This is a feature I did on M83 for Analogue. It came from a very short and tired-sounding phone interview I did in my boxers one morning instead of going to college, but someone said they liked it once, so here it is.
Nostalgia is a more potent drug than novelty. It doesn’t matter how good, how exciting, how different a new album is, it will never take you by the shoulders and bring a tear to your eye, as it projects grainy old camcorder videos of the mind onto your bedroom wall. Everything is a little hazy, a little more perfect than it was in reality. But that’s the whole idea. You don’t love those teenage records because they really were that good (for the most part). You love them for the memories, for that feeling. For Anthony Gonzalez, also known as M83, his own very specific experience of being a teenager in the 1980s became the main influence for his most recent album, Saturdays=Youth.
“I think that 80s music is such a brilliant period for music history. It was the occasion for me to do a tribute to this 80s music, but also a tribute to my teenage years. Because the main theme of the album is being a teenager, and being a teenager means a lot to me.” A passing listen to Saturdays=Youth will reveal the heavy influence of bands such as Tears For Fears, Ultravox and Cocteau Twins. The areas Gonzalez mines aren’t what would be conventionally thought of as cool, even in as revisionist a decade as ours. But that’s not the point. This is pure liquid memories. “I had… no, I still have a lot of good memories of me being a teenager. The album was just a way to do a tribute to this period of my life that was so important to me.”
Beneath the surface, the central influence is the work of filmmaker John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink). It’s not unheard of for bands to cite filmmakers as influences, but not so many manage to recreate the feeling of those films musically. Gonzalez, it has to be said, gets it to a tee. “My music is very cinematographic”, he says, responding to a question about the shape-shifting quality to his music that helps it defy categorisation. “Because one of the big influences for me is movies and cinema. And I like to change directions each time. I like to make my music evolve and to experiment with new sounds. I like to propose something different to people each time.”
When M83 first appeared on the scene in 2003 with Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts it was their shoegaze aesthetic that gained attention. Tracks like ‘Run Into Flowers’ (“Give me pills and chemicals/I wanna run into…”) combined the blissful joy of drug experiences with the trick of building everything up until it all just came together into one mesh of volume washing out of the speakers. But as time went by, M83 left MBV behind to an extent, changing from album to album, with 2007’s Digital Shades, Vol 1 providing quiet, ambient sounds. Genre-hopping is the order of the day for Gonzalez. I wonder if it’s as pre-meditated as could seem to the casual listener. “Not really. What I usually do is I first compose a lot of songs, maybe twenty or thirty songs. I just pick the ones which I think can be very close in terms of atmosphere and ambience. Really, I just create songs, and then after, I pick the songs I love for the album.”
Being an electronic artist from France, you would think Gonzalez would be more involved in the scenes that appear and recede periodically from the main cities, particularly Paris. He seems to prefer working in isolation however, in his own studio in his home-town of Antibes on the Mediterranean coast. “I just tried five years ago to move to Paris for two years and I didn’t like it. It was very difficult for me to create music in Paris. When I came back to the south, it was directly easier to do music. I don’t know, maybe it’s the atmosphere of the city, and I like to feel that the sea is close to me. I like the sun, and I like when it’s shining, I like the landscapes in the south of France, and I feel confident enough to create music here. It’s a strange thing to say, but that’s my place to make music.”
“It’s not a problem if you’re living in a small city, as long as you do what you want to do, and as long as you are honest with yourself and with your music I think it can work.” Stifling himself musically is not something that Gonzalez is likely to do any time soon. With skills capable of turning everything from My Bloody Valentine to Ultravox into immediate, compelling and profound music, it’s a given that M83 aren’t going to stop experimenting with sounds any time soon. Here’s wondering what colour the chameleon will turn next time.