The Night Laurent Garnier Politicised Dance Music
"It was a magical night. They happen once a decade."
On 1st August 1971 George Harrison and Ravi Shankar cobbled together a fund raiser for the Bangladesh refugee crisis. Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and Billy Preston, plus 40,000 fans assembled in Madison Square Gardens, New York, for an event that pioneered the concept of the benefit concert. Philanthropy met pop and this new format blossomed as a powerful soapbox for charitable causes. The guitar accessed the minds and wallets of the masses, rendering dusty collection tins and Oxfam curb crawlers as second rate mediums.
Bob Geldof was Harrison on steroids. Bringing international awareness to the Ethiopian famine with Live Aid, he spearheaded a campaign that catapulted the benefit concert into prime time public consciousness. By mobilising his pop star network he enmeshed pop pageantry with the morbid realities in Africa. Visually it was a schizophrenic spectacle; manicured pop icons performed their hits to devotees, the gluttony of stardom on full display, interspersed with images of famine bloated children dying torturously in Africa's unrelenting dust bowl. A powerful contrast that cut to the core — and the purse strings. Live Aid became the biggest music event in history, and produced the biggest selling record ever.
Apart David Guetta's remix of "Feed The World", dance music has never really entered the charitable equation — more the ugly sister of popmusic, kept in doors, out of harms way. Shunned by the popular media as a gaggle of drugged up heathens, most of dance music's fraternity absorb this negative prophecy and consider themselves outcasts. Certainly during the 90's in the UK, when the government stamped down on the rave movement, partygoers were forced into a counterculture mindset; their lives split between weekday normality and the weekend's dirty secret of subversive partying. Politics and the economy weren't subjects chewed on the dance floor, where the plight of the world was skirted over with ecstasy handshakes and chattering jaws.
Enter Laurent Garnier, music maestro and risk taker extraordinaire. Manchester's Electric Chair was the host, and the climate outside was heavy with antiwar sentiment following the UK's Iraq invasion in 2003. Tapping into the political atmosphere isn't the norm for a circuit DJ; clubland usually provides an oasis of escapism from either the humdrum of 9-5 or the big issues blowtorched onto our minds by the popular press. But Laurent had other ideas, and bravely courted a potentially career smudging move by dropping Edwin Starr's disco protest song "War". The result—Garnier denounced by a chorus of whining Mancs as a pretentious French git? A damp firework fizzling on evacuated dance floor? Neither. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Garnier timed the stunt to perfection and turned the club inside out. The lyrics "War, what is it good for" struck a powerful chord. The frenzied chain reaction that flashed across the club was more akin to a cup winning goal—grown men screamed and whooped like deranged front liner's on Victory Day.
Resident DJs and Electric Chair promoters The Unabombers remember the scene. "It was a magical night. They happen once a decade. That perfect synchronicity when everything comes together under the pavements. A holy grail moment when everyone is as one. I've only seen it a few times. Its a rare and beautiful thing that can never be contrived or engineered, it just happens and everything exploded, and the noise and emotion was deafening. Hours of spiritual records from all corners of shop played like a master. No tricks and poncing with the controls, no EDM tops off ego strutting, just perfectly crafted understated DJing and bass bugging tunes from outer space. As I said, a magical night".
It was as unprecedented concoction of stern political activism and ecstasy hedonism. Gurnivism was hatched, dance music's impromptu answer to Live Aid. UK clubland had rarely plugged into socio-political issues, but on this occasion it was activated by a gallant selector. Laurent Garnier, for a brief moment, assumed the role of humanitarian overlord. The Electronic Geldof.