There's something refreshing about seeing Justice perform. In a time when popular party music is overrun with shiny, overly clean progressive house tracks and hard-driving dubstep, the French duo provides an energetic bridge between feel-good vibes and aggressive dance rock. But that's because, as they say, they're not a dance group and never made a single club song.
Instead, what Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé do is take a little disco and a little rock and mix it up with a myriad of other influences (de Rosnay speaks of Jazz, medieval and arena rock sounds). What comes out, as the two told The Huffington Post, is a sometimes gritty, sometimes spare but always "epic and romantic" symphony.
The band -- which made a big splash with their 2007 album "Cross" and released their sophomore disc, "Audio Video Disco" last year -- was in New York City to kick off the American leg of their live tour with a DJ set for Sirius XM's Electric Area and a live show at the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom. At the first stop, they spun a set in the style that's familiar to those who have seen them DJ before: a mix of classics and newer hits that demonstrates both their wide-ranging musical interests and sense of irony and placement.
At the Sunday evening Hammerstein Ballroom concert, Justice started their dance-rock melange with a cover of the American national anthem and worked through much of both "Cross" and "Audio, Video Disco." Understated visuals and special touches like live keyboarding added intrigue to what may otherwise have been mistaken for a very well-produced DJ set.
Ten to 15 minutes before the end of the first segment of the show, a man fell from the third floor balcony of the ballroom to the crowd on the ground level. He writhed in pain until medical personnel arrived, secured his neck and took him out on a gurney. The FDNY said he was not seriously injured, and he was said to have flashed the hand symbol for metal and remained conscious.
The show continued, and by the time this reporter was able to focus on the music again, it was apparent that the de Rosney and Augé had really impressed the capacity crowd. Though the duo is not keen on smiling too often or and said nothing either while DJ'ing or performing live, an earnestness eventually broke through their disaffected demeanor. At the show's end, de Rosnay crowdsurfed at emphatically thanked attendees by shaking hands and gesturing his appreciation.
Highlights from the live show include a spirited rendition of "Civilization," their re-working of "D.A.N.C.E." to incorporate "On the the Next One" (Jay-Z's track which samples the line "under the spotlights"; the rapper also incorporates the Justice track in his live shows) and their savvy use of "We Are Your Friends." It's certainly worth the cost of admission.
But before all that, HuffPost Entertainment sat down with the affable duo to talk about their intentions, "EDM," Daft Punk and where they see their place in the musical catalogue of the 2000s. An edited transcript follows.
Have you noticed anything different in the reception to your second album?
de Rosnay: It's really hard for us to say. It's hard for us to make statements about every country because we don't really know who listens to our music. Is it a female or male? Young or old? Countryside or city? I guess most of them are in big cities. Sales-wise, we sold less of this album than the first. But the only real reaction we get is when we play live shows. These shows have been better than the first time we toured, so at the end, we found a good balance.
It always takes a bit of time before the music get to people, and sometimes it doesn't. Some of the tracks just don't do it, some of them connect and others take two years before they connect. Right now, we don't have enough distance to see exactly what happened.
There has been a lot of talk about how Americans are so excited about dance music. Do you think people expect you to be more "dance" when you perform?
de Rosnay: To us, the first record is not a dance record. We never heard any of the tracks of the first album being played in clubs. Remixes are played but the originals -- none of them are club tracks. We had to transform the songs from the first album a lot to make them work in our work show, but we didn't have to do that with this album. It's a bit paradoxical because it's true that the first album may seem a little more efficient in a venue. But we never really intended to make dance music. It's fun that there's this bit of a misunderstanding that most people think we are a dance music band. We don't know why, because we've never made a club track. Maybe it comes from the fact that we DJ'd a lot and when we DJ we play mostly club tracks, and very few of our own.
But at the same time, we're happy with this misunderstanding because we can have one foot in the "electronic dance music" world and one foot in more traditional music. Because of that we can play both Lollapalooza and the Ultra Music Festival. And when we play Ultra, we are the least dancey act on the bill, and when we play Lollapalooza we are the least rocky act on the bill.
And do you picture your shows as more of an arena rock show or a party?
de Rosnay: I think it's neither one. It's not meant to be pretentious, but the way the music is organized and the way we perform it, is not really inspired by anything else. It doesn't try to be rock, we don't play guitars and it's not structured like a rock show. It's not structured like a dance show either. We just take our repertoire and make it work on a one hour or one and a half hour thing. There are some moments that are a bit danceable and some that are just a bit more of listening to what is happening. There are some moments that are not danceable but totally violent and there is good energy. We are just trying to do something operatic with all of our tracks, without trying to be too efficient in a certain way. We believe in…
Augé: The power of emotion.
de Rosnay: Yeah, the emotional power works better than just having to be full-on all the time, or having three minute drops or whatever. We do that sometimes, but we don't do it systematically.
That seems like it corresponds with what you said earlier during the DJ set, which is that you don't want everything to seem so full. On the first album, with the microsampling that you did, that was a difficult but very efficient way to make sure everything is in place. This time, both on the album and the show, you're more willing to let things develop as they may.
de Rosnay: Yeah but the first album was made almost with the same intentions. Not in the way that we produced it. When we made the first album, we wanted to say, "OK, this is what you can do with a computer and nothing else." And because it was our first album, we wanted it to be a bit sleek and demonstrative of how technical we can be. And we wanted to keep it a bit rough at the same time, because we are not so seduced by the sound of rage dance music, which is sleek but lacks a bit of roughness to us.
Augé: It's just fluffy.
de Rosnay: And the second album, there were so many records that had been made in the meantime that were very sleek and probably sleeker than what we did before that were made with computers and were very digital. But what we want to make is the opposite of that. It wasn't a reaction, it was just natural. Something moody and a bit understated in terms of production. Also because most of the records we liked sound this way. It's more about the style than pure technique. One year after, we feel like it was the right thing to do, for us. The second album will probably age better than the first one. The first one is so 2007, you can hear it. The second one is in it's time, but a bit less than the first one. It's just more relaxed. Which is how we are as well.
Has your music taste, in terms of what you like to listen to, changed at all over the past five years?
de Rosnay: It has always been the same, and the influences are exactly the same between the two albums. But this is what is great about music, that everyone hears something different. A lot of people say the first album is a blend of heavy metal and techno, but actually to us it's just disco. Almost all the biggest tracks on the first album sound like disco tunes. The second album, in a track like "Ohio," for example, it has influence from David Crosby and New Orelans, but all the drums are like Nine Inch Nails and industrial, the baseline is very disco like Earth Wind & Fire, and in the middle section you have a riff that is medieval but could also sound like a T. Rex riff. In one song, you have so many things, and that's the same for all the tracks.
Augé: We keep discovering some artists and stuff, but as we are looking for the same ingredients, it's always the same obsessions. It goes from epic to romantic, but it has to be a bit radical.
"D.A.N.C.E." is already seen as a bit of a throwback in New York --
de Rosnay: Yeah? It's already retro? That's cool.
Right, and there's a certain sort of ironic distance that I get the sense you would be OK with, while other artists might not. But it has become vintage.
de Rosnay: Absolutely. But you can't do anything about that anyway, you just make music in your own time. But we are totally fine with that. You can feel it in our live shows, because some songs already feel like they belong to a different time period. But most of the people who attend our shows didn't really know, because they were in high school or too young to go to the shows the first tour. There are always cycles like this.
These cycles tend to be collapsed for a lot of fans. There are probably a lot of people who are Justice fans who think you are pretty much exactly the same as Daft Punk, without a sense of the time and distance between you two.
de Rosnay: Of course, but that's fun. With a bit of distance, we can see a bit better why some people think we are all the same, us French people. We can also see how it has influenced the music that is played right now in clubs, which we couldn't see at the time at all. But that's good. Maybe if there's a scrapbook about the 2000s, there's a small column for our records.