Still doing the D.A.N.C.E. a decade later: Justice on 10 years together, ‘Woman Worldwide,’ and what the future holds for the greatest dance-rock band of all time [Interview]
Growing up with one French parent, as a child I was exposed to a more-than-healthy amount of Gypsy Kings. My Parisian mother, her questionable selections aside, always maintained music as a strong element of family life. However, somehow in raising someone who grew up to be a dance music journalist, my parents often have no idea what I do for work. Occasionally some dance music does break through their Baby Boomer consciousness though, and most often over the course of the last decade, it’s been courtesy of French electronic icons Justice.
Harmonizing the perfect blend of disco, classic rock tropes, and electro — the band’s inimitable catalog undoubtedly boasts a multi-generational appeal. Justice’s seminal debut album, †, was one of my first real forays into electronic music, and when I fell, I fell hard. It was essentially my parents’ introduction to electronic dance music too, so when I told my mother I’d be interviewing Xavier De Rosnay of Justice, a French dance legend she’s actually quite familiar with, she insisted on joining me. In fact, there was really no negotiating. Anyone else with a French mother, De Rosnay included, probably understands. So I had my mom present to help me interview one of the greatest electronic music minds of all time just ahead of Woman Worldwide‘s highly anticipated release.
It has been almost two years since De Rosnay and bandmate Gaspard Augé’s critically lauded third LP, Woman. Now, the two electro luminaries have followed up with a new “live” album — an homage, or perhaps more accurately, a counterpart — to Woman‘s live production, rebuilt in the studio as what De Rosnay describes as a “proper Justice record.” De Rosnay explains the record’s complexion, detailing, “After maybe six months of touring, we were really feeling the music we were playing on stage every night, and we just wanted to share it with the people who are interested in it. So we thought to record it and make another live album, but we wanted to find a way to make it different.” In those six months, the “Safe and Sound” producers brought Woman‘s flooring live manifestation to Coachella, Lollapalooza, Sónar, and home to Paris’ AccorHotels Arena to name a few. De Rosnay continues,
“We love A Cross The Universe and Access All Arenas, but they were meant to capture what its like to be at a Justice show. We knew people were frustrated, and so this time we decided to make a very clean version, very hi-fi version of it.”
Justice on wax compared to Justice on stage are two very different, polarizing experiences. De Rosnay boils down his relationship with that dichotomy, painting a picture of everything he and Gaspard wish they could do on stage being packaged up and brought to the studio to be fully actualized. Expressing a limitation on the minimal processing they can engage in live on stage, eventually, performance notes collected night after night were brought to the pair’s state-of-the-art studio in Paris with the intent to merge the two experiences. With the time, space, and resources needed to make their live show emulate the quality of a crisp, clean studio album format, Augé and De Rosnay were able to cherry-pick the best parts of their hair-raising live set and recreate them into Woman Worldwide. “It’s a version of what we’d like to do every night that we can’t do,” says De Rosnay.
Among all the sonic chaos the two manage to pack into each LP, there’s an obviously meticulous nature to the duo’s work ethic. Surprisingly enough, the process of writing music actually proves to be much more organic and emotional for De Rosnay than calculated and measured. My mom chimes in, prodding in French about De Rosnay and Augé’s knack for perfectionism: “Are you happy with how the final product turned out?” I can feel my ears and cheeks getting hot.
“We are very happy with the album. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us. Perfect isn’t the right word… its very accurate in terms of being what we originally imagined it to be. It is impossible to make a perfect record, but it’s very faithful to our idea. The records I love the most are not perfect in a technical term. As long as we connect to the music, then we can put it out.”
Since their 2007 debut, the band’s artistic development has naturally progressed between predominating styles and themes, however, it has always managed to hold a sense of genuine timelessness. “We don’t mind actually being tagged in one category. It’s not for some people. But we don’t mind the categorization. Every time we hear a new band, the first thing we do is try to categorize them,” De Rosnay admits. Though †‘s heady, distorted electro backbone stands in direct contrast in many places to Woman’s futuristic gospel-glam core that came a decade later, both albums still undoubtedly look, sound, and feel like Justice. It’s been a gradual advancement of style, “Yeah, it’s a little strange,” starts De Rosnay, “on one hand, we always feel like we’re making the same thing. The disco element has always been there, like ‘D.A.N.C.E.‘ is straight disco with rock elements, perhaps just in a different shape. When we finish a record we never know if its too similar to what we did before.”
“Even if tomorrow we’re making a hard rock record, or a rap record, or even a reggaeton record, I think it will still sound a lot like Justice.”
Though, the two producers are far from the same wide-eyed DJs they were in A Cross The Universe touring the states for the first time a decade ago. Sometimes the leather jacket and stud-clad version of Justice seems like a lifetime ago. De Rosnay concedes that the pretenses of a full-length visual feature similar to the band’s unforgettable tour documentary seems unlikely nowadays. He sighs over the thought, “99 percent of music documentaries have a band as the subject and then people all talking about how great that band is, ‘oh they’re so cool’ or whatever,” De Rosnay laments. “We didn’t want to do that. We made A Cross The Universe for fun. We didn’t want to make a documentary that says we’re great. Making A Cross The Universe was like Jackass — we wanted anyone to be able to enjoy it and find fun [in it], even if they aren’t connected to the music we make. At the time I think I was 25, [Augé] maybe 27.”
“A Cross The Universe was really about what happens when you take a new French band and you allow them to indulge in the rock and roll cliches we’ve always been told about. But we made it knowing that ten years later, we’d be in a completely different place.”
De Rosnay maintains his characteristically cool, tight-lipped allure when prompted on a possible visual element to Woman Worldwide, “We’re always trying things. If it’s good enough, it’ll exist. For example, we tried to make a film for Access All Arenas and spent a lot of time on it, but it wasn’t good enough, so we didn’t release it. But we’re always trying to create a visual tie to things.” In planning ahead, De Rosnay and Augé prefer to savor the moment, but with a cycle of nearly five-year gaps between studio albums and nearly equal measures of time between live projects, with Woman Worldwide’s release, the duo’s pattern suggests a hiatus is due.
De Rosnay politely laughs at my mother’s nudging as she pesters him about taking, “les grandes vacances” after the duo’s tour concludes at Austin City Limits in October. Even deities make obligatory small talk with mothers. He counters, “Sometimes it feels like we’re on a permanent vacation, but at the same time we’re always working. It’s been two years since Woman was released and in the time since then, we’ve been touring. If we started working on the next album right after the tour and that takes a year and a half, it would be finished by late 2020 — that’s already four years between two albums without a break,” remarks De Rosnay. “We do disappear in a way, though, since when we’re recording we don’t play live.” Has any new music been written since Woman’s release? “…No.” Ah, that abrupt, yet ultra-cool French temperament.
After a brief pause, De Rosnay does creep forward. “With Woman, we worked a lot on the live show. Then we toured and spent a lot of time working on Woman Worldwide, and now we’re working on… things. But it’s hard to start writing a new album when we’re still on the last one. One of the greatest pleasures of making music is being in our studio, together with time and space. We could work on laptops in hotel rooms and planes, but it’s not a thing we enjoy. That works for some people, we just like the pleasure of being in our own studio.”
Somewhere between nu-disco and New Testament, Justice have crafted, and then re-crafted, a certified masterpiece with Woman and the ensuing Woman Worldwide. Now that we might be nearing the end of a prolific chapter in the visionary Justice narrative, De Rosnay departs with a seemingly innocuous, yet perhaps foreshadowing salutation. “We hope this continues as long as possible, let’s cross our fingers. The door is always open.” Here’s to another decade of Justice For All.