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Dossier - French Popular Music

Strands of the Future : France and the Birth of Electronica

Sean Albiez

Résumé : The early his­tory of 1970s elec­tro­nic rock music, or elec­tro­nica, often cen­tres on the inno­va­tions of Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, whose crea­tive roots are iden­ti­fied as in avant-garde moder­nist and contem­po­rary music (e.g. Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varese, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer). German, British and American artists have gained wide recog­ni­tion for their roles in this his­tory, but French artists who made impor­tant contri­bu­tions to deve­lop­ments in early elec­tro­nica have see­min­gly been over­loo­ked. This over­sight is argua­bly due to a gene­ral anti­pa­thy to French rock of the 1970s (both inside and out­side France) (Looseley : 2003), the consi­de­ra­ble anta­go­nism of rock cri­tics to the pro­gres­sive rock genre (then and since) (Sheinbaum, 2002), and per­haps due to the pre­ju­di­ces and prio­ri­ties of ear­lier aca­de­mic stu­dies of popu­lar music (Hebdige, 1979). This study ana­ly­ses the work of Pulsar, Richard Pinhas / Heldon, and Jean-Michel Jarre, and sug­gests these artists, though having diverse crea­tive agen­das, pro­du­ced music that was more than a simple imi­ta­tion of 1970s British pro­gres­sive rock. Alongside their foreign coun­ter-parts, they attemp­ted to trans­form and chal­lenge Anglo-American pop and rock music. They forged a crea­tive path that looked out­side the French context for ins­pi­ra­tion, while crea­ting music that connec­ted to the twen­tieth cen­tury French tra­di­tion of elec­tro­nic music - from Messiaen to Boulez to Jean-Jacques Perrey. Rather than vie­wing this music as being crea­ted in the shadow of Eno, Robert Fripp and Pink Floyd, it is sug­ges­ted that it may well be a fruit­ful exer­cise to exca­vate and re-eva­luate French elec­tro­nic rock music of the 1970s. With the recent gro­wing suc­cess of French Techno, it seems an appro­priate time to reconsi­der ear­lier French elec­tro­nica, as it has yet to be ade­qua­tely explo­red either inside or out­side the French context.

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