pretentiousness, kissing) but its towns and cities are also masters at according themselves the title of capital of something, be it a skill, a dish or a pastime.

Lyon can boast many such titles: gastronomy capital, silk capital and ancient capital of the Gauls. But it was also the capital of repression when it came to electronic dance music. In the middle of the 1990s, when the rave revolution was at its height, the city did its best to stamp it out, by means ranging from the refusal of late-night licences to calling in the riot police.

You won’t find this snippet of local history in any of Lyon’s museums, though. The city has since embraced rave culture as one of its main attractions, and it has never been so easy to burn the candle at both ends – at 130 beats per minute. The big event is the five-day Nuits Sonores festival each May, which celebrated its 12th birthday this year, but every weekend in Lyon sees dozens of DJs and promoters playing all over the city in dedicated electro clubs (DV1, Terminal, Petit Salon); on river barges (Sirius, Marquise, Sonic); and in big concert venues on the outskirts such as Kao and Transbordeur.

One venue in particular epitomises this soaraway success: Le Sucre (see below), in an eyrie on the roof of a former sugar factory that’s now a contemporary arts centre, and run by the team behind Nuits Sonores. It is one of the landmarks of La Confluence, the newly revitalised industrial area on a tongue of land between the rivers Saône and Rhône, dotted with statement architecture, such as the new Musée des Confluences.

Le Sucre, a rooftop club, epitomises the soaraway success of La Confluence area

Le Sucre, a rooftop club, epitomises the soaraway success of La Confluence area



La Confluence is part of a feel-good development that included the pedestrianisation of the two river banks and has brought with it an element of gentrification not unlike that happening in Lyon’s 7th arrondissement, to the west. This multicultural and until recently relatively affordable district has seen the city’s trendiest new restaurant openings and its most interesting nightlife (DIY Live Station, Le Café du Rhône) – to the point where it is taking over from the former silk manufacturing Croix Rousse district as the city’s most happening area.

But all up and coming areas eventually reach a plateau, and it becomes the turn of another district to attract a young crowd. In Lyon it’s now the inner suburbs – thanks to citizen politics in places like Villeurbanne, and the transformation of the Grrrnd Zero squat at Vaulx-en-Velin into a place of pilgrimage for underground music (see below) – that must nurture new avant-garde movements.

Music/clubs scene
By promoters Paulin Grégoire, Matthias Perrette and Kimi Do (who work as Merci Bonsoir)

 Clubbers enjoy music from French electronic musician Danger at Le Sucre

Clubbers enjoy music from French electronic musician Danger at Le Sucre]


The cultural offering in Lyon is huge. There’s lots of energy: people creating things, and also people organising events, setting up music labels. These projects often prompt established places into upping their game and undertaking big revamps.

Our favourite space is probably the Marché Gare. It holds 300 people, and there’s a Berlin feel to its 1970s public-sector building vibe. The music is indie, in the widest sense. In the same part of La Confluence, Le Sucre has rapidly become Lyon’s big name electro-dance club, hosting internationally known acts.


Transbordeur is one of Lyon’s largest venues by capacity, but stands out for its eclectic choice of acts and its indie credentials. It’s in a former factory and has kept its look industrial, with a huge gantry hanging over the bar. It’s at its most fun during Summer Sessions, an outdoor programme with concerts, street art and film screenings in a group of old containers. Then there’s l’Epicerie Moderne, a little further out, which is the Lyon area’s temple to indie music.

In a recently decommissioned factory in Vaulx-en-Velin, Grrrnd Zero is the heart of underground Lyon. Its carefully curated programme and dizzying list of events make it a must-do, with building work going on all around you.

The best rock music club is still Le Sonic, on a barge moored by the Gare de Perrache. It has low pinkish lighting, red walls and well-chosen acts. You could be lucky enough to find Thurston Moore playing: he says this is his favourite club in Lyon.



 Le Trokson, an alternative music venue that hosts free concerts

Le Trokson, an alternative music venue that hosts free concerts


Another place to hear live music over a drink or two is Le Trokson. It puts on free concerts several nights a week, leaning towards garage, surf and psychedelic sounds. It’s a nice looking spot, with a vaulted basement room and a convivial atmosphere and is my favourite place in the historic 1st arrondissement, but there’s also Les Capucins, a relaxed bar for a few drinks with friends, and there are regular gigs in its basement. It’s right across the road from a picturesque building used as a Scientology centre. Still on the slopes of the Croix Rousse district, not-for-profit bar La Triperie is the perfect place to catch an underground gig, with old stone walls, parquet flooring, pinball machines and bottled beer, but it’s hard to find out what’s going on there – you have to look out for posters around town.



 Sofa record shop.

Sofa record shop.

There’s a similar ambience at Le Café du Rhône on the river bank (as the name suggests), which is also a good daytime stop for a beer and the dish of the day. At night, head downstairs for the basement for concerts, especially ones promoted by French alternative pop outfit La Souterraine. And don’t forget Kraspek Myzik, an independent record shop by day and concert venue by night; its tiny proportions make every evening unique.

Another fine record shop is Dangerhouse, the oldest in Lyon. It’s a treasure trove of garage-rock and 1960s music, its bins overflow with everything from classic albums to unusual finds. Sofa is also very highly regarded, particularly for its African, South American and Asian collection of vinyl.



Source: The Guardian

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