Interview: Jean-Michel Jarre, 'The Godfather' of electronic music

Jean-Michel Jarre is the pioneer of electronic music. Often referred to as "The Godfather" of electronica, the producer, DJ, composer and all around innovator has been one of the biggest influences in the genre today and has set the bar extremely high for the ever-evolving industry. Not only does he still hold the Guinness World Record for having the largest-ever audience at an outdoor event, but Jarre is finally setting sail to tour in North America for the first time ever throughout his four-decade career, and he is bringing along his brand new stage production, including a new and improved laser harp.

It's been a huge year for Jarre. His album, Electronica 1: The Time Machine, was nominated for a Grammy and he is set to release another album, Oxygene 3, which is the third "chapter" to his Oxygene series, on March 24.

"This Oxygene 3 album is something that’s quite special in my career, because when I did my first album, Oxygene, it became massive and sold 18 million copies," Jarre told AXS. "With this album, I didn’t do different tracks with titles, but I did parts one, two, three, four, five, like chapters of a book. It could be fun to think about the sequels and series. I always loved series, literatures, in movies and in TV and it doesn’t exist that much in music. From time to time, I’ll say 'let’s write a new chapter, a new season.' Oxygene 3 is the third season of Oxygene. It’s a 40-minute piece of music. It’s dark and sunny like the first one. Side one is more dark and abstract, side two is more brighter and more melodic. I did side one and two because I thought about vinyls. It’s quite in phase with what we’re doing today."

Since Jarre has been around for so long, he has become the influence in electronic music of all types. When he started producing this unfamiliar type of music in the '70s, there was no one ahead of him doing anything like he was trying to create. He had to look to other sources for inspiration.

"It’s very strange, because when I started electronic music, no one was really behind me, so I was linked to visual arts and movies," Jarre said. "Obviously sci-fi movies, 2001 Space Odyssey when I was a student and a kid, it was very important to me. Sci-fi novels and today is the same thing. The soundtrack to movies have been a huge inspiration."

Not only is the way that Jarre approaches music unique, but the amount of effort, thought and time put into his stage production is also what makes him so influential as an electronic artist. His North American tour will only be nine dates and kicks off on May 9, but includes major stop such as Radio City Music Hall in New York City (somewhere Jarre has always dreamed of playing), 1stBANK Center in Denver and the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. 

"I am really happy to share something that I have been doing since the beginning of my career, which is to create the visual link for electronic music," he explained. "When you are in a rock band and you are doing a solo, you really understand and connect with what you see, and what you hear. When you see a jazz band playing saxophone or trumpet, you understand and you connect. For electronic music, you see people behind these laptops and turntables, it’s abstract and you don’t connect visually with what you hear. So, this was always a priority for me."

What makes Jarre's live productions special is his laser harp. The laser harp is an instrument that he created himself, but has modernized it over the years. For any artist, the goal is to connect the audience with what is being played on stage, and he does just that with this abstract instrument.

"For this tour, I really wanted to push as much as possible. The laser harp is a really good example of an instrument, which is a real instrument, in a noble, regular harp," Jarre said. "Each string is connected to one note. Each beam is connected to one note, but, you have less beams because of the power of the laser, I have a pedal to change notes along the song. This allows people at the back of the arena to understand what they hear, and that the sound is coming from the instrument even from a distance."

He went on to explain more things that fans can expect on his tour.

"I am really happy that this project can be the one I am touring North America with. This is the project in my life where I am able to express the most of what I wanted to express visually regarding my music," Jarre explained. "I conceived this whole stage design myself based on as I said, 3D without glasses. Layers of screens using all kinds of elements from theater to new digital devices. On stage, it’s surrounded by 50 different instruments- all new digital instruments that have been designed especially for the occasion. There are big, gigantic touch screens and the new laser harp as well. Very new laser display, which is different from lasers you see in all of the festivals these days. I try to make it different. I think it’s very innovative and different, and I am really excited to share this experience with North America."

If you would like to catch Jean-Michel Jarre on his Electronica Tour, his first-ever North American tour, grab tickets right here on AXS. Not only is his light show one of the most impressive in the electronic word, but he will be playing music from his Grammy-nominated album Electronica 1: The Time Machine and his upcoming release Oxygene 3. 

"Electronic music has no boundaries anymore. It’s everywhere," he said. "It’s also all about the idea that electronic music has a legacy, a family and a future."

Check out the video of Jean-Michel Jarre's innovative laser harp below to catch a glimpse of what will be at his live shows. 

"Electronica" North America Tour Dates
May 9- Toronto, ON - Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
May 11-Montreal, QC- Bell Centre
May 16- Boston, MA- Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
May 18- Upper Darby, PA- Tower Theatre
May 20- New York, NY - Radio City Music Hall
May 22 - Chicago, IL- Auditorium Theatre
May 24- Broomfield, CO- 1STBANK Center (Click here for tickets)
May 26- Berkeley, CA- The Greek Theatre
May 27- Los Angeles, CA- The Microsoft Theatre (Click here for tickets)