Death of Robert Ouimet, Montreal DJ who changed the course of music history

lime light

May 1977, 1254 Stanley Street, Montreal, just south of Ste-Catherine Street, we’re in the heart of downtown disco fashion and DJ Robert Ouimet sets the beat at this nightclub called Lime Light. Open from 1973 to 1981, this nightclub became Montreal’s disco mecca for a while thanks to Ouimet.

On this spring afternoon, Robert Ouimet has in his hands the new single from American disco singer Donna Summer. He may have just brought this record from New York, where he regularly went to pick up the latest music releases.

Being a DJ is not just being a jukebox

Donna Summer’s new album concept I remember yesterday, which will be officially released a few weeks later, will take the listener back in music history. Each piece must evoke a musical decade.

The first single from the album that Robert Ouimet has in his hands contains on side A, on the side plug (This is how the side of a 45 rpm record is usually identified that the record company had identified as the hit to be played on the radio), the piece Can’t we just sit down (and talk it over)?. It’s a honeyed pop ballad. It could be thought that the piece left Ouimet indifferent, since it is the B-side that caught his attention.

Robert showed us that being a DJ is not just being a jukebox , tells us his friend and collaborator Christian Pronovost. Michel Simard, another of his close associates, adds that He was a person who not only put on music, he educated the world. He played melodies that no one knew. Do not please, educate.

Robert Ouimet and the rest of the DJs of his generation took advantage of the arrival of Maxi 45 rpm records, better sounding and easier to handle vinyl.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Courtesy of Robert Ouimet

From Grandmaster Flash to Kraftwerk

to hell with that side plug! Robert Ouimet loves what he hears on the 45rpm B-side. The piece, largely on the computer, is the work of composer Giorgio Moroder. These synthetic and repetitive sounds appeal to you. the song titled I feel love intended to represent the future of music, as part of Donna Summer’s concept album.

He was interested in everything electronic.explains Michael Williams, who met Robert Ouimet in 1973 when he was coming from Cleveland to settle in Montreal. Michael Williams became a DJ, later a host at CHOM, CKGM, and one of the first hosts of MuchMusic, in 1984. I could play Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five songs and then Kraftwerk one after another.illustrates Williams.

Social and technical innovations

I feel love blew up the Limelight dance floor that night. The song becomes a hit for Robert Ouimet’s soirées. His influence is already greater. After all, he had been named the best DJ in North America by the magazine Rolling Stone in 1976.

Montreal music fans know they have to attend Ouimet parties if they want to experience new sounds and hits. His notoriety is enormous. But it’s not just new music that other DJs come looking for from him. Montreal’s gay and straight communities mingle at Lime Light. Montreal’s open-mindedness lives within the walls of this club. It is an important social element.

But that’s not all, on a technical level, Ouimet is also at the forefront of the art and mastery of turntables.

Dressed in white, Robert Ouimet poses in the booth where he mixes the music.

Robert Ouimet is considered by many to be the godfather of disco music in Montreal.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Courtesy of Robert Ouimet

When I first went to hear him, before I met him at Lime Light, it was the first time I heard someone who ” matched “. I was starting to be a DJ, I was wondering how he managed to change the subject without me realizing it. I found it really impressive”, says Michel Simard.

This technique, nowadays, is understood in the DJ culture. The tempos of the songs that the DJ joins are adjusted so that their rhythm is the same. The transition from one piece to another is very smooth, without the listener or the dancer realizing it. In the late 1970s, this technique was new and required some precision and a good ear. Current DJ software achieves this” beat matching » in an automated way.

the Godfather of Montreal DJs

Always at the forefront, Ouimet makes discover I feel love to his audience as well as other DJs who come to hear him mix, such as Michel Simard, Michael Williams, Christian Pronovost and Flight Almighty. The hit swarms from dance floor to dance floor and then hits the radio.

The testimony published by Flight Almighty, a pioneer of hip-hop culture in Montreal, explains how a song played on the dance floor by Ouimet could resonate on the radio.

When I lived in New York when I was younger, I was obsessed with DJs mixing and transitioning songs on local radio. Arriving in Montreal in the ’70s, I was a bit lost musically until I stayed up late one night and came across the show. Live from Lime Light with DJ Robert Ouimet, stated the DJ.

I went crazy for it. I told myself: “one day, I will have to meet him”. Life is fun, I more than just met him. The two worked together during the ’90s when Flight made the transition from hip-hop to house culture.

Therefore, Ouimet had an influence even on the radio waves. After a few weeks, the Casablanca record company realized that Donna Summer’s 45 rpm B-side had supplanted the A-side in popularity. Therefore, the label is forced to reissue the record with, this time, I feel love in front of A. We are then in the early summer of 1977.

the sound of the future

In July 1977, I feel love climb the ranks of the lists Billboard. It reached number one in England and France, to name a few countries, and was top 10 singles in Canada and the United States that year. The futuristic room sound is destined to change the course of music history.

In an interview with the magazine Rolling Stone In 2017, Giorgio Moroder, co-composer of the song, recounted a confession that David Bowie would have made to him. According to this story, Bowie was working in the studio with Brian Eno in Berlin when the song became a hit. When Eno heard it, he would have gasped.

He reportedly ran into the studio to tell Bowie: I just heard the future of music! Bowie would have been a little offended, believing that he himself was creating the sound of the future of music with his Berlin trilogy. Eno reportedly told Bowie bluntly that this sound had the potential to become one that would be heard on dance floors for the next 15 years.

He had been right. Over time, i feel love it was constantly finding itself on new lists of the most influential songs in history for all sorts of reasons. In particular, he had a major influence on the development of disco, new wave, post-punk, Hi-NRG, dance and house music. That’s all.

If Robert Ouimet had not chosen him, I feel love You may never have known this unique destination and music history would not be quite what it is today. In 1977, the magazine Billboard awarded him the title of Canadian Disco DJ of the Year.

Rebel and iconoclast

This is just one example, perhaps the most striking, of the mark left by Robert Ouimet. Always with a vision of the future, he himself announced the death of disco music at the end of the 70s, according to his friend Christian Pronovost. His name is associated with disco music, but he was also a very punk and iconoclastic guy, says Pronovost. As much as he was associated with disco music, he was the one who killed it. He’s not just an iconic ’70s DJ, he’s also the one who destroyed disco. Robert Ouimet is a rebel. He is a guy who liked living his life and doing the things he wanted the way he wanted more than being successful and making money.

In fact, Ouimet has continued as a DJ. But he has also worked as a director and record producer, as well as a composer in the field of dance music. In 1994, by the way, he won the Juno Award for Dance Song of the Year for the piece Gratefulco-composed with his sidekick Michel Garça as part of his Red Light project.

It is for all of these reasons, and many more that would literally require a book to fully explain, that Robert Ouimet was crowned Godfather of Montreal DJs. He never ceased his activities. One of his 2021 performances was also captured and is available on YouTube.

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