Jarre Concert In China 04

Folks, I know you’ve all lost whole nights of sleep lying awake, puzzling over the oft-sought link between:

a) the original mass-market S&M soft porno 9 1/2 Weeks,

b) Lawrence of Arabia

c) Cars 2

Well, lie awake no more!  The link is pioneering electronic French smoothie Jean Michel Jarre of course!*

Mr Jarre blends seamlessly into the crowd in Shanghai
Mr Jarre blends seamlessly into the crowd in Shanghai

Reputation’s a funny thing, JMJ never gets the due credit and kudos the way that other originals such as Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk do for his work in the 70’s and early 80’s; okay so he hasn’t pushed the envelope as far as some, but his achievements do, I feel, deserve a lot more respect.  He has never, ever been cool to like, the music press have always been sneery towards him and he is never cited as an influence by any musicians, ever – even ones who undoubtedly owe him a debt, like fellow Gauls, Air and Daft Punk.  Reissued works by his pioneering European contemporaries Rudiger Lorenz and Bernard Szajner caused much interest around these parts (once Mr Jhubner73 had hipped me to them) and I became ever more convinced that Jarre will rise again.

(Japanese) cultural stereotypes ahoy!
(Japanese) cultural stereotypes ahoy!

It’s one of my fave LP’s ever, so I’ll bother you about it again some day, but 1976’s Oxygene is a straight-up wonderful album** , my parents used to play it in the car at night on long journeys and it really did sound like the future to me when I was 7 – ‘Play the space music again, please!’ was the often heard refrain from the backseat.; it still sounds like the future to me, albeit a retro one.  Jarre’s music is really well-constructed, atmospheric and melodic but not hugely complex, he paints his canvass in bright primary colours compared to some electronic artists – which is why he appealed to that elusive 7 year-old rural Welsh demographic, the scale and melody of his compositions are what really register for me, still.  At the time as well, he was drawing on a very unfamiliar palette of sounds with the best synths he could buy, or have made for him and there really is something special about the sound of analogue synthesisers used right.

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Apparently the British embassy in China, overstepping their brief slightly, gave Radio Beijing copies of Oxygene and Equinoxe and Jean Michel Jarre became the first Western artist to have his music played on air by the authorities in decades, this led to him being invited to become the first western musician to play there in 1981.  Hence today’s object of desire, The Concerts In China from 1982, I’m not a big fan of the ol’ double-live-contractual-obligation LP but this is a little different – although no less enhanced in the studio à la Unleashed In The East.

Jarre Concert In China 09b

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Legend has it that such was the demand for extra power that the Chinese authorities had to shut off the grid to the outlying areas of Beijing such was the unprecedented demand for Jarre’s synths and lights, this was way before he was extravaganzaing his way through Houston and London Docklands.  So was the appropriated juice well-used?

Well, some of it was.  The big draw for JarreHeads*^ like me are the new tracks here inspired by China, or the experience of playing them.  There’s a rearrangement of a traditional Chinese track called ‘Fishing Junks At Sunset’ played with, legendary bad MF’s, The Peking Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra and a new studio track called ‘Souvenir of China’.  In between there are some minimal audience noises, Chinese announcements and adverts for the 5 gigs and ambient traffic noise^.  There’s also some monkey business afoot too, opener ‘The Overture’ is in fact a slowed down (to great effect, it has to be said) version of ‘Magnetic Fields Part 1’, whereas the track listed as ‘Magnetic Fields Part 1’ is twenty seconds of someone playing ping-pong^^.  The announcements give The Concerts In China a feel of Vangelis Blade Runner, which is no bad thing of course.

I want one of those posters
I want one of those posters

The first side of The Concerts In China is the best of the four, whatever its’ provenance ‘The Overture’ is a great, stately synth wash of a beginning and it segues perfectly into ‘Arpegiator’ the most driving, futuristic cut on the album, its great – it doesn’t really shout S&M to me, but its great nonetheless.  All the Jarre tropes are there a sequenced rhythm, surrounded by fairly simple but developing melodies and an overall feel good drive; it sounds a lot like ‘Equinoxe VII’^* (also here).  I rather like the Chinese traditional ‘Fishing Junks At Sunset’ in this setting too, although, on record, ‘Laser Harp’ suffers from the ventriloquism-on-the-radio syndrome.

Ventriloquism on the radio?!
Ventriloquism on the radio?!

This LP doesn’t really function as well as the big rock double lives do as a gateway to Jean Michel Jarre’s music, live versions of the LP tracks don’t add, or subtract too much from the studio cuts and the presentation is similar and I’d say novices are better served by grabbing copies of Oxygene, Equinoxe and Magnetic Fields (in that order).  It is a good worthwhile addition to the catalogue though and I do like the way all the announcements and blandishments are used to establish a real, exotic atmosphere on The Concerts In China.  In general though it gives no more than an outline of the charms of JMJ’s music but it is definitely worth taking the time to shade in the blanks.

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Being Mr Superficial, check out the amazing JMJ posters illustrated on the inner sleeves – how much do I want one of those?

534 Down.

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Jarre Concert In China 03

PS – I’m well aware both samurai and kimonos are Japanese, but until Lego produce some more Chinese culturally specific minifigures OR I can be arsed building the Great Wall, these will have to do.


*a) ‘Arpegiator’ from this LP was on the soundtrack b) his father wrote the soundtrack and c) ex-wife, Charlotte Rampling was a voice star in it.

**and Equinoxe is only  a whisper behind it in terms of quality.

*^see what I did there? #Genius.

^love this, it’s so much better on LP than just going and standing beside a road to listen to it!

^^again something largely missing from most classic double live LPs.  Just imagine how much better Live And Dangerous, Live Killers and The Song Remains The Same could have been with field recordings of ping-pong, darts and snooker being played instead of ‘Johnny The Fox’, ‘Get Down Make Love’ and ‘Moby Dick’? I know.

^*Mr J never being much good at song titles, I still think he should employ me at great expense to rename all his back catalogue for him, I’ll even promise not to call one of his LPs Space Titty Fandango, if he wants.

18 thoughts on “JarreHeads

  1. Pingback: Oxymorone | 1537
    1. I’m not very discriminating on this one – he’s been making me think of space for 36 years now! It just sounds wonderful in a car at night.

  2. JMJ isn’t someone I really listened to. I remember when he played the Docklands Arena in London in 1988 only because Newham Council did not want the show to go on because of “noise concerns.” I thought, the bloody killjoys. Fortunately, for him, it did and from what I heard, it was fantastic.

    1. There aren’t many guys who get to play a whole city. Can you imagine being the sort of joyless creep who’s complain about a one-off event like that? very British, I’m sorry to say.

      1. I was living in Newham at the time and I could hear it from quite a long way away. It isn’t only the British who are like that. In 1983, Regan’s Secretary for the Environment banned a Beach Boys Concert in Washington DC because it was believed they would bring in the wrong element.

      2. Yeah, all those 80’s coke-sniffing, loafers without socks Miami Vice brigade … Fair enough, I’m with them on that one!

  3. You’ve really sold this one here – honestly, I’m one of those who would never really have given a Jean Michel Jarre a second glance. Well, the cover is also pretty striking … and I guess I would look at a second time if I’d ever spotted it, so that wasn’t quite an accurate statement was it?

    Anyhoo, smashin’ review as always, sir – you may well have inspired me to go investigate these Jean Michel Jarre records.

    1. Thank you very much indeed! Oxygene & Equinoxe are definitely the ones to start with though, always able to find them pretty cheaply too.

      I think he’s heavily underrated and dresses almost as smoothly as I do.

      1. I’m fairly certain there’s a batch of his albums in my favourite haunt, though I honestly couldn’t tell you what albums are there or how much they cost. A looky over at Discogs tells me I can pick all three up really, really cheap. Guess I’ll be seeing if there’s a seller with all three – combined postage!

  4. “Bright primary colours” is absolutely spot on. Though you’re on my turf, man, I tips me lid: fabulous review.
    Just one quibble: you need to come out on love albums. Haven’t you noticed: you slag them off then extol their virtues. Or is closet love always like that?

    1. Thanks a big bunch.

      I know, I know, I’m a hypocrite – I have to live with that. Live LPs really don’t do it for me, I so rarely reach for them when I’m wondering what to play – I do seem to own a suspicious amount of them though …

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