Story / Heather Seidler
Photography /Anouck Bertin
Anthony Gonzalez, the French maestro behind M83, has been creating day-dreamy, electro-pop splendor for a decade. M83’s newest release, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, is a double-album filled with stratospheric synths and joyous dance beats that are as heavily nostalgic as they are retro-futuristic. Gonzalez integrates retrospective feelings with the airy aspects of youth while still encompassing his maximalist side.
Gonzalez makes dense music. On HUWD he takes up just about all the sonic space he can—whether he’s filling it with voices, guitars, synthesizers or a saxophone. HUWD has the monolithic expansiveness and weight of earlier work while adding something identifiably new. It has a diversity and cohesion not normally associated with modular electronica, but still manages to stay firmly entrenched in its dreamy synth pop.
Even though HUWD leapt to number 1 on Billboard’s electronic charts, it’s odd to relegate M83 to the realm of “electronic” music, as the energy and arrangement Gonzalez usually tackles is more in line with the biggest of rock music. Let’s face it, electronic music isn’t what it used to be. Gonzalez isn’t a songwriting-centric artist, but rather a hybrid shorthand for the specific sonic hugeness in a lot of electronic music. You can coin it Indietronica, fair, in terms of how dramatic the sound is. Ambient tracks like the crescendo-heavy “Safe” work more like the equivalent to film score ambiance than straight synth-drone. The band named after the spiral galaxy Messier 83, has at last, made a record which befits that; a soundtrack for the end of the world and the birth of new ones.
Ladygunn had the honor of speaking openly with Anthony Gonzalez about his new album, moving to Los Angeles and finding happiness at thirty.
In Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming Gonzalez maneuvers within the twenty-first century musical landscape with ease, culminating everything previously released in M83’s decade-long career into a floating dreamscape, where words are lost in reverb and melodies reach for lofty heights of nostalgia. The levity of this new material owes something to his upbringing and the indelible memories of things he experienced in his youth. “I had the best childhood ever. I was the happiest kid on the planet,” Gonzalez admits. “Because I was so full of joy when I was a kid, I needed to express that through my music on this album. I wanted to capture the feelings of those reflections.”
It’s not singularly a concept album, rather an archetypal album of two halves. The cover features a boy and a girl sitting in a bed. Gonzalez explains that one side is the spirit of a young boy and the other side is the spirit of a young girl. “It’s about how brothers and sisters are different people, but connected by blood and mind. Each track has a sibling on the other disc.”
Gonzalez has composed dynamic cinematic music designed to occupy the entire room. As opposed to using classic pop structures, he furnishes extended sonic odysseys. M83 is being touted as indie music’s Spielberg (early Close Encounters Spielberg) which is a suitable title, Gonzalez is an admitted major cinephile and intends to eventually create his own soundtracks for movies. “It would be interesting to work on something that’s not my own. To share in someone else’s vision. I couldn’t make music without watching movies.” Movie soundtracks will have to wait—for now, the hit Victoria’s Secret angels commercial will have to suffice, which features the single “Midnight City”.
With “Midnight City”, M83 has made one of the best perennial pop songs in recent memory, and it may have been intentional. “My main fear about my music is that it’ll get old. I don’t want that—I want to avoid that as much as possible. It’s going to sound old-fashioned at some point, but I really tried my best to make this album sound as timeless as possible.”
When Gonzalez moved from his homeland of Southern France to Los Angeles eighteen months ago, his new surroundings inspired a prolific period of songwriting and musical experimentation. He rented a small cabin rooted in the middle of nowhere and started making music there, on his own. Gone is the darkness and discomfiture that hung around the previous albums. Here in the sunshine, Gonzalez seems confident and full of optimism. “When I made this album I felt emotional, I felt happy, I felt crazy, it was tons of different emotions and feelings. What I hope now is that people listening to the album will feel the same way. All the emotions I felt, I hope people will feel the same while listening to it.”
Gonzalez continues, “It’s kind of a tribute to my life but it’s also a tribute to the people I love, the people who are important to me.”
After twenty-nine years in France, what inspired Gonzalez to pack up and relocate to California? “I was bored and just needed a new adventure, something to keep me excited. LA was the perfect place for me. The music scene is incredible.” However, early on the transplanted Frenchman realized the sense of isolation that comes with leaving behind all that is familiar, and borne from that isolation was the genesis of the album. “I moved to LA a year and a half ago, right before the making of this album, and at first I felt really lonely in this giant city. I felt sad and homesick, missing my friends and family a lot,” he recalls. “That led me to really reflect and remember my childhood memories. It was necessary for me to do that. I was just turning thirty and I felt almost like it kept me going…to remember all those things.”
As Gonzalez sought to synthesize memory into sound and both celebrate and embody the power of what dreams could be, he achieved a musical experience that is as elaborate, vivid, and moving as the memories it hopes to emulate.
Now that the album has been released, Gonzalez is back in the limelight, taking his sprawling opus to the open road, headlining sold-out shows across America. Despite a decade of performing and touring with indie-giants like Kings of Leon, Depeche Mode and The Killers, performing live still has its marvel. “Sometimes you play a song a million times but when you feel the excitement from the crowd it doesn’t matter if we’ve played it a million times, it’s still a great moment,” he explains. “When we play live we really try to reinvent the songs—on every tour we try to play the songs different so we can enjoy ourselves while playing it. This is necessary to give a new life to the old material.”
After watching M83’s recent performance in LA, it’s clear that he’s accomplishing exactly that. “The goal of a performance is to transcend anything beyond primal thought. People go to rock shows to get to that pure, uncomplicated place of transcendence,” says Jordan Lawlor, M83’s current touring multi-instrumentalist. “Anthony is someone who is very much in touch with the whimsy and wonder in life. We would show up in the morning for rehearsal and just play around with things and experiment until they worked. It wasn’t a heated experience of waiting for the muse to strike.”
M83’s music has always been about tiny moments blown out only as big as our capacity to relate to them. More than anything, it’s about music as a canvas for emotion and life—it’s like an homage to both its enduring and its fleeting moments. “Everything goes so fast, it scares me, but it also makes me feel so alive. Sometimes when you have moments like that on tour or making an album you realize you have a pretty awesome job. I feel just lucky to be able to do what I love. Not to sound cliché, but I’m thankful, I know it can just stop at any moment and I just love life so much right now. I have nothing to complain about. For those moments of happiness, it’s worth it to keep up the fight.”