Gainsbourg impersonator jailed for knifing rival

A court in north-eastern France on Tuesday sentenced to jail an impersonator to French music icon Serge Gainsbourg for stabbing a rival tribute act for French rock star Johnny Hallyday, amid a bizarre feud between the pair.

Gainsbourg impersonator jailed for knifing rival
Johnny Hallyday (L), Serge Gainsbourg (R). French music icons whose impersonators' bizarre feud turned bloody. Photo: Georges Biard/Claude Truong-Ngoc

Denis Colnot, 48, was sentenced to two years in prison by a court in the Vosges region on Tuesday, for stabbing Michel Pacchiana, 52, in the town of Epinal, in July 2011.

Colnot, a Serge Gainsbourg impersonator, had for years been embroiled in a bitter feud with Pacchiana, who made a living being a tribute act of French rock star Johnny Hallyday, over lookalike contests and competition for appearances at local bars and parties.

The rivalry turned violent on July 23rd 2011, however, after an argument between the two outside Colnot’s house.

Pacchiana was said to have disdainfully tossed pocket change at Colnot, and called him “a social misfit”.

In response, Colnot retrieved a knife from his house and stabbed Pacchiana in the throat, just missing his carotid artery.


The Gainsbourg-obsessed culprit, described by his own lawyer Gérard Weltzer as “emotionally fragile”, had told the court: “I acknowledge that I stabbed him, but I didn’t intend to kill him,” according to BFMTV.

Colnot had faced a potential 30-year sentence, if the court found that his attack on Pacchiana was premeditated, and amounted to attempted murder.

Instead, he could be freed within a month, having already served the majority of the sentence whilst in custody awaiting the trial.

Weltzer had previously argued that his client had simply “blown a fuse” after years of abuse from Pacchiana, against whom he filed a harassment complaint in the days leading up to the stabbing.

For his part, Pacchiana attributed the attack by his rival, whom he called “a cabbage-head” in court, to professional and personal jealousy.

“I had won the last two competitions that we took part in, and he was livid,” he told local daily Vosges Matin in 2012.

“When I sing as Johnny, I become a total animal on stage. Whereas Denis Colnot stays completely motionless when he impersonates Serge Gainsbourg,” he added.

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8 of French duo Daft Punk’s most memorable moments

One of the era's defining dancefloor acts hung up their helmets on Monday, as French electronic music stars Daft Punk announced their retirement in a typically enigmatic fashion with a video showing one of them exploding in a desert.

8 of French duo Daft Punk's most memorable moments
Photo: AFP

From Da Funk in 1995 to Get Lucky in 2013, Daft Punk became the torch-bearers for French house music across the globe, winning six Grammy awards and pioneering the monumental sound-and-light shows that came to characterise the electronic dance movement (EDM) of recent years.

They did so while almost never revealing their faces — the ubiquitous helmets became another much-copied trope of EDM stars, but also afforded Thomas Bangalter, 46, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 47, a freedom from the fame that quickly encircled them.

“We have daily lives that are a lot more normal than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us, but who might be attached to being physically recognised,” Bangalter said in a rare authorised documentary by the BBC in 2015.

Here are some of the highlights of their career – although for our money nothing will beat the French army band’s performance of a Daft Punk medley at the Bastille Day celebrations in 2017, in front of president Emmanuel Macron and a plainly bemused Donald Trump.

1. “Daft punky thrash”

Bangalter and Homem-Christo met at school in Paris before an inauspicious start in music with the rock band Darlin’, which also featured a future member of the French indie band Phoenix.

One review in the British music press dismissed the band as “daft punky thrash” — which struck a chord with them.

Reemerging as an electronic outfit, they met with instant success.

This interview from 1995 is one of the few images of their faces:

2. Their signature look in “Around the World”

Early singles “Da Funk” and “Around the World” became club fixtures, and led to massive sales for their debut album “Homework” in 1997.

It was in the video for “Around the World” that they first donned the helmets that would become their signature look. It mirrored the tight control they exercised over every part of their career, which included ownership of their master recordings.

3. “One More Time”

They followed up with the even more successful “Discovery” in 2001, which spawned the hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

There were some distinctively left-field choices in the years that followed, including producing the 2003 film “Interstella 5555” by Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto, which featured music from “Discovery”.

4. Human After All

While their next album in 2005, a more sombre “Human After All”, received mixed reviews, these were quickly forgotten amid the euphoria of their live shows over the next two years.

This included a headline appearance at US festival Coachella in 2006, performed inside a giant LED pyramid. EDM fans still speak about it with an almost religious reverence.

5. Tron soundtrack

In 2010, they released a soundtrack to the Disney reboot of Tron, which picked up a Grammy nomination.

6. “Random Access Memories”

But no one predicted the massive success of their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories”, for which they gave up their usual makeshift home rig for a full commercial studio– and used entirely live instruments.

The resulting work dominated album-of-the-year lists and helped lift their total worldwide sales to 12 million. It won four Grammies the following year including record of the year for “Get Lucky”, the millions-selling lead single featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Their appearance at the Grammy Awards show was their last public appearance for three years.

7. “I Feel It Coming”

They showed up one more time for the Grammy ceremony in 2017, alongside The Weeknd, after collaborating on the Canadian artist’s most recent album.

Despite the Twittersphere erupting in excitement last month amid rumours they would rejoin The Weeknd for the Super Bowl half-time show, that did not in the end materialise. 

8. “Epilogue”

The video titled “Epilogue” announcing their split used footage from their cult 2006 film “Electroma” in which one of the robots sets the auto-destruct of the other.

A cutaway then reads “1993-2021” with two robot hands making a circle around a sunset.

Their publicist, Kathryn Frazier, confirmed the news to AFP by email, without giving a reason for the split.