CHROMEO Funky Love

CHROMEO Funky Love
Photo: Tim Barber
By their own admission, Dave One and Pee Thug — the brainchildren behind Montreal’s electro-funk revisionists Chromeo — make a decidedly odd pairing. It’s been that way for nearly half their lives. "We met in high school when we were 15, in the 9th or 10th grade,” Dave One explains. "We’ve been best buddies for almost 15 years. You look at me and Pee, we’re like cartoon characters. People used to get a kick out of us before Chromeo. We used to walk into clubs in Montreal and people would be like, oh my god, look at that tall dude with glasses hanging out with that gangsta-looking motherfucker. Even [Montreal DJ/producer and Turbo label owner] Tiga signed us all giddy because he couldn’t wait for people to see what we looked like together.”

A lot has been made of Chromeo’s appearance. On stage, they routinely encourage the cartoonish presentation of the band with the vocoders stitched to their lips and a repertoire of instruments most people haven’t seen since Rick James left the building. Their press materials go one step further and describe the duo as the only successful Arab/Jew collaboration since the beginning of time. Though the jury’s still out on whether Chromeo’s example will set a precedent for any Middle East resolutions, one thing is clear: the pairing’s steadfast policies on not taking themselves so seriously, both in life and on record, has reaped some serious rewards.

Chromeo appeared on the scene in 2003, seemingly fully formed, with the infectious "Needy Girl” single. Their debut album, She’s In Control, arrived the following year and made good on all the promise of their early work. That album garnered a lot of attention. Not only did the duo find itself garnering a lot of ink in the press for their party-or-die fusion of ‘80s funk, hip-hop, and electro, but their connections to the underground dance scene drew the curiosity of first-rate remixers like the DFA and Playgroup’s Trevor Jackson.

The duo has had a lot of success with the club dons. Last year, the duo delivered vocals for shit-hot Ed Banger DJ Mehdi; the resulting single was the international club hit "I Am Somebody.” The duo also graced the decks for the reverential Eskimo mix series, and used the opportunity to pillage their crate-digger’s appreciation for late-funk/early synth-pop obscurities. Their upcoming album, due out in June, is currently being mixed by none other than Philip Zdar, the mastermind behind French house groups like Cassius, Motorbass, and La Funk Mob.

Turns out an electro-funk duo makes the best collaborators for those club-circuit heavyweights looking to tweak a taste of pop into their sets. In this sense, Chromeo have it all: they posses the soul, the party attitude, the neon rhythms, and the spare production values DJ’s drool over. But Dave One and Pee Thug are pragmatic about their limits.

"We’ve always had a distance that we maintained with dance music,” says Dave One. "It’s never really been our thing. It’d feel phony for us to full-on jump on that bandwagon. That’s not where we’re from. On a day-to-day basis, Pee listens to ‘80s funk records and I listen to hip-hop records. There are two things I like. The first is music that talks about selling crack and killing people. The only rap I like has got to have all kinds of criminality in it. The second is Hall & Oates or that Loverboy romantic/cheesy stuff. I love that.”

Shake those daily listening preferences together in a bag, and you’d have a pretty good facsimile of what the new Chromeo material sounds like. "Fancy Footwork,” their soon-to-be first single off the new album, starts off with a faux-police siren before delving into the kind of early ‘80s robotic funk that would make Cameo proud. The biggest difference here is that the vocoders have been removed from their cheeks and hung up to dry. Dave One’s singing comes through unprocessed, and with it comes Robert Palmer’s lubricated lyric sheet, a veritable New Romantics’ textbook on how to win over the ladies. The rest of the new material follows suit.

"On this new record what we tried to focus on was songwriting. There’s less of an electro/new wave thing going on and more love songs. Funky love songs. We’re mostly playing songs for getting ready to go out or when you get home from going out. Or like when you’re in the shower or having sex or something. We just wanted to set ourselves apart, so we figured we’d do silky smooth, really polished records with love lyrics, while maintaining the quirkiness of our first album. The first record was a fluke for us. So this next record was more of a musical challenge. Our stuff is made on vintage analog gear. We make our records the same way Prince made his records.”

In other words, Paisley Park should sit up and take notice because Chromeo’s making a run for the keys. The new material gleefully borrows from a neglected songbook that begins with George Clinton’s "Atomic Dog” and follows through to Slick Rick’s perverted fantasies. These days, if Prince still wants to "Jack U Off,” then he’s going to have to get in line. According to Dave One, you can expect all this and more from their upcoming tour.

"Dim the lights and put your Wayfairs on. Sexiness still exists, but we fall into some real smooth-operator shit. I know it’s hard to take that seriously. We don’t even take that seriously. But that’s our thing. We don’t want people to go crazy and trance out at our shows, we want them to do little pirouettes and Miami Vice dance moves while wearing white-on-white suits. We create a little universe with Chromeo. I can’t think of many other bands that do shit that sounds like us. We’re defining that universe as we go, making sure it’s as specific as possible.”

If anything’s for sure, it’s that Chromeo are out to seduce you, one song at a time.