Strands of the Future: France and the birth of electronica

Sean Albiez

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The early history of 1970s electronic rock music, or electronica, often centres on the innovations of Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, whose creative roots are identified as in avant-garde modernist and contemporary music (e.g. Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varese, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer). German, British and American artists have gained wide recognition for their roles in this history, but French artists who made important contributions to developments in electronica have arguably been overlooked. This study suggests this is due to a general antipathy to French rock of the 1970s, both inside and outside France, and an antagonism to the progressive rock genre demonstrated by music journalists and implicit in the priorities of earlier academic studies of popular music. This study analyses the work of Pulsar, Richard Pinhas / Heldon, and JeanMichel Jarre. It suggests that these artists, though having diverse creative agendas, each produced music that was more than a simple imitation of 1970s British progressive rock. In different ways, they attempted to transform and challenge the conventions of Anglo-American pop and rock music. They forged a creative path that looked outside the French context for inspiration, while creating music that connected to the twentieth century French tradition of electronic music - from Messiaen to Boulez to Jean-Jacques Perrey. Rather than viewing this music as being created in the shadow of Eno, Robert Fripp and Pink Floyd, this article suggests that it may well be a fruitful exercise to excavate and re-evaluate French electronic rock music of the 1970s. With the recent growing success of French Techno, it seems an appropriate time to reconsider earlier French electronica, as it has yet to be adequately explored either inside or outside the French context.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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