CERRONE22 June 2017
Seen on A Part Volume 1, Meeting with Cerrone
YOUR CAREER IS TOTALLY AMAZING!
HOW DOES ANYONE BECOME CERRONE?
I was a very unruly child who was regularly expelled from school. Any time I had a free moment I knocked on tables. My teachers would tell me: “You’ve got the devil inside.” My mother promised to give me drums if I succeeded in finishing a school year. What a funny idea, I had never thought of it. It worked, I got my first drums. I had found my way. My father, who disagreed with this vocation, asked me to learn a proper job and it was: hair stylist for movie stars. I did very well, but it was just not my thing, and after two years, I stopped and ran away. I lived where I could and among others at my then girlfriend’s home, who would soon leave for a season at the Club Med, newly founded by Gilbert Trigano. During a dinner just before she left, I submitted the idea to have bands in each Club to create more animation: choosing a repertoire, selecting musicians – He said ‘Excellent idea! Go ahead.’ I wasn’t eighteen yet. That’s how I became the art director in the Club Med for a year and a half. That’s where I spotted the best drummers, bass players and guitar players and founded my first band with them: Kongas. In the summer of 1972, we decided to go to Saint-Tropez and beg for money by singing in front of the Sénéquier. Eddy Barclay spotted me. He auditioned us at the Papagayo and we signed our first deal. The first single was a success and our career took off. After three years, we had become a good pop band but that wasn’t at all what I wanted to do anymore and since I’m a rather determined person, I decided to leave the band. That’s when I decided to open a record shop. My idea was simple: to buy records directly in New York and only sell English music in our specialist shop. It was the time when shopping centres were popular and I opened my first shop in the Belle Epine centre in Thiais. After two years, I had a chain of shops in the various shopping centres in Ile-de-France. To end on a high note, I decided to produce an uncompromising album under the name of Cerrone. For sheer pleasure, whatever the reception.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN EXACTLY TO MAKE
AN UNCOMPROMISING ALBUM?
When you decide to write songs with a commercial aim, somehow, you hold yourself back. You stay in a 3’30 format so as to be played on the radio. When there, I composed a sixteen-minute track only to indulge myself. I said to myself, it will never played, so, let go. I put the emphasis on drums when mixing because after all, I’m a drummer, but I didn’t think it would work. My intention was only to be played in clubs. I composed Love in C Minor with that in mind.
THIS TEMPO MARKED BY DRUMS HAS FORESHADOWED THE BINARY RHYTHM OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC OF NOW.
Yes, exactly. I had been seduced by what was going on in the US, and, as a drummer, I felt something could be done. There were two drummers in Kongas who, sometimes, during concerts, would perform solos. To give them their rhythm, I drummed on all kinds of times and I could see it really brought something special. It put all our concerts on fire, I had found a style of drumming.
HOW DID YOU IMPOSE LOVE IN C MINOR, WHICH WAS AN ODDITY BACK THEN?
“Champs-disques” was the shop where clubs bought their music. So I gave them ten on deposit, just to have an idea. So as to be different from the others, I had put a young woman entirely naked on the cover. That was sheer marketing but at the same time it corresponded to the concept of this album: sensual and sexy. So it was very scandalous and it perfectly worked, people were totally intrigued by the record with the naked woman. After a few days the shop put my record in the window and the buzz started. The record was also very successful in my own shops.
THE RECORD WAS ALSO A HUGE SUCCESS IN THE UNITED STATES? HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
The story is quite funny. A stock-controller from Champs-disques wanted to send back Barry White’s unsold records and sent a crate of my records instead. When the New York wholesaler opened the crate he found records with an impossible sleeve for Puritan America back then. Since he was also a DJ, he started to play the track he liked a lot; the reaction was immediate. Casablanca Records unsuccessfully tried to find and sign me, so they recorded a cover, that is the same track but with a totally different production. That version was released and became a hit. When I went to the Midem, I found at the Billboard that my track was n°5 in the United States. I went to Atlantic Records and announced that I was the author of Love in C Minor. Jerry Grinberg and Ahmet Ertegün, the founders of this cult label, signed me a deal. It was released one month after and it was a huge success. That’s how I got my first Grammy Award in 1977.
WITH THIS SIXTEEN-MINUTE FORMAT YOU ALSO BROKE FROM THE MAXI-SINGLE FORMAT, A BIT LIKE TOM MOULTON WHO WOULD PROLONG CERTAIN TRACKS TO DRAW OUT THE PLEASURE: IT WAS A REVOLUTION IN THE WORLD OF CLUBS.
When I thought of this track I pictured myself like a matchmaker between two people who’d meet in a disco and want to get closer. This sensual moment can be rather long and so I wanted to track to last more than 16 minutes. Actually, I was only reflecting the time’s mood. In 1975, when the contraceptive pill appeared, the times we were living in were quite wild. The world of nightclubs was completely changing. It was the end of clubs with slows for half an hour, then rock music etc. New places were coming to the foreground. Parties were now in atypical places: loft apartments, former theatres (the famous Studio 54 for instance) and so music followed the evolution with longer sexy tracks on which people would dance uninterruptedly. At the same time in the United States, Casablanca Records released Donna Summer’s first records, produced by Giorgio Moroder, and the film Saturday Night Fever definitely made disco music popular. The first remixers appeared then. As for me, I did my own versions so as to stick to the atmosphere of Paris nightclubs: The Bains-douches, the Elysée-Matignon, the Palace – I wanted to stay underground, so I adapted my own compositions to the places. That’s what remixing is about! A bit later, with Kongas, we reproduced existing pop songs and made them sound more club-like by extending certain versions.
THEN, ARTISTS FROM THE FRENCH TOUCH DECIDED TO REMIX YOU?
People tend to put too large on my head when they say I invented disco music, but I can definitely claim to be the inventor of the idea of French Touch. Atlantic didn’t want me to reveal my nationality; they preferred me to pretend I was Italian because Giorgio Moroder at the time was doing extremely well in that field. I said ‘No,I’m precisely going to emphasise my being French by using the term French Touch, taken up by Daft Punk, among others, much later. In 1999, Bob Sinclair called me and asked if he could use fragments from my tracks; I say ‘OK, let’s share 50/50 and if I like it it’s a deal.’ He produced the track I feel for you which was an international hit. So Pascal Nègre from Universal told me ‘Cerrone, you have to release a best-of’ but I didn’t want to. It didn’t mean much to me, I needed a concept. So I asked Bob Sinclair to mix a part of my biggest hits and we released an album. Give me love was the first single. Then in 2001, Guy-man (ex-Daft Punk member) came to see me because he wanted to clear three samples he wanted to use in his next album Discovery and among others Supernature that will be used in their track Veridis Quo. Today, I’ve just signed with their record company for an original album by Cerrone to be released in 2015.
/ Texts Guillaume Baurez