||When, in the late 90s, Paris shot into the limelight
with the French Touch phenomenon, you could be forgiven for
thinking that the city had only awoken to the full force of
electronic music with the invention of acid house. Suddenly
acts like Daft Punk, Motorbass and Etienne de Crécy
were the leading lights of the dance underground, while Air,
DJ Cam and Mighty Bop spearheaded the global jazz, breaks
and easy listening tinged chill-out sessions. Paris, it would
seem, was suddenly the leading light of electronic beats invention.
It was, of course, a view that was completely blind to the
part that France (and more pointedly Paris) had played in
forging both the developments of a global electronic music
aesthetic. Indeed, the path to the short-lived French Touch
explosion led straight back to some of the most significant
developments in the history of electronic music.
Perhaps the most interesting point in the early creation of
an electronic aesthetic came with the musique concrete movement,
whose sonic explorations would ultimately have a huge impact
on the way people perceived music. Musique concrete was a
highly scientific, yet creatively liberating approach to music,
through which the composer (most notably Pierre Henry) explored
the symphonic possibilities found in everyday, inanimate objects.
In the course of their endeavour the school would create some
of the earliest techniques for sound manipulation by tape
Such editing techniques would eventually lay the groundwork
for the invention of dub production and ultimately sampling.
However, it was through the work of Jean Jacques Perrey that
tape manipulation would find a pop-orientated audience. Noted
for his promotion of proto-synthesizer, the Ondioline, and
the subsequent patronage of Edith Piaf, Perrey would develop
intricate editing techniques that converted sound to a series
of minuscule measurements. His work would also find him applying
his tape editing skills and love of the Ondioline to the groundbreaking
Moog explorations of Gershon Kingsley. Their unique Space
Age Pop sound would ultimately have a huge and lasting
impact on both hip hop and dance music.
The next major development in Parisian music would be bound
to the culture of New York; disco. The discothéque
aesthetic itself can be located as far back as just after
World War I, while during the World War II Nazi occupation
of Paris, people would set up primitive soundsystems (called
discothéques) in underground cellars to play American
jazz records. Indeed, jazz had found a lasting stronghold
in Paris as many of the leading black players later discovered
the city to be one of the only places in the world where they
were accepted for they creativity and not rejected for their
colour. As a result the influence of jazz would stretch into
the very fabric of Parisian creativity.
The growth of the velvet rope elitism of disco culture can
also be found in the story of Parisian club culture. Most
notable were the post-war establishments of Chez Regine and
Whiskey-a-Go-Go, which would lay down the blueprints for New
Yorks Studio 54. The 70s soundtrack to these clubs was
of course disco, in which Paris also lead the way thanks to
the work of Jacques Morali (who created The Village People
among others) and the self proclaimed Godfather of the French
Touch, Cerrone whose own roots were as the drummer with pre-disco,
African influenced outfit The Congas.
That the rhythms of disco found a foothold in Paris should
come as no surprise. Much of the sounds foundation lay
in a fusion of the syncopated Latin rhythms often explored
in American jazz and the West African grooves that had been
imported into France by the countrys significant African
communities. A population that subsequently started to influence
developments in Parisian street culture most significantly
the hip hop explosion of the 80s.
With the end of disco in sight Paris could once again be seen
to be playing a part in the further development of dance fusion.
The late 70s and early 80s saw the rise of no wave and its
sister sound, mutant disco. At the forefront of this was Les
Garçons, whose records arrived courtesy of revered
French/Anglo imprint Ze Records. That the label was actually
based in New York wasnt unusual. Paris and New York
seem almost fused at the hip, by the hip.
The 80s saw the arrival of house culture, a sound pioneered
and inspired by the work of French DJ/producer François
Kervorkian. It also saw Detroit techno and rave culture take
root in Paris. From here came FNAC Dance and subsequently
F-Communications, labels spearheaded by Eric Morand and globally
renowned DJ Laurent Garnier. Not only would the duo champion
techno in the early 90s but they would also open the doors
to exciting developments in live performance. For, just as
the enfants terrible of the French Touch were laying down
their first tentative tracks, F-Communications acts like St.
Germain and Frederic Galliano were already treading the boards
with their unique fusions of house, jazz, hip hop and West
Here was music that transcended any limitations of fashion
and time; a living and breathing sound that in turn enriched
the dominant house culture and the scenes they had sourced.
Here musicians could be heard applying the contemporary house
and techno aesthetic to the techniques of jazz and Afro-beat.
And, by taking the experience into a live situation, they
further pushed the boundaries with the fusion of the freeform
vision of jazz, loose limbed Afro-expression and the immediacy,
adaptability and voice of contemporary DJ culture (it is important
to note that Paris also boasts globally renowned turntablist
DJs like DMC champions C2C).
Not only has this hybridisation grown from the French ideology
of mettisage, but it has also sunk deep into the very heart
of the countrys popular culture. Chanson has slowly
embraced the new sounds and a very modern take on traditional
French pop has started to take a foothold - most notably through
the bewitching vocal talents of (Philippe) Katerine. Which
brings us to this extraordinary tour.
Snapshot of Paris then not only represents the very embodiment
of the developments in the Parisian experimental underground,
but also brings together a collection of artists whose work
sits at the very forefront of this experimentation. Delivered
as a seamless, DJ orientated set, the musicians fuse and melt
their sounds into each other, slowly evolving into a showcase
of individual talent through collective response.
The Snapshot of Paris tour is mainly based around the output
of renowned drummer Steve Argüelles electronic
jazz performance imprint Plush and Frederic Gallianos
live jazz, house and Afro-fusion label, Frikyiwa. Artists
include the previously mentioned Katerine whose backing band,
The Recyclers, number among their members Argüelles and
innovative composer Benoît Delbecq, acclaimed for his
fusion of contemporary classical, non-western, ambient and
jazz forms. Together Delbecq and Argüelles also perform
as Ambitronix and Piano Book, through which the duo deconstruct
jazz, ambient and house via modern dance production techniques.
Delbecqs own Quartet on the other hand reverses the
approach, subsuming contemporary production techniques into
Delbecqs approach to non-western music is complemented
by the West African influenced electronic sounds of Lipitone
aka Marc Challosse, whose dub and ambient techniques melt
with tape edits of field sound recordings found in the night
time ambience of the Bougouni village in Mali. His performance
is complemented by the breathtaking kora playing of Ali Boulo
Santo while both Challosse and his kora player turn up as
members of Frederic Gallianos African Divas, one of
the most innovative acts to have emerged from the electronic
Book-ending the show are the visuals and DJing talents of
Sascii (aka Sylvie Astié) whose graphics have adorned
many of the records to have emerged from Paris.
So there it is Paris in a snapshot. A history that is as rich
as it is overlooked. The French capital has long been the
hidden epicentre of musical exploration. Today, as much as
they ever were, the boundaries are being crossed and foundations
laid for the next level of creative musical pursuit. From
electronic improvisation to jazz exploration, Afro-expression
to pop diversion, this tour of likeminded liquid talent is
proof positive of Paris position at the forefront of
With this particular Snapshot from Paris you see the city
as the living, breathing, morphing, evolving, multi-ethnic,
multi-influenced and multi-influential entity that it truly
Author of French Connections: From Discothéque to