Jacno

Born : 3 /7 /1957 in Paris (France)
Dead : 6 /11/2009 in Paris (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Jacno, erstwhile punk and eternal dandy, has had a reputation as something of a dilettante to date. In fact, this multi-talented singer, songwriter and producer is a prolific creator who has spent 25 years beavering away on the fringes of French showbizz.

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  • Jacno website
  • Jacno, erstwhile punk and eternal dandy, has had a reputation as something of a dilettante to date. In fact, this multi-talented singer, songwriter and producer is a prolific creator who has spent 25 years beavering away on the fringes of French showbizz.

    Denis Quillard – better known to friends and several generations of French music fans as Jacno – was born in Paris in 1957. Young Denis grew up in a tight-knit family with connections to the Champagne region (where they still own a property which serves as a convenient and regular 'retreat' for Jacno today).

    Supported by his loving and attentive parents, young Denis was fascinated by his grandfather from an early age. The old man was a highly colourful character, a self-proclaimed "anarcho-monarchist." Denis's uncle, André Zeller, was an equally flamboyant figure. Indeed, he went down in French history as one of what General de Gaulle described as “the quadroon of traitor generals” who founded the far-right organisation OAS. After he was sent to prison, the seditious uncle was finally pardoned by General de Gaulle himself.

    Growing up in this illustrious family, young Denis became something of a figure himself in the junior school playground where his favourite hobby was hanging out chain-smoking Gauloises. This is how he earned his nickname - and later stage name – Jacno. (Marcel Jacno was the name of the illustrator who drew the famous winged helmet logo that appeared on Gauloise packets).

    Up until the age of 15, Jacno enjoyed several turbulent years under the supervision of the Marist Brothers at Notre-Dame-de-Bury (a religious school in Margency, in the Val D’Oise region). Here, he learnt to play the flute (at lessons he later claimed had put him off the instrument for life) and attended music classes where he discovered he had a perfect ear. After his time with the Marist Brothers, Jacno went on to attend a variety of Parisian 'lycées', while experimenting with as wide a range of drugs as possible. He maintained his track record of getting expelled from every school he attended - including the Lycée Rodin where he was sent down after locking the headmaster in his office!

    Meanwhile, Jacno's musical tastes began to evolve with adolescence. After enjoying classical works by Mozart, Chopin and Satie in childhood, the young teenager got heavily into rock, listening to albums by The Who and The Rolling Stones. At the age of 14, Jacno got himself a job as a messenger boy so he could save up and buy his first guitar. The experience put him off the idea of paid work for several years to come, however, and he turned to shoplifting and petty theft, instead, selling most of the records he stole in the playground.

    Having mastered the art of drumming and playing guitar – by listening and re-listening to Keith Richards and Pete Townsend in action and copying their style to perfection – Jacno set up a series of short-lived rock bands including one called Bloodsuckers in 1973. Later that same year, Jacno took part in a street demo against a new law introduced by the French minister Debré. Here he ran into a striking young Uruguayan by the name of Elli Medeiros, who had moved to Paris with her mother the previous year.

    Elli was actually a member of the demo's security cordon that day but she had other things on her mind than keeping the peace. Dressed in a tight-fitting mini-skirt and Alice Cooper jacket, Elli was there to pick up any handsome passers-by. To cut a long story short, Elli set eyes on Jacno and it was (sort of) love at first sight. The pair began a relationship and decided to launch a music career together. By that point, Jacno had already made something of a name for himself working with the legendary 'underground' figure Elodie Lauten (avant-garde musician and muse who composed music for those on the cutting-edge in Paris and New York).

    1976: Les Stinky Toys

    Elli and Jacno soon joined forces with Bruno Carone (son of the photographer Walter Carone), Albin Dériat and Hervé Zénouda, an experienced drummer who frequently played with other indie Paris bands such as Strike Up and Loose Heart. The fivesome dubbed themselves Les Stinky Toys and played their first live gig together on 4 July 1976, appearing at La Pizza du Marais for which they were paid the princely sum of 60 francs a head.

    Over the following months, Les Stinky Toys – who rapidly earned a reputation for partying long and hard at any price – went on to play a series of concerts, each more zany and deviant than the others. Les Stinky Toys put in a memorable performance at a local festival in Laborde and also played in an 'anti-psychiatric' asylum set up by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Gattari.

    On 21 September 1976, the band headed across the Channel for a gig at London's famous 100 Club. This appearance came about after the band bumped into Malcolm McLaren, manager of The Sex Pistols, at a trendy boutique in Les Halles, in Paris, and McLaren invited them to play at the 100 Club at a festival featuring punk heavyweights The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Buzzcocks and Siouxsie & The Banshees. The Clash ended up lending Les Stinky Toys their amplifiers and the French band's performance earned them front-page reviews in the cult music magazine Melody Maker – a feat never achieved before by a French rock band!

    In March 1977, Les Stinky Toys brought the house down at a special punk night hosted at Le Palais des Glaces, in Paris, where they shared the stage with the likes of The Jam, The Police and Generation X. Paradoxically, Les Stinky Toys had become the emblematic band on the Paris punk scene – but Jacno himself always refused the label and continued to look down on punks with a certain scorn.

    On 30 June 1977, Les Stinky Toys notoriously "ruined" the wedding reception of Yves Saint Laurent's muse Loulou de la Falaise, organised at the ultra-chic Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Boulogne. Despite their dire reputation as wedding band, Les Stinky Toys managed to sign a recording deal with Polydor and went on to bring out a first single entitled "Bozy Creed" followed by a debut album that sold 20,000 copies. The band then kicked off a tour of south-western France, where their off-the-wall sound and peculiar live performances left local audiences (more used to the sound of veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday) perplexed.

    Famously, 1977 was also the year that Les Stinky Toys caused a major ruckus on a press trip organised by a PR company in a train to coincide with the release of Kraftwerk's album "Trans Europe Express." By this stage of his career, Jacno was renowned as a young Adonis who roamed Paris gatecrashing and freeloading parties and press junkets. Andy Warhol tried to pick him up one night and Jacno managed to get the father of Pop Art to sign a scribbled drawing on a restaurant tablecloth (a token Warhol systematically refused to fans).

    Jacno's personal charm and boyish appeal notwithstanding, Les Stinky Toys were not pulling in sufficient record sales and owing to this and their commitment to all-night partying and significant alcohol consumption Polydor ended their contract. Les Stinky Toys went on to sign another recording deal with Vogue thanks to Jacques Wolfsohn (who discovered Jacques Dutronc, Françoise Hardy and Johnny Hallyday). But Les Stinky Toys' second album (the one with the famous yellow cover) fared little better than the first and after a disastrous live show at Le Palais des Arts – which was raided by a gang of Hell’s Angels who started a fight and caused the death of a fan – the mythical Stinky Toys finally called it a day and the band members went their separate ways.

    1979: The experimental EP "Rectangle"

    Jacno's notorious train encounter with Kraftwerk left its mark, and after Les Stinky Toys split he began experimenting with synthesisers and electronic machines, mixing the sense of rock rhythm he had inherited from listening to The Stones with weird techno sounds. He went on to record a five-track EP (four tracks of which were pure instrumentals) released on the independent label Celluloïd, after it was turned down by all the other record companies he sent demos to. This was back in 1979, a time when the experimental "Rectangle" struggled to find its place on the French airwaves.

    But luckily a young film director by the name of Olivier Assayas had just shot his first feature film (which happened to give Elli her first experience in front of the camera). Assayas heard "Rectangle" and decided to use it as the soundtrack to his film, then went on to shoot a video clip for it. French radio station Europe 1 ended up 'adopting' "Rectangle" and it shot to n°1 in France and the rest of Europe. "Rectangle" became so popular it even featured as backing music in a famous TV ad for Nesquick.

    After this success, Elli and Jacno teamed up as a duo, creating a sound that mixed the innocence of Françoise Hardy and other 60s icons with modern electro-pop. The singles "Main dans la main" and "L’Age atomique" proved a hit with the public and helped catapult Elli and Jacno's album "Tout va sauter" to the top of the charts in 1980.

    The following year, a young Belgian singer came knocking at Jacno's door. Lio had just burst into the charts Europe-wide with her hit single "Banana Split." She happened to be a big fan of the late Stinky Toys and the reason she came calling on Jacno was to ask permission to cover "Lonely Lovers", a song from the band's first album. Despite the fact that her entire entourage advised against working with a "raving lunatic" such as Jacno, Lio insisted – and "Amoureux solitaires" went on to sell several million copies!

    Meanwhile, Jacno turned his hand to producing, manning the studio controls at the making of Etienne Daho's debut album, "Mythomane." Daho, another fan of Les Stinky Toys, had actually organised a concert for the band in Rennes in 1978 just so he could meet them. After "Inédits 77/81" (an album featuring a number of live extracts and previously unreleased songs from that period) "Boomerang" in 1982, then "Les Nuits de la pleine Lune" (used as a soundtrack to Eric Rohmer's film of the same name), the Elli & Jacno adventure came to an end. By this stage of their career, the pair were no longer a couple and their relationship had become purely professional.

    1989: Debut solo album "T'es loin t'es près"

    Jacno continued his music career behind the scenes, continuing to write music and lyrics for other artists. At this point, he was largely inspired by his muses: Françoise Hardy and his fiancée Pauline Lafont. Rather than focusing on his own career in the limelight, Jacno produced material for Daniel Darc (ex lead singer of Taxi Girl) as well as albums for Mathématiques Modernes ("Disco Rouge" in 1981) and Jacques Higelin ("Tombé du ciel" in 1988).

    In 1989, after releasing a number of singles on his own account, Jacno finally got round to recording his debut solo album, "T'es loin t'es près." Françoise Hardy put in a special guest appearance on the album, as did Pauline Lafont. "T'es loin t'es près" marked the return of France's most debauched dandy, its songs full of spleen, humour and nonchalance. Jacno declared he was not satisfied with the album, however, and in 1991 he went on to release "Une idée derrière la tête", which he described as a "continuation" of his first album.

    Journalists from the music press began flocking to Jacno's apartment in droves, where the interviewee greeted them, glass in hand, slightly slurring his words but lacking none of his legendary verve. In 1995, Jacno went on to release "Faux Témoin", an album produced by none other than Etienne Daho (returning the favour, since Jacno had produced his debut album for him). Jacno's new album included a duet with the French actress Romane Bohringer, a song entitled "D'une rive à l'autre."

    1998: "La part des anges"

    In 1998, Jacno released a new album, "La part des anges", produced in collaboration with Les Valentins, a French band who had followed in his footsteps. All ten tracks on the album, which revolved around electro-pop melodies and finely-honed orchestrations, featured sardonically tortured lyrics (such as the excellent "When you're dead, it's for life!")

    The album also included a hidden track at the end, a cover of the Nino Ferrer classic "Sud", recorded by strange coincidence on the day of the singer's death. Jacno's deep gravely vocals added a special poignancy to the tribute. Then there was Jacno's own special version of "Je vous salue Marie" (Hail Mary) featuring backing vocals by Axelle Renoir and Edith Fambuena from Les Valentins. Thomas Dutronc put in a special appearance on the album, too, playing guitar on the instrumental "Lili 2." "La part des anges" also included a song called "OAO" which was adopted as the official inaugural anthem of the French football stadium "Le Stade De France" in 1998 – the height of irony when Jacno went on to record a single called "Le sport tue" (Sport Kills!) a few years down the track.

    In 1999, Jacno joined some forty other artists in a fund-raising concert where proceeds were donated to Gisti (an organisation supporting immigrants). In 2001, he appeared on the album "Tribute to Alain Delon & Jean-Pierre Melville", a melting-pot compilation featuring a number of celebrity DJs and prestigious guest stars.

    2000: "French Paradoxe"

    In 2002, Jacno re-emerged with a new album entitled "French Paradoxe" which featured contributions from an impressive list of music stars. Helena Noguerra provided guest vocals on "Désamour", Miossec co-wrote the lyrics and provided guest vocals on "Toi et Moi" and Arthur H stepped in to write a song called "Les Objets." "French Paradoxe" also featured an audacious cover of Boris Vian's "J'suis snob." The 35-minute album, eagerly awaited for many years by fans, also included a new version of Jacno's old 80s hit "Rectangle", recorded with the group AS Dragon. Knowingly playing with electro codes and enjoying himself to the hilt, Jacno had managed to record an album that won excellent reviews from the critics. But his career as a singer nevertheless remained reserved for a small fan base and his new songs struggled to find any kind of airplay.

    Later that year, Jacno appeared in Cédric Klapisch's film "L'Auberge espagnole", playing the father of the main character, Xavier (aka French actor Romain Duris). The former punk got further work as an actor, too. In 2003, Jacno appeared in Frédéric Videau's film "Variété Française", which was presented at the Mostra in Venice in 2003, as part of International Critics' Week. He also starred in Claire Doyon's film "Les lionceaux." In 2004, Jean-Henri Roger invited Jacno to appear in "Code 68" just as the singer was starting work on his next album and the Stupeflip hit "J'fume du d'shit" – featuring guest vocals by Jacno – took off on the French airwaves.

    2006: "Tant de temps"

    On 15 May 2006, Jacno resurfaced on the French music scene with a new album entitled "Tant de temps." True to controversial form, the video clip accompanying the first single "Le sport" put an anti-sport twist on the warning generally found on cigarette packets ("Smoking kills" becoming "Sport kills"). And Jacno's assertion that "Oval or round, a ball's for idiots" brought a smile to many lips as World Cup mania reigned on TV. The album "Tant de temps" received rave reviews from critics and proved France's favourite punk dandy still had the power to charm.

    "Tant de temps" was an innovative album that nevertheless featured Jacno's signature touch, revolving around fuzzy guitars, omnipresent synths, magical piano melodies and hard-edged lyrics. The new album also featured its fair share of guest stars. Thomas Dutronc put in another appearance on guitar ("Baiser empoisonné"), Paul Personne and Etienne Daho also contributed and Françoise Cactus, the singer from the electro outfit Stereo Total, sang German vocals on "Mars Rendez-vous." On softer songs such as "Les amants, les clients" and "T'es mon château", Jacno indulged his poetic side and he even ventured into 'world music' territory on another track entitled "Avec les yeux."

    Meanwhile, fans who visited Jacno's official website were treated to a compilation of the singer's 100 favourite songs of all time on "Radio Jacno." Following a series of interviews with the journalist Albert Algoud, a book entitled "Jacno: itinéraire du dandy Pop", was published by Les Editions du Rocher at the end of May. Jacno hit the road again shortly afterwards, kicking off his "Sport Tour" with a concert at La Cigale, in Paris, on 14 June 2006.

    That same year, Jacno worked on the latest album from former Miss France Mareva Galenter, entitled "Ukuyéyé by Mareva"

    Jacno died from cancer in a Paris hospital on 6 November 2009, at the age of 52.

    November 2009

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