When Giorgio Moroder contributed a spoken-word track to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, there was a sense that the Parisian duo were repaying a debt to an artist they believed had been somewhat overlooked. Moroder was one of a slew of French, Italian and German musicians whose pioneering work in the 1970s still resonates with electronic artists, producers and DJs in 2016. Yet, arguably the most influential but uncredited of them all from that period is Jean Michel Jarre. On his third studio album Oxygène (1976) he laid down the basic constituent elements of ambient, new-age, rave, techno and trance in his makeshift home-studio. The problem for Jarre was that the album was a runaway success: it has sold 12m copies since 1976. And he went on to play gargantuan, laser-strewn live outdoor spectaculars from the pyramids of Egypt to 2.5 million people in Paris. Ironically, global fame lead to his unique influence being under-appreciated.
Yet, if Daft Punk sought out Moroder to bring him in from the cold, Jarre has inversely sought out modern day artists whose music bears a direct lineage to his own. On his Electronica project – two collaborative albums released separately in 2015 and 2016 – the likes of Moby, Massive Attack’s 3-D, Peaches, Julia Holter and Fuck Buttons are all on board. Even Edward Snowden is roped in. It sees the Frenchman reclaiming the music he once influenced. It’s his best work in decades, and the bulk of tonight’s show is comprised of it.
Compared with the mega-concerts he has played in the past, tonight’s show at the 3Arena is intimate in comparison. Standing behind and in front of thin meshes of LCD screens that part and conjoin continuously throughout the show, the youthful 68 year-old cuts a sprightly figure behind his banks of equipment. Jarre has spoken of electronic acts using ‘technology today as a safety net, as a way of limiting human error’. So he’s keen to make the performance as live as possible, using both analogue and digital configurations to add spontaneity. He’s aided by two separate keyboardists and drummers to his left and right.
The throbbing bass-lines of openers ‘The Heart Of Noise 1’ and ‘The Heart of Noise 2’ gives us a taste of what’s in store: mostly loud and surprisingly aggressive slabs of trance-lite and melodic techno, something large swathes of the seated, mostly middle-aged audience might not have expected. ‘Oxygène, Pt.2’ is played early in the set, its precise Morse-code-like bleeps sounding as crisp and eerie now as they did in 1976. ‘Exit’ is an uncompromising, high-BPM juggernaut that slows down to a crawl to allow Edward Snowden appear on screen to talk about the importance of privacy in a connected world. The Pet Shop Boys collaboration ‘Brick England’ brings the crowd to their feet (well, some of them) and it produces a noticeable shift in energy, from sedentary politeness to a half-hearted rave-up. ‘Oxygène, Pt 4’ makes an appearance in the latter half of the show but his newer material is so slick and stylistically different, it results in his hitherto ‘greatest hit’ receiving a more muted response than one might expect.
There’s something endearingly child-like about Jarre: he seems to be having the time of his life on stage, like a child playing with his new toys on Christmas morning. And one of his biggest toys is the laser-beam synthesiser harp, consisting of seven or eight vertical green lasers that Jarre plays with his gloved hands, coaxing weird notes from it as if sending cryptic messages to a far-off civilisation. It’s silly yet immensely entertaining. For an encore, a track from his forthcoming final part of the Oxygene trilogy is previewed but it simply sounds like an offcut from the Electronica sessions. Nothing wrong with that as this is where Jarre is now: a modern electro artist in tune with the prevailing musical zeitgeist and he seems to be enjoying every second of it.
Jean-Michel Jarre photographed by Stilpix