Point Gamma: a legendary student festival

Come and discover the history behind the oldest student party in France, through the museum’s exclusive drawing archives.

Dancefloor for the Point Gamma ball in 2002 (2002) by Jean-Luc DenielÉcole Polytechnique

DJs at the university

This party is the biggest student party in France. During these last years, world-class artists such as Bob Sinclar, Martin Solveig or Steve Aoki performed there. In fact, the party dates back to more than 150 years ago!

Parade in the courtyard of the School led by E. Lemoine: 5 characters identified, Penel, Cochard, Matrot, Anfrye, Vouaux (1862) by Paul Alfred Colin and Emile LemoineÉcole Polytechnique

The launch of Point Gamma in 1862

Point Gamma is the oldest and largest student festival in France. This gala event takes place every year in May or June and is organized by a group of students, or a binet, to use École Polytechnique jargon. From the choice of artists and performers, to communications and security, the students take care of everything themselves. Émile Lemoine (who enrolled in the 1861 intake) was the innovator and organizer of the first festival. He explained his approach, stating: "Our astronomy professor couldn't make it through a single class without talking to us about the gamma point, which Earth passes through at the time of the spring equinox. I had read descriptions of old religious festivities when our ancestors celebrated this passage, so to make up for the boredom the gamma point induced in us, I thought "Why don't we celebrate its passage too?" »

We're now in the inner courtyard of the school. We can recognize the buildings that form the Rue Descartes entrance to the École Polytechnique in Paris, nicknamed the “boîte à claque” (or "claque box", "claque" being a nickname for the hat typically worn by the students)

E. Lemoine: conductor in night cap with violin in hand (1862) by Émile Michel Hyacinthe LemoineÉcole Polytechnique

Organizing the first festival in 1862

Emile Lemoine suggested his idea for the festival to all the students in his year: "I shared my idea with my year group. On days out, I bought gold and other colored paper, various flags, the fabric we needed to make costumes, and I put together an orchestra, which rehearsed during recess."

Alf. Cornu: Banner Carrier (1862) by Marie Alfred CornuÉcole Polytechnique

Alfred Cornu, composer of the first music for Point Gamma in 1862

Emile Lemoine, the creator of Point Gamma, explained that "Cornu wrote the opening music using the school songs. I bought waltzes, polkas, quadrilles … The school's authorities just let us get on with it. I compèred the opening of the festival and conducted the orchestra. Colin, our drawing teacher, drew the original parade."

Arrest of the Bouffres: Rigaud, de Charpin, Marshal, Delmas, Brenot, Lustrou, Dupond, Pérard (1877) by André BapstÉcole Polytechnique

A student festival banned by the authorities

By 1880, the festival had grown so big that the Ministry of War eventually banned it.

Jean de Chappedelaine, halberdier : Room 9 (1877) by AnonymousÉcole Polytechnique

Increasingly impressive costumes

During the first few years of Point Gamma, the costumes were made out of paper, and their production required only a little bit of imagination and taste. In time, this was no longer enough and the students wanted to wear costumes made of dazzling, colorful fabrics or to dress up as women and dancers.

Alfred Durand Claye: Crinoline Dress (1862) by Alfred Durand-ClayeÉcole Polytechnique

Female characters played by young men in costume
As the school was only open to men at the time, and the Point Gamma festival was exclusively for students, female characters were played by men.

Underneath the dress, the pants of the uniform, with their two red bands, are visible

Prompt Costume: Gamma Point Ball 1877 (1877) by AnonymousÉcole Polytechnique

Department stores get involved in the festival

The city's department stores began producing the costumes. The production of backdrops and attendance at rehearsals interrupted the students' studies for two whole weeks.

Point Gamma brochure (1936) by AnonymousÉcole Polytechnique

After its prohibition, the tradition made a comeback in 1919

Having been stopped in 1880, the tradition was revived in 1919, only to stop again for the duration of World War II, before being re-established in 1947. Initially organized exclusively by and for the students of the École Polytechnique, it gradually opened up, bringing in well-known artists, to the point where the current event attracts as many as 7000 people from all over the place. It is one of the few festivals to have survived the school's change of location from Paris to Palaiseau.

Point Gamma 2002, bungee jumping (2002) by Jean-Luc DenielÉcole Polytechnique

A student festival with the feel of a fairground

Today, Point Gamma is a festival with a wide range of activities, even including fairground attractions.

Point Gamma 2002, the bar troubadour and its animation (2002) by Jean-Luc DenielÉcole Polytechnique

A festival run by the students

As in the early years of Point Gamma, the students design the decorations and most of the activities. Numerous themed bars, thought-up, built, and run entirely by the students, offer tailor-made food and drink menus.

Poster of the Point Gamma 1993 (1987) by AnonymousÉcole Polytechnique

A swing toward rock, then electro

In the evening, the activities include concerts, shows, and a dancefloor is set up in the Grand Hall. While the atmosphere was more geared toward rock and French variety performers in the 1980s, with acts like Alain Bashung, Stéphan Eicher, Claude Nougaro, Mylène Farmer, Noir Désir, Les Wampas, and Les Négresses Vertes, the 2000s saw the mood turn more electronic.

Night of the Styx (2013) by Ecole polytechniqueÉcole Polytechnique

In the 2000s, the mood turned more electronic, with DJs like Bob Sinclar, Martin Solveig, Calvin Harris, Abraxas, Cassius, Kavinsky, Justice, Yuksek, Overwerk, Uppermost, and Steve Aoki.

Credits: Story

Ecole polytechnique
Historical Resources Center/Mus'X

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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