PopMatters Music Special Sections Editor
It’s not surprising that the name M83 is connected to an electronic act. It suggests a robot, maybe, or an oversized firecracker. What is surprising is that M83 has produced some of the most moving music of its kind the past few years. With the release of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. in 2003, the French duo of Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau kept reviewers buried in their thesaurus searching for synonyms for organic and lush. Using layers of synthesizers, guitars, and white noise, M83 creates a large, broad sound more reminiscent of string groups and church organs (if employed in symphonies) than of other electronic acts. Though fuller in sound, Dead Cities provokes emotional responses through the subtle shifts of minimalism as well as through its lovely melodic stretches.
Two years later, the act has split in half (ostensibly to pursue their own projects), with Gonzalez manning the helm alone for the proper followup, Before the Dawn Heals Us which trades in some of the subtlety of its predecessor for a more aggressive approach, using more guitars to fill out the keyboard-based sound. “I always have been closer to rock ‘n’ roll music than electronic music.” Gonzalez explains. “The two first records were electronic by necessity and not by choice. Moreover, the music of M83 needs to evolve constantly and on each record. It is a music which must grow with time.”
And grow it has. While early efforts drew somewhat lazy My Bloody Valentine comparisons from critics, M83 has been developing a fully realized sound synthesizing a variety of influences to form something wholly unique. Shoegazer references aren’t entirely inappropriate, but M83 also shows the creeping influence of Krautrock and ambient music: Can and Brian Eno seem to have as much to do with M83’s sound as anyone else. Gonzalez admits, “The sound of Krautrock has a considerable importance to my music. The fact of creating completely analog music is so fascinating. I just try to mix this psychedelic dimension of electronic music with noisy sounds of guitars. I admire the career of Brian Eno, who succeeded in evolving with the times, multiplying the projects by keeping a certain coherence.”
With his own record label, Gooom, and its strong sense of community, it seems like Gonzalez is in an ideal place for working out his new sounds. Although he could have looked to re-create the success of Cities, Gonzalez dropped the Icelandic atmospheres on Before the Dawn, trading in some of the sweeping strings for more aggressive guitars and beats. He’s been every bit as attentive to detail and structure as on his past work, but now he explores those rock and psychedelic roots and opening up sides of himself that were less obvious in M83’s breakout album. “It is a label where we are free to create what we musically want, and it is rather rare to find such a freedom nowadays,” he says. “The development of a record is easier with this condition because everyone works in the same direction . . . . The orchestration evolves, the sound, too. The evolution in my music takes a big place but the melodic aspect remains the most important thing.”
Listeners will likely have trouble picking out all the instruments and equipment used on an M83 release, and Gonzalez seems uninclined to clarify things. Asked what new equipment or instruments he used for Before the Dawn, he replies, “That’s a secret!”
Perhaps divulging the technical details would interfere with his main artistic goal, which, in his words, is “to touch the most people possible and to continue to make the project evolve. To try to create something different each time.” That effort shows through in the warmth that critics are so quick to point out, which technological mumbo-jumbo might obfuscate. “It is a compliment,” Gonzalez says of such accolades. “I think that it is due to the use of certain sounds, but especially to the melodies and the melancholic dimensions that they can have.”
Those dimensions come through in both the ambient and the rock ‘n’ roll sides of Gonzalez’s composition. For him, songwriting is a cinematic art. “I simply wanted the record to look like a movie, with moments of tension and quiet passages. I like the fact that the record tells a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
What’s next for M83? “First of all, I just try to concentrate on the live shows,” says Gonzalez, who’s touring to support the release of the new album. “The composition of the next record will come later.”
With time away from composing for now, Gonzalez should have a little bit of free time, and maybe a chance to take part in something other than recording. When I ask what he does away from his musical life, he explains, ” I play football, I take crack by dancing hip hop, I read poems while walking naked by myself and I drive out the cats.” I can only guess it’s a translation problem, but I kind of hope not.
Given this sort of imagination, I have to ask, “What is one question that no one asks you that you would like to answer, and what would that answer be?”
Gonzalez says, “How is your relation with Sarah Michelle Gellar? Very well, we are very happy!” I think he’s getting a little loopy, but Gonzalez seems to be having fun. With another successful album and a strong community of support, why shouldn’t he be? Now it’s just a matter of figuring out if this new album’s title relates to vampire hunting…