The line is long. It’s 1 a.m. and people are arriving in the hundreds, eager to get into the Grand Palais. It’s a 750,000-square-foot monster of steel, stone and glass that was inaugurated at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900. But there’s no Belle Époque nostalgia here. The Grand Palais is modern. And this is where the biggest party of the summer in Paris is kicking off.
“Keffer to Yoan …” Photographer Keffer contacts Yoan Prat using a security guard’s walkie-talkie. Prat and Tom Brunet, founders of creative agency Yard, are in charge of the event, and Prat appears through a side entrance with the all-important access-all-areas passes. He’s wearing white Nike Air Force 1 basketball shoes, which aren’t at all out of place. In fact, almost everyone at Yard is tall—Prat and Brunet met on the basketball court, and that fact is now reflected in the dress code.
So what exactly is Yard? “The best hip-hop party in France,” says Brunet from behind the DJ decks. The lineup bears this out: Hologram Lo’, Supa!, Girls Girls Girls, Kyu St33d, Endrixx and Yannick Do are all here. If the crowd was a smoking volcano before, it erupts when the light show begins. There are already more than 3,500 people packing the venue. Leading up from the masses, a monumental grand double staircase winds its way to the VIP floor. It’s up there you get the best view of the impressive and intricate Nave, fashioned from more steel than it took to make the Eiffel Tower.
The space is huge and the sound system is scaled to suit. “Here, you’re mostly getting modern hip-hop with Future Bass, African music and dancehall influences for modern, lively cities,” says Prat. “It’s an incredibly mixed young crowd with endless energy,” adds Brunet. “They’re here to be different, to make a point.”
The crowd is a mix of white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern—people dolled up to the nines in stylish designs or dressed very simply, like they’re headed to the basketball court. Some drink glasses of water, others champagne. And there are lots of attractive women clearly in their element.
At about 2 a.m., rapper Niska takes to the stage and the crowd is buzzing. It’s the reaction the organizing duo hoped for. “Niska is the Internet discovery of 2015,” says Brunet. “We totally wanted to be the first people to get him out there.”
But the person most of the revelers are waiting for is rapper Travis Scott. The excitement has been building all day on social media, with ticket holders boasting and those who missed out lamenting. “I want total chaos!” roars Scott when he finally arrives. But he isn’t on stage for long. He jumps into the crowd and then a few seconds later he reappears minus his top. Scott sprays champagne all over the sound system like a man possessed, soaking DJ Endrixx at the controls in the process.
Virgil Abloh, a New Yorker who also happens to be the creative director for Kanye West, appears out of nowhere, clearly used to alcohol-related meltdowns. He hooks Scott up to another system and the show goes on. Scott really gets the party going before leaving the stage. Then Pablo Attal from the Yard crew roars into the microphone, “All the Africans out there, make some noise!”
Anyone who loves sub-Saharan sounds gets their money’s worth from DJ Yannick Do, who brings the party to a close with music from Nigeria, Ghana, Congo and Ivory Coast. “African music at the Grand Palais is an historic moment,” Yannick shouts. “This is the future of France right here in front of me.” Though this doesn’t apply to Owen Wilson, it’s at this moment the actor appears on the grand staircase.
As does Sonia Rolland, a former Miss France. And then there’s Nekfeu, one of France’s best-known rappers, chilling on the dance floor. Here, the eclectic crowd is just focused on the music, 5,000 dedicated revelers dancing till dawn. It’s the last thing the 1,500 workers who built the Grand Palais more than 120 years ago could have imagined.