April 2003, Laurent Garnier was playing the Music Box, a mythical Manchester nightclub, packed with a capacity crowd of 600 people. He served up a rare, eclectic, and passionate DJ set that night, lining up classic rave anthems from the nineties and cutting edge electronica, vintage hip-hop and techno gems from Detroit, disco hymns and reggae classics. Suddenly, Garnier cut the music off. A lone voice rang out criticising the war in Iraq. The second Gulf War was already under way; Blair’s government had dragged England into a war that the people didn’t want. A clamour began and burst into a scream when military drum rolls boomed out. It was “War” by Edwin Starr. At this moment, Manchester went crazy. I saw t-shirts flying through the air, gangsters dancing like lunatics, girls twisting their bodies outrageously and guys literally hanging out of the ceiling. This was not a club anymore, this was not even a DJ set, this was now a pagan temple in which everything was allowed; eccentric behaviour, loss of control, blissful smiles and improbable gestures. I remember looking at Laurent plunged in his record boxes looking for a last record, hesitating nervously between Farley Jack Master Funk “Love Can’t Turn You Around” and Marshall Jefferson “Move Your Body”. He chose his last record. It sounded like a riot was going to start when the record ended with a spluttering hiss.
That night in Manchester is my clearest memory of Laurent Garnier’s art: generous, urgent and capable of miracles.
However, if like me, you have been following this artist for quite a while, you already know how diverse he really is, and how the term “one of the best DJs in the world” is an expression that does not do the man justice. It has to be said again and again that here is a man who has a one in a million fighting spirit, and who has been fighting for over fifteen years to get great music to the public. Garnier has always avoided theories and preferred action; he doesn’t like needless repetition or empty compromises and less still wasting time.
Since his third album, Unreasonable Behaviour, and the subsequent world tour, Laurent has definitely not been wasting time. There have been a series of legendary concerts, whether it was replacing Guns N’ Roses at the last minute in the Torhout-Werchter festival in Belgium or playing in Vietnam (!). After a year as Radio Nova’s music programmer, Garnier set up PBB (www.pedrobroadcast.com
), his first own web radio, conceived as a radical response to French radio’s conservative approach to music. This outlet allows him to share treasures from his record collection.
PBB, which doesn’t care about styles, crosses King Tubby with the Sex Pistols, links Underground Resistance to Alain Bashung or Karen Young. Shortly after, F.U. FM was also set up. The little brother of PBB, a pirate radio station, F.U. FM illegally broadcast its programmes across Ibiza during the summer of 2003. Nowadays, PBB is completed by a weekly show “It is what it is” on several European radios.
In the book Electrochoc, we both told the story of techno music over the past fifteen years. The story was told through Laurent’s career. Published by Flammarion, the book has been very successful in France (over fifteen thousand copies sold). It has been translated into German, Russian, Spanish and Japanese (just what is taking the English speaking world so long?).
The soundtrack was missing to this book so Laurent brought out Excess Luggage at the same time, a 5 cd package with mixes from Sonar, Detroit, the BBC, PBB and the Rex in Paris. He also signed a cinematic mix using film archives from the Albert Kahn foundation, a philanthropic banker who financed expeditions in the early twentieth century to the four corners of the world in order to collect “archives for the planet”. Garnier wrote original music for several very diverse short films, for example, a film about homeless people or a cartoon. Remixes and 12“ vinyles are constantly added to Laurent’s discography and all the while he travels across the world as a DJ. He still plays his monthly residency gig in the Rex club in Paris. The very same place where the Music, Expect the Unexpected Tour was launched in September 2004, a European tour with Jeff Mills.
Will the man ever stop? No. And why should he? And remember that what has been mentioned here is just the visible part of what he does. Amongst his less obvious talents, Laurent has the gift of bringing interesting people together and getting the best from them.
After Unreasonable Behaviour came out, Laurent spent a lot of time at concerts checking out other musical styles. He started up beautiful friendships with musicians from different scenes. Amongst them, the Norwegian Bugge Wesseltoft, a marvellous jazz pianist who joined forces with Garnier on stage at Sonar or the Montreux Jazz festival.
The Cloud Making Machine. his last studio album released in 2004 completed the diversity of Laurent’s explorations. A cinematic album, a palette of contradicting emotions: chaos and poetry, beautiful mornings and morning after blues, crazy laughs and quiet contemplation, deep experience and raw emotion.
With this imaginary soundtrack, Laurent did start a collaboration with the Albert Kahn Fondation in Paris for a series of unforgettable “Cinemix” in France and Japan. After this successful experience, Laurent Garnier develops in 2006 a new series of Cinemix for the Louvre museum in Paris. He did select electronic musicians (including himself) to create a live soundtrack on original movies from the early 20th century. Once again a massive success acclaimed by the critics. Over the last years Laurent did continue touring both as DJ and with his band for live concerts. In the same time he did compose and produce a lot of music for contemporary choreographers as Pietragalla or Preljocaj as well as music for films and exhibitions. His long discography includes now some DJmix compilations, a Retrospective of his work on F Communications imprint and a live album.
In 2008, the release of “Back to my Roots” on the German imprint Innervisions hit everyone by surprise and invaded the playlists of most of DJs during the summer.
In 2009, Laurent Garnier presents “Tales of a Kleptomaniac” his brand new album. Him and the band will hit the road again from the spring onwards.