Written by Hunter Davis
Photos by James Holk
All popular opinions aside, some things should not be neglected; the eighties especially. The eighties was a glorious time of glamour and decadence. Inhibitions were simply crumpled up and thrown out the window for ten beautiful years and everything was just bigger; the ratted out hair, the fat shades, the enormous shoes, the glitzy neon clothing, and of course, at least twenty pounds of jewelry. As fashion and music walked hand in hand, our musical icons were the guiltiest of culprits in their shameless indulgences. They made it perfectly acceptable to walk down the street with a beehive of iron-fried curls, purple spandex and a zebra-print shirt three sizes too big with enough makeup to frost a bakery. We underestimate today just how powerfully this music hit us then. Power ballads were chugging heavily through the airwaves, just in case we happened to forget about our heartbreaks, churning our emotional pains into solid gold that united us all in a fiery sea of Zippos. Music Television (MTV) exploded quickly, exposing the populous to music, fashion, hype and infinite amounts of cheese. There was still an element of restraint on the executive side that brought on a firestorm of criticism due to racial allegations. So, to avoid more complication, producers aired Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and suddenly the times were changed even more significantly than anybody at MTV could have ever foreseen. MJ opened up a Pandora’s box of new, exciting and hip “rhythm and blues” acts allowing the genre to grow more in that year than it had in thirty.
The late night music scene grew with the acceleration of synthesizers as it was fused more ambitiously with R&B and feverish dance beats. Some of the most memorable personalities in the history of music barreled through the hype of this dramatic revolution, raising the bar for everyone else in the industry; the most memorable being Prince, Rick James, the Jacksons who all added invaluably to the sound and attitude that the legendary James Brown patented. This genre created a popular subculture of manic glamour in which any Joe Schmoe could reign as King and undisputed ruler of his world, seven nights a week. However, as all good things must come to an end the glory of the eighties had to as well. With styles mounting and evolving at light speed, a vindictive tenant of seriousness slowly replaced the essence of sheer fun and the poor misunderstood spirit of the eighties has been wandering ever since. Dave 1 and P-Thugg, partners in crime, have set out to snag this rogue spirit through their musical brainchild ‘Chromeo.’
It’s one thing to love a certain breadth of music and try to emulate it, but the love these two fellows hold runs much deeper. Chromeo doesn’t just love it; they’re living and breathing it with every ounce of their fiber. They’ve made it their business to respectfully study and understand the nuances of the eighties, which made their inspirations so irresistible, working the curve and charm that’s been more or less overlooked by the less observant imitators, not to use this precious knowledge to vulgarize and plagiarize that wonderful era. “I feel like we’re completing the picture of things that inspire us that people haven’t really drawn from,” Dave 1 remarked after a well-received set at the 2009 Sasquatch Festival. With their first release ‘She’s in Control,’ they were hailed as keen perfecters of the phantom eighties electropop that pounded the clubs. In no time, people caught on to their album. Just watch the music video for “Needy Girl” and your senses are delighted: two virile masters of soul funk making love to their instruments; thick and heavily danceable synthetic beats complete with synchronized dancing statues; all brought full circle with a deeply satisfying guitar line that’ll keep ringing through your head like a cued sitcom jingle as you strut down the street.
Chances are you’ve already heard “Needy Girl” thanks to Reese’s, while Heineken claimed “She’s So Gangsta” in 2006 and McDonald’s found a keen use for their track “Rage!” Some would question the integrity of lending your work to such mammoth companies, but numbers don’t lie. “We don’t care, as long as it’s nothing that offends us politically. Cigarettes we would not do.” It’s all brought Chromeo some very fair attention and garnered them sold-out shows across the nation, which is saying a lot considering the low key status they’ve managed to maintain.
The chemistry that’s really the sweet marrow of Chromeo dates back to a childhood friendship in Montreal between Patrick Gemayel and David Macklovitch. They’ve jokingly declared their collaboration as “the only successful Arab-Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture.” Their friendship blossomed through high school shenanigans as much as their equal passion for the tunes of the time. Their stage monikers, Dave 1 and P-Thugg, actually originated from their graffiti signatures. One day, they “did a radio show and it just stuck.” The turntable played a crucial role in their daily routine. “We’re record collectors and we’re used to hip-hop beats and listening to vinyl, collecting vinyl, finding new artists to sample and studying stuff that we don’t know and enlarging our culture. It’s part of us.” A crucial line, however, one which sort of sets them apart in their ambitions entirely, is that they know what it means to collect a record: “It’s intensive rather than extensive. Now people can view music extensively. They have access to tons of it but it has a very short shelf life. Picture me and P when we were 16 and we got our first respective copies of ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ I listened to that every day after school for one whole week.”
“Over and over until you get something new,” P-Thugg added.
It’s a fact of life in this whole Internet age. An artist’s discography can be taken with three clicks of a mouse; an artist’s entire pained (or lavish) career! With that, all the thrill of tracking down that one album that rips your innards out like none other and changes your perspective on life as you know it is all but gone. Fifteen years ago, record shops were our haven. Sometimes it would take a trip to four or five record stores to track down that single album that just needed to be found. The Internet and the fast connection to everything has created a universal state of quantity, not quality in not only the listener, but in the musicians as well. Artists can exert barely half the effort and win over twice as many fans because they’ve earned a spot in their mass library of MP3’s. “You enjoy stuff more when you have less, we’re all musically spoiled.” This is hardly a record company stance, either. That tired old argument has been squeezed bone dry.
Want some advice from Chromeo? “Sometimes having less records is better, because you can listen to them intensively. My brother is a well-known DJ: A-Trak. He was a world champion DJ with a small crate of records, but he knew every second of them. You know what it is when you start collecting vinyl and you have fifteen, but you know them inside out and you have a special relationship with each of them. Its kinda like, when I was growing up I couldn’t get sneakers for under 80 bucks. So when I found a pair of sneakers for under 80 bucks that had air bubbles in them, I would just look at them, sleep with them and in class I would draw them. Now I have a hundred pairs of sneakers and I don’t draw them anymore. Maybe it was better when I would draw them all the time.” The same goes for music.
In the grand scope of things, Chromeo is just a couple of artists earnestly trying to get it right. They have a vision for music and they’re seeing it through to the filthy end. “People who hate us really hate us, and people who like us embrace us because we’ve stuck around and we’re going for broke on what we’ve started, instead of changing with the times.” It’s a refreshing stance when weighed against bands that will alter their entire sound or even character on an alteration in some demographic chart that some schmuck printed out for them. For Chromeo this is inconsequential. They’re passionate about what they do and they do it because of that very passion, not for any other reason.
Dave 1 will make no bones in admitting “we’re not necessarily the coolest band to like. There are a lot of cooler bands to like. We’re not un-cool… [but] I feel like people who like us aren’t totally going with the trend. We’ve got sold out shows and I feel like saying thank you to everyone because we have a place. We’re not the typical band that you’d be prescribed to like and the fact that we have a place with these people proves that they aren’t being programmed. When our first album came out, disco punk was the thing to do. Now, it’s kind of French distorted electro. Not to take away from those genres, but I’d like to give it up to people who are digging deeper and supporting this kooky, weird cult band that we are. We’re two guys who think they can play 80’s black music and present it to this generation convincingly.” Chromeo is a way of life, as much as Kris Kristofferson, The White Stripes, or Michael Bublé can be a way of life. “These songs will stay with you every day if you choose to embrace them. You’ll sing ‘Needy Girl’ in the shower, ‘You’re So Gangster’ on the can and it’ll become part of your life.” It’s all about personal investment.
A challenge for those who think they’ve been sucked into this mass consumption of music: leave your iPod at home. Pull out that dusty old CD player, invest in just five good albums of your choice, and for a good week or longer, take just one of these compact discs with you each day. Really dive into them. Learn them through and through. These albums may become a vital part of you or, maybe, you decide they’re not as fantastic as you once thought, but that’s the gamble. You never know how something will really grab you in the long run. Either way, you’ll never forget them and on those grounds you can always appreciate them. While you’re at it, pick up any Chromeo album. Knowing what’s behind their music can sometimes be handy in your first approach. Don’t let your musical dispositions be your guide. Chances are, you’ll find yourself demonized into shameless groove within the first few tracks and, from there, you can’t look back.