If you blinked at some point in the late ‘90s you might have missed it, but electronic dance music was cool for about a year. In January 1997, two Frenchmen in robot costumes, Daft Punk, released their groundbreaking debut, Homework. Though a decade old now, Homework hasn’t aged a day and it easily rivals the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as the most influential dance music album of all time. The album inspired some of the greatest music videos ever made and, consequently, Homework was a crossover hit that got huge airplay and introduced legions of people to dance music.
Then, in March 1998, Madonna released her techno-inspired Ray of Light album, which sold 15 million units worldwide, and it was all downhill from there. Dance music became the soundtrack to bullet-time fight sequences, tapas restaurants and car commercials. Before you knew it, liking dance music became the disgraceful scarlet letter of shame it is today.
But not so fast. Something strange has been going on over the past few years. Dance rock bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party are top of the charts. Even stranger is that full-fledged dance music acts, like LCD Soundsystem, MSTRKRFT and Diplo, are being championed by trendsetters who can’t relate to a single character in the movie Groove and think Carl Cox is a male porn star. One of the labels at the forefront of this resurrection is Ed Banger Records, a French electro label founded by Daft Punk’s manager Busy P. The stars of this new label are Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, aka Justice.
If you’ve ever read some dude with bangs’ mp3 blog, Justice require little introduction. For the rest of us, Gaspard explains over the phone from his home in Paris how Justice came about. “I started to do music like three years ago with Xavier. We just met by a common friend. We started doing music and ‘We are Your Friends’ was the second track we did together. We had a common friend with Pedro [Busy P], which was So_Me, the graphic designer. We had dinner at my place and we let him listen to ‘We Are Your Friends’ that we did for a remix contest for the radio. It was the only finished track we had. He was very enthusiastic and two weeks after we were signed on Ed Banger.“
To quote Shinzon, Jean-Luc Picard’s evil clone in Star Trek: Nemesis, “I’m afraid you won’t survive to witness the victory of the echo… over the voice.” That’s certainly the case with Justice’s breakout single. “We are Your Friends” is an electro-funk sing-a-long anthem, which is a remix of defunct band Simian (now called Simian Mobile Disco). The video for the song even went on to win a statue at the MTV Europe video awards. During the director’s acceptance speech, Kanye West ran on stage to declare the outcome bullshit and went on to say his “Touch the Sky” video should have won because it “cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons. If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility. Nothing against you, but hell, man.”
Despite that insanity, the song has remained a relatively under the radar hit that is still being discovered by listeners. Gaspard admits, “it’s really amazing to see that the song is lasting. Especially, for club music, you make a one-summer hit and then it’s gone. I think it’s probably due to the fact that for us, ‘We Are Your Friends’ is more of a pop song than a proper club anthem… I think we at first didn’t really think about doing dance music. We just wanted to do some pop tracks and it just ended up in the clubs. We discovered club music very late.”
Being late adopters hasn’t translated into problems finding work. Since “We Are Your Friends,” Justice has remixed the likes of Franz Ferdinand, DFA 1979, Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim, and produced original material. One track in particular, “Waters of Nazareth,” features a very Sunday school sounding organ along with heavy religious imagery on the sleeve. Though both of them are Catholics, Gaspard claims religious brainwashing isn’t the intent. “[The crosses] came from the organ break in ‘Waters of Nazareth’. We decided to make the sleeve so it fit the track. It was a whole concept. It’s really strong imagery but maybe it’s offensive to some.” Regardless, Justice has since adopted a cross as their logo.
Their most recent offering “Phantom,” the single off of their debut full length which is coming this summer, is also the group’s Daft Punkest sounding offering to date. Though built entirely around a sample from a Goblin track that was featured in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, Gaspard claims the intent behind the sample isn’t nerdy horror movie fanboyism. Rather, “We really wanted to bring back emotion in club music. I think the movie soundtracks are really emotional. They really influence the way you see the picture. We really tried to make people feel something when the track is on.” Like a religious experience? “Yeah,” Gaspard replies.
While it’s a little premature to proclaim that this Daft Punk echo will surpass the original sound, the comparisons are inevitable. For Gaspard. “It’s a burden. We really like their music. But it’s totally a different situation. When Daft Punk released Homework, dance music wasn’t popular at all. Now, it’s totally impossible to think about doing a music revolution. Maybe this is just the aftermath of Daft Punk.“ This aftermath he speaks of has seen attendance to shows dropping quicker than a free hit of ecstasy. In fact, Daft Punk is the only outfit from the explosion that’s still as big a draw as it was in its heyday.
So who’s coming out to these shows that feature religious dance music, Giallo soundtrack samples and flashing strobe light crosses? “Just monks,” Gaspard kids. But when pressed whether it’s dudes with glowsticks or dudes with tightjeans, it turns out the answer is both. “The good thing about the Ed Banger shows in general is that we got a really mixed audience. You can have like a 15 year-old indie kid and also the guys more into hip-hop or pure electronic music tracks. It’s really good to see that we manage to interest the Vice people.”
Gaspard accounts for Justice’s bizarre crossover appeal to fickle hipsters and blindly obedient dance music devotees by saying, “it’s because we have a really pop approach to composing. We are always trying to have a verse and chorus structure in our tracks, even when there’s no vocals. We are totally unable to do a seven-minute club tracks because we get really easily annoyed. So we are trying to keep the attention of the listener so they’re always amused or surprised.”
Well what is it: live music and cocaine, or DJ sets and ecstasy? It can’t be both at the same time cuz you’ll end up unconscious in the bathroom. Well, Gaspard has found the synthesis, “Rum and Tabasco. It’s our only drug.” While also likely to have you wind up in the bathroom, it won’t render you unconscious. Though you’ll be praying you were.
Words: Michael Mann
published april 2007 in the nerve