Revered French electro-disco producer Marc Cerrone on the making of his stone-cold 1978 smash ‘Supernature’ (or the theme tune to the ‘Kenny Everett Video Show’ if you’re of a certain vintage)
I was the drummer in an afro-rock band called Kongas, which I left after three years because I wanted to do my own music. Before I made ‘Supernature’, I had a soul, disco, funk kind of sound and released two LPs under my own name, ‘Love In C Minor’ and ‘Cerrone’s Paradise’.
I was a big fan of Kraftwerk and I was really impressed by their records. One day, while I was recording my ‘Supernature’ LP at Trident Studios in London – I remember the name of the street, it was St Anne’s Court – I received a synthesiser from ARP.They sent me an ARP Odyssey and they said, “If you can use it for the LP and credit it on the sleeve, it’s a gift for you”. I said, “What is that?!”. It took me maybe 10 minutes to find the button to turn it on. To me, with all the buttons, it looked more like a telephone than a musical instrument.
So along with my engineer, we finally worked out how to turn it on, and the first sound we found was the sequencer, the dut-dut-dut-dut-dut… And we couldn’t stop that fucking dut-dut-dut-dut-dut, so I changed the chord and then it went dat-dat-dat-dat-dat. It wouldn’t stop! After many, many times trying to find how the machine works, the dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat stuck in my mind and I said to my engineer, “Wait, wait, wait, we might have something here. Let’s put that on tape”. Then I put the bass on and then the drums, and in one afternoon we’d made the title track, ‘Supernature’. It came really fast, like bingo.
Remember that this was 1977 and it was still very early for that kind of sound. Using the ARP meant a big change for me because I went from lush orchestral music to machine music. There’s not another track like ‘Supernature’ on any of my records – although of course I tried to do another one.
During a break in the recording session, I was having a drink in the street with my friend who worked with me in the studio, and we saw a girl dancing with some of the Hare Krishnas we used to see a lot in that part of Soho. This girl was really strange, but she made us smile. She came up to us and said, “Why are you smiling?” and we said, “What do you do?” and she said, “You can see what I am doing, what do you do?”. So I said, “I’m a musician” and invited her to come along to the studio. Her name was Lene Lovich. We got along well and I asked her if she wanted to write the lyrics for a song I was working on.
Lene wrote a brilliant lyric for ‘Supernature’ and after that we worked together on many other Cerrone LPs. She wrote ‘Give Me Love’, ‘Je Suis Music’, ‘Rocket In The Pocket’… We worked together for 15 years, right up until the mid-90s. Of course, I was very pleased for her when she became successful in her own right. ‘Lucky Number’ was a great song. At the time, disco and punk were very different areas. I was really excited to have the disco and the punk entwined together on my records.
When I went to deliver the master of the finished tapes to Atlantic, my record company in New York, I was really excited. I played them the rest of the stuff from the LP first, tracks like ‘Give Me Love’, which was the the kind of song I was making on my first two LPs, and at the end I said, “Now I want to play to you the single”. Then I played them ‘Supernature’. And everybody said, “What is it? No Marc, you made your name as an orchestrator, with strings, with brass, why have you turned 180 degrees?”. So it was very difficult to convince Atlantic to start the LP with that track. Eventually they came back to me and said, “Maybe you’re right. We’re going release ‘Give Me Love’ and ‘Supernature’”. And ‘Supernature’ was a big smash,of course.
I have had many samples from my work over the years. Probably hundreds. One of the first sample requests was from Paul McCartney. He sent me a letter proposing to join an instrumental of ‘You Are The One’ with his a capella for ‘Goodnight Tonight’ by Wings. He also said that if I accepted, we can split 50/50 on all rights. So I accepted and that formed the basis of my negotiations when someone asks me to clear a sample. If I agree, it’s got to be 50/50. I’ve worked with Daft Punk, Pink, Run DMC, the Beasties Boys… There are lots of different artists and that probably helped the younger generation to get to know my music.
It is especially nice now, with with my record company re-releasing my work again. It gives me the chance the rediscover many of my old tracks. Is ‘Supernature’ one of my favourites? Oh, I cannot say that. I cannot say it’s my favourite. I have a lot of favourites.
Cerrone’s ‘The Best Of Cerrone Productions’ is released by Because Music