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500: Halloween hi-jinks


by Dan Grunebaum

Laurent Garnier

The French techno veteran goes downtempo on his new album

Fat, acid beats and a wicked sense of humor characterized Laurent Garnier's last artist album, 2000's Unreasonable Behavior, and have been a hallmark of his productions since he debuted with his first LP, Shot in the Dark, in 1995.

But in an interview held during his most recent Japan tour, Garnier said that his new album, The Cloud Making Machine, just released on his F Communications label and distributed in Japan by Hostess, is different. "I've made quite a lot of tracks that are much less dance-floor orientated: more cinematic...moody...dark, with live instruments."

Still working on the album at the time, he explained that he'd recently composed a film score for a movie about homelessness in France, and that he reworked some of those themes for the new album.

Perhaps amazingly for a DJ who's been on the dance music merry-go-round for going on two decades, Garnier retains his sense of humor. "Controlling the House Pt. 2," for example, is a tart disco number in which he seems to poke fun at himself as the all-powerful DJ.

But for the most part, Garnier keeps his beatmaking in the background and evokes more contemplative moods, helped by a number of musicians who he called on to collaborate on the album. Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft is prominent among them: after joining Garnier onstage at the Sonar and Montreux Jazz festivals, Wesseltoft went into the studio with the DJ for what turned out to be the title track of the album.

"The Cloud Making Machine Pt. 1" is a freeform excursion that sees Wesseltoft laying down improvisational jazz keyboard lines over Garnier's cool rhythm tracks. Also participating on the album is Tunisian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef, who turns in a haunting performance on the Arabian-flavored "Huis Clos."

While the album does signal a change of pace for the DJ, one thing one that differentiates it from most electronica albums is that, despite its downtempo flavor, it still bears a distinct Garnier imprint. Simply put: no one sounds close.

If someone somewhere is keeping records on which DJ claims the longest residency, then Garnier would have to be near the top of the list. At the grand old age of 38, he's already had sixteen years behind the decks at club Rex in Paris.

For better or worse, Garnier in some ways represents the situation dance music finds itself in: still relatively young, but already having seen it all. Since catching the dance bug in the late '80s acid house boom as an employee of the French embassy in London, and after getting his DJing feet wet at Manchester's legendary Hacienda, Garnier has been an essential figure in European club culture, almost single-handedly putting French house on the map.

He's also been a key tastemaker, introducing listeners worldwide to successive waves of dance music, from acid house to techno to breakbeats. As a DJ, he insists that he has "no style," but as a producer, Garnier's sound is distinctive.

Looking back on his Rex residency, Garnier says that in his native Paris, the scene seems to be locked in a status quo. "I can't really call it healthy," he says. "It's not growing larger or smaller. It's the same as it's always been. There are three or four clubs playing interesting music, and the rest is commercial."

On the other hand, he thinks Japan possesses one of the healthiest club scenes in the world. "Every single time has been memorable," he enthuses about his many visits, the latest of which will bring him to Ageha for its second anniversary and Yellow for an installment of Spice! "It's by far the most open-minded crowd in the world. Japanese are passionate about music, know a lot about it, expect anything and everything from a DJ, and accept anything. Yellow is my home-a bit like the Rex, it's been there for such a long time. For me, Yellow is one of those clubs that means a lot."

Ageha, Dec 18 and Yellow, Dec 20. See club listings for details.

credit: F Comm

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