By his own admission, Laurent Garnier is a DJ first and foremost; a man possessed and obsessed with curating and playing music. The success of the infectious MS-20 rasping ‘Crispy Bacon’ and his techno jazz opus ‘Man With The Red Face’ may have seen Garnier rise to superstar status back in the late nineties and early noughties. However, his reputation and success was built on the back of his residencies at the Manchester’s iconic Hacienda and later the Rex club in Paris, where he honed his skill as a master musical storyteller particularly adept in the longer form of the art. His brilliant autobiography Electrochoc charts his maverick lifestyle, from his early days as a young child in France (where he would convert his room into a nightclub complete with disco ball, strobe lights and DJ booth) through to his crucial role in the seminal days of Acid House in Manchester. It goes on to chart his phenomenal global success as a touring DJ, regular shows on French radio and championing of the techno sound across the world. It also provides a rather unique history of the dance music movement and a brilliant insight into both his tremendously wide musical palette (each chapter has notes on a selection of key records associated with each time period) and the ebullient personality of Garnier himself.
Tonight, however, saw him returning right back to his electronic musical roots. Manchester. The place where he first cut his teeth DJ’ing (albeit that in his own words back then he couldn’t mix for shit!) for a show that had sold out in just ten minutes and was located in the dark and intimate confines of Joshua Brooks. The promoters from LMNTS had gone to great lengths to secure their man to play a special extended set for the night. Garnier eventually agreed after a direct approach to do the show for his, ‘Mancunian brothers’. For my part, I had seen Garnier only twice before. Once back in the final days of the Hacienda when I witnessed Garnier igniting, then joining the dancefloor himself to jack along to Hardfloor’s epic afro acid remix of Mory Kante’s ‘Yeke Teke’. Then one immense night, stone cold sober in a Sheffield where I witnessed him take the crowd on a seven-hour journey which challenged my preconceptions of a techno DJ set completely (Garnier would play over an hour of drum and bass, dub and breaks at around 5 am that night). So I was genuinely excited I as I stepped into the dark underground space of Joshua Brooks, to see Garnier come full circle and return to the sweaty basement venues that had helped kick start his career.
The opening hour of his set fluctuates between brooding tough house and deep throbbing techno as waves of excitement course across the dancefloor. The tension builds to a climax with the hypnotic tech house string refrain of Riva Starr’s ‘Resilience’ before launching into the cavernous deep techno sounds of Ame’s Innervision’s anthem ‘Rej’. The swells and ebbs of the first few hours see Garnier continue to move effortlessly from bumping house to hypnotic techno. However, whilst this exuberant and knowledgeable crowd are already buzzing with excitement, I’m struggling. The dancefloor is heaving and I’m recovering from a three-hour flight with a hyperactive toddler whose favourite word is ‘plane’. And that’s when Garnier seems to pull a Jedi mind trick, switching from the dark hypnotic techno groove he’s lured the dance floor into and suddenly bursting into an hour of exuberant disco cuts which fill the room with celebratory joy. Garnier shakes and shudders behind the decks lost in the music as he brilliantly fuses together Sylvesters ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ and Dan Hartman’s ‘Relight My Fire’ prompting an impromptu sing-along from the re-energised dance floor. There are further nods to Manchester as Garnier revisits some of those early house classics which were often first broken on the floor of Manchester’s most famous nightclub. Kiki’s faithful retouch of Phortune’s fabulous piano cut ‘String Free’ raises hands and hearts whilst an edit of Future Sound Of London’s ‘Papua New Guinea’ takes the set into deeper progressive territory. Before the end Garnier has wheeled out the big guns, delving into his own back catalogue (something he is notoriously not keen on doing) to dig out that sax masterpiece ‘The Man With The Red Face’ only to throw the crowd a curve ball by segueing it masterfully into the Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s funk-fuelled avant-garde jazz stomper ‘Theme De Yo Yo’.
And that perhaps is the beauty of tonight’s performance; the ability to surprise the crowd. In an age of digital DJs and pre-programmed sets where safety is king and predictability all too commonplace, Garnier’s set feels spontaneous and off the cuff. It straddles genres and sometimes lurches from one sound to another travelling the breadth of the vast record collection which he so passionately believes in. Few can listen and not be transfixed by Garnier’s hyperkinetic performance and the audacious way in which he joins up the dots between his musical influences. For Garnier, techno is a very broad church, perhaps as much about attitude and energy as musical content. Therefore, his set takes in sounds as diverse as house, Detroit techno, disco, breaks, bass music and his love of jazz. At times the set challenges the listener and those expecting an hour or two of straight techno may well have been surprised by the eclecticism on offer. But the triumphant string soaked finale is just reward for those who stayed until the very end (the vast majority I might add) and an epic conclusion to another epic Garnier set. The man himself is lost in the moment, eyes closed and head back, he controls the dancefloor one last time. For just a moment we are all transported back to the bedroom of that young boy who would set up his own miniature nightclub to entertain his friends and share his passion for great music.
Having recently been awarded the French Legion Of Honour for his musical contributions in France, there are rumours Garnier may now be hanging up his headphones (at least briefly) to focus on making the film of Electrochoc. Ranconteur, maverick but most of all master musical storyteller; make sure you see him play if you get the chance, just in case the rumours are true. As for LMNTS there are big things on the horizon. Their vision has moved them to swiftly secure the services of Heidi. The Canadian is best known for her former Radio One residency and legendary Jackathon parties which have smashed clubs across the globe, bringing her modern take on the Chicago house sound to the masses. If tonight’s set is anything to go by, then this is another event definitely not to be missed.
Heidi plays LMNTS at Joshua Brooks on Saturday 2nd March 2019.