Frequencies: Year in Review 2007
1. Justice † (Ed Banger)
Though few would have predicted it last January, the breakout success story of 2007 belongs to Parisian electro-house duo Justice. They are the first European electronic act to win over North America in almost a decade. To date, they’ve sold over 30,000 copies of † in the U.S., with an extra 7,000 in Canada, an impressive feat for unapologetically electronic album. It’s a feat the French dance circuit hasn’t managed on this continent since Daft Punk. 28-year-old Gaspard Augé and 25-year-old Xavier De Rosnay may have started off the year as the highlights of a Eurocentric sub-genre spearheaded by the Ed Banger crew, but 12 months later their fingerprints are all over the globe.Gaspard Augé is as surprised as anyone else. "Since the album came out, everything’s turned out much better than what we were expecting,” he says on a rare break back home in Paris. Augé himself is a surprise; he doesn’t sound anything like the guy you’d expect to make an album like †. In person, he’s tentative to the point of stuttering, and even though this interview was conducted partially in his native French, he doesn’t seem comfortable yet talking about himself or the music. But he’s reticent of the ubiquitous Daft Punk allusions.
"It’s a comparison that’s beginning to get a bit tiresome, because it seems that in every interview we do we’re obligated to discuss this,” he complains. "We really have little to do with Daft Punk and that scene, even though we are a pair, we are French, we have the same manager [Pedro Winter, owner of Ed Banger records], and we make electronic music, but the comparison ends there. Much of this first wave of French Touch electronic music here, with Daft Punk, was based on filter disco, which was more of the same process for every producer working here. But I don’t think we’re making the same music.”
Justice don’t make the same music as Daft Punk, but they are evolving French house music for the 21st century. The first wave of French Touch — the term used to bring together the French dance explosion of the mid- to late ’90s — filtered the sexiest side of British house through edgy German techno, and lumped it all together with the funkiness of American breaks. "After the first wave of French Touch,” Augé explains, "there was a turn to techno that was more minimal and purist in design. I think people in France and Europe are a bit tired of this serious and intelligent music. Finally, people just want to be entertained, and this is also what we want to do for people.”
In this light, Justice is very much a product of the post-electroclash era, in that they’ve taken the cross-continental melting pot that was the original French Touch and updated it with rock’s cocky riffage, electro’s brittle percussion, and a dash of ’80s synth-pop. Justice has also made ample use of the micro-sampling techniques articulated by Montreal’s Akufen and fellow Parisian Jackson & His Computer Band, both of whom offer solid precursors to the cut-up, chunky aesthetic underlying the duo’s production style.But Justice’s popularity isn’t just a matter of producing first-rate dance music. They’ve become a cultural phenomenon, able to transcend the club circuit and speak to the primal sense of imagination and unexpectedness that compels every music fan’s excitement.
"It’s bizarre, even when we play in clubs,” says Augé, "people don’t come to dance but like they’re attending a concert, even though we’re not doing anything more special than spinning records. It’s different for the live show, because we have a big set-up and it’s better designed for concert halls, but that doesn’t really affect people’s reactions. For the last two or three years, the atmosphere around us at any showcase has been more rock than club.”
Though the duo ascribe to dance music’s intuition of burying their personalities, they fill the gap with an arresting mix of memorable iconography that’s both alienating and timely. In an era where the perception of mainstream media and culture is that presentation is everything, Justice are happy to cultivate the markers of a bombastic rock band without delivering the rock itself. If anything, Justice has tapped into the pretence and cynicism of the current cultural angst: the message of modern music no longer matters; it’s the combination of image and sound that gets people, and those two factors must constantly evolve.
To their credit, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay know what they’re doing. The pair comes from a graphic design background, and their videos and live appearances demonstrate that they have their finger on the sense of spectacle.
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