Music Features

M83 (Interview)

It's difficult to know what to expect when meeting M83: will they be detached and icy like their album art would suggest, or would they be warm and expansive in the same way as their music? The album in question, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, is a huge sounding record bringing new scope to an increasingly limited electronic field, as well as appealing in unparalleled numbers to fans of post-rock acts like Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine. So, would the duo behind this masterpiece be the archetypal electro outfit, in a Kraftwerk style with matching outfits and expressionless ten-mile stares?

Of course, this French pairing are nothing like that. Perfectly grounded and seemingly unaware of the critical acclaim heading their way in many end of year polls (ours included), Anthony (Tony) Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau are friendly and polite, and although we conduct the interview in their second language (their English, we discover, is a fair bit more advanced than my French!), they are candid and keen to speak about their work.

Tony and Nicolas first began to play together when they were 15, as a "noise-pop, rock" band, but "became M83 in 1999," named after a distant galaxy.

Nicolas: "I used to listen to more rock. We included the electronic element as something a little bit different. Originally, we listened to bands like Mogwai, Sonic Youth and German electro music."

The name that seems to appear most regularly in reviews of Dead Cities... is My Bloody Valentine, but interestingly it would seem that MBV were not a formative influence on the band.

"Actually we only started listening to MBV after our first record. We heard all these people saying how the music sounds similar so we checked them out."

Did you like it?

"Of course." Would you say that MBV influenced this album, then? "Well, we are big fans of Mogwai, so maybe through that..."

The influence of My Bloody Valentine is more indirect than would first appear then. The new album shows a continuity and atmosphere throughout that echoes MBV's 1991 classic Loveless. It's the rock edge, however, that draws fans of bands like MBV and Mogwai in, despite having little time for most electronic music. How did the electronic sound come in? A lot of people have mentioned the influence of the insurgent French techno scene, and especially Air...

"I wouldn't say we sound like Air," says Nicolas. "In France we are not really compared with them. There are a lot of other artists closer to what we do. We do love Air though, especially the Virgin Suicides album."

This is an interesting choice: Air's soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's movie is not the most acclaimed album the French techno heroes have produced, but the concept of a soundtrack fits in well with the sweeping scope of M83's sound. The juxtaposition of analogue synthesisers with more 'natural' instruments such as electric guitars and vocals is a trait that is also apparent with both bands, but I would suggest that M83's music is a lot more complex than Air, or even most other bands around at the moment. Nicolas doesn't agree.

"I think our songs are very simple. I think they are pop. Its just that we do one layer of keyboards, then another, then another."

"Keyboards and keyboards and keyboards," adds Tony.

"They are very simple, but it all adds up to, like..."

"A wall of sound?" I suggest.


So its not a reaction to the garage rock stuff that's hot at the moment, the Strokes, the White Stripes, etc.?

"No, not at all, that doesn't really affect what we do. We listen to that as much as anything else: I mean, we are big fans of Neil Young!"

With all the layers of "keyboards and keyboards and keyboards," how do you find playing live? Do you enjoy it?

"Yeah, we love playing live. We make it a bit more 'rock', we have a drummer and bassist," says Tony.

The band's last gig was at 93 Feet East, which was "hard, but good." The live experience appears to be rewarding for M83, and they have more shows lined up in France before returning to their native Antibes to compose some more material. It is also apparent that they enjoy being able to watch the other acts on the bill - they're very keen to recommend tonight's opening act Electrelane, although they're a little more reticent on headliners !!!:

"I don't know, I think they sound like the Rapture..."

M83 are signed to Gooom, a tiny French label, who have received a huge boost from the high profile of M83's latest release.

"We're very happy at Gooom, of course. We like most of the artists on the label, and we're very good friends with the people at the label."

Would you say such a tight, creative environment helps your music?

"I guess... We can't really compare, we don't know anything else!"

Gooom is such a small label, yet the profile of the album has been consistently high since its release because of some ecstatic reviews, especially in the UK press. Surprisingly, Tony and Nicolas seem unaware.

"Really? We live in the South of France, nothing ever happens! We are not really, aah, conscious about the reviews. We've read some of the British magazines: we are lucky."

Really, luck doesn't come into it. With a stunning new album under their belt, M83 deserve every single column inch of praise they have received. The show tonight only serves to highlight this: the audience, mostly made up of London's fashion police, here to see headliners !!!, are swept away by the grandeur of the duo's vision. Waves of sound waft through listener's heads in a way only masters of their art such as Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been able to manage up until now. Tony and Nicolas produce amazingly mature music for a pair of 23 year olds, and this bodes well for the duo's next venture, although this may be some way in the distance. The growth between the band's thoroughly excellent self-titled debut and their sophomore release is staggering, and one can only imagine what the future holds for M83.