Air: Men on the Moon
Photo by Wendy Bevan
“It’s like musical telepathy when were are in the studio,” explains Nicolas Godin, one-half of the French electronic duo Air, who along with Jean-Benoît Dunckel, are responsible for making atmospheric easy listening music popular and downright sexy. “We communicate with music and sounds—we don’t even talk.”
Outfitted in quintessentially French, too-dapper-to-be-American attire, Godin and Dunckel sit on opposite cream-colored couches in the cavernous conference room of the EMI offices located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. After rejecting coffee that’s deemed excessively bitter from the café downstairs—New York City baristas obviously don’t have the same finesse as they do in France—Dunckel asks in his distinctive he-pixie voice, leaning forward inquisitively, “Do you know what is the moon?”
Puzzled, I shake my head.
“Do you know what it’s made of?”
Uh oh, I thought as I shuffled my notes nervously. No one said this was going to be an outer space-themed game of 20 Questions.
Pop quizzes aside, Air always had galaxy-sized ambitions. From the moment they launched the now-classic debut Moon Safari in early 1998, this Parisian twosome helped shift the electronic music paradigm from excess-driven and garish to elegantly elevated. Instead of the sloppy Day-Glo visions leftover from the rave-era and the ubiquitous half-baked trip-hop grooves of the mid-aughts, songs like “La Femme d’Argent” and “Sexy Boy” introduced an old-meets-new aural aesthetic composed of gravity-defying soundscapes. Conjuring dreamy visions of space travel and sci-fi themes, Godin and Dunckel took swoony keyboards, samples and state-of-the-art sounds to starry heights, creating a quiet yet sensuous revolution that sparked an international cult following—and a whole lot of make-out sessions.
“In our music, there is a deep love—some real love translated into sounds,” Dunckel answers when questioned about the between-the-sheets action he’s helped to incite. “I know it’s a cliché, but a lot of people are still coming backstage and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I must admit something: Don’t tell anyone, but I met my girlfriend with your music and we made love a lot with your songs,” he trails off with a secret smile.
“And here is our child and you have to take care of it—thanks, guys,” Godin chimes in.
But Air is more than just great music to get down to. Godin and Dunckel, who have been playing together since they were teenagers in Versailles, have an intuitive sonic synchronicity that translates into delicious pop with an incredible emotive quality and innovative psych-rock leanings. The duo’s distinct brand of retrofuturism seamlessly merges the cutting-edge technology of today with the archaic instrumentation of yesteryear.
And then there’s this great obsession with the moon—a subject that has permeated Godin and Dunckel’s music for the past 15 years. While the gigantic natural satellite has served as a muse for artists since humans were able to artfully articulate, Godin and Dunckel have treated the celestial body as a recurring inspiration and a metaphor for life, love and the merging of the rational and fantastical.
“Our generation grew up with the idea of the moon very strongly in our culture,” opines Godin as he drums his fingers on the large glass table in an almost-tribal sounding percussive beat, as the untouched coffee shakes to the rhythm. “When I was a child, we were sure that in the year 2000, we would be in space with laser guns. We grew up with that fascination and so when we do music, we keep this dream alive. Because basically, this was a lie. We have been cheated—nothing like they promised happened. Now we have the iPad and that’s it—we are not in space. It’s how we learn how to dream and escape and to project ourselves in the future.”
It’s this type of wide-eyed idealism and romantic nostalgia that makes Air so irresistible.
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