"There Wasn't a Single Sound": A Survivor of the Bataclan Attacks in Paris Shares His Story

Noisey's French editor sat down with a local sound engineer to hear the story of what happened that evening.

Nov 25 2015, 5:40pm

The photo Rodrigue Mercier posted to Facebook on Saturday morning to let his family and friends know he was safe.

A week and a half ago, you were probably texting friends and setting up your Friday evening, checking who’s in, where to meet, at what time—and not one second you could imagine you were about to drift with the rest of the planet in a world made of horror, hysteria, and lack of understanding. I spent last Friday night at le Café De La Danse, a club just a few steps away from the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan where one of the shootings in Paris occurred. By the end of the night, 130 people had been killed. I had lost friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

For this reason and many others, I decided not to speak about the Paris attacks on Noisey France. I was having a hard time but families and friends of the victims were literally devastated and nothing seemed relevant or even decent at this point. I didn’t want to add another layer of noise on top of the screeching sounds of social media.

Understand that this terrible event happened at home, among streets where all of us have spent countless evenings and nights. Silence seemed our only option—at least for the time being. That was until Rodrigue Mercier got in touch with me.

Survivor of the Bataclan attack, Mercier is a 26-year old sound engineer I often see at shows in Paris. He wanted to tell his story, one week after the events, to look back on what happened and how his life changed, far from the media craziness. He told me he refused dozens of interviews and wanted to speak with me. I went to meet him yesterday evening, and at that moment, I still wasn’t sure if I’d publish an article. But by the time I’d come back, our conversation was so powerful that I knew we must tell his story. It's not because he's telling some part of what happened that night, but because it's the story of someone for whom music is his job, who has just made it through a challenge that overwhelmed him, who wants to hold on to life and his passion, and who would like for things to move forward. Just like all of us.

Watch Eagles of Death Metal discuss the Paris terror attacks

Noisey : Hi Rodrigue. Can you introduce yourself?
Rodrigue Mercier
: I’m a 26-year-old sound engineer living in Montreuil [a city just on the eastern border of Paris]. I’ve been listening to alternative rock since I was a kid, and following the EODM for quite a while now. I saw them the first time in 2005 at le Trabendo, and must have been to like nine of their shows since. They’re one of my favorite bands.

So you were at the Bataclan for their concert on Friday night as a fan, not to work.
Absolutely. I have worked a few times at le Bataclan, but I mainly work at la Mecanique Ondulatoire, and since September this year, at le Klub. I spend most of my time in concert venues.

And how did the evening go?
I bought my ticket last minute: 6 PM on the Friday evening through the Facebook event page, from a girl selling hers. Initially, I was supposed to go with a few friends, but it turned out to be just me. During the support band gig, I went to the bar next door for a few drinks. In retrospect, something odd happened—it’s only a detail, but it struck me—the entire hour before, I kept listening over and again to a track from Soulsaver’s first album, “Longest day.” The lyrics are, “This must be the door to take / I’ve nowhere left to run / I wanna run / I better run now / Run / As far as I can.”

So I turned up at le Bataclan just minutes before EODM started their show. Everything was going well. I was in the front row, super happy. At some point, they played a tune from their last album I didn’t like too much, so I went for a drink. At the other end of the bar, I saw a couple friends chatting. I didn’t feel like interrupting, and I thought I’d be seeing them again throughout the evening anyway. The band then played another track I didn’t like so much, so I stayed at the back of the room, near the sound booth.

Then, they went on to play “Kiss the Devil,” one of my favorite songs, so I ran back to the front. A moment later, I heard a... noise. I didn’t know what it was, and with a professional twist, I immediately thought of a faulty direct injection box (which is used to balance the impedance of an electric instrument on a mixing table) on stage. Very brief and crisp cracking sounds. My first thought was to look back to the sound booth like, “What the fuck, guys?” But I was also feeling sorry for the sound engineer cause it’s a pain when this happens.

All of a sudden, the bands stops playing. And the noise went on. What I felt then, and I will never forget it, was the absolute silence of the room. I don’t know whether this was only my perception of if it did happen this way, but this silence was terrifying. No one was screaming, no one said a word. There wasn’t a single sound, except for the cracks. I thought they were fireworks, you know, as it sounded like the ones we used to light up as kids and went machine gun style.

I looked back again trying to understand what was happening, but the room was still in the dark. Then suddenly they put the lights back on. I turned around and discovered all these people down to the ground in the pit. I was still standing, and by reflex, I curled—I just couldn’t lie down, because of the lack of space. I immediately realized there was someone shooting a firearm. It was still silent. But I started hearing bullet impacts. They were killing people. Randomly, they just weren’t aiming at anyone.

They were literally spraying the entire pit. The guy next to me catches a bullet. I didn’t know him, yet we had spent most of the concert together. At some point, he had lit a cigarette inside, which made me want to smoke one so badly too, so I ended up lighting one myself. Here I was, motionless, yet understanding it wasn’t going to stop, thinking I had to do something if I wanted to make it alive. I looked up and saw the emergency exit light, just next to me, like seven or eight meters away. That was the only way out.

How did you make it to the door?
Everyone was on the ground, but I didn’t know if they were crawling their way out or dead already. There was loads of blood. It was impossible to know. As I didn’t want to push anyone and people were already down to the ground, I literally jumped through the door with one bounce, to fly over people. I lost my glasses and landed outside, in the Amelot alley. I still haven’t turned the TV on again, and haven’t listened to the news either since Friday. So I honestly don’t know how it went after that, but I am almost positive the guys started blasting their guns towards the street.

That’s right, they started shooting the street. At that point, you were outside. What did you do? Did you instantly started running?
I was walking all dazed and confused, then I looked back and saw that dude trying to exit the building get gunned down. From there I started running in zig-zags like never before. I don’t know whether it was because I ran incredibly fast or just the fear, but I really felt I was going to have a heart attack. And I still consider myself fit. In my back, I could see people stopping and stalling, thinking they were safe. I yelled at them to keep going, try and reach the streets around, and hide wherever they could. I crossed rue Amelot, landed on boulevard Beaumarchais, and there my first reflex was to call a taxi so I could take as many people as possible away. And then I realized I had also lost my phone and was on my own. After a few seconds, a couple showed up, and we entered a restaurant nearby. There, all these people, who were having candle-lit dinner, in a cozy posh ambiance, saw me storm in breathless, dressed just as I am now, all jeans with a baseball cap—I haven’t changed since Friday to tell the truth—with these two cats. The girl was blood-drenched; she was carrying her boyfriend, who had been hit. A bullet had scratched his temple, and another one had gone through his ear lobe. He had literally been in between bullets.

Did people in the restaurant realize what was happening?
The owner and his staff let us in without a blink, but they didn’t stop what they were doing either. We were all curled in the kitchen, terrified, while they were shouting, “Lamb chops for table four, go!” and what not. They absolutely had no clue what was going on.

This is Paris on a Friday evening. They probably thought this was just a fight or mugging.
For sure. At some point, that client from the restaurant, she must have been 20 to 22-years-old, with the model pupil face, started asking all these absurd questions: “Oh, there’s been a shooting” What kind of shooting” Like with real guns?” And from there, it was carnival time, with all the stupidest questions. We only had one wish: that they let other survivors in, close the fucking doors, and pull down the metal curtain.

How much time before the police showed up?
Twenty-five to 30 minutes. First the Fire brigade, they took Will, the injured guy. I stayed with his girlfriend Morgan, some mute kid, and a mother looking for her daughter who was at the concert and had sent her a text message to say she had made it but also seen her best friend die in front of her. And all around us, all these people without a clue.

Didn't you want to leave?
Yes. But Morgan was panicking, that guy was incapable of talking, and that woman petrified. I felt like I needed to keep thinking straight. I told myself, "Don't panic." Deep inside, I was terrified, but I couldn't yield. My first reaction was to ask the cooks to get me a strong beverage to calm down. I also told myself that if the shooters came back and killed me, I might as well be drunk. [Laughs]

Did you stay like that for a long time?
I don't remember. I noticed a lot of things. [He takes a little black notebook out his pocket.] I've still got my diary with me and I wrote a few things down as time went by. I wrote down sentences… things I didn't want to forget. First, there was the horrible moment when the owner of the restaurant wanted to kick us out.

Yes. He wasn't being too peremptory about it, though. It was as though he was about to close. Another thing that stuck to my mind was that on social networks, people started to mention that it was all over at the Bataclan at 12:20 AM. We were about a hundred yards from there and we saw the police getting restless. It didn't feel like it was over and we were safe. That's the moment when I wanted to leave.

Where did you want to go?
I had friends in the 18th arrondissement. I was supposed to go meet them after the gig. Suddenly, I only wanted to do one thing: Go meet them. Even if that meant I had to walk all the way there, I needed to leave. I borrowed a phone and logged in on Facebook to let them know. That's when I noticed I had like, 170 notifications and 40 messages. I just sent them a message to say, "Wait for me, I'm coming." I also warned my parents I was safe and sound; I asked my mom to post something on Facebook to let people know. Then I left.

You just left like that?
That's what I thought I'd do, which was a bit naive from me. Morgan wanted to go to the hospital Lariboisière, which was on the way: That's where her boyfriend was. We thought we'd just go. Only when we went outside we realized what was happening. Security forces had set up their HQ next to us. The streets were swamped with cops and as soon as we went outside, one of them told us to get back in. We told us the owner wanted to close. He just said, "it's not over, get back inside." It didn't feel real. On the one hand, the boss that wants to kick you out, on the other a cop that says you can get a bullet anytime. We were just on our own. It was only at 2.45 AM that we were told we could leave; the police escorted us back to the town hall of the 11th arrondissement. The Red Cross took care of us there. That's when I realized I had been very lucky; talking to all those people who had escaped and whose faces I had seen in the streets or during the gig. Some of them had lost close ones, were taken hostages, or were locked behind a door.

You still wanted to meet your friends?
Yeah, but I was always told to stay. I finally went to smoke a cigarette somewhere private and I saw about 50 cameras and loads of photographers turning toward me. They kept calling, "Hey, we want to talk to you." Then I thought, "Right, I'm not moving from here." Later during the night, taxis or ambulances brought us back home, depending on where we lived. The first thing I did upon arriving was to call my mom and ask her to come pick me up.

Today, a week after, how do you feel?
It feels like it's still Friday, as though time has stopped.

That's a bit how I feel too. When I decided to drop social media and get back to work, it all came back naturally. You are on the set for a clip today—when did you get back to work?
It didn't take me long. This Wednesday, at the Klub. I was supposed to work on a gig on Sunday night, and if it hadn't been canceled, I think I'd have gone. Saturday was horrendous; I literally couldn't go outside. We only moved by car—and that's only when there was a door nearby. At one moment, I had a panic attack in front of a homeless guy who asked for money. Same thing later when I saw a soldier carrying his weapon. It feels a bit ridiculous today, but at the time, it was a real nightmare.

You also told me before we get started on the interview that you went to the Trabendo to see Kadavar on Tuesday night. How did that go?
Good, except for two things. First, when I saw there was a camera from public television in the room. I screamed at them, asking what they were doing. They explained they were following The Shrine for a week and weren't there when the attacks occurred. Secondly, at the end of the gig when they turned the lights on, I kept looking at the emergency exit and people around me. Basically, I was happy to be there, although I wasn't really there—in my head at least. I'm glad I went, though.

You talked about your reaction in front of the cameras. How do you react when you see all that's happening in the media, on social networks? When you contacted me, that's one of the first things you mentioned.
I refuse to watch the news. For social networks, it's different; I need to go there from time to time to talk to my friends since I don't have a phone anymore. What happens there, it's beyond what I could think of. I came across a photograph of the Bataclan… I didn't have words to express what I felt. If journalists use it, fair enough, although it's a questionable decision. But people sharing it on Facebook, here in France… Or this video of gunshots. I was there, and I don't want to go back. I don't see why anyone would.

We’re at a point where we just make some noise even if we don't have anything valuable to say.
That's exactly how I feel. People are affected, all right. I'd like them to stop talking about it like that. The other day, I was in a cab, and the driver, who was Muslim, told me about the pigeonholing of Muslims as fundamentalists. I told him, "Don't worry, people aren't stupid" although on the inside, I just felt like shouting, "Shut the fuck up. Stop talking about that. Shut the fuck up. Everybody shut the fuck up."

Why did you want to talk about it today?
Because I felt like it was the moment to let it all out. I came to a point where it's just breaking my balls and I need to get over it.

How do you see the following weeks?
The gig I worked on Wednesday night was of a Brazilian band. Their tour manager came to see me when the band went on stage to tell me that his sound engineer had stayed at the hotel in the suburbs and didn't want to come near Paris. That's when I told myself that 1) I had done the right thing coming to work and 2) I didn't want anybody thinking of me the way I was thinking about that guy just then, secluded in his hotel. What I tell myself—and I might be a hundred miles off the mark—is that what happened to me might happen to anyone, anywhere. Every day, people lose close ones in car crashes. My friend's best friend just committed suicide, and yet she's here working with me today. All I got was a big bruise from darting for the emergency exit. I'm lucky to be here, to keep on working. My job is to be in a concert room and take care of the sound, so that's what I am going to do. We need to move forward. We all need to.

Lelo Jimmy Batista is the editor of Noisey France. Follow him on Twitter.