Chromeo rings in 2016 with two nights at Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Dec. 31, 9:30 p.m. & Friday, Jan. 1, 10 p.m.
How much: New Year’s Eve’s show is sold out; tickets for Jan. 1 are $85/GA, $125/Reserved
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Steeped in early ’80s electro-funk cheese, on first listen, Chromeo’s songs come off as a fun soundtrack for a spandex-clad dance party. Silly, sexy, funny, danceable, tugging at heartstrings with synth melodies and witty, winking lyrics often delivered through a talk-box — Chromeo is pure entertainment.
But the Montreal-based duo, which begins a two night run at Belly Up Aspen on New Year’s Eve, comes from a more cerebral place than you might imagine. Guitarist and lead vocalist Dave 1, up until the band’s work on the 2014 album “White Women” and its breakout success, was studying for a Ph.D in French literature at Columbia University. His immersion in semiotics and literary theory, surprisingly, has a lot to do with the way Chromeo’s music works and how it’s made old sounds new again.
“We knew that our canon would be this funk music from the late ’70s into the ’80s, and we studied what was used to do it, what the tropes were, and we wanted to subvert it, to make it sound like they were done by two goofy kids from Canada, which we were,” Dave 1 said in a recent phone interview.
“I always felt like ’80s funk music was a really cool sign system, and I knew that all of the signs in there are things you’d get a kick out of seeing again. That’s why we went that route, but then we recontextualized it, and we blended it with other specific signifiers — whether it be a neurotic Woody Allen-esque persona singing the lyrics and classic rock artwork, or a tough-guy, hip-hop sensibility.”
Over the course of four albums, though, Dave 1 and keyboardist and talk-box player P-Thugg’s songs have grown beyond producing self-aware pastiches of ’80s dance music and Hall and Oates homage. By “White Women,” there was a sound that was identifiable as Chromeo. “Jealous (I Ain’t With It),” for example, with its foot-tapping funk bassline, washes of synths, final verse breakdown and its straight-faced narrative of a jealous boy “too cool to admit it,” is a prime example.
Their live show is an extension of their arch aesthetic, with ironic touches such as playing keyboards on glowing plastic pairs of women’s legs and crowd-pleasing theatrics like over-the-top synchronized dancing.
Countless others have started making similar work riffing on disco-funk to make pop hits in recent years (Daft Punk, for example, on “Random Access Memories”). But Dave 1 isn’t proprietary about it and is pleased to have an ecosystem of like-minded musicians growing around Chromeo.
“At every wedding and bar mitzvah in the last 20 years, they’ve played Michael Jackson and Kool & the Gang and Prince. And every dentist’s office across the universe plays Hall and Oates and Phil Collins. So it was only a matter time before people went, ‘Hey, this is universal music that everybody likes and that’s fun and kind of quirky and genius,’” he said. “People didn’t copy us. Maybe they just got the memo a little later. But it was hiding in plain sight. You just had to go to a wedding or bar mitzvah.”
The band isn’t shy about the influence of longtime Woody Creeker John Oates and his band, Hall and Oates, on Chromeo’s approach. Though most Chromeo fans were born after Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl” was a hit, Dave 1 and P-Thugg introduced them to it with a 21st century spin on “Sexy Socialite.”
“What they were doing was like a hybrid appropriation of black soul music,” Dave 1 said of Hall and Oates. “They blended it with their distinct voice and their Philadelphia local tradition, and with other influences like prog and folk. So it turned into this delicious pop music. That, in many ways, inspired us, because we saw that we could stay true to the city we come from — Montreal — and we could blend other influences as well.”
The career arc of Hall and Oates is also serving as a model for the band, he said, specifically in the way they moved from the soul genre into the pop mainstream. Chromeo eased into the mainstream with “White Women” and are looking to raise the bar for themselves going forward.
“We want to draw from other influences, too, and keep mining different corners of the funky ’80s stuff,” he said. “But also, right now, Chromeo is self-generating. We can do a song that sounds like Chromeo. We don’t have to sound like Hall and Oates anymore. And I think now is the time to make the quintessential Chromeo songs.”
So what does that sound like?
“We’re our own reference now, and it’s time to make them bigger and more ambitious than they’ve ever been but also sweeter.”
The duo played Aspen last winter during the Winter X Games — performing a rapturously received hour-long set at the inaugural X Games music festival at Buttermilk and doing a smaller show at Belly Up. Before they left, they asked the club’s crew if they could come back for New Year’s Eve.
“It was such a blast that I was like, ‘Alright, we want to come back for New Year’s’ — it was our idea,” Dave 1 said.
Like most professional musicians, they work until after midnight every Dec. 31. They wanted to make the most of it this time around.
“You’re always in a random city away from your friends,” he said. “This year we were like, ‘Let’s go somewhere that we’d rather be. Let’s have fun and stay a few days.’”
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