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Concert Jarre was everything but unforgettable. And that's a compliment.

Jean-Michel Jarre was visiting the Netherlands. At the Heineken Music Hall, old and new fans could enjoy his hypnotic work. I went there to listen, but of course also to watch.

Forty years ago, it brought Jean-Michel Jarre, pioneer in synthesiser music, Oxygene out. Anno 2016, we are 12 million copies sold. On that huge scale, the Frenchman also usually produces his concerts. For instance, Jarre packed heavily on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. La Defense, Paris' modernist district was the setting for a mega spectacle with hundreds of thousands of visitors. His electronic pop shimmers like a laser beam in the night; crackles and shimmers like lightning bolts and always contains a melody line that hooks into the ear.


Jarre has the Guinness Book of Records-mentions long and wide in his pocket. These days, he is taking things slower. Whereas his imitators like Tiësto and Armin van Buuren have stripped the Jarre idiom of layers and now fill stadiums, the grand master himself plays in relatively small venues. For the gig in the Netherlands, the mega-show was in scale, but no less impressive. It started at the Heineken Music Hall with the sound that - for a change, not on 'blood from the ears' mode - emerged flawlessly from the immense speakers. From ominously booming bass to the slightly unsteady, but so comfortably warm sound of the old, analogue synths which Jarre had brought with him.

(c) Greenhouse Talent


Visually, Jarre overwhelmingly packed out as if he had to play several Museum Squares. Moving screens in front of the stage served as projection surfaces. I saw abstract-geometric figures, live images of Jarre and seconds on keys and percussion and, for instance, the face of Edward Snowden playing a supporting role. Add to this a moody light show that did not rely on excessive flashing, but leaned on tasteful pulsing and of course the necessary lasers in multicoloured fans and the picture was complete. A textbook example of what you can currently entame in a live setting in terms of entertainment for the eye.


Jarre has it tough with the ladies and gentlemen critics. His playboy-style image won't help that very much. The dullest mind-numbing ambient, supposedly meditative sound baths with field recordings instead of indebted to Luc Ferrari musique concrète-compositions, clunky EDM, gliding electro or infantile advertising tunes: these will not get your hands around in the critical musical discourse. Yet they are all under Jarre's deep influence, and that negative judgement also colours his own work, and not for the better.


Jarre's own work has also been in decline for quite some time. The great heights of landmark albums like Oxygène, Equinoxe or Les Chants Magnétiques are already so far behind us that he himself only knows them from afar. The albums from around the turn of the century reveal a Jarre who rather frenetically tries to hitch a ride with the zeitgeist and more than once ends up with the most terrible kitsch. This role clearly does not suit him. Having previously added a second volume, Jarre recently announced a third album in the Oxygène series. Those updates to his legendary material once again hit target.

(c) Greenhouse Talent


Radically innovative again, Jarre (68) does not rest on his laurels and finish his trick on a never-ending tour like a rat in a wheel, as some older artists do. He has also heard what has been done to the vocabulary in the decades since his breakthrough. Whose material he found perfectly acceptable got a phone call. Mr Jarre himself was hanging on the line and wanted to collaborate.

Thus, he works on Electronics 1 and 2 along with Pet Shop Boys, Gesaffelstein, Fuck Buttons, M83, The Orb and Jeff Mills. Old-timers indeed, but also younger talents got to work with the maestro. Result: a collection of contemporary tracks in which Jarre's stamp is unmistakably present and at the same time he leaves plenty of room for the other(s) to shine: musical fun and freedom run rampant. It is these records that Jarre is currently presenting live on a long world tour.


Jean-Michel Jarre was a happy man in the Bijlmer. Apropos: he does songs, songs that is, sometimes towards six minutes in length, but compact and no endless sessions full of raging climaxes, pounding for endless raves or endless muzak drivel that for ambient should continue. At the time, the Netherlands embraced Oxygène first. And Jarre had not forgotten that, he calmly chatted between songs.

That cheerfulness splashed off the keys when Jarre came into close view. He didn't let his fingers dance across the keyboard like Lang Lang, but roared, as if he were a DJ in a best techno club. Thus, pounding the beat along and rousing the audience, he beat the supporting melody out of the keys. Civilised, of course, because Jarre did not demolish his equipment. He was in awe of synthesisers and therefore liked to perform them close-up in the picture - guaranteed fodder for gear-fetishists. That does not bother Jarre, as he knows that many of them are breathlessly fixated staring at his stuff.


Weightless and unconcerned, Jarre transported the audience into realms that shimmered, glowed and glowed somewhat obscurely. He didn't use his old, analogue machines and state-of-the-art flat screens with computer synths nostalgically. His newfangled Electronica numbers took care of that.

Jarre is no Wonder World futurologist type. As ever, he composes sharply and idiosyncratically for an indivisible now. And he played that so expertly in the HMH that you were no different person after the show than before. Not shaken, not moved to tears, but just completely gone for two hours. In Jarre's case, that is not a blemish on the show, quite the contrary.


In the Electronica track 'Brick England', the Pet Shop Boys sang about construction and demolition. However, Jarre's anthology from his oeuvre (the big hits also passed by) was more to be experienced as a constant reprieve from erosion, wear and tear, ravages of time. Jarre didn't jangle with telephoned demarrages that just wouldn't explode. He showed an attention span longer than the three seconds of Skrillex and drew razor-sharp, long furrows in layered, elegant compositions in which it was striking how many small, savvy parts filled the massive sound and how much relief and breathing room therein.


The HMH's ship undulated to the marching tempos set by Claude Samard and Stephane Gervais live drummed and rocked along with the vocoder choirs from the three gentlemen. The lasers proved to be more than a green light; they blew through the hall in tasteful multicolour. Jarre even played them, as the famous laser harp was along for the ride. Sounded cool, but even he - Mr Laser Harp himself - was a bit awkwardly waving flannels in rays of light. Endearing though it was, the gesture of taking the instrument off the shelf. Again, a certain fan-favourite redeemed.


In the raging and haunting 'Exit', Edward Snowden reposted halfway through the show about keeping tabs on those who follow our corridors. Jarre had his followers where he wanted them by the end of the show. The fans, in turn, had got the Jarre they wanted. Time to turn the tables. Jarre played the brand new, as yet unreleased Oxygene 17 twice. This allowed him to shoot live footage with a pair of high-tech cameras for the music video. Big brother was watching us. And how! All of HMH shone light at the maestro on sweet command with mobiles; it reflected off his reflective sunglasses. Jarre's cameras registered and everyone seemed to have instantly forgotten Snowden's privacy warning.

Therein lay precisely the simple elegance of the charm offensive that made this Jarre show a special spectacle. Special because unforgettable? Above all, you had to try very hard to wonder what was there to remember. Jarre reeled you in, with a bizarrely good soundmix and quite a few visual goggles, almost completely empty and clean. Again: that can be called a compliment. Pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre still pretty much manages to send the audience away feeling after the show like a tabula rasa to be, with at least one melody in his head singing round and round and round. Or: with an autographed record, because he just sells them signed, the charmer.

Good to know

Jean-Michel Jarre; seen Tuesday 22 November 2016, Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam.

Sven Schlijper-Karssenberg

Sets his ear to places he does not yet know in today's sound. Writes the catalogue raisonné of Swedish artist Leif Elggren's oeuvre, is a board member of Unsounds and programmes music at GOGBOT Festival. His essays on sound art have appeared on releases by Pietro Riparbelli, Michael Esposito, Niels Lyhnne Løkkegaard and John Duncan.View Author posts

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