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Random Access Moroder

Giorgio Moroder
The most talked about album in many years, Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’, is released in the UK today, and, as discussed in my post from the beginning of the month, ‘Disco Now Disco Then’ (http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2013/05/disco-now-disco-then-2), it’s all set to blitz the charts worldwide.

Never has an album caused such divisions during recent memory – whilst many hail it as brilliant, others dismiss it as rubbish. Suffice to say it’s really got under peoples’ skin and, be they for or against, everyone seems to be talking about it – it’s certainly been one of the most effective marketing campaigns in a long time. Even those who deride it are prone to add to the overall whirlpool of publicity by constantly referring to it on Facebook or Twitter. By continually taking what they believe to be the moral high ground in putting it down, they only serve to illuminate its importance as not just a highly anticipated release, but a musical event in itself – a zeitgeist moment, as I’ve previously stated.

This is the third related post I’ve made, but that’s because there’s so much to be said on the subject. I strongly believe that this marks a critical juncture for dance culture, with ‘Random Access Memories’ undoubtedly a game changer.

I maintain that it’s a far bigger issue than simply whether people personally like or dislike this recording, it’s what this album represents that’s at the crux of the matter – there’s a greater symbolism at play here, which, as I highlighted in the previous piece, concerns the role of musicians in making dance tracks. I’m quite prepared to stick my neck out here and say that the ramifications of ‘Random Access Memories’, with regards to how the next generation of producers will approach dance music, are no less than gargantuan in scale – its humanistic philosophy having been already spread, via the internet, to all corners of the globe before the album has even been heard. Once these ideas fully ferment I envisage a new era of dance innovation and experimentation, fuelled by youthful energy, but founded on this reconnection to older values.

Daft Punk 'Random Access Memories'

This is an album which will sell millions of copies throughout the summer ahead and, even as we speak, all around the world there will be dance producers thinking for the first time about the possibility of approaching a guitarist / percussionist / bassist etc. to add a more musical emphasis to tracks they’d otherwise make purely by numbers, so to speak, within the confines of their computer. My hope is that the upshot of all this is that the head (intellectual) and the heart (emotional) will combine in a new way in order to serve the dancefloor (the domain of the physical), and club tracks of greater substance will be created as a consequence.

DJs making dance music was one of the main developments of the post-Rave era. Prior to this, rewinding back to 1984, when I co-wrote / produced the majority of the tracks on the ‘Street Sounds UK Electro’ album, a British DJ making, rather than just playing music, was regarded by the media as something as a novelty. However, my collaborators, Martin Jackson (Linn Drum) and Andy Connell (Emulator / keyboards) were seasoned musicians – Andy a member of Factory Records band A Certain Ratio, and Martin previously the drummer with post-Punk group Magazine. It was this experimental fusion of DJ and musicians that created something new and vital, most notably in New York of the early-’80s, the city from which I drew my own influences, where DJs like Larry Levan, ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, Tee Scott and Tony Humphries had begun to re-imagine dance music, taking their field observations and on the job expertise into a studio setting, to great effect.

As the technology became more affordable, and programs were invented that increasingly negated the need for musicians, DJs became ever more self-reliant and, sat at their computers, were able to construct dance tracks independently, to varying levels of proficiency. Many classic dance records have been made in this manner, but something has also been lost in the process, and this might be described as ‘the human aspect’. No matter how good someone may be at programming tracks, there’s no substitute for quality musicianship – this is something that no Mac or PC can replicate. Keyboards (the musical rather than computer variety) have, of course, remained integral to dance music, but it’s possible for someone with limited skill to programme the notes – any timing problems can be resolved via quantizing, and even a one fingered wonder can slow the track right down in order to methodically place them in. However, guitars, bass, drum kits, live percussion, horns and strings, all essential ingredients of many of the great dance records of the past, have largely become a rarity (with the exception of the use of samples from older tracks), as the electronic dance direction gathered unstoppable momentum via the rise of House and Techno.

Musicians Wanted

I for one think that dance music, in juxtaposition with the available technology, will be all the richer for a wider reintroduction of such instruments (plus, of course, the greatest instrument of all – the human voice). So, with this in mind, I personally applaud Daft Punk for highlighting this issue in the way they have, both via the tracks on ‘Random Access Memories’ and in the numerous interviews they, and the other people associated with the project, have done as part of the promotion for the album. This is perfectly illustrated via the following quotes from last week’s NME. Thomas Bangalter (one half of Daft Punk) talked about reacting against the current EDM movement:

“It’s great to see how influential our records have been. We’re flattered by the respect we get, but we’ve been waiting for the last 10 years for some kid to come along and say ‘Daft Punk have got it all wrong!’ That’s what it needs. When we started out it was in opposition to our environment. We were probably responsible for creating today’s vicious cycle. We want to break it. Technology has made making music, in a really cool way, more accessible to everybody. At the same time it kind of diminishes some of the power of music. It’s like a magic trick when everybody knows how it’s done. Can there still be a magician when everyone is a magician”. Then, on being asked about his thoughts on EDM, his partner, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, joked: “I don’t know the EDM artists or the albums. At first I thought it was all just one guy, some DJ called EDM”, before poignantly adding; “It’s high-energy music that’s really efficient on the body. It’s like an energy drink. It really works and I totally admit that’s what we did at the start. We were playing raves and we wanted that energy when we played. More and more I’m into the emotions you can get from music. EDM is energy only. It lacks depth. You can have energy in music and dance to it but still have soul”.

This brings me to what, to my mind, is the key track on the album, the one that epitomizes the whole philosophy behind it, ‘Giorgio By Moroder’:

For those who are unaware of his legacy, Giorgio Moroder is regarded as the ‘Father of Eurodisco’, his pioneering productions (and songwriting) during the ’70s having a massive influence on all that followed. Along with his British partner, Pete Bellotte (Moroder is Italian), he re-shaped the course of dance culture, working out of MusicLand Studios in Munich before re-locating to the West Coast of America.

Starting out as a solo artist, Giorgio had scored a hit in Germany with ‘Looky Looky’ in 1969. Then, in 1972, the British Pop group Chicory Tip topped the chart with the Moroder / Bellotte composition, ‘Son Of My Father’, with its distinctive synth intro. However, the big breakthrough came in 1975 when a then unknown singer, Donna Summer, staked her claim to be the new ‘Queen of Disco’ (Gloria Gaynor holding the original crown), collaborating with Moroder and Bellotte on the worldwide hit, ‘Love To Love You Baby’.

In subsequent years Moroder would work with numerous artists, including Blondie, David Bowie, Sparks, Japan and the Three Degrees, as well as recording his own solo material, most notably ‘From Here To Eternity’ (1977) and ‘The Chase’ (1978), part of the score he composed for the movie ‘Midnight Express’, for which he won an Academy Award. But his greatest achievement was surely ‘I Feel Love’, the seminal Donna Summer single from 1977, with an entirely synthesized backing track – then something of an aural revelation. David Bowie once told a story about Brian Eno introducing him to ‘I Feel Love’ whilst he was living and recording in Berlin during ‘77. He remembered that; “one day in Berlin Eno came running in and said ‘I have heard the sound of the future’. He puts on ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and said ‘this is it, look no further, this single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years’, which was more or less right.”

Donna Summer 'I Feel Love' 12

Now, 36 years on from ‘I Feel Love’, Moroder finds himself back at the cusp of things. Having declared himself a fan of Daft Punk’s 2000 hit ‘One More Time’ (sadly, Romanthony, the vocalist on this track, died earlier this month), it wasn’t a surprise that he was one of the artists the group turned to in their quest to connect the future with the past for this new record – only their 4th album in 16 years.

What is a surprise is the track that bears his name, ‘Giorgio By Moroder’, which, given its title, is sure to bring him to the attention of a whole new generation of dance enthusiasts. It’s a unique recording, part Disco movement / part documentary, beginning with a long spoken reminisce about how he began to work within the music industry, the track appearing under his voice. After he describes the synthesizer as ‘the sound of the future’, it all breaks down to a simple click track. Then the main body, a classic Eurodisco groove, takes over for a couple of minutes before we become aware of a jazzier vibe materialising. Soon it fully morphs into something more akin to a Jazz-Funk tune, painting a whole other picture, before changing direction yet again, by dropping straight into the now isolated main synth line. Giorgio’s voice re-enters 8 bars later, and it’s here where he talks about creative freedom – of how nobody told him what to do, enabling him to make music without pre-conceptions. This is the prelude to a magnificent drop into an almost classical string section, which heralds a return to the original theme, this time with live drums rather than programmed beats – at one point taking out all electronic elements to leave just drums, bass and scratching. Finally the whole thing builds in intensity to its eventual climax, before concluding with a modulated kick drum. All in all, a 9 minute epic – truly a trip and a half!

Whilst the first single from the album, ‘Get Lucky’, is but a good time Pop vibe, this is something altogether more substantial – Moroder’s words a call to arms, which will be heard most clearly by creative young (and not so young) producers and musicians everywhere.

It’s the response of younger people to this track, as well as the album in general, that fascinates me most. I can only imagine the depth of impression this will make on many of them, Moroder’s story profoundly inspirational, as is the overall musical journey ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ and, indeed, its mother album takes us on, challenging set in stone ideas of what constitutes dance music here in 2013.

Yellow Giorgio

Giorgio Moroder Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Moroder

Random Access Memories Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_Access_Memories

*(added 22.05.13) on the same day this piece was uploaded, Giorgio Moroder made his US DJ debut, aged 73, at New York’s Deep Space, a party I had the pleasure of playing at myself last year as the guest of François K / Kevorkian, who launched the night in 2003 as his weekly Monday residency. RBMA Radio have now made the recording available to stream – listen here:
http://www.rbmaradio.com/shows/giorgio-moroder-live-at-deep-space

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21 Responses to Random Access Moroder

  1. Nick V May 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Well put Greg, thank you.

  2. DJ Bobby Starrr of Jack The Box, Berlin May 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Wise words Greg!

  3. Andy Ward May 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    A lot of the producers I know and speak to stopped using live musicians a long time ago when they couldn’t justify the costs. Personally, I don’t see them taking a risk because of this album and investing heavily into producing tracks they know won’t recoup these costs.
    Just my tuppence worth on your great blog.

  4. Kate H May 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Really interesting read

  5. John S.Locke May 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Well written and well said Greg..Even thinking about going back in the studio myself with my old musical partner Dave Hassell to make some new tunes…I remember us sitting in Amazon playing you our track Quiet Child after you had been working with Kermit and The Ruthless Rap Assassins on there album…was very humble to have you listen to it and pass kind words at the time …See you soon mate x

  6. Mark Cathcart May 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Great minds. I was just listening to your The Date – Loft Studios set yesterday, which includes your edit of Get Lucky. Initially it sounded so out of place, but it as always worked great. I was wondering what you’d make of the DP album overall.

    I’ve personally really enjoyed the revival of many 70’s and 80’s tracks by yourself, Leftside Wobble, DJ Vanis etc. It just shows what you can do with great tracks. I’ve only listened to a crap iTunes rip of the DP album, I’m sure the full album in full quality will be perfectly produced, a worth scheduling in the future as a “living to music”, but not because the tracks are not hardcore dance, it’s just that it sounds like an album for a film soundtrack. Something Giorgio would have done.

    ps. If you have not seen this George Barnett version, you should. Maybe you could get him to come provide some live music in your sets, he’s uk based. Very talented. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6NDY8FSr9

  7. Mark Cathcart May 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    let me try again with the george barnett url http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6NDY8FSr9M

  8. Rosalia Ferrara May 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    thought i was coming up on something when i listened to Giorgio by Moroder – the intro, his words, his story, his accent and that sound – what a killer track !!! Goosebumps all over. Salute to Giovanni Giorgio and the robots… 🙂

  9. Sam May 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    This idea of producers not using musicians is pretty silly- in the early 00’s thru today DFA records put out dance records that was mostly if not entirely done with live musicians. Flying Lotus is an electronic musician (bordering on dance and a slew of other genres) who uses all kinds of field recordings, live musicians, and samples to create his music. if you are looking at dance music as a form of music with a very limited set of aesthetic qualifiers then I suppose the new Daft Punk record is new and exciting and opens up possibilities, but in the broader context it’s just a (at least in my opinion) a boring record. I think that is one of the other narratives at play here- I dont hate the record, I dont love it, I just dont understand what about it is worth talking about. Of all the music that’s being made and been made since Discovery this is like the music equivalent of a knock-off Disney movie.

  10. Ralph Lawson May 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Well I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have just been doing exactly this for the last ten years – incorporating musicians into electronic music with our project 2020Soundsystem. We called it a day officially just last Monday and I mention the timing of daft punk using real playing on RAM in the opening paragraph of the blog piece I wrote to wrap it all up –

    http://www.ralphlawson.co.uk/blog/2013/5/10/2020soundsystem-2003-2013.html

    That makes our announcement incredibly badly timed for the zeitgeist! But hey! I’m happy to be anti-zeitgeist. I am still happy if there are better records made as Greg predicts.

  11. Clifford Moss May 21, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    As soon as I heard the track, the very first time, it wasn’t only my ears the pricked up.. I was all over it like a seagull on a bag of chips! It was supplanted into sets and was immediately ‘my favourite” Ha.. seems so purile but I suppose that this is merely my way of reiterating what you’ve said here.. just with a far greater eloquence and grace.
    Thanks Greg
    C

  12. TC May 21, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Sad to hear that, Ralph

  13. Will Nicol May 21, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    If the album stimulates inovation and creativity then brilliant but personally I’d be surprised if what sounds to me like and fairly dull, very mainstream record has any impact on underground producers. Are kids going to care what these old blokes who are number 1 in the charts are doing? About as relavant to them as a new Pink Floyd album in 1988 was to the acid house generation.

    As always, brilliant blog and great debate Greg!

    Cheers, Will

  14. Greg Wilson May 21, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Hi Andy: That was then, things are different now. Everyone has had to downscale in more recent times, so I don’t think it would be a case of musicians pricing themselves out of the market.

    Hi John: Long time no see – hope life’s been treating you good. Looking forward to hearing your new stuff 🙂

    Hi Sam: We’re talking more in the realm of mainstream club music than the underground. There are many artists who’ve combined electronic music with live instrumentation, as Ralph Lawson, who commented above, did with 2020 Soundsystem, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

    Hi Ralph: as one door closes another opens. All my best to you and the guys for the future.

    Hi Will: I’m a great believer that the mainstream feeds the underground, so if the music becomes more adventurous in the commercial clubs there’ll be a knock-on effect, with people exposed to different music than they would be otherwise, the more curious amongst them finding their way to the underground scene as a consequence. That was certainly the way it worked in the past. The type of producers who I believe will gain the greatest influence from this album are the ones just starting out, younger kids who might not have any real foundation in dance culture at present, but may be inspired to dig deeper having come across names like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder via this album. As I said, I think the philosophy behind the album is the most important thing, the suggestion that live musicians have a key roll to play in dance music, as they did in the past. This could inspire someone working in an orthodox way at the computer to perhaps ask the guy down the road, who plays guitar, if they’d like to like to get involved. Whilst there’ll certainly be some level of spin-off over the summer, I don’t think the full effect of this release will be felt for a couple of years, via people who might be in their teens / early 20’s now, for this is the main demographic who’ll be buying this album.

  15. Jason W May 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    I love electronic dance music including prog house, drum and bass (and even some dubstep!) However I would much prefer to hear dance music played by a good band of real musicians. Imagine if they were good enough to jam and improvise on stage…I would be in heaven 🙂

  16. BigDisco70 May 23, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    For me, Giorgio by Moroder has a real Cerrone – Supernature vibe to it. The synths, the chords, the emotion running through it. Likewise the changes in structure throughout the track. Not a Daft Punk fanboy by any stretch of the imagination and Get Lucky does nothing for me but this track is different and real quality.

  17. fab May 23, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    the first Moroder’s djset here:

    http://www.kdbuzz.com/?giorgio-moroder-deep-space-output-nyc

  18. Pete Heller May 23, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Good article, but I think that you’re missing the point a bit Greg. It’s not only ‘real’ musicians that are absent from most modern dance music – it’s that hard to define element, the ‘soul’ that is lacking from the majority of today’s output. Isn’t this the point that Daft Punk are making with this album? It’s the notion that music making is (or ought to be) a craft and the majority of dance producers have such a vast range of cheap audio tools at their disposal that they have never had or don’t feel the need to engage with this aspect of creative practice. It’s too easy or they’re just too damn lazy!

    However, there are still plenty of producers around that understand how to incorporate a bit of craft/soulfulness into their music making, whether or not that means working with vocalists, session musicians or in the way that they use purely electronically generated sounds. The point is that the unlike Daft Punk, the ability to book a high-end recording studio with a capable engineer and a bunch of session musicians is way out of reach reach of the vast majority of producers since for them, the economics just don’t add up. Today’s music makers need to use whatever tools are at their disposal in order to express themselves but the really good ones will be able to do so in a way that communicates something meaningful, emotional and universal . In other words, something that’s good.

  19. Mark Cathcart May 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Fab there are a couple of older sets floating around, but thanks for posting that one. His soundcloud page has some interesting material https://soundcloud.com/giorgiomoroder2/giorgio-moroder-live-at-louis

  20. Greg Wilson May 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Hi Pete: I take your point about the infeasibility of hiring expensive studios / session musicians, which is obviously unrealistic for many people, but I think that improvement can be made from a more basic level with dance producers utilizing people around them with musical skills – we all know musicians, but, generally speaking, they don’t see dance as an area of expression for themselves these days. It’s dispelling this notion that, I feel, will serve dance music well in this next phase.

    I tend to look at things in a slightly different way with regards to producers properly engaging with the creative practice. Given the great strides in technology, there are far too many options available (as you point out yourself re cheap audio tools), and this, I believe, stifles rather than aids the creative process. In many respects, working within a more limited setting would force them to think outside of the box, discovering new ways of doing things, as was the case in the past when there was a limited amount of tracks you could record to, and effects available. This is where more ‘soul’, so to speak, can be found – from a lateral approach.

    There will always be great dance music made by one person sat alone at a computer, someone who might not be a musician, but have a natural musicality, coupled with the ability to craft away at a track. However, this is increasingly the exception rather than the rule and, as I’ve previously said, there’s no substitute for musicianship. My personal belief is that dance music has been severely lacking in this area during recent times.

    I think we’re both after the same objective, but viewing it from slightly different angles. As a producer, but a non-musician myself, I’m aware of my limitations, so I welcome a move back towards greater musical input – I strongly believe that this is the way forward for dance.

  21. minibreakfast May 26, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    Great article Greg. I just thought it worth mentioning that for me, the most important ingredient that Random Access Memories contains that much dance music seems to lack these days is LOVE! It’s the beating heart of this album.

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