Our parents’ generation claims to have lived through the golden age of recorded music. They had Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. They also lay claim to the eternal holy grail of music festivals – Woodstock. They insist, that we – the insolent, spoiled Millennials – live in an era where all rock music is a pale, flaccid imitation of the rock stars of yore, all rap music is nothing but profanity void of substance, and all dance music is a soulless, computerized simulacrum of “real music.”
Despite – or because of – the LED-enhanced stage productions of Coachella (arguably our generation’s answer to Woodstock), none of the musical acts of our festivals could ever hold a candle to the impact of the performances of history’s most legendary musical gathering.
Hyperbolic as the above statement may be, it is, nonetheless, regarded as an immutable truth in the eyes of many vocal Baby Boomers. It is also, to put it gently, complete bullshit.
This year’s iteration of Coachella Music and Arts Festival hosted a number of artists which could easily stand as a counterargument proving the grandeur of the musical climate in which we currently live. One might cite the operatically stunning, thematically profound brilliance of Kendrick Lamar, or the spine-chilling emotional evocation of The xx.
Yet, from the angle of dance music, there is one act from last weekend that tops the rest.
Photo by Julian Bajsel.
On April 16, 2017 the mighty Justice took the stage at Coachella for the first time in five years. Such a hiatus constitutes an eternity in today’s musical climate. However, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay reminded any philistines who had forgotten their pre-eminence among dance music’s live pantheon of their legendary status when they closed out the Outdoor stage on Sunday night.
A palpable chill permeated throughout the congregation which stood before the Cross as the stage lights faded in and the opening lyrics to “Safe and Sound” echoed throughout the balmy desert air. In their perennial rock-chic garb, Gaspard and Xavier calmly took their places across from each other at their mechanical alter. The duo would retain their taciturn demeanor for the duration of their performance, their composure acting as a noteworthy contrast to the electrifying spectacle that was to come.
And, oh, how electrifying it was…
Some critics have noted that WOMAN, the French outfit’s most recent album, is a low-energy shell of Justice’s former self. It may be “dismissive” or “mean” to refer to such naysayers as “uncultured swine who are egregiously incorrect.” However, such a rejoinder would be neither unfair nor incorrect. The duo’s Coachella set marked the first time that tens of thousands of fans received the chance to see tracks like “Alakazam !” and “Pleasure” performed live, in person – a fact that is scintillating in and of itself (though it comes with a slight sense of disappointment due to their exclusion of “Randy”).
However, more captivating than witnessing these tracks in concert, was experiencing the masterful way in which Augé and de Rosnay melded them with hits from their prior albums, Cross and Audio, Video, Disco. The fusion of “Safe and Sound” with “D.A.N.C.E.” served as perhaps the weekend’s most enrapturing set opening, while the melange of “Heavy Metal” and “DVNO” was easily one of the show’s most eruptive moments.
Even when Justice explored their older catalog for extended periods, there was an implicit blending of old and new. The most formidable segment of the group’s performance came when they fused their seminal single, “Genesis,” with a live revision of their famed “Phantom” – made further anew through their updated WOMAN production.
While the Cross and the LED faux-Marshall stacks remained from previous tours, their revamped stage production elicited an entirely new impact. Any fans who thought the duo’s live rendition of “Stress” couldn’t become more hectic and menacing than it was in previous tours were proven wrong by the apoplectic lighting arrangements which flashed across the new stage on Sunday night. While such audio-visual synchronizations are reprisals of former live shows’ tropes, they have been reborn in an awe-inspiring, progressive fashion.
Indeed, Justice’s profound ability to meld nostalgia with innovation is a crux of the group’s core appeal. The group are – and have always been – innovators, creating an inimitable sound that is entirely their own. However, Xavier and Gaspard’s cinematic brand of electro is, at its core, derived from classic rock, metal, and disco. Their music possesses all the electrifying spirit of the best acts from the Baby Boomer generation, while their live show incorporates this retro aesthetic into an experience which was impossible to create in decades past.
Utilizing rock-driven tones and disco-inspired vocals through improvisational production and synthetic performance technologies, Justice harness the soul of recorded music’s “Golden Age” into a stimulating sensory experience which wasn’t close to achievable during that era. Indeed, the duo’s overpowering performance stands unparalleled even in the modern era.
Photo by Andrew Jorgenson
Many would argue that Augé and de Rosnay didn’t put on the best set at Coachella. After all, at a festival with such a diverse cast of performers, how could they have? To make such a subjective statement would be absurd. However, depending on the eye of the beholder, the group’s Coachella made apparent or reaffirmed one resoundingly clear fact.
Justice aren’t simply good DJs – they’re the best dance-rock band in the fucking world.
Photos by Julian Bajsel, Andrew Jorgenson, and Brian Willette. All photos courtesy of Coachella.