These Facts About Electronic Godfather Jean-Michel Jarre Might Surprise You

Jean-Michel Jarre is a pioneer in electronic music. No surprise there. From Oxygène to Équinoxe to Rendez-Vous and beyond, Jarre has sold over 80 million records. His status is common knowledge among pretty much everyone who’s touched a synthesizer, as well as huge swaths of the music-loving public. However, there are a few things about Jarre’s life and career that may surprise you. To mark the release of his massive 50-year retrospective Planet Jarre box set, here are some of those tidbits.

His Famous Fans Included Princess Diana

As one of the most popular artists in the history of modern music, Jarre has many well-known fans worldwide. The most famous may been the late Princess Diana. In 1988, while still married to Prince Charles, Diana famously attended one of Jarre’s floating performances at the London Docklands. Just in case you need proof, the two even hung out after the show. When Diana’s funeral fell on the same day as Jarre’s legendary Moscow concert in 1997, he observed a moment of silence after dedicating Souvenir of China to her.

He Played To Over 8,000,000 People Combined In Just Four Concerts

Speaking of which, that Moscow show — which celebrated the city’s 850th anniversary — hosted 3.5 million people, the largest crowd for any concert in recorded history. Some people may tell you Rod Stewart beat him, but those stats are suspect for a handful of reasons. That’s a story for another day. Either way, Jarre has three more concerts in the top 10; he pulled 2 million in 1990, 1.5 million in 1986, and 1.25 million in 1995. Plenty of artists have played for 8 million people over the years, but it usually took them a few more than four concerts!

Oxygène Was Cooked Up In His Kitchen

These days, bedroom recordings are almost de rigueur. Not in 1976 though. By that point, Jarre had released two albums (Deserted Palace and Les Granges Brûlées) to little acclaim, written some jingles, and scored a few ballet performances. Then he saw a painting by artist Michel Granger that changed everything. It inspired Jarre to spend months tinkering with his ever-increasing collection of synthesizers to create the iconic record Oxygène. For a big chunk of the process, he set up an eight-track recorder in his kitchen and hammered out songs.

He Was The First Western Artist Invited to Perform in Post-Mao China

Western mass media caters to Chinese markets these days, so it’s easy to forget China was closed off from Western culture for decades. After the isolationism of Mao Zedong, new leader Deng Xiaoping wanted to send a message that China welcomed Western culture. Thanks to a fan at the British embassy, Jarre’s music was that message. They played it on Chinese radio, Jarre was invited to introduce the synthesizer to the country, and he eventually played concerts in Shanghai and Beijing. Instead of the Bee Gees, Queen, Billy Joel, or Donna Summer, it was Jean-Michel Jarre that defined the West for an entire generation of Chinese people.

He Made a Single-Copy Album And Sold It 30 Years Before The Wu-Tang Clan

Three decades before “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli bought the only copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, Jarre pulled the exact same stunt! In 1983, he was asked to write music for a supermarket-themed art exhibit that ran for a few weeks. Once the exhibit was closed, individual items from the show were auctioned off. In the same spirit, Jarre decided to treat the music as a singular art object. So he pressed one copy of Musique Pour Supermarché, destroyed the masters and plates, then auctioned off the single piece. Unlike the Wu-Tang release, which went for $2 million USD in 2015, Musique Pour Supermarché brought in only $23,000 USD when adjusted for inflation.

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6 Comments
  • Oct 13,2018 at 8:14 pm

    I was at the Paris La Defence concert in Paris in 1990 with some friends. The stage was at the La Defence area and I never saw it (well afterwards on the video and in the book about it). What I did see were the skyscrapers with the light and laser projections and the fireworks. We were standing half way the Champs Elysee. There were speakers every 100 meters or so, but so far apart that the sound of the speakers before us was out of sync with the sound of the speakers behind us. To better hear the music we listened with headphones to the radio that was playing the concert in realtime. It was great to be there. According to the Guiness Book of Records with 1.5 million others. Never experienced anything like it.

  • Oct 11,2018 at 8:59 pm

    Please remove the mention of that human garbage you call “pharma bro.” He should be consigned to the dump and does not need to be ever mentioned again. Nothing but a greedy, self-serving POS. It ruined an otherwise interesting article for me.

  • Oct 10,2018 at 9:44 pm

    First LP cooked up in his kitchen, I reckon his the blokes doughnuts would have had more substance than his music.
    Bill Bailey who is both a musician and a former music teacher does an incisive stand up piece to camera where he utterly debunks the ideas of Jarres musical and compositional ability, ending with a musical chorus in the style of the little pompous French bloke, John Michelle jarred is a fraud. If you are a real fan look it up, play at and have your notions of musical greatness placed into the waste basket. Just saying.

  • Oct 8,2018 at 6:55 pm

    Bad time to say I sold a decent copy of “Oxygene” Lp for a song? Guess so…man, I don’t know, I can’t go for anything more repetitive than Kraftwerk! Having said that, I will treat the next copy of an JMJ Lp with a tad more respect…

  • Oct 7,2018 at 9:59 pm

    MJB, it’s true that you don’t always see the stage at a huge JMJ concert. I’ve been to many of them, including Moscow and Paris. You’re not supposed to see the stage at these concerts, unless you are among the few thousand up front. If you know anything about JMJ, you know that his huge outdoor shows are so big they can be seen from a distance. You can literally watch the concert itself (the stage is only a minor part of it) from a kilometer away. Champ de Mars in Paris is 60 acres big, that is about 242.000 square meters. You can easily fit 4 people on one square meter and that gives you nearly a million people right there. JMJ’s concert on Champ de Mars had 1.2 million people. I was at the Eiffeltower concert and I can promise you, there were more people per square meter than 4. You could not move from your spot.

  • mjb
    Oct 7,2018 at 2:05 pm

    Crowd estimates are routinely inflated. Never trust them unless there are ticket sales figures to corroborate. There was a NYT article in 2008 which debunked the ridiculous crowd estimates for concerts on the Great Lawn in Central Park; despite published figures up to 15 times higher for prior free concerts, the actual head count from a ticketed concert, with the venue appearing full, was under 50 thousand. To get 3.5 million on flat ground with adequate walkways and facilities, you’d need way more space than is practical for a concert. I mean you could try, but there’s no way most of them would ever be able to see or hear the stage.

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