Arlac is a quiet residential district in the suburb of Mérignac, and nestled in amongst the houses and cornershops is a concert venue whi...

Krakatoa: the community hall rock venue

Arlac is a quiet residential district in the suburb of Mérignac, and nestled in amongst the houses and cornershops is a concert venue which, since 1990, has been an essential port of call for many of the leading names in contemporary music: the Krakatoa. 

The “Krakatoa” moniker is particularly relevant; it refers to a volcanic island between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. When the volcano exploded in 1883, killing 40,000 people, the roar was considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard nearly 5,000 kilometres from its point of origin. Krakatoa concerts aren’t quite that loud, but you get the idea…

The building itself goes back to 1966. It was, and technically still is, the Arlac district Salle des Fêtes (community hall). For many years it offered a wide variety of concerts, conferences and miscellaneous performances for the good people of Mérignac. But in 1989 Le Pin Galant, a swish new purpose-built concert hall, was built in another part of Mérignac, relegating the Arlac Salle des Fêtes to picking up the scraps of the town’s live performance programme.

Signposts to the Krakatoa and the Salle des Fêtes...
which are one and the same!

Also in 1989, local rock band Noir Désir elected to momentarily use the Salle des Fêtes as rehearsal space. The band had been founded nine years earlier by Lycée Saint-Genès students Bertrand Cantat (vocals and guitar) and Serge Teyssot-Gay (guitar), soon to be joined by drummer Denis Barthe and a succession of bassists. By 1989, the band were two albums into their successful career which peaked in the mid-1990s with the albums “Tostaky” and “666.667 Club”. The Noir Désir glory years came to an abrupt end one night in 2003 when a beating inflicted by an inebriated Cantat on his partner, the actress Marie Trintignant, resulted in her death. Convicted of manslaughter, Cantat served five years in prison. Upon his release in 2008, Noir Désir quietly regrouped only to disband two years later.

Meanwhile, Noir Désir’s manager felt strangely at home in the now-underemployed Salle des Fêtes. He was Didier Estèbe, a contemporary of Cantat and Teyssot-Gay. Together they had already been through thick and thin, and Estèbe felt the time was right to move on from Noir Désir. He formed a non-profit organisation called Transrock, gained the support of Mérignac’s mayor Michel Sainte-Marie, set up shop in the disused offices of the Salle des Fêtes and went about turning the building into the Krakatoa.

Drawing on the experience he had gained in the music business over the previous decade, Estèbe sought to create a structure that would not only provide a world-class concert experience for bands and punters alike, but also resources, advice and logistical support (including cheap rehearsal space) to local groups starting out on the bottom rungs of the ladder. One of Estèbe’s proudest achievements is the “Mallette” (i.e. the “kit”, now available on USB drive or as a smartphone application as the “e-Mallette”), a one-stop library of essential documents, templates and directories for budding musicians to cut through the red tape of being able to perform and record.

In 1998, the capacity of the venue was increased from 800 to 1,200, ahead of a bleak period around the turn of the millennium. Today, Transrock and the Krakatoa venue have hit a comfortable cruising speed, with a small team of permanent staff still dreaming up new formats such as concerts with a specific local focus and the now-regular “Krakaboums”, when the venue is transformed into a massive daytime disco for 4- to 10-year-olds! The Krakatoa also now has its own permanent “patron”: the legendary soul/funk saxophonist Maceo Parker.

More than 20 years on from the birth of Transrock and the Krakatoa, Didier Estèbe remains an emblematic figure on the Bordeaux music scene. At each concert he appears on stage to introduce the evening’s artists, and he is also one of the driving forces behind RAMA, the Aquitaine “amplified music” network (Réseau Aquitain des Musiques Amplifiées). His can-do Transrock philosophy is on display at every one of the 40-or-so concerts organised at the Krakatoa (and occasionally elsewhere) each year: an eclectic choice of performers, affordable tickets (25 euros tops) and a support slot for an up-and-coming artist (usually from the area).

The Krakatoa lobby on concert night.
2012 headliners Death Cab For Cutie...
... and Nada Surf.

In the following video interview released by in 2010 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the structure, Didier Estèbe provides a full guided tour of his beloved “SMAC” (Scène de Musiques Actuelles, contemporary music venue) and looks back over some of his fondest memories such as the “magical sets” performed by artists including the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkings, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Ben Harper.

He also recalls his worst memory: a date with Bristol band The Sundays who’d “driven us mad all day ahead of performing a pathetic set and setting off telling us they didn’t give a damn about France because the US was waiting for them…” The Sundays went on to achieve at best moderate success in the States and have been dormant since 1997. As for the Krakatoa…


  1. Excellent overview of this seemingly essential local structure - and who would have thought The Sundays would be so rock 'n roll?!

  2. I will definitely come check this place again with some other awesome friends of mine! It's one of best places for having a good time with a joyous feeling. Fun and comfortable.