Justice: Saving rock n’ roll, one beat at a time

In 2003, Gaspard Augé was in a Paris nightclub when he stumbled onto his best friend’s girlfriend locking lips and making out with a young man who was not her boyfriend, but rather baby-faced stranger Xavier de Rosnay. The two budding graphic designers bonded, and these days, Augé and de Rosnay, the duo that make up the band Justice, are also making massive records. Their style of music has fused dance beats with radio/pop sensibility and stadium rock production. And make no mistake – Justice is here to rock. Augé, with his leather jacket and lambchop mutton hair looks more of a cross between Ben Stillers’s stunt double in Dodgeball and the 4th member of Wolfmother than “tonight’s DJ”. But that suits Augé just fine. “We trying to be more than just a ‘dance’ act,” he explained.

And, as deceptively tasty as this banana-Nutella sandwich combination of music styles is, it works. But that’s not to say it doesn’t get weirder, because it does. Case in point – an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, a late night variety/talk show in the United States. “Alright, this is going to be weird,” was the host’s introduction. This was followed by an army of impersonators, ranging from Michael Jackson, to Rod Stewart, Rick James and more, lip-synching and grooving their way through Justice’s single D.A.N.C.E.. “It was our idea to put together the ‘Dream Team of Impersonators’. We wanted to show what it would be like to have the ‘worst playback ever,’” laughed Augé. “We wanted to show something different and fun, instead of us playing a record. Live television is something we try to avoid, because the crowd atmosphere usually just isn’t right. You’re on for maybe three minutes? Club shows are much better.”

It’s a drizzle-filled night in Berlin, but that isn’t stopping the hordes of fresh-faced teens and twentysomethings from getting their pre-concert drink-and-smoke-on in the parking lot. Besides, as cold and as wet as it is, these are lucky ones. Tonight’s show on Justice’s 2008 World Tour is completely sold out, and scalpers outside are now charging – and getting – double the original ticket price. Not all shows have been free of obstacles though. Justice had originally planned a show at the mecca of New York City, Madison Square Garden. That’s the MSG – where the Knicks play. Springsteen. Kanye West. But Justice? Alas, the show was moved from the 15,000+ seat arena to the 5,000+ capacity at the adjacent WaMu Theatre. “It just didn’t add up. MSG meant we had to raise the ticket prices too high, so it wasn’t going to work,” admitted Augé. In fact, the ticket prices in New York were almost three times that of some of the other stops on the tour.

And speaking of Kanye West, who had a much publicized spat with Justice when he rushed the stage with a profanity-laced tirade at the 2006 MTV Europe Video Awards after being losing the award for ‘Best Video’ to the Justice-Simian We Are Your Friends project, the band has no hard feelings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “Kanye was the best promoter a young band like us could have ever had. It was exactly what we needed,” jokes the reserved behind-the-scenes Augé.

It also didn’t hurt to have their Grammy-nominated video for D.A.N.C.E. titillate more viewers than Lindsay Lohan’s photo homage to Marilyn Monroe, and make numerous critics’ ‘Best of’ lists for 2007, including Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. And with their next video for DVNO ready to start making the rounds, Justice is looking to build on the momentum from their relentless touring, which included stops in Australia’s Parklife late in 2007. From the literal and figurative highs of the “absolutely crazy crowd” in Adelaide, according to Augé, to the lows in Melbourne, where “some guy climbed up the scaffolding so they cut out off our music without telling us for like seven minutes until he climbed down,” Justice will surely rack up more road stories over the next few months as they start to hit the international festival scene, including confirmed dates at Coachella 2008 and Rock Am Ring in Germany.

“We’ll probably be on the road until about November, so we won’t get back into the studio until then,” disclosed Augé, when asked about plans for a follow-up album to their 2007 breakthrough release †. While the theme of Christianity is clearly apparent from the album title, their stage design, and some of the track names like Waters of Nazareth, Let There Be Light and Genesis, Augé is quick to point out, “Almost everyone in France is Christian.” So don’t call them the Mike Huckabee of trendy international music or enrol them into the Creed camp of Christian-rock just yet.

“I don’t really attend church regularly these day,” Augé confessed in a calm voice, barely audible over the ongoing sound check. And even though the last time a confessional room had bottled water, a fruit tray, and assorted salty snacks was probably when hell froze over, he continued by explaining their connection between religion, spirituality, and their music. “We wanted to draw a parallel between club music and church music. It has the same power on people – it makes people unite.”

Justice has carved out their rightful place on the sometimes cruel, sometimes delicious, but permanently changing buzzlist of the current pop culture taste test. As they push the boundaries between musical genres like a schizophrenic conductor, even they’re not sure in what direction they’ll go next. But, like a gap year kid’s trip to Europe, you get the feeling it will be a memorable ride no matter what.

This story was brought to you by Vincent Chew, ITM’s correspondent in Berlin who managed to catch up with Justice face to face. Stay tuned for more of his German escapades! Now check out the amazing clip for DVNO