French dance music has shaken its bad reputation to become the hot new import in the United States. And at the center of this turnaround is a weekly mixed dance party at the gay Parisian nightclub Le Queen.
Every Wednesday night, more than a thousand clubbers descend into the cavernous space beneath the glitzy megastores of the Avenue des Champs Elysees for "Respect Is Burning," a shrine to Parisian deejays. In the melting pot of the dance floor, club kids mix with break dancers and voguers. BCBG-clad gals compete with shirtless men on the stage above.
In the huge VIP section, where black suits and skimpy dresses are the mode, women cling to a net on the ceiling and gyrate on a ledge that separates the Armani set from the masses. The VIP bar is lined with bottles of Absolut, names scribbled over the labels. Buy a bottle at the beginning of the night and fill up as you go.
Students and drag queens, blacks and whites pack shoulder to shoulder on a long balcony, deeply inhaling their Gauloise cigarettes and watching the bobbing heads below through the gauze of smoke. On the same elevation, the glassed-in deejay booth is occupied by the likes of DJ Dimitri From Paris, who has made music for Chanel stores, or Daft Punk, the duo whose "Around the World" was nominated for a Grammy this year.
These deejays (who also include DJ Cam and Cassius) are luminaries in a wave of artists that has rescued French popular music from ill repute. The French never could crack the code of rock-and-roll. But with the rise of electronica, Parisians took to the throbbing house music of their neighbors in the United Kingdom and added the influence of Left Bank jazz, disco, Latin and cocktail lounge sounds. The result is funky yet tres chic.
When it opened in late 1996, "Respect Is Burning" caught the French wave just as it began to swell and lifted the dull Paris dance scene, which has long suffered in comparison to London or New York. The event quickly caught fire and was named club of the month by the British magazine the Face.
Take the metro after midnight to the George V stop, which will deposit you near the club at 102 Ave. des Champs Elysees. Dance until the metro reopens in the morning at 5:30. Admission is free, but the wait can be long. If you want a preview of the club's sound, Astralwerks (www.astralwerks.com) has released two "Respect Is Burning" compilations. Le Queen's info line: 011-331-53-89-08-89.
CAPTION: Clubbers dance the night away at Paris's hot Le Queen.