"Actually, we are very bad at making proper club music."
The French electro-noise duo Justice - Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay - may have presaged the EDM revolution. But today, Auge positions them as a disco act. After all, Justice did last deliver Woman - a decadently romantic R&B and funk album - in late 2016. Still, with Justice, there's always a twist.
The Parisians are returning to Australia to perform live at Sydney City Limits - the new spin-off from Texas' feted Austin City Limits Music Festival - and a headlining date in Melbourne's Hisense Arena. The usually cooler-than-cool Auge is geeked to learn that, in Sydney, they'll be billed alongside Grace Jones. "Yeah, wow! Great. Yeah, I didn't know about that," he enthuses. "Okay, amazing!" Auge does have a favourite song by Jones, but he struggles to identify it. "I'm very bad with track titles. It's the one that sounds a bit like a tango." That would be I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango), Jones' art-reggae flip of Astor Piazzolla's nuevo-tango classic. "I really like the idea of switching something very far from your genre of music and translating it in your own way," Auge notes. "It's always a good bet."
Justice haven't toured here since the summer of 2011 and 2012 when they hit the dance-festival circuit. "The last time we went to Australia, it was really dominated by EDM, which is not really our cup of tea. But mostly because the festivals we played were EDM-dominated." In fact, Justice love Aussie acts such as Midnight Juggernauts (who'll DJ as their Melbourne support) and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - "all those crazy psychedelic bands".
Justice established themselves as remixers in the early noughties. Their reinvention of Simian's Never Be Alone (subsequently renamed We Are Your Friends) for a minor competition convinced Pedro Winter, Daft Punk's manager, to sign them to his nascent Ed Banger Records. The two graphic design students primarily accepted further remix projects as "a playground to try new stuff and to get used to the equipment we had and just to make some kind of sonic experiment". Justice won a Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical Grammy for their interpretation of MGMT's Electric Feel. Astonishingly, Auge doesn't reckon that they were adept remixers. "Actually, we are very bad at making proper club music."
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Justice's first original banger, 2005's Waters Of Nazareth, officially introduced their biblical imagery and rock-meets-rave aesthetic. They followed the same trajectory on 2007's debut album, Cross, although, tellingly, the big single, DANCE, was a funk jam indebted to The Jackson 5. Justice made a fan of Kanye West, who was filmed bopping at a concert in the Justice tour doco A Cross The Universe (and he subverted their sound for his Yeezus album). Taking a break after 2011's prog-tastic Audio, Video, Disco, Justice resurfaced with their third album, Woman - a tribute to Cerrone's cosmic disco, heavy on orchestral and choral arrangements.
In 2018, Justice could yet represent the resistance to (America's) one-dimensional EDM. However, Auge isn't necessarily antagonistic towards the scene. "It's not even like a conscious decision to be against EDM, because we have nothing against EDM and some of the stuff we play when we DJ is very close to EDM," he explains. "It's just that it has never been an influence or an inspiration, but just because we are not really coming from the dance or club scene. Our influences are a bit more on the pop side, rock side, and also electronic stuff that is not really dance-friendly."
Especially initially, Justice applied heavy-metal tropes to disco in a way not attempted since '70s KISS (I Was Made For Lovin' You). "Obviously, we use a lot of distorted sounds and there is definitely a kind of early heavy metal - like, mostly British heavy metal - influence. But I guess what we always did, like, to us, was just disco, because, for us, disco is a blend of funk, pop music and classical music and electronics. So this is what we love the best; what we do. It's just a kind of modern disco, in a way."
For their latest live set, staged at both Glastonbury and Coachella in 2017, Justice have reworked songs past and present so as to render them "more efficient" and "more straightforward". But they also wanted the show "to be as entertaining as possible", experientially. So pivotal is their lighting designer that Auge describes him as Justice's "third member". "It's a bit of a mix between Blade Runner and a Black Sabbath concert," Auge ponders. "It sounds a bit pretentious, but it's what we had in mind when we designed the show."