French duo Justice dials down the depravity
Either Xavier de Rosnay is withholding information to protect the guilty parties, or Justice has evolved in more ways than one over the past couple of years.
When the Georgia Straight connects with the better-groomed half of the French electronica heavyweights, he’s between tours. What’s interesting is that he’s neither spending his downtime drinking enough to float the Titanic nor looking for a good rehab facility. That’s progress, at least where the former is concerned.
If you’ve seen the 2008 documentary A Cross the Universe, then you know that, in the past, life on the road wasn’t all early-morning yoga sessions and postshow wheat-grass shakes for Justice. Highlights of said flick had de Rosnay and his more hirsute bandmate, Gaspard Augé, looking like they learned everything they know about touring from The Dirt. A short list of the film’s many shocking moments included a whiskey-bombed Augé marrying a total stranger in Las Vegas, de Rosnay clocking an over-enthusiastic fan/stalker in the head with a bottle, and the band being dragged out of a Denver diner by police after a firearms-related incident.
So what has Justice been doing to top such debauchery while touring for last year’s game-changing sophomore album, Audio, Video, Disco? Well, the duo has evidently come to the conclusion that you can’t be a 24-hour Party Person when you have a job to do. Reached on a break in his London flat, de Rosnay says Justice has been taking things a little slower than in the past.
“What I’ve learned is that it’s calm if you want to make it calm, and it’s hectic if you want to make it hectic,” the Parisian says, speaking in an accent thicker than Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau’s. “What I sense is that our production is now bigger, so now we are now on bigger tours as well. Because you have more fans and more things to do, of course that leaves less space for outside kinds of entertainment.”
While that might be bad news for fans hoping to score postshow passes to Justice’s hotel room, tour bus, or French-cut pants, it’s a sign that de Rosnay and Augé are taking a different approach to business these days. That’s only appropriate, considering that the band has drastically reinvented itself with Audio, Video, Disco, one of the most daring sophomore outings in pop-music history.
That move was a surprising one. No one would have been upset if Justice had gone for a full-bore recreation of its 2007 debut, Cross, a record that took electronica to synapses-taxing extremes. Creating an instant classic, de Rosnay and Augé arrived with a sound that seemed equally indebted to block-rocking techno, coke-dusted disco, panzer-strength metal, and fire-scorched industrial. Electronica purists, naturally, hated it. Those whose iPods have just as much Metallica and Ministry as Daft Punk and Prodigy couldn’t get enough, pissing off the purists even more.
Audio, Video, Disco has the duo shelving most of the synths and hauling out the guitars, the album giving vintage prog rock an electro-pop makeover. You can almost taste the bong residue in the towering “Civilization”, which comes on like a six-string-saturated artifact from a time when men wore feathered hair and flowing capes. Not content to blow your minds there, Justice throws a flute solo into the beautifully spacey “On’n’On” and seemingly cops AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” riff for “New Lands”. The deliciously hyper-processed, almost-baroque “Ohio”, meanwhile, suggests a sick fascination with the Electric Light Orchestra. Rest assured you can still dance to Justice, even if you happen to be wearing sparkling ’70s-issue platforms. What’s clear, though, is that the band is intent on moving electronica forward, even as it spends the album’s 11 tracks lovingly gazing at a past it wasn’t around to experience.
Standing back, one could be forgiven for thinking Justice was on a mission to piss off the purists once more, along with its own newfound fans. De Rosnay, however, pleads innocence on that charge.
“The thing that we did was try to challenge people,” he suggests. “We appeal to a wide mix, people with different tastes, backgrounds, and different ages. We didn’t give people what they wanted to listen to because we didn’t even know what they expected from us. We more wanted to do something that we found interesting and that we wanted to do. Because we love music, we naturally ended up challenging ourselves, and trying to surprise ourselves and excite us.”
Challenging themselves might have been the biggest part of the record. The former graphic designers built most of Audio, Video, Disco around the guitar—or three of them, to be precise, augmented by a single synth. That they had never really played guitars wasn’t really an issue. When they got busy on Cross, they didn’t have much of a clue what they were doing with their synths, this doubly astonishing when you consider they ended up producing filling-melting epics like “Phantom” and “Phantom Pt. II”.
“Both records were hard to make and yet kind of easy at the same time,” de Rosnay says. “It was hard because we had a learning curve on the old record. But the good thing is that Gaspard and me both have the same ideas about what we want to do, and before we start an album we figure out how we are going to do it. We move forward with a clear idea and a clear direction. So in that sense, it’s not too difficult. We are a real team—we don’t argue, and we really work to figure out things together. What makes it hard is that everything is new to us. Whenever we make something, we like to start fresh. And we like to make something without using the tricks that we know by heart. If you work hard enough, though, it starts to become fluid and easy.”
Based on Audio, Video, Disco, evidently almost as easy as partying until the cops show up.
Justice plays the PNE Forum next Thursday (April 26).
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