Jean-Michel Jarre

Jean-Michel Jarre was among a handful of European artists in the 1970's responsible for propelling synthesiser music into the mainstream. His early records were also a major influence on 80's synth pop and - in the 90's and beyond - on the rise electronic dance music, particularly club trance.

artist:
Jean-Michel Jarre

country of origin:
France

style(s):
Electropop, synth pop, ambient pop, ambient trance

decades active:
70's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Oxygene (1977, Dreyfus)
  • Equinox (1978, Dreyfus)
  • Zoolook (1984, Dreyfus)

Reviewed by Mike G

This popular French synthesist Jean-Michel Jarre was among a handful of European artists in the 1970's responsible for propelling synthesiser music into the mainstream. His early records were also a major influence on 80's synth pop and - in the 90's - on the rise electronic dance music, particularly club trance. Interestingly, pioneering albums by his electronic contemporaries Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk released during Jarre's peak period still sound quite left-field compared to his Oxygene (1997) and Equinox (1978). These albums announced the arrival of an altogether more commercial sound in electronic music, though they are no less substantial for it.

Oxygene remains his masterpiece: a thrilling, richly melodic suite with sci-fi overtones featuring eight distinctive parts united by mood and recurring themes. It still sounds magnificent and was ahead of its time, paving the way for the 80's synth pop bands. The layered melodies and seductive throb of trance and progressive house music are also musical descendants of the sound Jarre established on his debut. Numerous dance music producers and DJ's today frequently cite his melodic, hypnotic loops as an inspiration and influence.

The follow-up Equinox is also first rate, similarly colourful and evocative without being too derivative of its predecessor. A couple of ordinary albums bridge Equinox and  Zoolook (1983), the latter's first half containing some astonishing music. "Ethnicolour" features voice and environmental samples processed in decidedly weird and twisted ways and woven into a tapestry of synthesisers and backing from a live band. From surreal, ambient beginnings the track eventually builds to a thundering rhythmic climax. It’s unforgettable and as finely crafted an example of left-field electropop as you’re likely to hear anywhere from the genre's early years.

Zoolook is the last Jarre classic. Since the 1980's his albums have been decidedly patchy, even if his live concerts have grown ever more spectacular. He remains revered in the dance music world, however, and has attracted a whole new generation of fans to his live shows and club appearances.

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