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Chromeo: Stop Listening to Joy Division

As they say on the bio page of their Web site, Chromeo's Dave 1 (the four-eyed Semite behind the mike and guitar) and P-Thugg (the gold-chained, do-rag-wearing one from cedar country, Lebanon, behind the analog synths and talk box) have been "crossing the Gaza Strip of Sexxx Jams" to further a goal only two Canucks with disco-size balls can dream up: putting the fun back in electro-pop-funk, and giving props to Hall & Oates. You can't go for that? Well, you should.

May Truong

Dave 1 (left) and P-Thugg: The 21st-century's Hall & Oates?
(Click to enlarge)

The duo's hip-hop like-mindedness dates back to their teens. "We used to have a funk band together when we were a bit younger, and then we started producing hip-hop," says P-Thugg during a phone conversation in the middle of Chromeo's Australian tour. In 2000, they caught the ear of Tiga, a fellow Montreal DJ and one of Canada's acid-house pioneers, who signed the two on his Turbo label. And after their 2004 debut, She's In Control, created enough buzz, Chromeo saw the summer release of their second album, Fancy Footwork (both on Vice Records), a DeLorean ride through Prince's Minneapolis with beats and rhythms planted firmly in Paisley Park.

So much of modern alternative radio sounds like a British post-punk dance marathon of bands refusing to cop to a little inspiration. Not Chromeo. They couldn't if they tried. (If the video to "Bonafied Lovin" isn't 2007's "Money for Nothing," then you never got your MTV. And how Herbie Hancock are those illuminated pairs of legs bolted onto their keyboards?) Fancy Footwork isn't an '80s-influence record, it is an '80s record: Cool or uncool, everyone from the Purple One to chart-topping guilty pleasures Hall & Oates, Rick James and New Edition, to all-but-forgotten one-hit wonders Cameo, Rockwell and Zapp has been reincarnated through P-Thugg's fingers and Dave's smoove vocals.

"The music we grew up listening to was Snoop, Dre and Warren G.," says Dave. "Those were the albums that shaped our high school years. Once we dug deeper into that music, we discovered Cameo and Rick James. We worked our way back and mixed it up with contemporary electronica. There is a musical agenda to what we do, but we don't want to make it overbearing because then it becomes pretentious." And you can't sound too pretentious on an album that has a song titled "Outta Sight."

So the only homework that comes with a Chromeo record is knowing which vintage moves best accompany the grooves. The intro to "Fancy Footwork," easily one of this year's best club anthems, is a dead ringer for "Beat It," conjuring up images of knife-wielding rival gangs popping and locking their way out of the ghetto in a choreographed dance-off (the Worm?). And the sleazy horns of "100%" are Hall & Oates' "Maneater" meets Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" (the Snake?). How about the Cabbage Patch? Or Running Man? "The Oak Tree. The Bird," P-Thugg adds. The Bird? "Yeah, I think Morris Day started that."

Dave's juvenile jive is mostly of the you're my girl and I'm better than your guy variety; he's working on his Ph.D. in French Lit at Columbia University, but he sounds as though he's still passing notes in class. "My Girl Is Calling Me (a Liar)" ends in a phone conversation with P-Thugg offering advice through his talk box. And the charming piano ditty "Momma's Boy," about two kids who're turned on by the fact that they resemble each other's parents, takes MILF and DILF to a whole new level.

But it's all in the delivery, and Dave's is the aural equivalent of Drakkar Noir cologne. "Bonafied Lovin" could be another Colt 45 commercial as sung by Billy Dee Williams. In fact, all of Fancy Footwork sounds like it's coming from the house DJ at the Playboy mansion inviting you to the grotto.

So what would Dave say to enlighten a kid who's a fan of one of the aforementioned gloomy Guses? "Aren't you tired of never having sex?" he asks. "And he'll probably say, 'Yes.' And I'll say, 'Well, stop listening to Joy Division. You'll enjoy life a little bit more. Things will become a little less dark. And you'll have sex. Not with me. But you'll have friends.'"

And bringing Hall & Oates to the hipster masses? "The reason all those kids listen to Hall & Oates is partly because of us. How else would they know? They're 18!" Well, no one asked you to, but your efforts are appreciated.

Chromeo plays El Rey Fri., Jan. 18.

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