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Meet Jacques Lu Cont – the blue-eyed, scarlet coiffured 21 year old genius behind modern pop music phenomenon, Les Rythmes Digitales.
Firstly, despite the parodic french moniker, Jacques did not spend his formative years in Paris – be swathed by strings of onions, as he has been widely (semi) believed. True enough; he was born there, in 1977. However, those currently going ga-ga for all things Gaelic, take note: his classical pianist parents actually whisked him to live in Europe’s largest housing estate in Reading, at the tender age of six months. Here, among Brookside-ian architecture, slyly-twitching curtains and proud car washing on Sunday, he advanced slowly towards his own unique take on the biz known as show.
Sadly, the hit parade was frowned upon by his parents. “I was denied the opportunity to listen to much pop music”, rues Jacques, "although I do remember having Pipes Of Peace by Paul McCartney… ‘instead, Jacques was encouraged by his elders to listen to Mozart, to tinkle the ivories (he passed his Grade 8 before he’d even started shaving) and gain a thorough understanding of tune making.
It was Christmas, and Jacques was eleven years old when Santa dropped a £50 second hand ARP sythesiser down the artifeial chimney. Now he could play along with those furtively purchased Pet Shop Boys’ records. Alas, too muchtime spent in his boudoir, with only the poignant warblings of fey West End Girls to keep him company eventually prompted a minor mental breakdown. Luckily, they were nice at the local Special Clinic…. Why, they even had group music therapy classes! And clever Jacques – no tambourine for him he bragged the long since discarded keyboard, and soon cheered everyone up with a few bars of Human League-ery. “They’re my all time favourite band,” he now states – he is NOT, repeat NOT being ironic.
Inspired by these melodic excursions, and by his school music teacher (hello Mr Soper) Jacques “began to spend any money I got on Keyboards or effects boxes and stuff until I’d built myself a studio at home. I began writing stuff and making loads of tapes…” He would freely give said casettes to mates and cohorts, and somehow one winged it’s way to the desk of Mark Jones, founder of the Wall Of Sound label. It was 1994 and Jacques was aged 17. "He called me and asked me to go and see him, "recalls Jacques, “I was a bit sceptical at first ’cause of my love of pop and cause Wall Of Sound was this sort of underground music label, but Mark really talked the talk and understood exactly what I was doing…”
Promptly signed up, Jacques immersed himself in the studio, and in, 1995 gave us Liberation – an 8 track album, which included his debut single Kontakte. In hindsight, Jacques believes this period “Was more of a techno-hybrid, I hadn’t really found my feet or condensed my love of pop into what I was doing. I’ve got more confidence now to celebrate all my influences.” The subsequent singles Jacques Your Body , Music Makes You Lose Control, and (Hey You) What’s That Sound (Boy George lent his macquillage in the accompanying video ) really hit the mark and began to spread the intimitable Les Rythmes Digitales sound across the globe. As did Jacques DJ-ing skills, now requested in clubs as far flung as Nottingham to Paris. (incidentally, he does play his own records, though unlike George Michael, he doesn’t dance to them). Not only that, Jacques prowess as a knob twiddler par excellence has resulted in his sterling remix work for Cassius Feeling For You, Cornershop’s Sleep On The Left Side, Pavement’s first ever remix, Passat Dreams, Placebo’s Pure Morning and most recently, Laptop’s Nothing To Declare – all of whom have been enhanced by the unique Les Rythmes Digitales treatment.
No less attention grabbing was/is Jacques distinctive (there’s an understatement) dress sense: warm-leatherette suits, slip on shoes – little seen since the days of Sheffield’s Crazy Daisy Discotheque, and a fright-wig hair do of the Sigue Sigue Sputnik persuasion. No one was more supposed than Jacques when the style press began salivating over his anti-fashion fashion. “It’s just stuff I like… I thought they’d think it was naff.” he laughs, “but I do think it’s important for music and fashion to be strongly linked – it’s part of the whole pop thing.”
Indeed, this “whole pop thing” is fully in evidence in Les Rythmes Digitales’ live performances. Putting on a proper show, as opposed to making do with a flimsy PA, is of paramount importance to Jacques. To that end he has recently enlisted the help of Jo Reynolds on bass and keyboards and Jim Carmichael on drums to join him on stage. An extravaganza of carefully chosen projected visuals further enhances the proceedings. No less discerning is the sleeve artwork for the new album , Darkdancer, rendered by the fair hand of legendary dauber Phillip Castle, the man responsible for that iconic Clockwork Orange logo among others. Having been lured back from the brink of self inflicted obscurity, he has produced an airbrushed cityscape starring Jacques, his glamorous ladyfriend and a gargantuan Wall Of Sound HQ. No mealy-mouthed minimalist graphics here, thanks.
Darkdancer the album is a labour of love and devotion, brilliantly combining all Jacques’sonic obsessions, in a plethora of tracks irresistibly seductive to pop kiddies and club folk, young and old alike. Each of the twelve songs within mines a synthetic seam through the past two decades of musical electronica, and the trio of aforementioned skill singles are, thankfully, present and correct.
The action kicks off with Dreamin in which we are instructed: “Don’t just sit there dreamin’… Dance!”, backed by a soundtrack evoking poignant nightclub scenes … in episodes of Miami Vice, that is. Downright spooky are Soft Machine and Damaged People, both recorded between London and New York and drenched with the emotion-racked vocals of former, Island Records rock god, Thomas Ribiero. “it’s such a nightmare coming down in London town,” he intones on the former, and you believe him. “Thomas is a very very cool dude” confides Jacques.
Succomb to the sleazy disco-crama of Hypnotise, with is repetitive, eponymous refrain: “I originally sampled the word Hypnotise from a Scritti Poiliti song” he explains, “but then I decide to sing it myself.” Presumably, he inhaled a helium-filled ballon before doing so?
Take A Little Time was a dream come true for Jacques, as he woo-ed New York’s diva-esque Shannon (of ’80’s Let The Music Play-fame) to lend her formidable tonsils to the tune. “She was a little apprehensive at first, but once she realised I wasn’t treating her as a novelty she got really into it,” he reveals. The result can be filed alongside any of her previous (now oft-hailed as ‘classic’) dancefloor-friendly ventures.
Disco To Disco caputures perfectly the uplifting, head-on hedonism of a non-stop crawl from one manic nighterie to another… and boasts a wobbly synth refrain, on a par with anything Dr Who ever encountered from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Then there’s the pulsing, bass-heavy Brothers – with chunky funk stomped all over it, and just a smudge of Chicago house. Jacques approached his long-time pop idol (and former mullet sporter) Nik Kershaw to work with him on Sometimes. “Someone like Nik Kershaw wanting to work with me was the highest kind of compliment,” he reckons, ridiculously modestly. "I intitially sent him some tapes and he called me up the next day going ‘I really like them, but I don’t know what you want me to do…‘. I said I want to do a song with you and he was like ’brilliant!… An obviously awe-struck Jacques continues: "I went to his house – he’s got a big recording studio there. It was weird being there and just hearing Nik Kershaw singing right next to me because, to me, he is of the highest calibre of artists." The finshed collaboration is as instantly mindbending a track, as anything you will hear all year. As for About Funk… just imagine a keyboard with bowel problems, linked to a deliciously catchy hook and performed by a kissy-huggy Kraftwerk on E, and you get the picture…
“I’m 100% happy with how the album’s turned out,” concludes Jacques, and there’s a determined Top Of The Pops-type glint in his eyes, when he adds: “I don’t just want this to be a cool record that doesn’t sell. I want it to be a cool record that sells. I want to see this go through as a complete pop item. I want people to look back in 10 years time and see Les Rythmes Digitales as something they either loved or hated”.