French house is a style of house music originally produced by French artists, a popular strand of the late 1990s and 2000s European dance music scene and a form of Euro disco. The genre has also been referred to as "French touch", "filter house" and "tekfunk" over the years. The defining characteristics of the sound are heavy reliance on filter and phaser effects both on and alongside samples from late 1970s and early 1980s American or European disco tracks (or original hooks strongly inspired by such samples), causing thicker harmonic foundations than the genre's descendants. Most tracks in this vein feature steady 4/4 beats with a tempo range of 110-130 beats per minute.
French house is greatly influenced by the lineage of American dance music from the emergence of disco onwards, maintaining a distinct connection to Euro disco and the short lived space disco music style. Space disco was very popular in France, with artists like Cerrone, Space and Sheila B. Devotion during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Additional influences came from P-Funk, especially the George Clinton and Bootsy Collins hits of that era. Due to originating from the same foreign market, P-Funk was played alongside disco in many French discothèques, especially after the Disco Demolition Night took place in the United States. The Jacking aspect of Chicago house was also picked up on as a theme to incorporate (with "jack house" becoming a short-lived descriptive term for the sound in the UK). Furthermore, the influence of musical French figures of the seventies as François de Roubaix, Jean-Michel Jarre or Serge Gainsbourg was also critical. An early example of French house could be Dance released in 1990 by Earth People.
Thomas Bangalter's tracks for his Roulé label may be considered the earliest examples of an attempt to establish a distinctive style of French house. His solo material, along with his work as a member of Daft Punk and Stardust, had a significant impact upon the French house scene during the mid-to-late 1990s. The French duo Motorbass (Philippe Zdar, later of Cassius, and Étienne de Crécy) were also among the first in France to produce house tracks which were largely based around samples and filtered loops - in turn inspired by emerging American house producers such as DJ Sneak, Green Velvet and Roger Sanchez and their penchant for producing sample-led house tracks with deep funky grooves - and released a sole full-length album, Pansoul. Parisian producer St. Germain produced house tracks with a similar style at the time but these were more directly influenced by jazz as opposed to the brasher vocal disco records appropriated, while other known French DJ-turned-producers at the time such as François Kevorkian and Laurent Garnier remained relatively distant from the emerging French house label.
The first French house experiments were warmly received by the UK dance music press and European DJ's in the mid-1990s but major commercial success did not occur until 1997. Daft Punk, Cassius and, later, Stardust were the first internationally successful artists of the genre. Along with Air these acts were signed to Virgin Records and benefited from distinctive music videos directed by the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Alex & Martin. Due to a reasonable amount of buzz generated from the huge clubbing scene and major record company support, Daft Punk's debut album Homework entered the top 10 of the UK album charts on release and they effectively became the biggest-selling French act in the UK since Jean-Michel Jarre. The emergence of the French sound was well-timed as dance music's popularity in the influential UK market was peaking commercially with general electronic music.
Further international commercial success continued into 2000 with Bob Sinclar, Etienne de Crécy, Benjamin Diamond and Modjo achieving hit singles around Europe. In late 2005, pop superstar Madonna released Confessions on a Dance Floor, an album with significant French house influences in several of its songs.
As of the mid to late-2010s, there is a resurgence in interest in French house, with material being released from artists such as Folamour and Mirrorball Disco Squad from Paris, as well as Tiger and Woods from Italy. This sound is also being championed on the lo-fi house scene by the likes of Mall Grab and Loods.
The term "French house" was first used in Paris in July 1987. Jean-Claude Lagrèze, a photographer of parisians' nights created a couple of "French Touch" parties at The Palace to make people discover house music. These parties were driven by DJ Laurent Garnier, Guillaume la Tortue and David Guetta. This expression was printed, as part of a motto for French partygoers who liked house music, on a trendy jacket by Éric Morand for F Communications, in 1991. The motto was: "We Give a French Touch to House". British music journalists used the expression and contributed to the diffusion of this movement.
The first time this term was used widespreadly by MTV UK during the Christmas holiday period of 1999. It was used on an MTV News special, to describe a so-called "French house explosion" phenomenon. Bob Sinclar was interviewed, as well as Air (a non-house act) and Cassius. This news special later aired on all the MTV local variations worldwide, spreading the term and introducing the "French house" sound to the mainstream.
Prior to that (1996-2000), "French house" had been referred to among Europeans as "nu disco", "disco house" and "new disco". However, the term "French touch" was first used by music journalist Martin James in his 1996 review of the first Super Discount EP in the now defunct weekly music paper Melody Maker. This term became favoured among the French media and was then widely used in the UK press by 1998. Martin James was later recognised by French newspaper Liberation and Radio NRJ as the journalist responsible for naming the French house phenomenon "French touch".
One of the biggest markets for nu disco at the time was Greece, especially Athens. A local music shop called Discobole Records imported the records direct from France and middle class clubs like City Groove dedicated totally to the genre between 1998 and 2001. In Greece, this music style was promoted as "disco house". At the same time, disco house began to gain success in Canada. During 1999 many events also took place on Spain's Ibiza island, a very popular destination for British tourists.
French house is essentially a combination of three production styles. One is what the French still refer as "the French touch" and it is the style that greatly influenced by the space disco sound. The second is a continuation and update of Euro disco and greatly influenced by the productions of Alec R. Costandinos. The third would be the deep American house style as evident in the similar treatment of samples and repetitive 'funky' hooks. Naturally, further variations and mutations followed. French house maintains the established "French touch" sound, focused more on Euro disco-like vocals and less emphasis on the "space disco" themes. However, most of the music's most successful acts have altered their sound since. Bob Sinclar's later work, including the hit single "World, Hold On (Children of the Sky)", which had a video based on a science fiction theme, maintains only a distant connection to the original French house sound. Both Daft Punk and Etienne de Crecy subsequently developed a harder synthetic sound more directly inspired by techno, electro and pop.
In Ibiza, disco house took later another direction: it combined vocals and some elements from the UK's speed garage (a mid 1990s music style) with a local Latin flavor. By 2007, many underground disco house productions belonged to the Ibiza school.