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’ (//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.
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.
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.”
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.
Giorgio Moroder Wikipedia:
Random Access Memories Wikipedia:
*(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: