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Fountain of Youth

Apr 02, 2008 M83 Photography by Sophie Etchart Bookmark and Share

Saturday’s a horrible day to spend in detention. Unless you’re there with representatives of five distinct social cliques, each letting their guard down just enough to realize they’re really not that different. Then it’s—how’s it go? They only met once, but it changed their lives forever. John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club so expertly captured the myopic, all-consuming angst that defines teenagerdom that anyone who viewed it in the last two decades can quote at least a few lines. That includes Anthony Gonzalez, the Frenchman behind M83, who cites Hughes films as one of the various ’80s influences running rampant on his new album, Saturdays=Youth.

If you doubt Gonzalez’s devotion to the ’80s, specifically the Hughes version, just check out the Molly Ringwald look-alike gracing the album’s cover. But don’t look for parody in that pink dress. “A lot of bands are doing tributes to the ’80s. I didn’t want to do the same kind of thing, because generally, a lot of people like the ’80s because of the sense of kitsch,” says Gonzalez. “There is no irony at all in my musical relationship to the ’80s.”

This comes as no surprise, given Gonzalez’s well-documented love of analog synthesizers and unchecked melodrama, not to mention the fonts usually present on his album covers. Saturdays is merely the latest in the pile of pathos, after M83 (2001), Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003), Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005), and Digital Shades Volume 1 (2007).

Before the Dawn Heals Us, the first album without longtime musical cohort Nicolas Fromageau, brought a new intensity to M83’s electronic soundscapes, awash in churning, distorted guitars and big rock drums. It was the grand finale. “I felt like Before the Dawn Heals Us was the conclusion to everything I had done before: electric crescendos, dark and sometimes tragic lyrics—intense things,” explains Gonzalez. “So I needed some fresh air, and I spent a long time trying to find my new direction.”

Gonzalez looked to his youth, and the synth-pop that consumed him. “I was a bit too young to listen to ’80s music at the time,” he says. He discovered it in his early adolescence. “I really fell in love with bands like Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, and Cocteau Twins. It was like a revelation to me.”

He found that even now, as a 26-year old, the music of the era would transport him. “Listening to a good pop song or watching a great teen movie is an intense experience for me, because it brings me back to a certain kind of innocence,” he says. “That’s what I like about pop songs. They are related to my memories.”

After a painstaking study of various albums of the era, Gonzalez began work in earnest. His first step was to recruit a singer up to the task. He found Morgan Kibby through a mutual friend, French film director Eva Husson. Kibby, also an actress, had worked with her on the 2004 short film Hope to Die. “When I told Eva that I was looking for a girl for my album she told me about Morgan, so I listened to her music,” he says. “What I really like in her voice is that she’s got a Kate Bush style.”

That comparison is evident from the get-go, with Kibby’s layered, disarming wails dotting the opening track, “You, Appearing.” From there Gonzalez takes over for “Kim & Jessie,” a pop number he says was inspired by Tears for Fears. “Skin of the Night” is the goth track, plodding along mechanically while Kibby employs some operatic drama. The John Hughes pick would no doubt be “Graveyard Girl,” with its persistent beat, synth leads, and chorused guitars—close your eyes and you’ll see Molly Ringwald dancing in a library. These first four songs are a quick glimpse of what is to come—an album simultaneously nostalgic and modern, which is often the best kind. Gonzalez even employed two producers bridging that gap: Ken Thomas, who worked with ’80s pioneers like Cocteau Twins and Psychic TV, and Ewan Pearson, the dance producer who has worked with artists such as Ladytron and The Rapture.

After touring the album extensively with Kibby and a full band in tow, Gonzalez plans to take some time to pursue Digital Shades Volume 2, the continuation of his Eno-esque ambient exploration. The first volume came after a whirlwind tour for Before the Dawn Heals Us. Gonzalez relishes the project, as it’s an opportunity to work outside the pop format, setting aside concerns about structure, enjoying a sort of pure musical freedom. “That’s a very important project to me. I like it because it allows me to go somewhere else,” he says. “I’m free to do whatever I want.”

For now, Saturday’s calling the shots. “Saturday is definitely the most important day for a teenager. You know, it’s the weekend. Saturday is the time to party, to discover new sensations and new feelings,” says Gonzalez. “I have such good memories of Saturdays when I was a teenager.”

While those memories outlive youth, one gets the sense Gonzalez hasn’t yet submitted to adulthood. His music, for all it may borrow from the past, is acutely sincere, and at times almost uncomfortably afflicted. His lyrics can easily match the overwrought dialogue in any John Hughes screenplay. “Teen Angst” on Before the Dawn Heals Us was prescient, its title both encapsulating the wide-eyed passion of his work and foreshadowing his latest flight of fancy. For Gonzalez, music also = youth. For the time being, however, he’ll indulge in his youth. “I think for some people it never ends,” he says, admitting he’s one of them. “The problem is that even if you are like a teenager and you are an adult, you still have to face adult problems.”

If Gonzalez could do it again, it seems he would, taking up his allotted role in his own Breakfast Club. He doesn’t have to think too long when asked which character he was. “I guess I was the shy guy, living in his dreams.” That’d be Brian “Brain” Johnson. If you’re looking for the dope, it’s in his underwear.


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December 9th 2009

Thanks for this timely information.. I really appreciate your efforts in sharing your knowledge with us.

January 10th 2011

The album does, though, recall M83’s previous work to some extent. S=Y certainly features the same sort of dense, vast arrangements as Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts and Before the Dawn Heals Us. However, between the absence of the MBV guitars that characterized these two albums and a much more structured and restricted approach, Youth marks a clear shift for M83. Neither of M83’s last two proper records featured songs so packed with vocals or ones so centered upon hooks, bridges, and the confines of the orthodox pop song. “Rolex Submariner