Tecktonik is a mixture of breakdance, techno and rave
By John Laurenson
An electro dance and fashion style called Tecktonik, born in the mainly-white, middle-class southern suburbs of Paris, is a hit in France and much of Francophone Africa.
But the commercial interests attached to Tecktonik - which is also a registered trademark - are turning some people away from the first original street style invented in France for a very long time.
On a stage above the dance floor of the Grand Dome, a huge music and sports venue south of Paris, the DJ kicks off this all-night Tecktonik party with the French national anthem. That's because Tecktonik is - so it is claimed - the first new dance to come out of France since the Can-Can.
It is almost as athletic as the dance of the energetic ladies of the Moulin Rouge.
Your feet swivel from side to side in time with the beat while you make big movements with your arms. The one even French primary school children know is sweeping your forearm back over your head. Tecktonik's inventors say it's the first electro dance with a codified set of moves.
"We tried to create something very new so, for example, the arm movements are very strong in Tecktonik. I would say it's 80% arms, 20% legs," says Alexandre Barouzdin, swigging on a bottle of energy drink backstage.
Tecktonik started in the suburbs of Paris in 2001
"It's very physical. In fact, there are more Tecktonik lessons in fitness centres than dance schools!"
Barouzdin used to be a Merrill Lynch investment banker. But he was always a party animal. In 2001, he and his ballet dancer friend, Cyril Blanc, got tired of the Parisian gay scene and started organising what they called Tecktonik Killer nights at a big club in the suburbs called the Metropolis, which brought in up to 8,000 dancers at a time.
A distinctive Tecktonik look grew up there as well. Skinny jeans and fluorescent T-shirts and maybe a flashy accessory like day-glo gloves. And the haircut - short at the front and sides, long at the back with a gelled-up Mohican on top.
Last year, says Barouzdin, they organized 120 parties worldwide. "(Tecktonik) represents 12% of (French) youth from 8 to 25, so it's like millions of people," he says. "It's going very fast via the internet. When we arrived in countries like Morocco or Madagascar, for example, the people knew exactly how to dance!"
Tecktonik also represents a fair bit of money. Right at the start - Barouzdin wasn't a banker for nothing - Tecktonik's creators made the name a registered trademark. They wanted to protect the name, Barouzdin explains. They didn't want any old Tom, Dick or Harry organising parties and calling them "Tecktonik".
Tecktonik is not just a dance, it is also a fashion statement
In July 2007, when Tecktonik was first getting really popular in France, they signed a derivative product development deal with TF1 Licensing, a subsidiary of France's biggest TV channel and took the commercialisation of their brand to a new level.
In his offices, the young man in charge of Tecktonik at TF1, Guillaume Lascoux, shows me through a pile of Tecktonik T-shirts, energy drinks and magazines. Now, you can't use the Tecktonik name without going through him. He has sued people who didn't. And he wants not only to control the brand name, but its image too.
"We won't go in the sector of sex or weapons or drugs or alcohol," says Lascoux.
"Tecktonik has some very positive values which are to make parties, the respect of oneself, the dance, the fashion… energy… it's important for us to work on that, especially when your target market is kids from six to 20 years old."
Switch on the television and you'll see kids dancing Tecktonik in adverts for mobile phones. Go to the supermarket and you'll find Tecktonik playstation games and Tecktonik school bags. And the Tecktonik company opened its first boutique and hair salon in Paris in November.
But critics like the young philosopher and writer Vincent Cespedes say Tecktonik's value as a brand makes it worthless as a youth movement.
"When you're young, you dance to tell your parents 'I'm a free man! I've got my sexuality, my desires and they aren't yours!' You dance to express your freedom! But, here, it's not this kind of dance. Because it's a commercial dance. It's a safe dance. No sex, no drugs, no alcohol… It's anti-rock 'n' roll! It's a Sarkozy dance!"
The Tecktonik Company has, rather cleverly, co-opted many of the first and best dancers by putting them on their books. When work in TV ads or music videos comes up, they push it their way.
But those Tecktonik duvet covers stick in the throat of some of the original fans.
Down at that Tecktonik Killer night, one of the star Tecktonik dancers, Lili Azian, tells me the movement has got so commercial she just never buys anything with the Tecktonik label. And now, in any case, she prefers a new dance - the Melbourne Shuffle.
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