Starwalker | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, June 8th, 2023  


Ready to Win

Jun 01, 2016 Photography by Taki Bibelas Issue # 57 - M83
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One of the first words Starwalker (Air‘s Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Bang Gang‘s Barði Jóhannsson) use to describe their efforts is “spacey.” The term makes sense. Awash with vintage synths and vocoders, the pair’s hypnotic pop seems blessed with an extraterrestrial grace. But as for actually checking out the cosmos themselves? Both artists quickly veto the idea.

“I’m afraid of flying,” Jóhannsson confesses. “I can go in space in my mind, so I think that’s enough.”

“Me too,” Dunckel adds. “I don’t want to vomit in my helmet.”

Although it wasn’t clear that they could work together right away, both musicians knew they wanted to hang out. That was enough to give it a go. They began experimenting with pooling their talents in 2013, moving work between Jóhannsson’s home in Iceland and Air’s Atlas Studio in Paris.

“Recording is about catching some people who have fun together making some kind of noise and harmonies,” Dunckel explains. “It’s really important that something happens. I know because [when] we were in a particular mood we wanted to record something groovy. We recorded while relaxing and chilling out, traveling and going out and having some type of holiday. We wanted to give some of that fun in the record.”

Starwalker’s first completed track was “Bad Weather,” a handclap-laced, simmering love song populated with angels, devils, and vampires. It’s a turned-out, polished piece of pop. But both Jóhannsson and Dunckel point out that they wanted to push their collaboration a bit furtherbeyond the DNA of their day jobs.

They found what they were looking for in the aural cotton candy refrains of “Losers Can Win.” Featuring acoustic guitars, bells, and synths, the track is an exercise in light, lighter, lightest. Which is exactly the vibe they needed.

“We wanted to have a really positive, optimistic song,” Dunckel explains. “It’s really true that losers can win. Sometimes in life you have moments when you fail and you fall down. It’s magic to be able to have the energy to warm yourself and give yourself the energy in order to be the winner and to win.”

“You can feel like a winner even though someone else thinks you’re a loser,” Jóhannsson adds.

It’s that laissez-faire spirit that both members of Starwalker say guides them through the album, from the haunting chorus of “Le President” (“You will remember me/I don’t remember you”) to the celebratory beat of “Everybody’s Got Their Own Way.” They’re not out to change the worldjust to make some music and have some fun. Which is fine by them. With all the social norms and taboos that the media is too afraid to talk about, true rebellion is tricky business.

“If Justin Bieber shows his nipple, no one cares,” Jóhannsson moans. “If a woman does it, then it’s shocking. I just don’t get it. I wish I could show my nipple and it would be a big thing. Me and JD would just be flashing our nipples on TV.”

“We would be stars!” Dunckel laughs. “Everyone would be amazed by our nipples.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for smart phones and tablets) of Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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