Ask Xavier de Rosnay how he stays in creative rhythm with Gaspard Auge, his partner in white-hot French electronic dance act Justice, and he doesn’t miss a beat:
“We dislike the same things,” replies the 25-year-old de Rosnay in heavily accented English made all the more difficult to comprehend by the variety of noises filtering through his cell as he strolls New Orleans’ French Quarter. “Gaspard will work alone on some tracks, but he knows what I dislike, just like I know what he would dislike.”
And while de Rosnay is at a loss to name any of their common aversions, he says, “We both have the same idea of what we want to do ... We don’t have the same tastes, and that’s what make us interesting.”
Asked the same question a few minutes earlier, Auge, 28, whose accent is even more pronounced, seems to agree with his confrere, adding. “One main difference (in taste) would be, I like synthesizer music and Xavier is more into mainstream pop from the `70s and the `80s, like Billy Joel.”
Over the last two years, de Rosnay and Auge have broken down the barriers that confine electro-house music to dance clubs. Their rock-conscious 2007 debut album, “†,” commonly known as (“Cross”), made many year-end best-of lists - including trendsetters such as Pitchfork (it was No. 15 on the Web site’s Top 50 Albums) and Blender (No. 18 on the magazine’s 25 Best Albums roster) - with some critics anointing the duo as heir apparent to Daft Punk.
Justice, which also snagged two Grammy nominations, for Best Dance Recording (for “D.A.N.C.E.”) and Best Electronic/Dance Album (for “†”), is now headlining this spring’s second MySpace Music Tour.
Early reviews have been positive, despite some quibbles with the pacing of Justice’s show, which featured de Rosnay and Auge operating a handful of mixers and Midis and a Mac laptop surrounded by 18 Marshall speaker cabinet shells and a bank of faux power amps, a light-up white cross in the center of it all.
The sold-out opening night in Austin was described by The University of Texas’ Daily Texan this way: “With a great light show, an epic wall of speakers and some truly awesome songs that get toes tapping and bodies moving, the show was an amazingly fun experience. ... Classes the next morning be damned, this was the best excuse to party and dance hard on a Monday night.”
The following night’s performance in Dallas elicited this from The Dallas Morning News: “Call Justice’s music electro-house, dance-punk, hard techno or whatever; it’s among the heaviest and funkiest synth rock this side of Iron Maiden.”
Auge says he drummed in “some very lame cover bands” and recorded synthesizer tracks at home before meeting de Rosnay five years ago through common friends, and “at some point we decided to do music as a full-time job.”
De Rosnay says he was playing bass in a disco band when he met Auge. Before that he was a part of amateur school bands.
“We never recorded anything,” he says. “You know, it was 40 guys, no bassist, one drummer and everybody playing guitar. In 1993, every kid would buy a guitar, (playing) Green Day, Nirvana and The Offspring.”
Justice’s first big break came courtesy of a 2003 remix of “Never Be Alone” by English electro-rock band Simian, which became a hit in clubs and on the Internet. The song was eventually given a commercial release in Britain in 2006 under the title “We Are Your Friends.” (The video for the track took home a prize at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2006.)
During that time, Justice worked on remixes for several French groups and artists such as Britney Spears, N(ASTERICK)E(ASTERICK)R(ASTERICK)D, Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk and Franz Ferdinand.
Justice’s first solo single, a heavily fuzzed-up, synth-rock-hammered track called “Waters of Nazareth,” was released in September 2005. But it was the 2007 online phenomenon “D.A.N.C.E.” that ultimately broke through, much to the surprise of Auge and de Rosnay.
“D.A.N.C.E.,” with its schoolyard-like chanted vocals and relatively light synth-pop flavor, was meant as a statement of independence, according to de Rosnay.
“When we first put it out, it was something quite different from what we did before,” he says. “This was to let people know our album won’t be just techno, that the album was going to be something between dance music and `Waters of Nazareth.’
“Everybody was expecting a distortion-filled techno album. ... But (‘D.A.N.C.E.’) is more friendly and disco, which was risky for us.”
“The Party” (spelled “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy” on the disc), a rather sparely produced track with the crucial lyric “let’s get drunk and get freaky fine,” also became a hit for Justice, a development that amazed Auge and de Rosnay.
“‘The Party’ was the forgotten thing on the album,” says de Rosnay. “We would write these things, but didn’t know who would like these songs.”
So, what do Auge and de Rosnay do to get drunk and freaky, and how often do they do it?
“We are really not like freaky people,” replies de Rosnay, who nevertheless allows that he has a taste for a rum and tabasco sauce concoction that in some quarters is known as a Sweaty Shooter.
The Myspace Music Tour marks Justice’s third visit to the United States, and while Auge and de Rosnay acknowledge that club culture is strong only in a handful of urban centers, they are prepared to reach a larger audience.
“We are trying to make tracks as pop as possible,” says Auge. “Short, intense and something cool.”
And so far, he is pleased at the make-up of the crowds.
“It’s not just club kids coming to the shows, but 14-year-olds and indie kids,” he says. “It’s a good blend.”