The Gaïté Lyrique is an elusive place. Not physically: the building is grand, impressive and situated an easy walk from the centre of town. It is what lies behind the façade that is not easily categorised. For the curious, however, it turns out to be one of the most individual tourist attractions in Paris: a forward-thinking haven of digital culture and modern music, currently welcoming art collective H5’s Hello™ exhibition as well as recent concerts by international groups from Maximo Park to Jagwa Music.
First things first: for a digital culture centre, the most obvious place to start is online. The website is enthusiastic, colourful and well-laid out – but gives little real illumination as to what to expect. In their own words, the aims of the centre are sketched out using terms like, ‘[a] crossroads of artistic disciplines’ with an ‘inter-disciplinary approach to all…creative fields’. At best, this sounds so bafflingly intriguing that the inquisitive are lured along to see how one venue can encompass quite so much. At worst, it sounds like the empty hipster discourse masking a fairly woolly mission statement.
The hipster angle can’t be discounted – one look at the other visitors shows how popular it is with the cutting edge crowds. What the place isn’t, however, is too cool for its own good. The architects of the current centre have worked hard to maintain the character of the original theatre, created by Baron Haussmann and part of the city’s cultural life for 150 years. Aside from the building’s frontage, the magnificent bar gives an idea as to where the trendsetters of the past would have relaxed.