Air: French for ‘Love Imagination Dream’
Imagine your new favourite band, a supergroup if you will, containing pioneering members of the French electronic music scene. Peerless amongst contemporaries who are now trailblazing the sound they helped forge. The band would consist of luminaries including Alex Gopher, Etienne de Crecy, Jean-Benoí®t Dunckel and Nicolas Godin. Alex Gopher, the producer and record label owner who produced the classic Wuz album for Yves St. Laurent and has just released an innovative self titled album of pop-rock songs with a fresh new wave flavour. Etienne de Crecy, the man who’s sophomore album is credited with introducing ‘The French Touch’ to disco, and therefore giving birth to French house music. And while the last two names may not be as familiar, they’re no less significant. Dunckel and Godin are the two members of French electronica duo Air, an acronynm for ‘Amour Imagination Ríªve’ or ‘Love Imagination Dream’.
This band need not be a figment of your imagination: it did once exist, its name was Orange and it gave these four young aspiring musicians their starts in the French music scene. Orange was unfortunately only a short lived experiment as Godin recounts. “We were influenced by Bowie, The Beatles, Serge Gainsbourg and a little bit of Prince.” He goes on to explain that the Paris music scene wasn’t as accepting as it has become now. “We were teenagers and we wanted to do some rock, so we did it but we realised we were French and there was a little bit of a problem, as rock and France don’t go together, so we split.” Godin and fellow Air member Jean-Benoí®t Dunckel decided in 1995 when at university that they wanted to start making music again. “When I was older I wanted to make something that sounded more like Air, more close to my roots.” From that, Air’s first EP Les Premiers Symptomes was born and was immediately hailed a success with their debut LP Moon Safari, up there with any of the great contemporary electronic albums.
Their latest album Pocket Symphony was released last year and was generally well received by all corners, but how does an Air album come together? “It’s always a reaction really to what we have done just before,” explains Godin. “Just before Pocket Symphony we wrote and recorded an album for a French actress called Charlotte Gainsbourg, we did a lot of songs for her. So when it was time to record Pocket Symphony we were kind of tired of working for other people, of writing songs for other people, so we wanted to do something from very deep inside our hearts, something very calm, something very influenced by Japan and the Zen. This was really a reaction against the one before, so I’m sure the next one will be very energetic because Pocket Symphony was very calm.”
A Japanese influence is clear throughout the album, highlighted by second single Me du Japon on which the only vocals are “J’ai perdu la raison dans la mer du Japon” which translates to “I lost my mind in the sea of Japan”. Before recording Pocket Symphony, Godin spent a year learning to play two far Eastern classical instruments, the Koto and the Shamisen from a Japanese master and these instruments feature on six of the album’s twelve tracks. Translating to their live show, Godin jokes that they need 25 people on antique keyboards, but don’t like to set the theme for the show too much. “We don’t make special projections or images because our music is so cinematic that everybody who listens to it is trying to let their imaginations go off. If you put an image on a screen you take away the trip of anyone and I think that our music makes people travel in their own mind and I don’t want to give them a direction visually.”
With that not so subtle reference to a certain robot juggernaut that has been transporting itself around the globe, Godin also feels a bit ambiguous about the new wave of French producers prolifically releasing material on labels-of-the-moment like Kitsune and Ed Banger. “Most of the music produced here (in France) is very bad, because it’s not ours, you know we’re not very good at music here in France, but that sound has allowed a variety of people to make good music. I think maybe the world nowadays is relieved to hear more music about different countries like Norway or Iceland or France or Germany. So I think each country each country produces a little bit of good music nowadays, with the internet, and music traveling is very interesting.” Even more interesting is the fact that Godin still subscribes to a heavily anglicized notion of world music. “Most of the good music is made in England and America and then each country in the world provides one or two good bands sometimes and that’s it really. So I don’t really think that France is better or less good than any other country, I think it’s just a worldwide situation.” This is even as Godin explains that even though they are friendly with a lot of the French scene, he isn’t sure about the explosion of releases from French electronic artists. “We know all these people and we like them a lot, but Paris is a small village (estimated population over 2million), I have no idea about the impact around the world so its interesting for us to travel to places like Australia, because we have problems to understand if it its big or not because in Paris it’s very big, but you have to travel to confirm that. I don’t know really what success they have had abroad as it’s hard to know, it’s hard for me to understand. But of course we are big fans of Daft Punk because we started with them and now it’s a generational thing. When we started altogether we created music of our generation and each generation created their own world with its own vocabulary. It’s important not be too close to the past, so basically it’s a new wave coming, I hope we are not overestimating it, it is a good sign though.”
An undeniably cynical view of French and world music in general, but perhaps he sees the changing music industry, post In Rainbows, in a more positive outlook, “It’s not for me to answer that because it’s not the people like us that are going to change things, it’s the generation after us. When we started, we decided to do this business the way we wanted to be. I think it’s a generation thing; you have to let other people give direction. I don’t really think it’s our role to lead the future of music, I think by now; I want to do something that’s close to my heart and close to my personal taste. People of 20 years old need to decide what they want to do, I mean if I was a teenager right now I might not be even excited by music, the future might be something else. When we started with Daft Punk we felt that there was an excitement in the music world and we could electronic music and we could release our 12 inches and doing nightclubs and things were happening, but maybe things are happening, this excitement is happening somewhere else, away from music. If you wait for Radiohead to set up the business plan for making music it’s kind of depressing, I don’t 40-year old people setting the trends. It’s a sign of something going wrong, it should be the youth who tells people what’s going to be next, not people from our generation.”
Godin’s argument does have rational ideas underpinning it. Radiohead are all turning 40 this year, and the only youth-produced original innovative ideas challenging this are ones like Haduken! releasing an EP on a USB thumb drive. Perhaps the recent boom in music and MP3 blogging could be a way forward; but Godin only sees it as interesting phenomenon. He still isn’t convinced that the remix, that many blogs thrive around, is as popular as it used to be, even if the evidence may contradict him with internet bootlegging attracting more prominence than ever. “We used to do remixes a lot, when we younger because it was the vibe of the era. We used to work on 12 inches and spend a lot of time in nightclubs and there was a big culture about it. But nowadays I think there is a lot less excitement in records and we aren’t interested in doing remixes anymore.” On blogs, he says he is still lingering on their promise. “I am waiting for something to happen. The music world from my point of view is kind of depressing right now. I am not a man of that time anymore.” On pressing further as to why the music world is depressing him, Godin elaborates. “There is less and less fun from my point of view. I am going out all the time but it’s not the same thing. The parties are bigger in say, the world of contemporary art; the music parties out there are kind of shitty right now.”
The debate of whether it’s more fun viewing paintings on walls or thrashing around a sweaty club to some banging electro/breaks/dnb/techno can I’m sure be fiercly argued by both sides, but there is no doubt Godin’s rather somber view of innovation in music has merits. Where are the next generation of originators going to come from? Will it be VJing that provides the next step, can the excitement of the early years of electronic music ever be replicated? I guess time will only tell.
Air visit Australia for the first time ever in March and April, touring as part of the V Festival and playing their own solo shows around the country:
Mar 27 – Kings Park & Botanic Gardens, Perth
Mar 29 – V Festival, Sydney
Mar 30 – V Festival, Gold Coast
Mar 31 – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Apr 2 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Apr 3 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Apr 5 – V Festival, Melbourne
Apr 6 – Opera House, Sydney
Apr 7 – Opera House, Sydney