Laurent Garnier: Off the Record review – upbeat spin on pioneering DJ’s career

Docu-tribute to club hero offers uncritical praise but also tells an intriguing history of electronic dance music since the 80s

In the teeming, highly diverse cinematic habitat of music documentaries, there are surprisingly few about the phylum of electronic dance music and its many sub-classes, orders and colourful creatures. There are some: films about scenes such as the late 80s/early 90s rave movement or specific clubs such as Sub Berlin: History of Tresor. There are others about specific superstar DJs such as the slick, very commercial Leave the World Behind, a tribute to Swedish House Mafia, or Villalobos, a mesmeric, arthouse portrait of Ricardo Villalobos. This docu-tribute to French-born DJ-composer Laurent Garnier lies tonally somewhere between the latter two. It offers fairly uncritical praise for Garnier’s artistry and is built around extensive interviews with the man himself, who is admittedly very articulate and informative; but there is also a very interesting historical-anthropological strain to the film that charts the rise of house, rave and techno from the 1980s onwards.

Garnier was right there in the middle of a lot of it, or as in the middle as you can be in an international movement that started, depending on how you look at it, in a number of places at the same time and then spread like a virus. Trained to be a silver service waiter, Garnier worked first at the French embassy in London where he would slip off at night to go clubbing at events organised by Leigh Bowery and visit the Haçienda in Manchester. Compelled to do national service back in France, he started moonlighting as a DJ in key venues such as the Rex Club in Paris, and then built up a massive international following.

In truth, there are a few too many squealing montages of Garnier spinning discs and DJ-dancing to entertain sweaty hordes in places that onscreen text identifies as Tokyo, Moscow or other music festivals around the world. We get it, people love him. But he also comes across as reasonably generous to other artists and a lot of screen time is spent with the likes of techno pioneer Derrick May, seen driving Garnier around Detroit, and Pedro Winter, the founder of Ed Banger Records, who has a lot interesting things to say about the scene and its evolution.

Some might grumble that a little more about the nitty-gritty of music itself would have been welcome, apart from just commenting on the centrality of the Roland 990 synthesiser to so many records; but perhaps no film on this subject will cover everything everyone is interested in.

• Laurent Garnier: Off the Record is released on 15 July in cinemas.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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