Jean-Michel Jarre Pioneered the EDM Spectacle, Now He Knows How it Will End


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Jean-Michel Jarre Pioneered the EDM Spectacle, Now He Knows How it Will End

What do Moby, Gesaffelstein, Armin van Buuren and The Who have in common? Jean-Michelle Jarre’s “Electronica, vol. I.”

In the scriptures of electronic music, Jean-Michel Jarre is a deity. The Lyon-born composer turned ambient electronic music into an issue of national pride in his native France with 1976's Oxygéne, an ambient-electronic album that sold over 12 million copies and "kicked off the synthesizer revolution." Jarre went on to draw crowds over one million strong on six separate occasions, with massive, laser-strewn public performances that were the prototype for the spectacle of EDM. Last week, he released his 19th album, Electronica 1: The Time Machine.


The album contains sixteen tracks of collaborations with a far-flung roster of scene-leading artists that includes Boys Noize, Gesaffelstein, Massive Attack, Air, M83, Armin van Buuren, Fuck Buttons, and even The Who's Pete Townshend. It's a fittingly ambitious undertaking that's set to recontextualize Jarre to the millions who dance in his wake.

Lounging inside the appropriately dapper environs of the Chateau Marmont, a leafy villa enclave above Sunset Blvd that has still holds the charm of old Hollywood, Jarre traced the story of the album's conception. "I launched some invitations like it was a birthday party and everyone responded!" he laughs, belying the weight of his past achievements with a self-effacing glee. "I only contacted those who I really felt that there was a reason why we were going to collaborate, and as a dogma I wanted to meet with these people in person. Having the physical contact and working with the person was the only way I could collaborate."

What followed was years of criss-crossing the globe, often to collaborators' home studios, to structure the bones of Electronica. "The challenge throughout was to keep consistent sounds," Jarre explains. "Because between Massive Attack, M83, Tangerine Dream, Gessafelstein, you can think, 'What's the link?' "

"The link is me," he explains. "I gave some rather structured demos to everyone, but also some room to express themselves. That's what ultimately created the link. You can really hear who has done what. And I think there is a strong consistency from one track to another."


Jarre's assertion of aesthetic consistency rings true. Analog instrumentation, cinematic scope, and (in)advertent retro-futurism run throughout Electronica. The collaborators bring their flair, but their musical elements are thrust into Jarre's vision, a still-pixelated soundscape that is less ambient and more narrative as it weaves through his proggy palate of futurist aesthetics.

There is a direct link between Jean-Michel Jarre's massive public spectacles and the EDM of today. In the 1970s, he was the among the first to bring immersive visual elements to the live setting in electronic music. His live performance at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, 1979 (below), was basically a one man EDC. But even as prescient mind as Jarre's could not have foreseen the curious pageantry of the EDM era.

"When I started in electronic music, I realized the importance of the visuals on stage," Jarre explains. "I was the only one, probably with Pink Floyd, but nobody else! Standing behind the laptop with the synth in front of you is not the most sexy thing in life. If you're going to pay for a concert, you have visual expectations for the artists you like, otherwise you stay at home with your headphones. Back in time, with Wagner and stuff, they were working with visual artists too-- painters, dancers -- to accompany their audio performances. Now we have lasers, video, electronics."

Despite Jarre's long-standing appreciation for lasers, you are unlikely to find him rocking a neon tank-top and an indian headdress at Coachella any time soon, although his disdain for modern festival culture is focused more towards the mode of consumption than the production. "These festivals are creating this sort of massive Disneyland projects and people are going there more as an entertainment park, not even knowing the artists that they are going to watch," he says in lament, before rationalizing. "They are just going to have a good time, and don't really care who that guy performing is. This is just one format, but I don't think it should question the role of visuals in electronic music. They are still part of the core at the technological and emotional link that you can convey through electronic music."


But doesn't the sensory blitzkrieg of the modern festival experience detract from the actual substance of it all? Is dropping the strobe light always a good idea? How many c02 blasts are too many c02 blasts? "You never go too far," says Jarre. "I mean, you can go wrong, but you can't really go too far." He pauses for a moment before, equal parts amused and exasperated, he says: "You have to go too far."

While many of the old guard are quick to admonish the recent trajectory of electronic music, Jarre is more diplomatic, viewing the whole debacle with a zen-like patience. "I don't think that the new generation has lost anything," he says. "I don't believe in that kind of nostalgia, thinking that yesterday was better and tomorrow will be worse. There are lots of interesting things around, especially in terms of technology. People are already questioning the identity of EDM, and it's true. Because EDM was not born with Avicii, you had disco, which was the EDM of the 80s, or you have the EDM of the next decade."

"I have always been convinced the electronic music was not only a genre, like hip-hop, but a new way of approaching composition: writing music, playing music, and even distributing music," Jarre continues. "So, in electronic music, you have a bunch of different genres, and EDM is just one sector of EM, so in EDM you have lots of people that I love, but like everything else, you also have less interesting things."

We can put down our pitchforks. EDM does not need a brooding mob to bring down the neon beast. Jarre is optimistic about the future of dance: "Even popular music will start to be more ambitious, because you come to a point where you say, 'Great! it's not bad to do this, so let's move on to this," he explains. "This generation is just zapping through everything. I'm quite convinced that the next rebellion will be against the internet. Soon it will be cool to reject it."

Jean-Michel Jarre is, for now at least, on Facebook // SoundCloud // Twitter

Find Electronica, vol.1 on JMJ's Official Site