Chromeo is one of those '80s-crazed dance music acts that makes the cool kids in empty Ray-Ban frames go off the Richter like a South Pacific earthquake. It was Chromeo that was about to take the stage when dozens of fans climbed down an Inglewood Forum balcony to get a closer look, prompting cops in riot gear to shut down the 18,000-strong Hard Summer festival in August. In a show review last year we described the duo's giddy fans as nearly hyperventilating with joy at its appearance.
We found Chromeo's talk-box antics, “gangsta” references and Dazz Band-like sound to be a little contrived, but the duo has made an impenetrable connection with the millennial generation that's as true as a t-square. It belts out corny, vocal tunes (“Tenderoni”) that recall the innocent, Back to the Future side of the 1980s while also maintaining currency with digitized percussion and punkish, nu electro attitude. The pair of Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel and David “Dave 1” Macklovitch started in Montreal in 2002 and foreshadowed the mix-and-mash tidal wave of '80s-flavored dance music that's resonating with the American Apparel crowd today. The duo also DJs (Macklovitch's little brother is Kanye West conspirator and champion spinner A-Trak), and it professes to dig deep into the electro-funk crates with pure reverence.
Promoting its DJ Kicks: Chromeo mix-CD, the duo is scheduled to DJ Friday at Club 740 downtown. Macklovitch, who's working on a Ph.D. at Columbia University, was kind enough to field a few questions, and he set us straight on a few things.
LA Weekly: We've described your performance as completely tongue-in-cheek, perhaps even a put-on. True?
I hope not! We're completely sincere in what we do. Going through the trouble of accumulating thousands of records and stacks of analog gear, and listening tirelessly to classic recording and producing techniques wouldn't be worth it for a tongue-in-cheek result, now would it? Nothing about what Pee and I do on stage is put on: We really look and dress and talk like this in everyday life. People thought we were a funny couple back in Montreal years before Chromeo even existed. But with this band, everything we do is honest. Our music is to Rick James what Jack White's is to blues: a re-contextualized homage, with (hopefully) a bit of a modern sensibility and some other influences thrown into the mix. That said, if you think we're being tongue-in-cheek and want to laugh at us during our shows, by all means, go ahead. As long as you enjoy yourself and clap during the beginning of “Momma's Boy.”
Did you ever get your French literature Ph.D. from Columbia?
I'm working on it as we speak. I'm halfway done with my dissertation. This interview is me procrastinating between two sections of this chapter I'm trying to finish.
How does a literary life contrast or complement a life performing popular music on the road?
They complement each other, I guess. One is solitary and arduous and erudite and tedious, but immensely rewarding. The other is, well, also arduous and tedious (in the studio) and erudite (when it comes to '80s funk) and immensely rewarding, except that I've got my childhood best friend along for the ride.
What about the synth-fueled, talk-box '80s so resonates with your audience, much of which was born in the '80s?
Maybe the lighthearted fun aspect, maybe the catchy aspect, maybe the dancey aspect, maybe the love-torn lyrics? The paradox is that, as retro as we are — and in many ways strive to be — we hope that our music will do more than conjure up nostalgia.
With “You're So Gangsta.” are you making fun of gang life, or of those artists who take the gangster pose?
Not at all: Pee's an artist who takes the gangster pose. In fact, that song was a nod to '90s gangsta rap, which was a huge influence on us because, as high school kids at that time, it allowed us to discover funk music. You have to understand, we knew Warren G's “Regulate” before Michael McDonald, we knew Snoop's “What's My Name” before Funkadelic's “Knee Deep,” and so on. So those old Dre and DJ Quik records opened the way to a vast musical apprenticeship for us.
How did you put together your DJ Kicks mix? Did you and Patrick split duties?
I had a couple of songs that I wanted on there, but for the most part, Pee dug up a bunch of records and I sifted through them. Then I came up with the order and we assembled the tracks together.
When you two are DJing, what's the set-up, both in terms of gear, duties and the kind of music you play?
We use Serato [Scratch software, which works with simulators placed on real turntables]. Sometimes Pee brings the talk box. We usually get booked to do electro parties, so we pretty much have to play whatever club music you hear around nowadays. Plus our [own] stuff. We throw in a couple of rap and old school house songs in there as well. But for the DJ Kicks tour, we'll play some funk, some disco, some songs off the compilation and then get into more modern electro stuff. I don't care if nobody dances during the first hour: We have to do something that reflects the record.
Are you surprised at all with your success?
Absolutely. It's a bit of an anomaly. But it took a while, so there's something very healthy and organic about it.
You recorded for the Turbo label early on, which was associated with electroclash. That term went away but, as we were discussing recently with Larry Tee in an interview, many of its influences have come back in a big way. Are you ashamed or proud or your electroclash connection?
Turbo wasn't associated with electroclash at all, Tiga, the label owner was. But go through the Turbo catalog: There's only one electroclash record in there and it's Tiga's “Sunglasses at Night.” On the contrary, Turbo's a high brow techno label. Always has been. I would say our only real electroclash connection, aside from the fact that our first album came out during that time, is that song “Mercury Tears.” I feel that one sounds a bit electroclashy. It's pretty cheap. But I like it because it's the first song we wrote as Chromeo.
Will you ever perform or collaborate with your little brother [DJ A-Trak]?
Well we collaborate with him a lot behind the scenes. We help each other out with production. He mixed our Eagles cover [“I Can't Tell You Why”] on the Kicks compilation, for instance. We work extremely closely. I think it would be dope if we performed together — we just have to wait for the right opportunity, I guess.
What's next for Chromeo?
Well, the DJ Kicks is out now, and we also just released “Night by Night,” which is our first original song since the Fancy Footwork album [in 2007]. We figured we'd put that one out there to help people wait. We're aiming to have the new album out by late spring/early summer 2010.
Download “I Can't Tell You Why” here.