According to Netbeat, an Internet e-zine, Deep Forest’s Michel Sanchez creates “patient reappropri-ations of distant sounds and moods that he makes his own before blending them with his roots, producing at the end a cheerful and sparkling ‘ethno-introspective-ambient-world-music.”’ In their 1993 debut album, Sanchez and musical partner Eric Mouquet melded the dance music popular in France’s clubs—a distinctly modern internationalist beat—with the ancient rhythms and tones of the Pygmy tribes of Africa. In their second release, they integrated rhythms taken from European and Asian folk music again with a distinctly modern twist.
Michel Sanchez had grown up immersed in music. He played the accordion from the age of five years and became an organ virtuoso, studying classical music at the Conservatory. Later, his skills as a keyboardist made him a valuable studio session player, and he also found work in advertising. He was known as a Hammond organ specialist. The Hammond has been used extensively in jazz and pop for years to give a lush feel to compositions. It resonates with echoes from both the church and the carnival, a juxtaposition that seemed right to the young Frenchman. Herbie Hancock, whom Sanchez revered, utilized the organ to create a very appealing pop-inflected jazz. Nevertheless, Sanchez remained well grounded in a more classical repertoire, favoring the intellectual yet sensual approach in Ravel, Dutilleux, and Messiaen.
Eric Mouquet, by contrast, was self-taught. He hung out at a local music shop, playing the instruments on display; he also imitated the records his parents kept at home, experimenting with styles from Deep Purple to Bach. As a result, his taste was eclectic and wide-ranging. He liked progressive rock such as Yes and Genesis, as well as jazz players Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane. He eventually acquired enough skill to obtain work as a studio musician, and it was in this milieu that Mouquet met Sanchez. The two became friends and in 1991 worked together on a rhythm and blues project with Herbert Leonard. Sanchez played the organ, and Mouquet arranged as well as played and wrote the music.
Deep Forest came into being as a result of a trip Michel Sanchez took to Africa in 1991. His studies at the Paris Conservatory had kindled an interest in ethnic instrumentation and percussion, and he began to collect different examples on tape. He returned from Africa full of enthusiasm for tribal music he had been exposed to, especially Pygmy. Sanchez exposed fellow studio musician Mouquet to samples taken from UNESCO recordings. Mouquet was equally enamored and the two decided tointegratethemusicintoacommercial project.
Mouquet was a fan of house music and the harsh metallic sounds of techno-pop. In the clubs, however, a new trend toward a more “world beat” sound was gaining in popularity, one that drew upon the gentler rhythms of reggae and ska. Mouquet and Sanchez set out to create a audio world based in traditional story telling and ritual dancing but also contemporary—a world like a rain forest, enigmatic but attentive, maternal, melodic. As a result of their excellent reputations as studio musicians, they were able to interest Columbia Records in their project. After signing with producers Dan Lacksman and Guilain Joncheray, they headed to the thirty-two track Synsound studio in Brussels, Belgium. Lacksman was a founding member of the techno-pop group Telex, whose “Moscow Disco” became an international underground hit during the 1970s. Other production credits to Lacksman’s credit included records by new-wave cult favorites Sparks and Yellow Magic Orchestra.
In the studio, Mouquet and Sanchez wove voices from Burundi, Cameroon, Zaire, and Chad into an elaborate melodic structure lush with synthesizer harmonies and syncopation. The warm refrains and haunting choruses of the Pygmies are complemented by technological special effects on songs like “Hunting,” “The First Twilight,” “Savana Dance,” and “White Whisper.”
“Sweet Lullaby,” however, became the best-known track on Deep Forest With harmonized vocals set to a
Members include Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez .
Group formed in 1991; recorded first LP, Deep Forest, at Synsound Studio in Brussels in 1992; album released following year to favorable reviews. A second album, Boheme —based on European and Asian folksongs—released in 1995.
Awards: Deep Forest nominated for Grammy Award in Best World Music Album category, 1994; Grammy Award for best world music song, 1994, for “Sweet Lullaby.”
Addresses: Record company —Columbia, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.
vaguely New Age rhythm, Sanchez and Mouquet used a synthesizer to give it a mysterious but catchy feel. “Sweet Lullaby” tells the story of a girl who attempts to quiet her little brother’s crying by telling him his parents would not return if he cried. The song creates the atmosphere of an exotic world, escapist but strangely real. The song became an immediate hit in the underground music scene, then gradually gained a wider audience. Differing from most “ambient” tracks—a musical genre revived in the early Nineties to soothe ravers who have “danced themselves out”—“Sweet Lullaby” revealed Deep Forest’s ability to retain a spiritual, melodic core inside music heavily dependent on studio technology.
Helped by the popularity of “Sweet Lullaby,” Deep Forest soon reached the contemporary music charts. The album went double platinum in Australia and also sold well in Japan, Canada and Europe. In the United States, the album rose to number one in the Billboard Heatseekers Charts and earned a Grammy Award nomination—a rarity for a French production. Sales eventually reached more than a million-and-a-half copies worldwide, and from the profits Sanchez and Mouquet made a contribution to the Pygmy Fund, a charity to aid the embattled African tribes.
In 1995 Deep Forest released an equally well received follow-up, Boheme. Repeating their success with taking unusual musical forms and integrating them with modern technology, Sanchez and Mouquet sampled rhythms from Eastern Europe and Asia and blended them with studio wizardry. A Mongolian choral group sings on “Gathering,” for instance, but much of the vocals were performed by a Hungarian chanteuse named MartaSebasteyenne. One track, “Malta’s Song,” was described as a “misty mountain chant” by People reviewer David Hiltbrand. The track was later included on the soundtrack to the 1995 Robert Altman film Ready-to-Wear (Pret-a-Porter). The juxtaposition of the music’s mild-mannered throb and the pinched, nasal throat-singing style makes for quirky ear candy,” asserted David Browne in an Entertainment Weekly review of Boheme.
Though some may question Deep Forest’s appreciation of tribal music beyond its commercial potential, Sanchez and Mouquet seem to approach and give their sources the proper respect. In the final analysis, they never presumed their work to be a serious scientific, anthropological expedition, but rather an artistic one.
Deep Forest, Columbia, 1993.
Boheme, Columbia, 1995.
Audio, December 1991.
Billboard, February 12, 1993; March 27, 1993; June 5, 1993; February 19, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, December 16, 1994, p. 64; June 2, 1995, p. 54.
Melody Maker, June 30, 1993; February 12, 1994.
New York Times, February 20, 1994.
People, January 16, 1995, p. 23; June 26, 1995, p. 28.
Rolling Stone, April 21, 1994, p. 26.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Deep Forest Home Page (http://pages.prodigy.com/vista_designs/df_1.htm), Vista Designs, 1996, and a 1996 article in Netbeat (http://www.netbeat.com/), 1996.
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