Claude Challe is an idiosyncratic figure in France's musical landscape, more a catalyst and -- some might say -- visionary, rather than musician. Challe managed to be on the cutting edge of youth fashions across the 1960s and 1970s, reappearing in the late '90s with even greater appeal. His CV boasts that he is an international DJ, fashion and nightlife entrepreneur, and new age guru -- all of which is, more or less, true. Yet a large part of his reputation comes from his association with celebrities (via his nightclubs) and his reputation as a ladies man non pariel. This and the fact he's long been recognized as Paris's premier club DJ. Of Tunisian descent, Challe's father was a rabbi who shifted the family to Paris when Challe was three. He claims that those early years -- the mix of Arabic sounds, Jewish mysticism and French culture -- shaped his destiny. He has since spent his life pursuing his ideals, working under the motto, "too much is never enough."
Challe first attracted attention as a teenager when he was dubbed "the man with the golden scissors." He opened the first unisex hair salon in Paris in 1964 and was a figurehead amongst the Parisian swinging '60s set. In 1968, he hung up his scissors and went to live in a commune in Sardinia before following the Hippy Trail to India, Nepal, and Indonesia. Always with an eye on how to turn a franc, Challe returned to Paris and immersed himself in the fashion business. He imported classic American urban styles then picked up on what was happening in London and began importing clothes from the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
Challe then turned his attention to the Paris nightclub scene, opening Le Privé, an upmarket yet bohemian venue and the restaurant Le Centre Ville. The success of these ventures allowed him to become involved in running Les Bains Douches, a fading punk venue that he turned into Paris's premier night spot. Here the likes of Jack Nicholson buddied up with Challe and chased women. Challe set up his own record label Chall'OMusic in 1996, offering "music to make the body resonate, to go straight to the heart and the emotions, thus expanding the mind." Drawing on his DJ skills, he mixed a double-CD compilation Les Bains Douches that celebrated the blend of house and world musics he had pioneered at the club. It was well received and a year later he issued a double CD with a harder techno feel, Lover Dose. Challe claimed this compilation reflected his feelings on love -- something he's never suffered from a lack of.
Challe looked to his roots for his next double-CD compilation Flying Carpet (which explored the link between Algerian Raï and house music). Tapping into the refired passion for all things Eastern, Challe became involved with the Buddha Bar in 1998. A monument to Parisian chic, Buddha Bar was a restaurant de luxe dominated by a giant Buddha statue and surrounded by a galleried bar serving cocktails and sushi. Challe was resident DJ and by blending his musical influences -- house, ambient, North African, Asian, and a touch of French pop -- he created Zen soundscapes of mellow beauty. As more and more patrons asked for mix tapes of what Challe was playing -- Madonna and Princess Diana amongst them -- he issued the double-CD Buddha Bar in 1999. Its instantaneous success found Challe following it with Buddha Bar II and Nirvana Lounge. All have proved immensely popular in France, and Challe now not only hangs out with celebrities but gets hired to DJ at events like Celine Dion's wedding and promote the Dalai Lama's Parisian appearances. Having recently left the Buddha Bar, he is currently working on a project which involves him directing musicians to make specific Claude Challe music which he hopes to follow with a circus tour and a spiritual autobiography. ~ Garth Cartwright