Throwback feature: Laurent Garnier 1994 – 2000

There is no first and foremost with Laurent Garnier: he is a producer and a DJ but he’s also a radio host, a club owner, a web radio enthusiast and much more. His musical influences from Detroit techno to 1950’s jazz are more varied than the projects he embarks on and his story is as eclectic and engaging as one of his famed DJ sets. He has won the respect of Chicago house legends and is revered by a younger generation of DJ’s. From cutting his teeth during the ‘Madchester’ days under the alias DJ Pedro, to befriending Frankie Knuckles, to helping run his own festival, he might as well have done it all and yet he continues to ply his trade with the same enthusiasm that has made him so successful thus far.

His body of work as a producer might not represent the pinnacle of his achievements, that distinction may in fact belong to the contributions he’s made to French radio broadcasting. However this isn’t for lack of trying and what Garnier has produced over the past twenty or so years is an absolutely gorgeous collection of tracks. His releases on his label F Communications go back to 1994 when he and a friend formed the label after the FNAC label they were both releasing on went out of business.

Throughout his career, Garnier has actively released tracks on many other labels, however some of the early albums he released through F Communications have been integral to his success and are an intrinsic part of his production career. His first three albums in particular are a beautiful progression that show the work of an aspiring producer with a keen ear and plenty of enthusiasm, into a professional of the highest order.

Garnier has always been a huge lover of both Detroit techno and Chicago acid house, and with ‘Shot in the Dark’, one of his first forays into production he is quite obviously drawing from both sources in an attempt to recreate the magic of these scenes. His ear and ability to source tracks surpasses his production ability at this point in his career. Tracks such as ‘The Force’ and ‘Astral Dreams’ may be lacking in the broodiness Garnier was likely trying to create but the album does contain a few hidden gems, most notably the more introspective and calmer ‘Rising Spirit’ and also the raw but extremely listenable ‘Track 4 Mike’. It should also be clarified that Garnier’s perceived shortcomings in this first album have far more to do with the huge success he would go on to have than to do with the quality of the album; if judged against the same standards we use for others, this album would be held in much higher esteem.

His next album comes three years later in 1997 and it is hard to talk about ’30’ without talking about ‘Crispy Bacon’ one of Garnier’s most deservedly famous tracks. The track completely rolls and its menacing acidy pulse is as killer now as it was eighteen years ago.

The album is much more than a one trick pony however and there are some beautifully constructed pieces such as the Dub styled ‘For Max’ or the melancholic ambient opener ‘Deep Sea Diving’, on the other end of the spectrum ‘Flashback’ checks in as an upbeat minimal piece that could absolutely rock the right dancefloor. There is more depth and originality to this album for sure, by this point Garnier has grown in both confidence and technical precision, there is more of himself and less imitation but he still manages to make obvious the seminal influences that inspired his production. One of the winners from the album and one of my favourite Garnier tracks of all time is ‘I Funk up’, it is both skittish and groovy, slightly jarring but not overpowering enough to dissuade potential listeners. Most certainly the track is one of Garnier’s early experiments that tend to be either love or hate.

The final album in this sequence of three is ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’, released in 2000, it represented Garnier’s most polished and professional collection of tracks to that particular point. Whether each individual track appeals or not can be set aside for a moment, because for the first time Garnier’s production skill is in sync with his ambition. The album is more detail orientated, and is a more in-depth exploration of sound, tracks such as ‘Last Tribute from the 20th Century’ and ‘Communications from the Lab’ are evidence of Garnier trying to fabricate a narrative to accompany the music, which to a certain extent he succeeds in doing. One of the more upbeat tracks ‘The Sounds of the Big Babou’ is an absolute thumper, on the right system in the right setting I can imagine this completely tearing a dancefloor apart, that it comes from the same album as the broody, melancholic but undeniably powerful ‘Forgotten Thoughts’ is testament to Garnier’s versatility. Finally there is ‘The Man with the Red Face’, one of Garnier’s most loved tracks and my favourite of the album. The track sticks to the more sombre mood of the album in generality yet those jazzy influences and funky sounds cannot be ignored; Garnier’s love for all things Detroit and his technical production skill converge to create a track with immense playability and euphoria inducing grooves.

Laurent Garnier has been producing for fifteen years since the release of ‘Unreasonable Behavior’ and in that time his work has been too prolific and too stellar to properly document, for many – myself included – his later work overshadows his early outputs, but that does not mean it should be ignored. His first three albums released on his own label, before he’d gained our trust and before he was seen as one of European Techno’s godfathers, represent his climb to the top. His ambition and love for the music is evident from day one and yet it takes him three albums and over six years to fully realise his potential, to fully arrive at ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ and start to resemble to the producer we are more acquainted with today. That man we know today is my Laurent Garnier: creative, innovative, finely tuned and utterly engaged with the music. Some may struggle to disassociate him from the man behind unmentioned classics such as ‘Acid Eiffel’ or ‘Tales of a Kleptomaniac’ and others still may prefer his earlier, rawer and potentially more honest productions. Whatever the case, it is hard to deny the man’s genius and it is neigh on impossible to deny his love for the music.

@HamrajGulamali

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