The numbers attached to Jean-Michel Jarre’s decades-long electronic music career are almost too large to comprehend.
The Frenchman – whose works include the wildly successful albums Oxygene (1976) and Equinoxe (1978) – has sold more than 80 million records since the release of his first solo album, Deserted Palaces, in 1972.
His live performances are the stuff of legend – and world records. He was responsible for two of the three biggest concerts in history, performing in front of 3.5 million people in Moscow 20 years ago, and to 2.5m in Paris on Bastille Day in 1990 – and, he says, one of his next concerts might well be in the UAE.
For all the success and accolades during his 45-year career, one thing missing is a Grammy. That could change tonight at the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. He is nominated in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category for Electronica 1: The Time Machine. He faces competition from Flume, Tycho, Underworld and Louie Vega.
Speaking to The National in the run-up to the ceremony, Jarre said that “the nomination is an achievement, not only for me, but because all these fantastic collaborators were involved with the project. Without them, it would not have happened – so it is a double satisfaction”.
Electronica, parts one and two, is the project that has defined Jarre’s recent professional life. A comeback recording of sorts – his previous album of new material was released in 2007 – Electronica involved touring the world to work with the likes of Moby, Pet Shop Boys, Armin van Buuren, Laurie Anderson, Lang Lang, Primal Scream, Peaches and many others.
“I had no precise plan when I started Electronica,” he says, “but I think it has been a very positive journey for me.
“Electronic musicians are quite like writers or painters. They are quite isolated in their home studios. We often don’t have that the opportunity to collaborate with that many people, like in rock or jazz.”
The fact that the project grew to more than 30 tracks across two albums, released a few months apart, is testament to Jarre’s influence and enduring pulling power with generations of artists. “It took me five years to complete because all the collaborators I had in mind said yes,” he says.
He has been variously described as the father of EDM, the godfather of ambient, trance and rave, and even the original superstar DJ. He has little interest in such labels.
“I leave everyone to have their own opinions of my music and my influence, or not, on others,” he says.
He is in no doubt, however, about the ever-growing reach of electronic music.
“If rock and roll was the music born in America that invaded the world, electronic music was born in Europe and then invaded the world,” he says.
“This is probably one of the reasons why Electronica has been nominated for the Grammys. It shows the fact that electronic music today has a legacy, has a family and has a future.”
Electronica also spawned another project. In December, Jarre released Oxygene 3, a 40th anniversary follow-up to the album that made him a global superstar.
The germ of the idea was planted when a couple of the tracks he recorded for Electronica appeared more closely linked to Oxygene. His record company was also keen to celebrate the anniversary of the original album. This third instalment – there was also a 1997 sequel, Oxygene 7-13 – is billed as the closing chapter for the series. “There are a lot of series in literature, movies and on television but not that much in music,” says Jarre. “I always thought that it would be interesting and fun in my life as a musician to create a series.
“I did the first one in six weeks and after this massive production for Electronica, I needed to go back to this minimalist approach of composition.
“Oxygene was recorded on an eight-track tape recorder and I did the same thing for the new one. I locked myself up in the studio for six weeks and I said I would never use more than eight elements at the same time during the recording process.”
How did he approach creating a follow-up, 40 years later?
“This new album has two sides, one dark one and one more sunny and this is what makes the link with the first one – and also at the same time this minimalist approach, both technically and musically,” he says.
“When you listen to the first Oxygene, or the second one, today it doesn’t sound dated. It’s due to electronic sounds being so much in phase with our times. Today, electronic music is everywhere. Oxygene was one of the first, if not the first, popular electronic music album.”
After the Grammys, Jarre, 68, will tour America. He completed a series of critically acclaimed arena and concert-hall dates in Europe last year. His 1997 concert in Moscow included a satellite link-up with the Mir Space Station.
“Playing in front of 200 people or 200,000 people, it is more or less the same thing,” he says. “It is the chemistry between two entities, the link between the audience and the stage – and this chemistry works or it doesn’t. It is very mysterious, very strange. It is not dependent on the number of people.”
His new show mixes throbbing, brooding electronic music plundered from his extensive back catalogue with a visual overload of graphics and effects. Even if the venues are smaller than they once were, the ambition on display in the new shows remains undimmed. He is, in short, still reaching for the stars.
“It is a kind of 3-D project without glasses, something very new that you have to experience live, because if you watch it on YouTube you can’t have a precise idea of what it is,” he says.
He has plans to bring his show to the UAE, and hints at something out of the ordinary happening soon.
This, he says, “would be the next step after the US. I would really like to be able to stage something really spectacular and special in the Emirates.”