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Strands of the future: France and the birth of electronica

Strands of the future : la France et la naissance de l'électro-rock
Sean Albiez
p. 99-114


The early history of 1970s electronic rock music, or electronica, often centres on the innovations of Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, whose creative roots are identified as in avant-garde modernist and contemporary music (e.g. Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varese, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer). German, British and American artists have gained wide recognition for their roles in this history, but French artists who made important contributions to developments in early electronica have seemingly been overlooked. This oversight is arguably due to a general antipathy to French rock of the 1970s (both inside and outside France) (Looseley: 2003), the considerable antagonism of rock critics to the progressive rock genre (then and since) (Sheinbaum, 2002), and perhaps due to the prejudices and priorities of earlier academic studies of popular music (Hebdige, 1979).
This study analyses the work of Pulsar, Richard Pinhas / Heldon, and Jean-Michel Jarre, and suggests these artists, though having diverse creative agendas, produced music that was more than a simple imitation of 1970s British progressive rock. Alongside their foreign counter-parts, they attempted to transform and challenge Anglo-American pop and rock music. They forged a creative path that looked outside the French context for inspiration, while creating music that connected to the twentieth century French tradition of electronic music - from Messiaen to Boulez to Jean-Jacques Perrey. Rather than viewing this music as being created in the shadow of Eno, Robert Fripp and Pink Floyd, it is suggested that it may well be a fruitful exercise to excavate and re-evaluate French electronic rock music of the 1970s. With the recent growing success of French Techno, it seems an appropriate time to reconsider earlier French electronica, as it has yet to be adequately explored either inside or outside the French context.

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Albiez (S.), “Know History!: John Lydon, cultural capital and the prog/punk dialectic”, Popular Music, 2003, 22 (3), 357-374

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Bibliographical reference

Sean Albiez, Strands of the future: France and the birth of electronicaVolume !, 2 : 2 | 2003, 99-114.

Electronic reference

Sean Albiez, Strands of the future: France and the birth of electronicaVolume ! [Online], 2 : 2 | 2003, Online since 15 October 2005, connection on 26 January 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Sean Albiez

Sean Albiez Subject Leader – BA Popular Culture University of Plymouth Earl Richards

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L'auteur & les Éd. Mélanie Seteun

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