In retrospect, it seems that music changed quickly in the 1990s. One grand musical push overlapped another, from Man-chester to techno, nu metal to the tedious rise of chill. And each genre seemed to have its own national headquarters.
Around 1997, a spate of European outfits got caught in the up-draft of the late-90s electronica surge -“ a movement that translated into the first tangible impact of European music on the all-pervading UK and American markets in years.
At the forefront were the French. Sporting the acts Daft Punk, Mademoi-selle, Phoenix, Cassius and Mirwais (to name just the heavyweights), French electronica acts in the 1990s put the nation back on the international musical agenda after years of virtual invisibility.
And these days it is predominantly the French electronica acts, above those of other European nations, that survive.
Among them are the ethereal sounds of Air, whose first major push into the world arrived via the infectiously sweet melodies and soft focus atmospherics of their 1998 album Moon Safari, offering the singles Kelly Watch The Stars and Sexy Boy.
There are some conflicting reasons why the French really found an audience abroad -“ one is because we are quite the same as other countries. You know, we are a young scene and we have quite the same culture as American and English and other people because we have watched the same movies and listened to the same bands, Dunckel (pictured right) earnestly explains over the phone from his flat in Paris.
It’s actually been like that for a while. In the 70s, the French producers were really brilliant at disco, producing acts like the Village People. So I guess a lot of younger French musicians now discovered a very strong scene in the country for producing music -“ the next generation has worked from there.
However, it doesn’t take long before Dunckel shifts his argument towards a more familiarly French tack -“ the assertion of nationalistic artistic autonomy. Not surprisingly, this stance is delivered like the proverbial fist in the velvet glove.
We are the same as other countries -¦ but not, he declares without a hint of awkwardness.
We have a unique situation in France because all of our most successful artists internationally have come from an independent scene. We are independent from the major record companies, so they have no power over us. With our music, we record when we want, we write the music that we want and we work with the people that we want and we are not answering to an audience, he says.
That’s why we are free to create and why there is a productivity and, you know, a unique sound I think.
Evidence of Air’s musical depth was established early in their career through the juxtaposition of light and dark offered via contrasting releases Moon Safari and the dreamy score they penned for Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ lush take on suburban family dysfunction, The Virgin Suicides.
Sofia was literally trying to cut her movie by synchronising it with our record in the background, because she just loved it. She felt that our sound was perfect for the movie and so just decided to pull us into the project for a fresh soundtrack, Dunckel says of the experience, which was hooked-up through Coppola’s brother Roman and Air video director Mike Mills.
Last year brought another change in tack. It seemed that Air had dropped the innocence brought forth by the melodic analogue of Moon Safari and exchanged the sound for the brusque realism and latent cynicism of last year’s 10,000 Hz Legend.
A type of re-invention of that album, called Everybody Hertz, is set for release next week (18 February) and features remixes of the 10,000 Hz tracks Don’t Be Light, How Does It Make You Feel? and People In The City.
The remixing was executed by deck luminaries (The Futuristic) Mr Oizo, Thomas Bangaltar of Daft Punk, the Neptunes, The Hacker, French electro superstar Malibu (a.k.a. Roger Manning of Jellyfish and brain behind Moog Cookbook), (reggae and dub producer) Adrian Sherwood, Modjo and (young French producer) Jack Lahana.
Also featured on Everybody Hertz is a previously unreleased track lifted from the 10,000 Hz sessions called The Way You Look Tonight.
As with the Virgin Suicides project, Everybody Hertz was pulled together through Air’s network of entertainment industry allies, this time via their artistic director’s links with everybody in music.
Showing the strain of trying to explain the new release in his non-native tongue of English, Dunckel continues.
He [our artistic director] knows everybody and we are lucky because the word -˜air’ in itself can open the door and let the cool in, and that’s why we did this -“ this is an album of remixes, or fresh ways of presenting our songs. In a way, you couldn’t even call us the artists of this album. In fact, he then laughs with humble sincerity, it is in reality, somebody else’s -¦
And of course there is some nice competition between everybody. To some extent we do record to please our musician friends because we know that other musicians will be listening to what we do very carefully and we don’t want to disappoint them.
So the challenge is artistic and not about selling records. And with these artists working on Everybody Hertz, we don’t all play in the same garden -“ it shows there is competition, but it is a nice sort of competition.
Dunckel says that despite Air’s debt of inspiration to the works of their contemporaries, he names icons David Bowie and Kraftwerk as formative artists in the development of Air. There is also the odd surprise on Dunckel’s shrine to fellow musicians.
I am tot-ally in looove with the new single of Kylie Minogue [Can’t Get You Out Of My Head] because I love her body, you know she is so sexy and when I see her video on the television I can’t watch -“ my girlfriend gets jealous because I become pathetic, he gushes with the odd conciliatory laugh.
But you know, what I like is her way of singing, she is very sumptuous, she is pushing her voice in uh -¦ how d’you say -¦ a very special way and I like that, it’s sexy.
Air are set to re-enter the studio next month to record a full-length studio follow-up to 10,000 Hz Legend. As yet, the project does not have a working title. Everybody Hertz hits the record stores on 18 February.