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French Electronic Music: A History of Global Success

French Electronic Music: A History of Global Success

Published on October 24, 2012

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If you don’t know David Guetta or Martin Solveig by name, you’ve surely heard their catchy songs—unless you never, ever listen to the radio. They are among the most famous electronic music makers in the world, notching hits every time they release a single. But did you know both of them are French?

Mr. Guetta, who has sold more than 18 million albums worldwide, and Mr. Solveig, who produced Madonna’s latest album, are currently the most prominent figures of a vibrant French music scene.

In fact, France’s success story in electronic music is nothing new. French composer and producer Jean-Michel Jarre was one of the pioneers of the “New Age” movement in the 1970s, selling more than 80 million albums. Twenty years later, a musical genre dubbed “French Touch” emerged with artists such as Etienne de Crécy and Daft Punk setting a new standard within “house” genre of club music.

Like Detroit or Nashville in the U.S., some French cities have nurtured vibrant local music scenes.
Versailles, one of Paris’s chic suburbs, is one these inspiring towns, being the birthplace of the members of groups such as Air, famous for their mesmerizing sonic landscapes, or Phoenix, whose punchy last album was played extensively on American rock radio.

Many French musicians are trying to follow the path led by these prestigious forerunners. Ed Banger Records, the music label run by the former manager of Daft Punk, is home of many of them.

Several factors explain the robust success of the French music scene in America. The historic cultural exchanges between the two countries, the lively musical culture in France and the important influence of American artists on French musicians are some of these reasons. Another crucial element is language: most of the new bands in France sing in English, even if it’s only brief sentences or slogans, like in most of Air’s songs. Phoenix is known for its almost nonsensical verses. Part of David Guetta’s enormous popularity in the U.S. is due to his collaborations with American R&B artists such as Kelly Rowland, Rihanna and Usher.

The Embassy of France in the United States, through its cultural center, La Maison Française, wanted to shed light on the French music trend. On October 12 and 13, La Maison Française hosted “French Underground,” a festival of the latest French music, visual arts and cinema, organized in collaboration with the U.S. event promoter, Brightest Young Things.

“French Touch music is still very strong,” says Alice Chamblas, deputy cultural attaché at the French embassy, “and our goal was to connect these artists with American audiences.”

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