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Where My Head’s At: Justice creates a wall of noise at Coachella

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Initially, this piece was supposed to be a simple event review of Justice’s set at Coachella.  Everything changed the moment that I pressed play on “Genesis” (the same track they opened with in Indio) and began to write just as I had done so many times in the past.  This time something was different — As the synthesizers blared, I was suddenly awash in emotion and I realized that I had so much more to say.

A Cross The Universe

There are very few artists in EDM today as daringly unique as Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay — the two graphic designers turned electronic music masterminds behind the electro-rock duo, Justice. Their first EP Cross marked the start of the blog-house era, adding much needed fuel to an ever-growing fire of independent producers and underground bloggers. A fire that was the catalyst for many of the music blogs you read today. Cross was the album that brought me back into the scene – much the same way that the Chemical Brothers Dig Your Own Hole introduced me to electronic music when I was 16. To this day, both albums have permanent homes on my iPOD. They are groundbreaking and innovative, asserting themselves as tastemakers in a sea of uninspired cash-ins. In a scene as fickle and prone to imitation as electronic music, groundbreaking is a commodity that is hard to come by.  Their first original hit, “D.A.N.C.E.” came at a time when most of the people I knew were listening to Kanye West (who also accidentally introduced millions of idiots around the United States to this other little French duo, Daft Punk.) It’s unique amalgamation of French house, catchy lyrics and hard rock chords completely reignited my interest in electronic music.

To D.A.N.C.E. or Not To D.A.N.C.E.

In my not-so-humble opinion, dance music has started to lose a lot of what drew me to it in the first place: its innovation. Song names, tracks, and remixes have all started to blend together; they are plagued by Sylenth presets and predictable intro/outro sequences. So few producers try to do anything special anymore; most try desperately to fit a mold, to do what they know works simply because it has been successful in the past.

Justice has no mold; they broke it and abandoned their incredibly successful formula with the release of Audio, Video, Disco last year. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tinge of disappointment when I first heard it; like most Justice fans, I was looking for another Cross and what I got was anything but. Although I felt betrayed, I gave it a second listen and by the third play through I realized that Audio, Video, Disco was not better or worse, it was just different and it was phenomenal — a startlingly aggressive re-imagining of the Justice sound. Gaspard and Xavier had grown as artists and their sound had evolved with them. I give them a ton of credit for not creating the album that everyone expected them to create, instead boldly releasing a hard rock-influenced, experimental album, one resplendent with electric guitars and pianos… all set to the backdrop of sawtooth synthesizers and huge walls of noise.

It is true, all artists’ sounds evolve over time; but some evolve like Led Zeppelin, by breaking new ground and pushing boundaries, and others, like U2, evolve by changing to fit the trends of the times. Who would you rather listen to? Tastemakers or imitators? You already know my answer.

We Are Your Friends!

Justice burst onto the scene in 2006 when they remixed Simian’s “Never Be Alone” stripping out the original’s chorus to create “We Are Your Friends”  — if there were an award for the most remixed, bootlegged, chopped up, played and sampled piece of electronic ever, “We Are Your Friends” would win by a landslide (okay, maybe “Sandstorm” would be close.) Every DJ, from  bar/bat mitvahs to big rooms, has played some version of the title track’s signature chant. I would go so far as to say that no track has ever been this big or demonstrated such staying power — not even “Levels.” My reasoning here is simple; everyone still loves “We Are Your Friends.” You can’t say that about many other songs.

And So the Story Goes On’n’On

Justice’s performance at Coachella marked the first time I had ever seen them live. I can now say unequivocally that their performance, albeit cut short, was my favorite part of the entire trip. Their stage production and presence was rock god-like; towering columns of Marshall stacks stood guard as the massive, ominously glowing white cross pulsated with the music. The LED wall that was the main focal point of most of the other stage productions was left unused, replaced instead by artificial fog and blinding strobes.

Gaspard and Xavier may have been 25 minutes late but, the moment that they opened with “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed by “Genesis,” those of us in the crowd immediately forgot that we were kept waiting. As the set continued so did the aural assault, and just as expected, “Civilization”  became something much bigger when it was performed live, morphing from a simple song into a full blown ballad; it’s vocals echoing out into the endless darkness of the desert night. Less than 30 minutes from when they began, Gaspard and Xavier dropped “D.A.N.C.E.” sending the crowd into an uproar. As “Audio, Video, Disco” brought the set to an abrupt close, I sighed. The knowledge that I had just seen the best act of the festival created a sudden pang of depression in my gut. Those around me all agreed, Justice had just performed the shortest but most incredible set of the entire weekend.

If I had to come up with only one reason for why Justice is one of the few, true juggernauts of the genre, I would have to say it is because they are unafraid to be daringly different. I’ve seen enough LED walls and heard enough prepackaged presets to know that what’s popular isn’t always good. True talent lies within artists who have the courage to be different.

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