When you’re at a party and it’s time to change the tone, to move the mood into a more chilled space that’s still good for partying, French House music offers the best compromise between a fun time and a relaxing one. Spanning from the mid-90s to the late 00s, it is a sound that has aged like a fine wine; feeling utterly contemporary despite the passing of time. Inspired by space disco and Italo-Disco in Europe, French artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and Serge Gainsbourg, as well as Chicago House, Funk and Disco, it is one of the most stylish sounds around.

Evoking the terraces of Paris or beachside parties on the Côte d’Azur, The French Touch started with artists such as Daft Punk, Cassius, The Supermen Lovers and Étienne de Crécy. Much like the way French New Wave cinema took the tropes of Hollywood and found a fresh way to change cinema, practitioners of French electronic music in the 1990s took an originally American sound and put their own unique touch on it; characterised by a heavy use of filter and phaser, strong harmonic feel, steady 4/4 beat, and heavy doses of style. In this guide, we will tell you everything that you need to know about the French House sound, including its influences, the key components of its feel, its sub-genres, its most important artists, and how to make it for yourself. Read on now to get the full overview!

To sum it up, we will provide the answers to the following questions and recommendations:

  1. What influenced the French House sound?
  2. What is French House?
  3. Genres Influenced by French Electronic Music
  4. Daft Punk’s “Homework” | Putting French House on the Map
  5. “Eden” | The Essential Look at the History of French House
  6. Other Seminal French House Albums
  7. How to make French House
  8. Conclusion

1. What Influenced French House?

French house is the perfectly smooth blend between European and American styles. Three of them are particularly worth noting: Italo-Disco, Chicago House and Disco. Read on below to learn more about them!

Italo-Disco | Space Disco

Taking influences from both American HI-NRG disco and French Euro Disco, Italo-Disco was a uniquely Italian spin on the disco genre; characterised by thudding arpeggiated sounds, catchy melodies, and heavily accented English singing. The use of vocoders, best popularised by Daft Punk, is one of the most notable elements of Italo-Disco influence.

One fascinating off-shoot/contemporary of this was Space Disco, such as the work of French electronic band Space, as well as the song “I Feel Space” by Norwegian producer Lindstrøm. This would also influence a lot of science-fiction themes predominant in the French House genre, such as the music videos for “World, Hold On (Children of the Sky)” and “One More Time”.

Chicago House

As the title suggests, the House elements of French House are pretty important. French producers gravitated towards the Chicago side of the genre; during the early raves of the late 80s, Laurent Garnier, along with Erik Rug, was one of the first DJs to mix Chicago House into sets, establishing its deep importance upon the French sound.

Elements such as filtering, strong piano sounds and consistent rhythms between 110 and 130bpm can be found in both genres. Of particular importance was Deep House, such as the lush soundscapes of Mr Fingers, which would help French House to maintain its silky yet human vibe. A tribute to Chicago House can be found in the music video for Daft Punk’s “Burnin'” — which features cameos from plenty of Chicago DJ’s.

Disco

Disco is particularly notable for its strong harmonic elements and the way it incorporates complex melodic patterns within a 4/4 beat — something that would translate pretty well to French House itself. French crate-diggers would often look to the sounds of the 70s and 80s from which to build their tracks. Of particular note is Daft Punk’s aptly titled Homework album, tracks such as “Da Funk” sampling Barry White’s “‘I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” and “Burnin'” sampling the Bar-Kays’ “Freaky Behaviour”.

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2. What Is The French House Sound?

The description “French Touch” first appeared in Paris in 1987, applied to an evening at Le Palace nightclub featuring performances from DJs such as Laurent Garnier, Guillaume la Tortue and David Guetta. In 1988, in the UK, Margaret Thatcher banned gatherings that featured dancing to “repetitive music”.

While this was a deadly (but not fatal) blow to music in the UK, it led to a variety of DJs to go into exile in France, which had more liberal laws at the time. In the Summer of 1988, rave parties started in earnest in rural areas in France. From there, a scene was born; concentrated at first in a few hubs in Paris, before blowing up in earnest with the release of Boulevard by St Germain in 1996 and Homework by Daft Punk in 1997.

The French House sound can be characterised by a few key elements. A steady 4/4 beat, a repetitive yet catchy base-melody, a tempo between 110-130 BPM, thick harmonic elements, and a heavy use of filter and phaser effects. The music also has a particularly “chic” sheen to it, a sense of strong overproduction, featuring drum loops that are tightly compressed, light piano chords, and a catchy vocal melody.

How to make French House music

3. Genres Influenced by French Electronic Music?

The French House has had an outsized impact on dance music across the world. One of its first DJs, for example, David Guetta, would go on to influence an entire hard EDM sound in the late 00s; even if purists accused him of selling out big-time! For those of you who like music that actually sounds like something however, we have three genres influenced by French House that you should know about.

Future Funk

Future Funk is a strange beast, an off-shoot of Vaporware that incorporates elements of French House, while still producing them in the same classic Vaporware style. The key difference is that samples aren’t taken from American Disco, but use Japanese City Pop records from the 1980s.

Nu-Disco

Nu-Disco emerged in the mid-2000s with a renewed interest in 1970s US disco and synth-heavy 1980s European music. With an even more polished feel than French House, it’s been argued to have been born out of that scene — including DJs such as Aeroplane, Lifelike and Todd Terje.

Electronic Rock

As the broad title suggests, this genre refers to a group of French bands that incorporate both electronic and live elements into their work. Classic examples include Justice and Phoenix, who have gone on to become more like indie acts than traditional club DJs.

4. Daft Punk’s “Homework” | Putting French House on the Map

Started by French duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, Daft Punk are probably the best ambassadors of the French House sound as well as its best practitioners. After trying and failing to succeed as an indie punk band named Darlin’, they pivoted to electronic music in the early 90s. Their debut album Homework, released in 1997, along with Boulevard by St Germain, would go on to put French House on the map.

Daft Punk – Teachers

The album is stacked wall-to-wall with classics, singles including “Da Funk”, “Around the World”, “Burnin'” and “Revolution 909”. Critics were instantly besotted, noting the production value, catchy melodies and the ways it diverted from the standard Euro House formula. As Larry Fitzmaurice from Pitchfork noted in a retrospective review: “Whether you’re talking about Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s predilection for global-kitsch nostalgia, their canny and self-possessed sense of business savvy, or their willingness to wear their influences on their sleeve like ironed-on jean-jacket patches—it all began with Homework.” From there, music would never be the same again; especially in the way that it influenced everyone from Justice to EDM to even Kanye West.

Justice

5. Other Seminal French House Albums

As well as Homework, there are a variety of classic French House albums that typify its unique sound. We have picked three of our favourite ones below.

“Cross” by Justice

Cross arrived as a breath of fresh air when it landed in 2007, a vast opera-disco album that carried both controversy (the Romain Gavras directed music video for “Stress”) and highly danceable tunes (D.A.N.C.E.). With over 400 albums sampled, it is arguably one of the best uses of micro-sampling around.

“OutRun” by Kavinsky

Kavinsky burst onto the mainstream with “Nightcall”, his contribution to the 2011 Drive Soundtrack. His debut album, OutRun, produced by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, helped to solidify his status as one of the freshest voices in the French House scene.

Kavinsky

“Tourist” by St.Germain

With Tourist, French House completed its transition from revolutionary movement to sheer easy listening. The jazz-influenced Tourist, with the instantly recognisable opening track, “Rose Rouge”, sold over 4 million copies worldwide — a staple of long car journeys in the early 00s everywhere.

6. “Eden” | The Essential Look at the History of French House

This fictional film from French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve takes a wide-spanning look at the French House music scene, intertwining the travails of a second-rate DJ influenced by deep cuts such as “Plastic Dreams” by Jaydee, “Sweet Music” by Terry Hunter and “Sweet Harmony” by Liquid with that of successful musicians such as Daft Punk. Spanning from the early 90s — a time of restless invention and illegal raves — to the modern commercialisation of the same genre, it is a heartfelt exploration of success and its relation to French House music. A critical success upon its release, this film is both a great document of a time as well as a fascinating character portrait.

Hansen-Løve spent over three years trying to license the music for the film —which is one of the best soundtracks you are likely to ever hear — getting a lucky break when Daft Punk themselves agreed to lend their tracks for the lowest possible fee. Check the soundtrack out over at Spotify now!

7. How To Make French House | Software, Hardware And Samples

While the components that make up French House are pretty simple — a 1970s or 1980s disco sample, a catchy melody, a steady 4/4 beat — it is through endless refinement that one finds the characteristically “French Touch”. This can be found through playing around with filters, phasers and compression. Ideally drum beats should be tight and high in the mix, while layering those beats with heavy melodic and harmonic elements. Nonetheless, it is not entirely robotic, so it’s worth trying to add a few intentional imperfections to your beats to give them that sense of warmth. Try using a little bit of distortion and bit-crushing to help create that crackling, straight-off-the-vinyl feel.

Below we tackle both the hardware and software that you will need to make the perfect French House sound. Read all about it below!

Hardware

If you want to sound really 90s, try and use an old-school sampler such as the Akai MPC60 or Ensoniq ASR10. Then for synthesisers, we would recommend a Juno 106, although it’s a little pricey, or, if you really want to push the boat out, a Clavia Nord Lead. If you really want to sound like Daft Punk, it’s essential that you get a vocoder. A lot of these can be found already attached to synthesisers, such as a mini-korg, making it easy to play around with these kinds of sounds in conjunction with creating melodies.

Software

To get the best sounds, and to be able to manipulate your beats to get that classic smooth sound just right, we would recommend taking a look at the plug-ins we have chosen below!

Samples

The world of 70s disco is vast and still quite untapped. While copyright law makes it harder to clear samples these days, you can get around that by visiting old vinyl stores and finding the freshest, most unknown disco sounds around. Additionally, Italo-Disco represents a strong treasure trove of old-school synthesised beats, which you can find at Ultrasuoni Records in Rome. For a digital shortcut, we would recommend using the vast French House sample pack courtesy of Sample Magic here.

French House Artists You Should Listen To | Spotify

Best Playlists/24/7 Streams | YouTube

8. Conclusion

While the Golden Era of French House is undoubtedly over, its touch can be found throughout the current electronic music scene. And Parisians still know how to party, raves alongside the Seine being easily some of the most dynamic in Europe. We believe that it is a deeply rewarding genre, suitably for both easy listening and big nights out. If you fancy something a little harder however, you can read our guides to Drum and Bass and Techno Music here!

Hansen-Løve spent over three years trying to license the music for the film —which is one of the best soundtracks you are likely to ever hear — getting a lucky break when Daft Punk themselves agreed to lend their tracks for the lowest possible fee. Check the soundtrack out over at Spotify now!

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Contributor

Redmond Bacon is a film obsessive and amateur music producer who can easily spend all day either at the cinema or making fresh beats. Catch his writing over at redmondbacon.co.uk.

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