Published Mar 01, 2007By their own admission, Dave One and Pee Thug the brainchildren behind Montreals electro-funk revisionists Chromeo make a decidedly odd pairing. Its 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. "Weve been best buddies for almost 15 years. You look at me and Pee, were 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 couldnt wait for people to see what we looked like together.
A lot has been made of Chromeos 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 havent 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 jurys still out on whether Chromeos example will set a precedent for any Middle East resolutions, one thing is clear: the pairings 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, Shes 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 Playgroups 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-diggers 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 DJs drool over. But Dave One and Pee Thug are pragmatic about their limits.
"Weve always had a distance that we maintained with dance music, says Dave One. "Its never really been our thing. Itd feel phony for us to full-on jump on that bandwagon. Thats not where were 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 youd 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 Ones singing comes through unprocessed, and with it comes Robert Palmers 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. Theres less of an electro/new wave thing going on and more love songs. Funky love songs. Were mostly playing songs for getting ready to go out or when you get home from going out. Or like when youre in the shower or having sex or something. We just wanted to set ourselves apart, so we figured wed 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 Chromeos making a run for the keys. The new material gleefully borrows from a neglected songbook that begins with George Clintons "Atomic Dog and follows through to Slick Ricks perverted fantasies. These days, if Prince still wants to "Jack U Off, then hes 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 its hard to take that seriously. We dont even take that seriously. But thats our thing. We dont 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 cant think of many other bands that do shit that sounds like us. Were defining that universe as we go, making sure its as specific as possible.
If anythings for sure, its that Chromeo are out to seduce you, one song at a time.