30 album cover
30

Laurent Garnier

1997
F Communications

French house has many ancestors, but if it has one true godfather, Laurent Garnier’s as important a figurehead as you can get. A true internationalist, his DJ career took off when he started spinning house and techno in Manchester’s legendary Haçienda (thus giving him at least some credit — or blame — for the Madchester movement), and he’s been blurring the lines between French, British, and American dance music traditions ever since. 30 arrived in The Year Electronica Broke as a powerful distillation and expansion of Chicago house’s impact on his work, and there’s a deeply personal idiosyncracy beneath the surface, recorded as it was during a post-shoulder-surgery break from DJing that gave him a good excuse to immerse himself in a previously unfamiliar studio environment. And since Garnier embodied French touch’s tendencies to keep genre borders porous enough to sweat through, 30 also sounds like an exploration of Chicago house’s impact on everything. There’s the classic jack moves of “The Hoe,” the acidic glower of “Flashback,” the min-maxed propulsive spaciousness of “Mid Summer Night” and “Feel the Fire,” and the Jeff Mills-ian techno-crossover sizzle of “Crispy Bacon” — simple, minimalist, direct, and (according to Garnier himself) not especially complex, yet it just hits in the way that could only come from someone so studious of what made his own favorite records work. What makes 30 really startling is how that principle extends so far out beyond house and techno to counterintuitive realms; the gloomy buzzing-neon downtempo breakbeat of “For Max” might as well be a deep cut from a long-lost MoWax comp, while its diametric opposite “Kall It!” sounds like a raw-nerved, twitchy take on ’80s L.A. electro a’la Egyptian Lover or Arabian Prince that also challenges its listeners to rethink their own perception of what they’re even listening to (“if you’re gonna call it techno, know what techno is”). And it even closes on an ambient experiment, “Le Voyage De Simone,” which slows the emotional drive of diva house to a sparse crawl that highlights a sense of enigmatic unease underneath.

Nate Patrin

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