Chromeo makes Aspen debut
ASPEN – In the early ’00s, David Macklovitch was the co-owner of a record store in his hometown of Montreal. The other owner was Tiga Sontag, a DJ and producer who also ran a music label, Turbo. Like his partner, Macklovitch didn’t only sell music, but made it as well, specializing in producing hip-hop tracks. Macklovitch’s output and reputation were growing, and kids would stream into the store to talk music with Macklovitch. Sontag couldn’t help but be impressed, and offered Macklovitch a record deal, which was quickly accepted.That set off a major question in Macklovitch’s head: Exactly what kind of music was he going to make? Macklovitch had grown up on ’70s guitar rock, buying copious numbers of albums by Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and teaching himself guitar by copying their licks. But that was part of his past, and didn’t seem an attractive option. Or he could have continued turning out hip-hop, for which he seemed to have a knack.But Macklovitch was intrigued by the idea of electronic music, which was still in a formative stage; dubstep had not entered the popular vocabulary yet. The problem was that, where he had some mastery of guitar rock and hip-hop, he was basically a stranger to electronic music.What he did have was a partner. At the age of 15, Macklovitch had met Patrick Gemayel. The two had different backgrounds – perhaps most evident, Macklovitch was Jewish and Gemayel was an Arab, born in Lebanon – but their shared love of music easily overcame any the differences in their cultural heritage, and they simply had a natural affinity for one another: “We were the two high school goofballs,” Macklovitch said.Gemayel had a band – of sorts. “Just a bunch of kids playing together, not knowing what they were doing,” said Macklovitch, who couldn’t recall the name of the band. (Whether this was a genuine lapse in memory, embarrassment over the name, or a desire not to delve too much into that musical chapter of his life was left an open question.) Gemayel invited Macklovitch to be the guitarist in the group, which opened up a new world of musical possibilities.”P’s band was a funk band, so I learned funk, soul, jazz. And that brought me into hip-hop,” Macklovitch said, explaining that hip-hop was often built on samples of the funk and soul riffs he was learning then.The band fizzled away, but Macklovitch and Gemayel remained together as a hip-hop production duo, taking the names Dave 1 and P-Thugg. When Macklovitch got the record deal, he pulled Gemayel in with him, and the two set to work not only making music, but also figuring out what style of music to record.The pair decided to stick with the electronic genre that the Turbo label had already built its reputation on. The two took their time, working out such issues as how to play synthesizers, and whether Macklovitch would sing or not. (He didn’t want to; Gemayel persuaded him to step up to the microphone.) “It took years to create an identity, this persona,” Macklovitch said.The duo came up with the name Chromeo, and a 2004 debut album, “She’s In Control,” that might have been ignored were it not for one song, “Needy Girl,” that got picked up by DJs all over the world. A follow-up album, 2007’s “Fancy Footwork,” found its way into TV shows, video games and commercials, and cemented the band’s musical make-up – an updated take on an earlier wave of electro-dance music, from the 1980s.The band’s latest album, “Business Casual,” was released just over a year ago. It went to No. 70 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 4 four among dance/electronica albums.As much as Macklovitch, who plays guitar and sings, and Gemayel, on keyboards, synthesizers and talk box, had to search for their musical identity, in the end, Chromeo isn’t a tremendous break from the hip-hop the two produced together. “Chromeo is an extension of that,” Macklovitch said from a tour stop in Minneapolis, on the way to Aspen, for the local debut of Chromeo, on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Belly Up. “Even though we don’t sample music, and write all our own music, it’s rooted in ’80s techno and synth music.”Just how deeply Chromeo is rooted in ’80s synth music is seen in how inevitable the comparison is between Chromeo and the ultimate ’80s synth-funk act, Hall & Oates. Macklovitch says that, when he and Gemayel first started messing with synthesizers, among the influences that kicked in was Hall & Oates.”I watched the videos, listened to their music,” said Macklovitch, who now lives in Brooklyn. “Later on, when we started making the first Chromeo album, I started studying them. There’s this big experimental side to what they did – the crooner, smooth lyrics, with angular synthesizers and funky drum machines.”It gave Chromeo an early boost when John Oates, a Woody Creek resident, got in touch with encouraging input. “He said something to the effect of how great it was that Hall & Oates was such a big influence,” Macklovitch said. Macklovitch seems to have become a student of Hall & Oates-ology. He observes that “Abandoned Luncheonette,” the duo’s 1973 breakthrough album, “had some beautiful John Oates songs.” Oates, he added, “has more of a folk voice. They’re both incredibly talented. Visionaries, really.” Chromeo played a set with Daryl Hall at last year’s Bonnaroo festival, and has appeared on Hall’s “Live From Daryl’s House” Internet show.While Chromeo fits comfortably with the electro-funk description generally applied to their music, Macklovitch notes that the duo affords room for him to experiment with other interests. “J’ai Claqu la Porte,” from “Business Casual,” he describes as a French ballad, that featured finger-picked acoustic guitar. “Momma’s Boy,” from “Fancy Footwork,” is reminiscent of Supertramp, a ’70s British band whose prog-rock sound emphasized electronic keyboards. Given how open the electronic genre seems, Macklovitch doesn’t see much need to venture away from Chromeo.”Whenever we have ideas that don’t seem to fit in the electro-pop mold, we try them anyway, and we can still execute them,” he said. “As long as I can fit all my ideas into this band, there’s no need to do anything else.”Chromeo has been known to poke fun at what an unlikely pair they are, given their ethnic heritages. But while Macklovitch says that he is open to political discussions about Jewish-Arab relations, and believes that his partnership with Gemayel can serve as a positive example, the multiculture nature of Chromeo isn’t reflected in the music.”It doesn’t influence the music at all,” he said. “And that’s kind of the point. It doesn’t matter.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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