Jean-Jacques Perrey & David Chazam ‘Ela’ (Freaksville Recordings)

The French pioneer and his young sidekick deliver an idiosyncratic collection of weirdness and wonderfulness

Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music has been much harvested for samples over the years, by Gang Starr and House Of Pain among others, while he has been feted by The Beastie Boys and DJ Shadow as a pioneer. A friend of Robert Moog and later a collaborator with Luke Vibert, he was born in 1929 and was one of the first musicians to embrace the possibilities of electronics in pop music.

Perrey first appeared on Charles “La Mer” Trenet’s ‘L’Âme Des Poètes’, a 1951 hit on which Perrey played the Ondioline, an electronic keyboard invented 10 years earlier by Georges Jenny. The instrument’s range of expression could be expanded by moving it manually from side to side to create a vibrato effect. In the 1960s, Perrey worked from his own studio, creating special effects in a Radiophonic style from tape and scissors and using a Moog synth to make albums like 1966’s ‘The In Sound From Way Out’ and 1967’s ‘Kaleidoscopic Vibrations’. 

Perrey enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990s as a new wave of French artists become aware of their avant-pop precedents, forgotten in the Anglo-American dominated timeline. In 1996, he met one David Chazam, a young experimental musician who had discovered Perrey from reading about him in a piece in the US magazine RE:Search about “Incredibly Strange Music”. They paired up for an album, ‘Eclektronics’, and played a number of gigs together, extracts from which feature on this record.

‘ELA’ opens with ‘Electropop Parade’, a track sure to startle those expecting Delia Derbyshire-type atmospherics. It is a bumptious piece of mock-oompah, with quacking synths and Raymond Scott-style cartoon FX. It’s reminiscent of a piece Perrey wrote in 1967 with Gershon Kingsley entitled ‘Baroque Hoedown’, which was brazenly lifted by Disney for their Main Street Electrical Parade, something Perrey only discovered many years later. 

‘Chronophonie (Remix)’ will more suit modern electronica sensibilities. It’s a reworking by Chazam of a French animation jingle, similar in feel to Hot Butter’s ‘Popcorn’, but with added rhythmical and spatial subtlety. ‘Hectic Joker’ and ‘Kids Corner’ are as jolly and infantalist as their titles suggest – snappy, crackling pop full of silly Spike Jones/Whack-A-Mole-style synth antics, perfect for an under-fives disco. ‘What’s Up Duck’ lives up to its cartoon intimations too, although the novelty effects are broken up by an irresistibly fuzzy synth solo. 

‘Gossipo Perpetuo’, with its fast-moving “blah-blah” simulated vocal line, is redolent of the sublime silliness of Yello, as is ‘28th Paradigme’, another live track. ‘Cats In The Night’, meanwhile, features a slurping rhythm that seems to be eating its way, Pacman-like, through the mix. Finally, ‘El Nino’, taken from a live recording in 1998, coincides with the era in which groups like Daft Punk and Air were coming to prominence – and with its cosmic firefly effects, it reminds (preminds?) of Air’s ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’. 

Contemporary audiences may find some aspects of Perrey’s aesthetic a touch grating and the French sense of humour can often be oblique to outsiders. His legacy and foresight are formidable, however, and this album is a fine display of his bubbling laboratory of ideas for expanding the lexicon of pop sound, especially with such a sympathetic young sidekick riding shotgun. 

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