There is a scene in “A Cross the Universe,” a tour documentary of Justice featuring their concert in San Francisco, where the French electro-rock duo enjoy a lavish pool party full of half-naked women, and another ending with one of the members breaking a bottle over a stalker’s head. The hour long film depicts Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay as partying rascals knee deep in debauchery, racing through America.
The rambunctious portrayal made a lot of sense, as Justice produces music that sounds like how the documentary’s surge of adrenaline feels. So it was pleasantly surprising to find the source to not be one of chaos but unassuming calm. De Rosnay, the one with the cracked bottle in the film, is quite down-to-earth, though his smooth, French accent undoubtedly adds a polish.
“The documentary only showed one part of what was happening on the tour. It was actually full of work and rehearsals, but this would have been boring to show,” he said during the overseas phone conversation. “And it was also from a much different time.”
The film follows Justice through their spring 2008 tour, certainly a different period of their career. Auge and De Rosnay were in their early 20s, aspiring graphic designers in Paris who happened to make a hit song that got immediately signed to Ed Banger Records and attached to Pedro Winter, Daft Punk’s manager. Their debut album, †, bridged the world of French club-goers with stadium rockers and soon arched over to indie-rock by remixing MGMT and Franz Ferdinand. Their second album, Audio, Video, Disco was released in 2011.
De Rosnay reminisces that growing up, he wanted to be a fortune teller, then an anesthetist and even a lawyer. Music happened by luck.
“The computer made it affordable to create music,” he commented, “and in a way that hadn’t been done before.” Justice electronically assembles a dream band with sinister synths, metallic riffs, cherubic organs and satisfying, screaming vocals that command you to dance.
There is a post-apocalyptic undertone throughout their entire discography, one that is unmistakable in the dooming intro of “Genesis,” a single from their first record. Postmodern anxiety is conjured to a maddening degree in songs like “Stress” by accruing neurotically steady drums and relentless layering of escalating synths. Peaks are more than often undercut by keyboard solos, interrupted again by drums, an impatient desire to bounce. For Justice, the afterlife is a headbanging neo-disco.
The duo capture in electronica what has been majestically done in classical music — deconstructing our symbolic world and sequencing songs for what they are, free from any deductible meaning. De Rosnay said that there is no hidden message behind their records. Instead, Justice offers emotional vehicles for the listeners to attach their own strand of memories.
“Our music doesn’t sound like our life. It’s not inspired by our life. It would be pretty boring if it were. What music should be, at least to us, is something that is larger than life — something different that lets you extend your mind and imagination.”
And even though many of their best tracks include vocals, the meaning of the lyrics is not placed in the foreground. “We Are Your Friends,” a collaboration with Simian that was awarded Best Video at the 2006 MTV European Music Awards, repeats the line, “We are your friends / You will never be alone again,” until the words become arbitrary sounds no less distinguishable from the synth.
As the rest of the electronic dance world is getting louder, glittered with stars and glutting with bass, Justice is retreating more toward minimalism in their future work.
“We make electronic music, but we don’t really intend to make dance music, so it’s hard for us to relate to EDM in the U.S. at the moment. I’m not saying it’s bad, but we don’t find the music that we do to be similar,” de Rosnay said.
While keeping their stylistic influences consistent, Auge and De Rosnay took a different approach to their second record by chiseling through the noise, “working with the idea that you can be powerful without being aggressive.”
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