French house and techno veteran Christophe Monier returns with his first album in over a decade
Micronauts man Christophe Monier’s dance music journey has been eventful, to say the least. A house and techno enthusiast from the mid-80s onwards, Monier has spent the last three decades living the dream, variously turning his hand to DJing, writing, record label management and, most notably, music production.
Famously, Monier was a leading figure in Paris’s dance music underground during the early to mid-1990s, when the city’s rave scene - and the distinctive "French touch" sound that emerged from it - was the envy of the world. In fact, Monier played a significant role in chronicling that scene, as one of the founders of the now legendary eDEN fanzine, whose remarkable story was the inspiration for Mia Hansen-Love’s celebrated 2015 club culture flick, Eden.
Naturally, Monier still has fond memories of that time and is quick to refute suggestions from more marginalised French producers of the period that reports of the scene’s famed vibrancy were a little off the mark.
"It wasn’t an illusion to me and to the people who were attending the early raves and parties, who were building the scene here," Monier writes via email from his Paris studio. "We were certainly very few and quite marginalised in French society, sometimes even disliked and dismissed, including by those who should have been our allies: most of the youth of the time, the left, the cultural and musical intelligentsia. One of the reasons that led us to create the eDEN fanzine and collective was to speak out against what we did not like, and promote artists and genres that were left out."
While championing others in eDEN, Monier was already making records on the side. His first collaborative single - alongside Patrick Vidal as Discotique - appeared in 1990, before Monier sparked up a partnership with DJ Pascal R as Impulsion that resulted in a string of dancefloor smashes including 1992’s Higher and 1995’s Big Muff.
By then, though, Monier had already met George Issakidis and inaugurated the act that exists to this day: The Micronauts. The pair hit the ground running with debut single Get Down Get Funky (whose B-side included the first ever Daft Punk remix) and high-profile remixes for the Chemical Brothers and Underworld (Block Rockin’ Beats and Bruce Lee, respectively).
"All these early tracks are rough and lacking," Monier says of his 90s work now. "They certainly don’t stand the test of time. I gradually spent more and more time on new tracks. Baby Wants To Bleep, the first track on the 2000 mini-album Bleep To Bleep, was the result of the work of two blokes locked in the studio for six full months. The rest of the album was edits of leftovers from the initial sessions."
When Issakidis decided he wanted to do his own thing in the autumn of 2000, Monier continued as The Micronauts alone, eventually releasing the album Damaging Consent - "like a collection of singles and EPs edited or remixed, linked by interludes," he now admits - in 2007. Since then, though, Micronauts releases have been few and far between, with the man himself remaining firmly off-grid.
"These 10 years have been pretty busy," Monier explains. "I had a younger son, born the same month and year as the release date of Damaging Consent, then I spent two or three years heavily touring. After this period, I made music with other musicians to take my mind off things and renew myself. Then I had to put money aside - I wanted to be able to devote myself to my next album exclusively, even if it means putting my career in parenthesis. So I worked for others as a producer, remixer and sound engineer."
When Monier finally rebooted the Micronauts earlier this year, it was with one of his most potent, mind-altering club tracks to date: the nine-minute TB-303 assault that is Acid Party, arguably one of the biggest dancefloor hits of 2018.
"I’m extremely happy with the hugely positive response - I wasn’t expecting it at all," he writes. "I think the acid techno remix by Luca Agnelli was instrumental in its success. It also came out at the right time, while there’s an acid house revival going on."
Monier is, of course, being modest. Acid Party was indicative of the quality of the music contained on The Micronauts' first album for nearly 11 years, Head Control Body Control - a set that Monier considers his finest body of work to date. It took three years to make, the last 12 months being dedicated to editing, reworking and reshaping the tracks, and was inspired not by vintage dance albums, but rather classic LPs of the 70s and 80s.
"I believe these albums were made with more care and more time," Monier explains. "Lesser songs were dismissed. There were no fillers. Artists were trying hard to be personal and unique. They weren't afraid of being eclectic and to explore different styles within the same album. All these conditions make many albums from this era special. I tried to reproduce them when doing this album."
Head Control Body Control is certainly a strong album that benefits from a diverse range of influences, with Monier’s usual rugged acid house and leftfield techno grooves variously being fused with elements of electro, new wave, synth-pop, the sample-heavy funk of French Touch, two-step garage and the noisy, rock-fired intensity of Parisian electroclash (think Ed Banger Records and you’re close).
"I wanted the album to stand the test of time and multiple listens. I wanted it to sound, to the millennials, like a curated voyage through the electronic music history," Monier explains. "To achieve that, I had to combine opposites, to strike the right balance of high physical intensity moments and quieter ones, hard and soft sounds, tonal and atonal melodies. I wanted it to be demanding and accessible at the same time, if such a thing is possible."
Head Control Body Control certainly ticks those boxes, re-establishing Monier as one of French dance music’s distinctive voices. "To create a great album, you have to resist the market forces by taking your time and by opening your palette," he says. "By doing so you endanger the current path of your career. Few are willing to take the risk and accept the sacrifices. I totally understand that; it's never been harder to make a living out of the music business. My career had come to a halt, so I didn’t have much to lose anyway."
Words: Matt Anniss
Head Control Body Controlis out now on Micronautics