Laurent Garnier remembers La Locomotive

The iconic selector talks about one of the most important French clubs of his early years

Richard Bellia

When the Palace closed on Sunday evening at the end of the Gay Tea Dance, I would head off to DJ at another club, which meant I was now playing a total of 14 hours every Sunday. From the Palace, I would go straight up rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, then up rue Notre Dame de Lorette, rue Fontaine until I hit Place Blanche. And there, on the edge of Pigalle, right next to the Moulin Rouge, was a white floodlit wall with an inscription in black lettering: La Locomotive.

I had met Hilda, the artistic director at the Locomotive, at one of the last Zumbar nights in Manchester. She had suggested that I get in touch with Fred Bolling, the club owner. Fred was a bit of a tough guy. Our meeting was very brief, and Fred said in an off-hand way, “You want to play at the Loco? Alright, let’s see what you can do with your shit music.”

Philippe Célérier

The Locomotive, an amazing club, was established in 1960. The actor, André Pousse, was the host at the neighbouring Moulin Rouge, and would organise parties at the Locomotive for the under 20s. While maman and papa were at the world-famous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge, their kids would be going wild next door at the Loco. But the ’60s were a long time ago, and now the Locomotive was a mammoth three-floor rock club frequented by thugs, skinheads and punks.

Once past the very long bar on the ground floor, you got to the first dance floor, which could hold about 800 people. It resembled a modern-day arena with people pogoing like crazy. The DJ booth was situated in the middle, several feet off the ground. In one corner was a staircase that led down to a second room in the basement. This room was smaller and industrial in design, with metal pipes running across the walls and ceiling and large copper panels. Two floors up by another staircase was a third, much smaller room, which had a bird’s eye view of the main dance floor.

I’ll never forget my trial run at the Loco. It was a week night and every single kind of punk and rocker you could imagine were in there. I started the set, gradually steering the music towards acid house. Everything was going well. Fred, the boss of the club, was on the door and he’d had a mini-speaker installed above the main entrance so he could keep tabs on the music being played in the main room. At one point I put on the acid remix of Mory Kante’s Afrobeat track, “Yeke Yeke,” which had recently entered the French charts.

Mory Kante - Yeke Yeke (Afro-Acid Remix)

Given the number of skinheads that hung out at the Loco in those days, it was pretty dangerous to play anything that might sound the slightest bit African. Fred came charging up to me shouting, “Are you out of your bloody mind playing African music in here? You’ll get yourself killed!” I pointed to the crowd going wild on the dance floor and said, “Look at them, they’re loving it.”

They gave me my residency that night. From then on, during the week, I played a mixture of rock and house music, and, every Sunday, Hilda gave me free rein to play acid house in the basement. Hilda knew exactly what was being played in Manchester.

She organized the first ever house night at the Locomotive, using Manchester as the inspiration, on February 25, 1989. DJs Graeme Park, Jon Dasilva and Mike Pickering were invited to come and play in Paris for the very first time. I was in charge of the basement room. The Manchester night was a big success and brought in a clientele that would never have set foot inside the venue had it not been for that event. They were a mixed crowd, gay and straight, just out to have a good time. This was another critical turning point.

Letter of reference:

I, Frederic Bolling, hereby declare that Mr Laurent Garnier worked as a Disc Jockey at the Locomotive discotheque, 90 boulevard de Clichy 75018 Paris, from September 1988 to June 1989. He carried out his job in an exemplary manner, taking his role very seriously, gracing us with his good nature and demonstrating outstanding musical creativity.

He has greatly contributed to our club and to its reputation. I am certain that in the future he will continue to enthral clients and be an asset to any club who is lucky enough to employ him.

Paris, June 1989
Frederic Bolling

The above text is an excerpt from the recently released English translation of the 2003 book Electrochoc. Buy it at

By Laurent Garnier on October 26, 2015

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