That '70s beau
Disco icon Cerrone woos a new generation of fans.
Thu Nov 16 2006
In the annals of dance-music history, few names enjoy more prominence than Jean-Marc Cerrone’s. After toiling as a bandleader at various Club Meds and performing in the group Kongas in his teens, the Paris-born drummer (who professionally goes by his last name only) helped to muscle the string-soaked, thumping beats of European disco into existence via lush worldwide hits such as 1976’s “Love in C Minor” and the following year’s “Cerrone’s Paradise.” (The record sleeves, featuring a libertine Cerrone cavorting with naked gamines, probably didn’t hurt sales.) But it was 1978’s “Supernature,” a synth-led track cowritten with Lene Lovich—just before the new-wave diva scored big with “Lucky Number”—that became his biggest hit; the song is often credited with setting the template for much of the techno and electro-house that rock clubs today. The Recall label has just released a mix-CD of Cerrone hits, Cerrone by Bob Sinclar, in the States (the compilation came out in Europe in 2001). In the midst of planning a massive , multistage disco party set for NYC on October 7 of next year, the ebullient polyester-age survivor, 54, took time out to talk to TONY about his signature sound.
When you first started, the kind of disco you became known for didn’t even exist. How did you come up with your style?
It’s very simple. First, I am a drummer, so of course I would put the drums right in the front of the mix. Second, I was big fan of stuff like [Barry White’s] Love Unlimited Orchestra—I love all those strings. Third, I was making music for the discotheque, which to me means one thing: sex. I put all those things together and—voil!—that became my sound.
But “Supernature,” with its arpeggiated synth and apocalyptic lyrics, was almost the polar opposite of the music you had been making.
We had gotten this machine, a synthesizer, that nobody knew how to use. I didn’t even know how to say synthesizer! I turned it on and got that electronic da-da-da-da-da sound, and couldn’t make it stop. So I kept that and started playing with the notes, and I thought, Hmm, this is great! I had just met Lene Lovich, who was just as crazy as she looks; she heard the track and said “Wow!” I asked her to put some lyrics with punk energy in it, a little dark, and she came up with it really quick. When I told the record company that “Supernature” was going to be my new single, they thought I was crazy. Of course, when it sold eight million copies, they said I was a genius.
Why did you choose Bob Sinclar to put together the mix-CD?
In 1999 or so, he called me to get permission to use some samples for a track he was making, and I of course said okay. The song he made, “I Feel For You,” was a massive smash in Europe. Of course, I immediately turned into a huge Sinclar fan!
A little later, he said he wanted to work with me on making music, but since the mid-’80s, I’ve been focusing on producing big events rather than on creating music. However, at the same time, some record companies were pressuring me to put out some kind of retrospective, and so I said, “Okay, you—Bob Sinclar—can do this mix-CD for me.” And he made it very well, I must say. It’s sold over a million copies in Europe! And now there’s a lot of demand for me to play live, which was something I hadn’t really done much for 20 years.
Sinclar, with his playboy persona, is very much a modern version of you.
He always used say to the press, “I am the spiritual son of Cerrone!” And Sinclar, or at least his image, is quite a bit like the way I was. By the time I was 24, I had already sold millions of records and really was not prepared for everything that comes with that, so I can’t say I’ve never done some stupid things in my time; I was a bit of a jet-setter, I admit. But I’m still here; I know who I am and what I do, so I guess it came out okay.
Cerrone by Bob Sinclar (Recall) is out now.