By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
If you blindfolded a skinhead, stomped on his toes a few times (just for fun) and played him Fucked Up’s cover, he’d be slam-dancing within moments. Beginning with a snarky voice saying, “Techno . . . Unnnhhh,” the cover is a dirge-punk anthem, all wobbly with distorted guitars, a plodding, repetitive bass line and some dude, probably vocalist Pink Eyes, grunting at odd moments like somebody’s yanking his fingernails out. There are no bells or whistles, no divas wailing about the sunset, or love, or some other rave-friendly bullshit. It’s all energy and evil. (The cover is available for free download on Vice’s Web site.)
“It just sounds like a death-metal song,” says 10,000 Marbles, guitarist for Fucked Up, of Justice’s original track. “It sort of seems like they had imagined what it would sound like with electric guitars while they were recording it. So we thought we’d just do them the favor of adding them. And we noticed that, unlike most techno songs, it had discernible verses, choruses and bridges. It already sounds like a cover of a heavy metal band, rather than a techno song. So it was kind of tailor-made for a band to come in and cover it.”
But then, that’s the sound of Justice, and though Fucked Up’s cover of “Stress” is hard, the original is perhaps even more sinister — even without the distorted guitars. In their place is an ominous, screechy string section that sounds like the climax of a Hitchcock thriller, joined by a hearty four-four stomp and a few deep robotic burps.
“It’s not that they’re making rock & roll tracks,” clarifies Adam Shore, general manager of Vice Records. “But they are bringing to their music a similar attitude and energy, and dynamic and aesthetic, that a lot of great rock bands bring to their own tracks.”
It’s a vibe that permeates , Justice’s debut full-length, a thick, tight, nearly all-instrumental album with melodies, hooks, refrains, bridges and massive strings. The only missing ingredient, thankfully, is the insipid lyrics that ruin most albums, a point that is sadly proved again on the album’s only dud, “The Party,” which features the embarrassingly dull rhymes of American-in-Paris “rapper” Uffie.
In the place of words in most of the songs, however, are what feel like placeholders — midrange melodies that travel the length of the song and play the part of singer. On “Phantom,” one of the standout tracks, what sounds like a distorted vocoder seems to hum across the track like an android learning to scat-sing, while, underneath, a deliberate, clunky rhythm walks along like Frankenstein out for a jog.
The hit, “D.A.N.C.E.,” is the most welcoming track on the album, thanks in large part to the children’s chorus chanting a singsong ditty about the star of the dance floor: “You were such a P.Y.T., catching all the lights, just easy as A.B.C., that’s how you make it right. Do the dance!” It’s a joyous pop song with a refrain that you’ll be singing all day long, and it’s difficult to reconcile this gentle, joyous moment with the dirtier, more aggressive tracks.
“The more recent stuff we did for the album is the more pop-oriented,” explains de Rosnay, sitting in the back of the car next to Auge, who grunts in agreement, half-asleep with his mouth half-open, shades shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. “We’ve moved away from the noisy things maybe one year ago, or a year and a half ago. But we like to make both. On the one hand, we like melodic stuff, but on the other hand, no melody, just noise and impressions. It just depends on the track. But I think we are moving toward more melodic stuff.”
Indeed, their discography bears this out. The duo rose to fame on the back of a remix of “We Are Your Friends,” by British band Simian. Justice created the track, which they renamed “Never Be Alone,” in 2005 for a remix contest, lost, released the song anyway, and it blew up. Within a year, they were remixing Britney and Madonna, Pharell’s N.E.R.D. project, Daft Punk and Franz Ferdinand. Although each of these remixes travels a unique path that blends rock and disco, you can hear the sound of a duo discovering its voice, one that, says de Rosnay, was partly the result of necessity.
“When we started, the only way for us to make songs together was to finish them ourselves — to bypass studios and recordings and just make them with computers and machines,” he says. “But if we were great musicians and we had big studios, I think we would make something that sounds like late-’70s, West Coast pop music, like Steely Dan or something. But because we have to work in a simpler way, it ends up sounding like what we do.”
Dim Mak Records founder and DJ-in-demand Steve Aoki agrees that the Coachella-Echoplex weekend energized the dance scene. The back-to-back events announced with electro beats and glorious hooks that Paris and Los Angeles were a potent tag team delivering hard rhythms with punk rock attitude.