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Ask a teenage music fan in Manchester, Cologne or Chicago, to name the most famous artist on the current French music scene and you'll get the unanimous response : Laurent Garnier ! This multi-talented French DJ, who emerged from the thriving house and techno scene, has established an excellent international reputation for himself as a composer, producer and wizard remixer. Indeed, Garnier's innovative remixes of legendary club hits have made him one of France's most popular musical exports of all time.
Laurent Garnier was born on February 1 1966 in Boulogne-sur-Seine (a suburb just outside Paris). Growing up with his father, who worked in a fairground, and his mother, a hairdresser, young Laurent was interested in nightlife and fashion from an early age. Around the age of 7 Laurent became particularly fascinated with the idea of nightclubs, and as a young boy he would spend many an evening alone in his bedroom with his hi-fi, creating his own 'nightlife'. Young Laurent's major passion in life was his record collection and, thanks to his father's friend who was head of the CBS record label, the young boy soon managed to procure himself a unique collection of vinyl albums and singles.
The disco fan
In the late 70's Laurent was finally old enough to venture out onto the Paris club scene with his elder brother. The disco craze was at its height in the late 70's and Laurent, a major disco fan, decided he had at last found his vocation - music and nightlife. Besides disco, the teenage Laurent tuned into all the other major musical trends of the day, listening to punk, funk and reggae. He was also greatly interested in the crossover between the music and fashion world. Laurent was soon able to observe changing fashion trends directly when he began working in his mother's hairdressing salon to earn a bit of extra pocket money.
By the age of 16, Laurent had discovered musical programming. The streetwise teenager had also started taking a particular interest in the club DJs whose musical mixing skills got clubbers gyrating on the dancefloor on a Saturday night. Rigging up a series of small microphones in a makeshift home studio, Laurent started recording dance tracks which he would then practise stringing together DJ-style.
But around this time Laurent's parents, worried that their son would be unable to make a living from his musical hobby, began urging him to start thinking of training for a 'serious' profession. Laurent took his parents' advice and enrolled for a two-year course at a catering school.
At the age of 18 Laurent left home after landing a job as a silver-service waiter at the French Embassy in London. Arriving in London in the late 80's, Laurent soon discovered the city's thriving club scene, which was at that point undergoing a veritable explosion thanks to house music. After a year and a half in London, Laurent moved to Manchester in 1986, where he discovered a dance scene which was even wilder than London.
Garnier discovers the house scene
Within a few months of his arrival, Laurent had fulfilled his musical vocation and set himself up as a DJ. In 1987 Laurent started hanging out at the legendary Hacienda, the hub of the Manchester dance scene. It was there that he would meet the in-house DJ Mike Pickering (who would go on to become the frontman of the group M People). Laurent soon landed a job DJ-ing at the Hacienda under the pseudonym DJ Pedro. House - the vibrant mix of black dance music and pop which was invented in Chicago in the early 80's - was taking Manchester by storm and Laurent Garnier found himself in the very eye of that storm at exactly the right time.
In 1988 Laurent was forced to leave Manchester nightlife behind and return to France to do his national service. After serving his time in the army, Laurent headed straight off to the U.S. to sample a bit of New York nightlife. Once more the young French DJ found himself in the thick of the dance movement, hanging out with the famous Frankie Knuckles (inventor of the original House sound) and discovering the New York club scene. When he returned to France, however, Laurent found a dance music wasteland. House had not yet arrived in the French capital and Paris nightlife remained decidedly tame in comparison with New York or Manchester.
Armed with his boxes of rare dance records gleaned from his travels abroad, Laurent Garnier set out to revolutionise Paris nightlife. Playing at Paris's hottest nightspots such as Le Palace or Le Boy, Garnier soon attracted enormous crowds of French clubbers eager to dance to his new beat. Within a few months Laurent Garnier had become the most popular DJ in the capital. Indeed, he would soon begin the evening playing in nightclubs then move on to perform at raves held in fields and disused warehouses on the outskirts of Paris. Garnier's immense popularity stemmed from the fact that he could adapt his DJ-ing to suit a wide variety of musical tastes. Indeed, the young French DJ was constantly tuning into emerging musical trends, discovering techno, trance, goa, ambient house, garage, jungle and, of course, the 90's disco revival. Garnier was passionate about new musical sounds and his talent as a club DJ meant that he knew exactly how to mix them.
Garnier the master re-mixer
Not surprisingly, Laurent Garnier soon went on to win a whole string of awards and he was voted DJ of the year countless times. Following his success on the club scene, Garnier then began releasing a number of maxi-CDs and dance remixes under various DJ pseudonyms.
The British music press went wild about Garnier, showering his record releases with rave reviews and hailing him not just as a talented DJ but as a veritable musician.
At the end of 1994 Laurent Garnier released his début album entitled "Shot in the Dark". This album, essentially aimed at the dance scene, revealed Garnier's incredible talent for improvising over long stretches of techno beats and samples. "Shot in the Dark" proved to be an enormous hit, selling over 70,000 copies in 20 different countries (a rare feat for an album by a French artist).
Garnier top DJ
Meanwhile, Laurent Garnier's collection of awards was steadily increasing. The young French DJ triumphed at the British Dance Music Awards no less than four times, scooping awards for Best DJ, Best Artist/Producer, Best Label (for his label F Communications) and Best Club (for the "Wake Up" nights he organised at the Rex Club in Paris).
By now Laurent Garnier was one of the leading figures on the techno scene and it came as no surprise to anybody when in 1996 he was voted Best International DJ of the Year. Following this success, the English label React contacted Garnier, offering to produce a 'Best of Laurent Garnier' compilation. The result was the excellent "Laboratoire Mix", released in December of that year. This innovative 'album' consisted of a single track lasting 344 minutes which featured a selection of Garnier's most famous remixes and recordings.
Meanwhile Garnier continued with his DJ-ing on the Paris club circuit, playing every Thursday night at the Rex Club and every Friday night at the legendary gay club Le Queen. Totally fascinated by ultra-modern technology and his "machines", Garnier also continued to experiment by fusing new musical styles. Indeed, the young DJ is renowned for constantly seeking to reinvent his sound and he loves to inject a bit of "fun" into the techno movement, which, in his eyes, takes itself far too seriously at times.
In April 97 Garnier released a second album, entitled "30" (the title was inspired by the fact that he had just turned thirty when he recorded it). This second album, recorded in the Wake Up Lab, Garnier's home studio in the Paris suburbs, has a more introspective feel to it than the first. The ever-innovative Garnier also ventures into new musical territory, fusing catchy dance beats with jazz, rap, funk and even reggae (on the track entitled "For Max"). Other tracks (such as "Deep Sea Diving" and "Le Voyage") are evidently inspired by film music and Garnier freely admits that he would like his next musical move to be in this direction. In fact Garnier says that his greatest dream would be to collaborate with a director on a film where the music plays as important a role as the images. (He envisages a collaboration similar to that between French director Luc Besson and his composer Eric Serra on the film "Le Grand Bleu"). For the time being Laurent Garnier continues to combine his love of music and fashion by creating the soundtrack for Paris fashion shows. (Garnier regularly works on soundtracks for the Japanese fashion designer Kenzo).
Meanwhile, Garnier has lost none of his youthful enthusiasm or energy. Indeed, earlier this year the star DJ celebrated his 32nd birthday by organising a special "Minuit/Midi" (Midnight/Midday) rave at the Rex Club in Paris, where he delighted French dance fans with twelve hours of non-stop house and techno.
On 20 February 1998 Laurent Garnier triumphed at the Victoires de la Musique awards, carrying off the prize for Best French Dance Album of the Year. This was the first time that the organisers of the French music awards had chosen to include a dance music category and, as this new award came just months after the SACEM (French copyright association) had officially recognised the rights of French DJs, Garnier did not fail to underline the importance of the award in his acceptance speech.
Following his triumph at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards, Garnier began taking his techno in a new direction, collaborating with choreographers, for example, on contemporary dance shows. Garnier also became something of a godfather for young up-and-coming DJs and musicians. Indeed, he devoted a great deal of time and energy to helping France's new generation of dance musicians get their records produced and distributed.
Sell-Out At The Olympia
Following the release of his EP, "Coloured City", on May 18th 1999, France’s favourite DJ set off on a mini tour, appearing behind the decks at all the major techno and electro events of the summer (including Sonar in Barcelona, Astropolis in Brittany and Boréalis in Montpellier). On September 17th Garnier brought the house down at the legendary Olympia in Paris where, accompanied on stage by 14 dancers and musicians, he not only performed his usual wizard mixing but also played his own music live for the first time.
Garnier was back in the music news in February 2000 with a new album entitled "Unreasonable Behaviour", which turned out to be a far more creative and complex work than his previous albums. The master DJ also branched out into cyberspace on this occasion, setting up his own web site to showcase his work on the Net. When Garnier’s new single, "Greed", came out he posted the base elements of the new track on the site (in MP3) and invited cyber-music fans to create their own musical mix.
Today Laurent Garnier remains a pioneering figure on the techno scene, opening the way for new French dance acts such as DJ Cam, La Funk Mob and Daft Punk.
Despite his international superstar status, Garnier continued to put in regular appearances on the club scene as a DJ. And, after an incredible 15 years behind the turntables, he has somehow managed to avoid becoming jaded or blasé. Far from it, in fact. Garnier’s sets still keep dancefloors grooving well into the early hours of the morning.
In the autumn of 2003, the F.Com label released a mini Garnier retrospective entitled "Excess Luggage." This boxed CD set included five mixes recorded or broadcast between May ‘98 and May 2002. Meanwhile, Garnier also penned a book on the history of the techno movement in collaboration with journalist David Brun-Lambert. "Electrochoc" was published in October 2003.
At the end of 2003, Garnier embarked upon an extensive national tour. But he also put in a special appearance at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (5 - 7 December 2003), for a "Cinémix": a live session creating soundtracks for silent movies.
The following year, Garnier kept up an equally packed schedule, touring the European club scene. He remained faithful to the old Rex Club in Paris, however, organising regular 'soirées' there. On 14 September 2004, the French DJ stepped behind the mixing decks at the Rex with British DJ Jeff Mills and surprised clubbers with a special night entitled "Music: expect the unexpected." This proved to be an astonishing trip down memory lane with Garnier and Mills going back to their musical roots and sharing their influences, spinning everything from James Brown, Miles Davis and Bob Marley to Nirvana.
Meanwhile, Garnier also paid tribute to his musical mentors with the release (in France) of "Life: styles", a compilation featuring tracks by the likes of Van Morrison, Nina Simone and Serge Gainsbourg. This eclectic mix caused a few raised eyebrows. But fans from the early days were familiar with Garnier the music buff, whose tastes spanned the broadest musical horizons. (In September 2002, Garnier had already set up his own web radio, Pedro Broadcast, playing his favourite tracks. And in the summer of 2003, he had appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Norwegian jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft).
2005: "Cloud Making Machine."
In January 2005, Garnier made a comeback on the recording front with "Cloud Making Machine." This intriguing and totally hypnotic album, which the DJ had spent four years composing, was infused with jazz influences – and gave fans yet another glimpse of Garnier's impressive musical culture!
Garnier, a committed workaholic, continued his hectic schedule after the album release, playing a vast number of dates while working on new mixes and projects. In 2006, he appeared at the Louvre for a new series of "Cinémix." This series of live sessions accompanying silent movies also featured sets by hardcore DJ Manu le Malin and the French duo Bumcello.
In June, Garnier embarked upon another tour which included dates at many of the country’s leading music festivals as well as an artistic residency at Le Cargo in Arles. One of the highlights of this tour was a spectacular open-air concert on the Pont du Gard, in Montpellier on 16 July 2006, where Garnier mixed alongside DJ AlexKid and the group Avril (fellow label mates from F-com). On this new tour, Garnier was once again accompanied by Bugge Wesseltoft and the French saxophonist Philippe Nadaud.
August 2006 saw the release of the compilation "Retrospective 1994-2006", a musical ‘best of’ featuring remastered versions of cult dancefloor classics such as "Shot in the Dark" and "Cloud Making Machine."
In October of that year, in Aix-en-Provence, the choreographer Angelin Prejlocaj staged a modern dance piece, "Fire Sketch", a ballet tribute to the French Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. Laurent Garnier was called in to create the music, basing his soundtrack on the original score of Stravinsky’s "Firebird."