When you talk about the origins of electronic music, the conversation will no doubt focus on Jean-Michel Jarre. A true legend in the world of soundscape, experimental, and melodic electronica, he was the first to bring a visual element to live performances. Jarre’s albums have sold over 80 million copies and he continues to make music relevant to new generations of music lovers. For his recent Electronica albums (The Time Machine
and The Heart of Noise
), he collaborated with of a variety of heritage and contemporary artists to create relevant musical and political statements for the technologically obsessed society of today.
RS: French is your first language, when you do these interviews do you think in English or do you think in French?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I think in English; I have done so many interviews in English that it has started to become easier to do them in English versus in French.
RS: Electronica 2 is all about collaboration. What are your thoughts about the intersection of your avant garde roots with the more commercial music world?
Jean-Michel Jarre: Electronic music has no boundaries anymore, it’s everywhere. It covers a lot of different genres of electronic music and that was the idea behind Electronica 2. I wanted people that were a source of inspiration for me and to also cover different genres of electronic music. They all have an organic approach to music and a balance between melodies and beats. It is collaborating with established artists as well as young beginners and newcomers. It has been a real privilege.
RS: How did you work with Pet Shop Boys? How did that come about and what was it like in the studio with them?
Jean-Michel Jarre: It was really great and quite a unique experience. In that case, I had almost a dogma preparing the kind of demo and track to work with the idea that I had from the collaborator as a platform to start working together. What I did with the Pet Shop Boys was we talked about the track and then I prepared something that was my view and feeling about the Pet Shop Boys in 2016. We know that the Pet Shop Boys are very important in symbolizing a mixture of British pop with electronic music. They have a dance club feel with a more melancholic texture. I did an electro kind of beat that I had in mind with a very 2016 sound. Since they were working on their own album they worked on the vocal alone and went with the idea of “Brick England.” It is kind of a tribute to the suburban landscapes of the UK and obviously linked to the British music and its social context.
RS: I love that you bring up social context because of the song that you did with Edward Snowden. How did that come about and did you actually get to meet him?
Jean-Michel Jarre: One of the requiems of Electronica 2 is the ambiguous relationship with technology, where on one side we have the world in our pockets on our smart phones and on the other side we know that we are spied on constantly. Electronica is gathering people from all over that are passionate about technology and the tools that we have. On the other hand, we know that technology can have a darker side. I was really touched by Edward Snowden, he made me think about my mother who was a great singer in the French Resistance. She told me that during the Second World War the French were considered trouble makers. I really love America and I think that we have a lot in common with putting human rights in the central part of our constitution. The United States was founded on an act of resistance, which at that time was an act of treason regarding the king. I went to Moscow to meet with him and to film and record him. Since he is not a musician, we decided to just use his vocals and say two or three things about the reason why he did what he did. We decided that the music would carry the techno beat, evoking a kind of obsessive quest for more and more information - the path of the CIA an FBI would drive on one single individual.
RS: Talking about that dark side of technology, I am kind of guessing that “Swipe to the Right” is about how technology brings us together but also makes us more distant, is that what you were going for with that song?
Jean-Michel Jarre: “Swipe to the Right” is another approach to technology, it’s fun but it’s also quite dark. Cyndi Lauper and I decided to create a dark love song of what love is at the age of Rinder. It is quite exciting and fun but it is a motion of solitude where we think that we are connected to the world but we aren’t seeing our neighbors anymore. It’s one of the different aspects on how we approach technology. A lot of different people that I collaborated with are in their own way a kind of accident for the massive attack, they are involved in different political issues. With Laurie Anderson we did a track about the fact that we touch our smartphones more than we touch our partner. Peaches is a great activist for women’s rights and The Pet Shop Boys did a lot for the gay community and Cyndi is also a real activist for women’s rights. The whole idea of making music, sharing, and expressing conviction in an artistic way is fun. With “Swipe to the Right” we both liked the track to be original, it started as a pop song and then the second part is more instrumental.
RS: I wanted to ask you, with your background how do you feel about the music being made today?
Jean-Michel Jarre: For me electronic music has no boundaries and is quiet timeless. Instrumental pieces have been used in electronic music for a long time, directly coming from classical music, so there is a timeless feel to it. When you listen to tracks that I have made with newcomers and compare them with people such as Tangerine Dream and Hans Zimmer, it is hard to tell the age differences of someone in their 20’s or 50’s. There is a timeless character to electronic music when you have so many genres of electronic music coexisting together.
RS: I like that. You have a lot of tour dates panned for Europe and you are known for your big keyboard shows Aare you planning on coming to the US and if you do what kind of show would you do in the US?
Jean-Michel Jarre: At the moment I am working on stage designs. As you know the visual side of my music has always been very important to me. When I see a lot of EDM shows it reminds me of what I was doing 25 years ago and today I want to try and explore new boundaries. I am working on a special stage design involving lots of new technology. I am starting in Europe and I am planning a US tour in early 2017.
RS: Yay, that makes me very happy! I saw your reddit, what is your take on the reddit phenomena?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I think that it is so important these days because it is another way to reach fans, but beyond fans to reach the audience in a better way than just an interview in the paper or on the radio. It is a complementary and more direct way to share my ideas and feelings with my audience.
RS: Beatport is doing a remix contest, was that your idea and will you be judging it?
Jean-Michel Jarre: Absolutely. I am very close to Beatport and love the platform. It is a very interesting platform with the audience being pros and also amateurs in the DJ scene and also just people in love with that kind of music. The idea for the contest started from discussions that we had with Beatport and we made the decision that it would be cool to work together for the contest. I am going to judge the results of the contest when we have all the remixes. It is an ongoing and work in progress type of project.
RS: What are you going to be doing with the Gorillaz?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I spent 5 years asking the collaborators on Electronica what we were doing together, so I feel the same with them. We worked together in my recording studio and we always have a great time, we will see what goes on and what the result will be. I respect his production and the way that he wants to promote and reveal it.
RS: When you are making music what software and hardware do you use?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I started with Pro Tools and basically I swapped to live Ableton and mixed a lot of gear like synthesizers with plugins and new small modules. It is merging analog things with digital means.
RS: You have worked with a lot of people that are well established, as well as some new up-and-comers, how do you find the new talent that you want to work with?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I am like a sponge with information, with new movies, new music and I am quite a curious guy and I like to learn things. When you are interested in something is it quite easy to be in touch with all the news and newcomers and from there I just pick the ones that I am impressed by and interested in.
RS: Aside from yourself who do you think has influenced electronica music the most?
Jean-Michel Jarre: Basically all the collaborators that are on Electronica, I chose them because of exactly what you are saying. People like Massive Attack, Tangerine Dream, Air, Pet Shop Boys, M83, Gary Numan, Hans Zimmer and Jeff Mills have been and are still influencing electronic music.
RS: Good answer. What would you like to say personally to all of your fans out here?
Jean-Michel Jarre: I would like to tell them that I wish I could go on with Oxygen and Equinoxe forever, but I think that it would be boring for them and for me. Electronica is a different project but if they listen to it carefully they will find a lot of narrative and a lot of close elements. I am thinking about tracks like “The Heart of Noise,” “Exit” or “The Architect” with Jeff Mills and also “Electrees” with Hans Zimmer and tracks like “Time Machine” with Boys Noize and “Stardust” with Armin van Buuren, all of these tracks are directly linked to my early work in a sense. Some other tracks seem to be quite different like “What You Want” with Peaches but if you listen carefully it is not that far off from the Zoolook ambiance that I did a few years ago. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the great artists and collaborators who trusted me in this project and gave me the final cut.
Interview conducted June 2016.