Silencio, merci! A first-person account of David Lynch’s Paris nightclub
There’s a man smoking on the corner of Rue Montmarte and Rue de Croissant, his eyes fixed on the twin-stripes that make up the doorway display on the building opposite. It’s early-evening in central Paris’s backstreets and – though the venues nearby are beginning to shake themselves into life – there’s barely a hint of luminescence about these stripes, the only recognisable feature on an otherwise completely blank, pitch-black building.
This is the kind’ve front-of-house that’s become unfortunately prevalent in post-recession Paris – we’ve seen at least another three buildings today that look almost exactly the same, one on the same street, no more than fifty yards from the downtown shopping district, a reminder that even affluent central Paris hasn’t escaped the last few years of economic distress. It means that these simple parallel lines that we’re now looking at could be minimalist chic, but just as likely, the sole remains of a once elaborate neon sign. The man stubs out his cigarette.
‘C’est Club Silencio?’ He pauses, looks down, frowns and says hesitantly ‘I…think so’.
Ambling in later (though via that other similarly unassuming doorway we spotted earlier), it’s immediately apparent that – though there’s mystique about it from lack of online coverage as much as lack of local knowledge – there’s little question of Club Silencio’s interior designer. David Lynch, one of the turn of the century’s most revered Directors and sometime renaissance man, has created an underground space here much in-keeping with his last decade-or-so in film. It’s the end result of a two-year project, a typically sparse timeframe from a man whose career has spanned five decades with barely ten full features to his name. Though its centrepiece, a recreation of the stage from one of Lynch’s best-received pictures, is well-documented what’s less well-known is the general ambience of the space, one that transforms entirely between members-only hours and general public opening at midnight, an organisational decision that seems completely at-odds with general nightclub policy.
Now in its third month of opening to a strictly-limited membership Silencio has become the embodiment of a typically French sensibility; the effortless cool of its gold, black and white colour scheme thankfully not ruined by any strains at pompous opulence – the seating is comfortable rather than ornate, the golden wood-blocks that make up the walls of the main room offset by the heavy-industry iron casts that support them. It’s all exceptionally tactful and easy on the eyes – the main room’s sparse seating evokes an eerie sense of being watched, even when there’s no-one nearby, such is the nature of the wide, bright open space compared to the surrounding black enclaves. Then there’s the three Snow Whites that walk around smoking, drinking and feel absolutely nothing but malaise. Naturally it’s more this kind of thing that we’ve come for, a Grimm fairytale come to life.
There’s an old-world understanding of the word ‘Club’ about Silencio – though the allure of the secretive meeting-group has always attracted many (see: London’s Groucho club in Soho) there’s something paradoxical about the idea of similar-minded people gathering to experience the uneasy, to have one’s own boundaries and senses affected, rather than just to get the same easy relief in a usual nightclub environment – this is where Silencio deals its best hand. At one stage we’re led to what’s simply called ‘The Black Room’ and asked to sample various foods whilst smoking cigars and watching other people recollect their own memories of smoking get-togethers on-screen. It’d be pretentious if it weren’t for the fact that there were definite changes in the taste of the samples as we continued – not just a warm sourness, but the bringing out of spices in otherwise bland foods. People emerge from the darkness to hand you curiously-decorated boxes. You smoke your own Salmon.
This week Silencio’s themed around the 150th anniversary of the birth of cinematographer-cum-magician George Melies; in the separate smoking room mirrors are arranged so that, whilst the crooked stumps of the makeshift trees are visible in the room’s reflection, we aren’t, regardless of where we stand. The Snow Whites turn up and flatly ignore us as well. If the consensus of modern French culture and art is that it’s either overbearingly sentimental or twee, Silencio is its anthesis, an area where hostility becomes engaging.
These art installations change so often that no two nights go by without at least one room transformation – at a time when there’s never been a more demanding turnover of art in the public sphere, musical or otherwise, the draw of the place is undeniable, considering it’s also playing host to cult travelling musical names on a strictly-private, non-advertised nature. Come midnight, however, it’s open to the Parisian socialites – what feels like a financial concession to its member base, the contemporary jazz and disco standards (Psychokiller, Black Betty, some LCD Soundsystem) becoming choice house selections. The overcrowding takes away all sense of space, most importantly, but seeing a mink stole on a man is just a bit much, as well.
For the six hours permitted between 6pm and midnight, however, Club Silencio is everything it promises – a place where the opportunity to take influence and inspiration will frequently outweigh the potential for those doing business within in its walls to give it. No wonder it’s so difficult to get in…