fri 19/07/2024

An Open Book: Laurent Garnier | reviews, news & interviews

An Open Book: Laurent Garnier

An Open Book: Laurent Garnier

Albert Camus to Thelonious Monk. Plus graphic novels and a nihilist hamster

The doyen of French dance music

Laurent Garnier, 49, is a key figure in the development of French electronic dance music. A DJ at the Haçienda in Manchester just as house music began to explode in 1987, he went on to helm nights at the Rex Club in Paris in the Nineties. These became a vital hub around which French dance music coalesced. Garnier went on to be a successful producer and live performer, releasing multiple albums, many for his own F Communications label.

He regularly drew links between jazz and techno, most famously with his millennial anthem “The Man With The Red Face”. A new, significantly updated edition of Electrochoc, his 2003 autobiographical overview of dance culture, has just been published.

What books are you currently reading?

Technical books about cinema because seven years ago I signed the rights to Electrochoc to a production company, and I’ve been working on a very free adaptation, a fiction for the cinema which I’m going to direct. At the moment I’ve been swallowing tons of books about the technical side of cinema, five or six books about mise-en-scène, cutting, how to bring out emotions in viewers of film.

Who’s your favourite novelist?

I don’t have a favourite novelist. I didn’t grow up in a family where we used to read books. My parents didn’t read at all. It’s only since I met my wife that I’ve started to read. She introduced me to books but I can’t say I have a favourite novelist. I live in the village where Albert Camus is buried [Lourmarin in Provence]. I hadn’t read anything by him but, coming here, I’ve had to read a couple of novels – The Plague and The Outsider – which I thought were absolutely mind-blowing. Peter Mayle lives in the village where I live too so I read a couple of things by him. You have to. You can’t see him, or see Albert Camus’s daughter, every day and not even exchange one word because you’ve not read anything.

What was the last novel you read?

The last one was by a French guy, Jean-Pierre Goux. I read two – Siècle Bleu [Blue Century] and the sequel Ombres et Lumières [Shadows and Light]. They are science fiction. It’s not related in any way to me reading Jean-Pierre Goux, but I find the relationship between the original Detroit techno DJs and science fiction interesting. [Detroit techno pioneers] Jeff [Mills] and Mike [Banks] say in my book that a lot of black musicians from America have a big thing about space and science fiction. The idea is that they don’t know what space is like but it has the potential to be different and more exciting than the reality of life for a black person in America.

What is your favourite music book?

I absolutely love Patti Smith’s books and, of course, the autobiography of Keith Richards but I have three favourite music biographies. One about is Nina Simone: The Biography by David Brun-Lambert. He’s the guy I wrote Electrochoc with. While we were writing he was already preparing his next book and during his two years interviewing me we listened to Nina Simone all the time. Another extremely important book for me is Marc Besse's Bashung(s), Une Vie. Bashung was a singer, famous in France, and even though his music is very different from mine I love his way of working, of thinking, taking risks, the way he doesn’t listen to anyone else but always follows his heart. His last three or four albums are absolutely stunning [he died in 2009] and this biography brings you right into his world. Finally, Laurent De Wilde’s Monk, about Thelonious Monk. First of all Laurent is an amazing jazz musician, and his passion for Monk goes deep – the whole story of Monk written by a great jazz musician and one of the best biographies ever.

What was the last non-fiction book you read?

It was by Ingrid Betancourt, Even Silence Has An End. She’s a French politician who was kidnapped by the FARC in Colombia and remained captive for six years in the jungle. It’s an absolutely amazing story.

What book do you think best captures the essence of club culture?

There is a book called Soupe à la Tête de Bouc by Milan Dargent. It translates as Goats Head Soup, like the Rolling Stones album. It's set at a rave where a DJ is playing a very hard techno set. The main character tells a girl this crazy story about the Rolling Stones. It's funny and it captures the flavour of such an event. Also, in France graphic novels are very big, bigger than in the UK, actually. We all grow up reading tons of them, from Lucky Luke onwards. There’s an amazing one called Le Chant de la Machine. It tells whole story [of dance music] from Detroit, Chicago, all of it. I did a graphic novel as well – I released one last year. I wrote it with two other people and it’s called Syncopated Dreams.

Do you have a hero or heroine from the world of literature?

You know what, even though the situations he’s describing and the world he’s talking about are really tough and hard, I’d really like to be a little mouse observing the action in the books of Iceberg Slim. I love the atmosphere. I wish I could watch the things he writes about, like a live cinema.

Do you have a favourite children’s book?

I was more into music as a kid. I read quite a lot of graphic novels, not because I wanted to be Asterix or one of the Smurfs, more because everyone else was. There is, actually, a really funny book that’s aimed between kids and grown-ups. Everybody should read it. It’s called The Diary of Edward the Hamster and it’s by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia. In French it is called The Journal of Edward the Nihilist Hamster which gives a better idea of its content.

Which four writers – fiction, non-fiction, songwriter, poet, living or dead – would you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Francoise Sagan would be crazy but interesting and clever, so would Michel Houellebecq; Nick Hornby would be quite fun; and who could break things up a bit? Irvine Welsh. Parties are about chaos – but interesting chaos

Overleaf: Watch a live ten minute perfomance of "The Man With The Red Face"

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