cross examinations

Justice makes a monster disco album with microsamples, GarageBand and Cubase SX sound libraries and a song that almost makes them run for the hills.
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Thanks to Daft Punk, Coachella 2006 was a watershed moment for electronic music in America. Their rapturously received set proved once and for all that dance beats could translate into a spectacle powerful enough to match or even dwarf the biggest rock bands. Daft Punk's monolithic stance was akin to Parliament's Mothership Connection and Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue spacecraft teaming up to remix Studio 54 for the Nintendo generation.

One year later, it was fellow Frenchmen and sonic progenies Justice who brought a larger-than-life spectacle of digitized beats and interstellar imagery to assault the senses of Coachella 2007. Behind a large glowing cross (the band's logo and the “title” of their eagerly anticipated and Internet-leaked debut full-length), the two bobbing heads of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay were flanked by massive stacks of Marshall amplifiers, the kind of excessive display of power you'd expect from Metallica or Van Halen, not the oft-cited “saviors of dance music.” Dropping distorted, metallic disco anthems like “D.A.N.C.E.” and the eternally huge remix of Simian's “We Are Your Friends,” Justice emphatically solidified their status as the current vanguard of electronic-music heroism, genre salvation be damned.

“Coachella was amazing,” gushes Augé from the band's home base of Paris. “We were a bit freaked out because it was the first time we played new stuff from the album live. Nobody knew the tracks, so we were really surprised to see how enthusiastic and receptive the audience was to them.”

With the release of , Justice aims to bring that same “opera disco” spirit to iPods and stereos all over the world, complementing previous hit singles “Waters of Nazareth” and “Phantom” with panoramic variations on their signature sound. New songs like “DVNO” showcase a more playful side to the band's relentless assault, while “Valentine” is a moody instrumental reminiscent of '70s soft-rockers Supertramp with a touch of Jan Hammer. It may be incredibly frustrating (or relieving, depending on your viewpoint) to know that Justice creates such hard-hitting, well-received music with very little gear and without a whole lot of technical know-how. But there's still plenty of insight to learn about the French duo's methods and mayhem.

Who are some of your influences, musically? You say you're not big into techno or dance music in general.

Xavier de Rosnay: There are too many to be listed completely, but for example, we are hardcore fans of Sparks, The Beatles, Parliament, Snoop Dogg and Steely Dan, among others.

What kinds of records do you like to spin as DJs?

Gaspard Augé: The DJ side of Justice is more physical than emotional, so it goes from Donna Summer to Lil' Louis, Smith 'n' Hack to '90s rave tracks.

XdR: We play mainly electronic stuff. There are some tracks it's hard for us to not play, but sometimes we have to give them a break for a while. I think the track we've played the most is the Fatboy Slim remix of Wildchild's “Renegade Master” or “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes.

GA: I also like to play new stuff from friends like Boys Noize, SebastiAn, Mr. Oizo, Feadz and Soulwax. The Prodigy's “Smack My Bitch Up” is the one record I always carry with me.

Are you using a DJ program like Serato Scratch Live or M-Audio Torq when you DJ?

XdR: No, we stick to CDs. I think the technical possibilities are wider with CDs than with Serato. You play faster when you don't have to choose from a million MP3s.

How do you feel about the album leaking online before the official release date?

GA: The online leak was just unavoidable, so we don't really care. As long as you are doing some promotion, it's all part of the game.

Was the bulk of the album recorded all at once or spread out over a period of time?

GA: We've been composing and recording the album for one year. We wanted to have everything set in our minds before starting it to create something coherent.

Does Justice have a particular process in the studio? Do you start with a beat or a melody or a concept?

XdR: We mainly start with ideas. It's rare when anything comes from us just experimenting. When we started to write the album, we set certain limitations to avoid losing ourselves in something too weird or something that would have taken eight years to finish. We had a very specific idea of how we wanted the album to sound. And to make a draft of the album and then to make it allowed us to get something exactly as we imagined it.

Do you prefer sampling or creating your own sounds when making music?

GA: I have a personal-pride problem with sampling. But we were arguing about it, and in the end I agreed with Xavier that the result is the only thing that matters.

XdR: I think this is a standard process in making electronic music — the important thing is to not be frustrated at the end. There are only three recognizable samples on the whole album, and we did not try to hide them. All the rest are microsamples that even the authors could not recognize. And there are some you can have some suspicions, but you can't be sure it's coming from what you think it is.

Do you prefer using software or hardware keyboards and drum machines?

GA: We used to work with hardware and synths for the previous singles, but for the album we mainly used software, particularly Cubase and GarageBand.

XdR: We love the flexibility and the possibilities offered by software. A lot of people say that software is shit because it doesn't sound like analog-hardware stuff. I think the fact that it doesn't sound like analog gear — but something else entirely — is why we like to use it. And with Cubase SX and GarageBand [on an Apple G5], we mainly used the sound libraries, which are quite amazing. [Also in the duo's bare-bones setup is an Apogee Ensemble interface and, for monitors, Altec iPod speakers and a Bose radio alarm clock.]

WhenRemixinterviewed you before [for the January 2007 “Go Forward, Move Ahead” issue], you said that the album would be “lots of disco, given the Justice touch.” Do you still feel like that is the case?

REad more of the Remix interview with Justice


WhenRemixinterviewed you before [for the January 2007 “Go Forward, Move Ahead” issue], you said that the album would be “lots of disco, given the Justice touch.” Do you still feel like that is the case?

XdR: Totally. We stuck to our original idea to make a 2007 opera-disco album, even if we are conscious that some tracks don't sound like proper disco at first listen. The best example is the song “Waters of Nazareth,” which does not sound like disco when you listen to it for the first time. But if you forget that everything is distorted, the bass lines are just really basic disco patterns.

How would you respond to Justice being called “heavy-metal techno”?

XdR: We understand why people think this, and it's kind of a cool description, so we accept it. But the disco and pop parts of our music are as important as the metal part of Justice.

GA: I'm definitely not into that at all. We want to be called disco.

What are your feelings on the term “blog house”?

GA: We just discovered it on Wikipedia. We don't take it too seriously.

XdR: [Laughs.] We were flattered that “Waters of Nazareth” is considered the definitive “blog house” track. I still don't know if it's a proper style of music, but the name is quite smart and appropriate. It's also true that this music is living now mostly through blogs.

It's been said that dance music is a singles medium. Do you agree?

GA: Yes, and that's why we didn't do a dance record. We never aimed to do proper dance music. Some of our tracks are being played in clubs by DJs, and that's great. But we wanted do an album that you could listen to at home — not just a collection of bangers.

“Valentine” is very melancholy, a definite departure from the signature Justice sound.

GA: We wanted to pay tribute to French soundtracks and composers of the '70s and '80s, like François de Roubaix, Vladimir Cosma and Francis Lai.

XdR: It was one of the first tracks we did for the album. We've explored mellower sounds before, like at the end of “Let There Be Light,” or even in the break of our remix of “We Are Your Friends.” This is a pure and sincere romantic piece.

How did you record the vocals with Mehdi Pinson of the band Scenario Rock for “DVNO”? What was the signal chain?

XdR: Wow, this is way too technical for us. We just plugged a really simple mic into our Neve preamp and recorded them. I don't even know the model of the mic. We have had it for four years.

The echo-y effect on “DVNO” is interesting. How'd you get that effect?

XdR: This is just a Cubase default delay with exaggerated compression.

Do you prefer the more uplifting songs to the darker songs in general?

GA: To be honest, I love them all because both the romantic tracks and the more violent ones are just about instant emotion.

XdR: It just depends on the moment we're listening to it. When we finished the album, we obviously did prefer the last ones we did. But now I don't have a specific one I love more than the others. Maybe “Genesis.” That song is just made of hundreds of small samples, from Slipknot to Queen. We first recorded all the parts with MIDI synths and then replaced every note with really short samples.

Did you feel pressure making the album? Is that what the track “Stress” is about?

XdR: No. Pressure is just your body telling you to take a break from work. The song is called “Stress” because the first time we worked on it, it caused big headaches, so we had to stop. Just the base of the track, which is a repetitive loop of violins with a lot of high frequencies, was quite unbearable. But that was quite the aim of the track — to sound as claustrophobic as possible before we drop “Waters of Nazareth.”

GA: Everything is in the name.

XdR: When we came back to the track, we finished it quickly before it drove us both crazy.