The high energy, high concept dance-rock of Justice is French through-and-through
To these new gods of French electronic music, we say Salut!
Justice might look like a Led Zeppelin tribute act, but their high energy, high concept dance-rock is French through-and-through, explains Jonny Ensall
The hair; the crotch-hugging denim; the ‘tude - everything about Justice’s demeanour screams metal. And with good reason. The band, comprising Xavier de Rosnay (monobrow, flaired nostrils) and Gaspard Augé (hair of Robert Plant, moustache of a Deep South trucker) take epic, Iron Maiden-like riffs, operatic strings, punch-the-air choruses and put the whole package through an electronic blender. Their fantastic, stomp-along second album, Audio, Video, Disco, released last year, signalled the band’s move even further away from dance, and more towards American rock.
Yet, as much as they want to look like The Boss, Justice definitely weren’t born in the USA. The Parisian-formed duo is, in fact, the product of a French tradition as strong as chanson – house music. As the natural heirs to Daft Punk, Justice have helped make Paris as commonly associated with the synthesiser as the accordion. Here’s how they did it – the story of how La France became the home of dance.
In the early 90s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, two college friends from Paris, decided to ditch their semi-successful indie-rock band and start a new synthesiser and drum machine-driven house act. Daft Punk joined a field of Parisian electronic innovators that included Bob Sinclar, Cassius and Etienne de Crécy. All had a part to play in the emergence of the house sound known as French Touch, but it was Daft Punk who set the heavily filtered, highly repetitive and unfeasibly catchy template for future French bands to follow.
And follow they did. Daft Punk reached their peak with second album Discovery in 2001. It produced a string of chart and dancefloor hits, but was so sample-heavy as to be just a few brilliant, postmodern steps away from being a glorified mix tape.
The year after, a Parisian producer called Pedro Winter (aka Busy P) set up a new record label, Ed Banger. It’s mission was clear: to take the rulebook that Daft Punk had given the world, learn it inside out, and then tear it to shreds. Ed Banger became home to an array of French artists experimenting with the limits of fuzz, distortion and glitchiness as part of a house style the music press were quick to label French Touch 2.0. Its artists included Mr Oizo, Kavinsky, Uffie, Feadz, DJ Mehdi and Justice.
Justice (pronounced ‘joost-ees’) got to work remixing everyone from Death From Above 1979 to Britney Spears in their signature throwaway abrasive style. But it was their version of British band Simian’s track ‘Never Be Alone’ that broke them to pogo-ing youths across the world. The track spent three years building popularity before getting a significant release in 2006, by which point Justice were as much of a phenomenon as Daft Punk had been before them.
Indeed, there are several similarities between the two acts: both are French duos; both are nuts about disco; both make grand, conceptual records, with suitably spectacular accompanying stage shows. But whereas Daft Punk chose futuristic robot suits, Justice look backwards to hair metal barbarianism for their inspiration: they perform behind stacks of Marshall amps; they crowd surf; they incite stage invasions. Augé even married a groupie at a shotgun wedding (see the 2008 tour documentary A Cross the Universe for the video proof), and you can’t get more rock’n’roll than that.
But, let’s not forget, they’re still the children of the French electronic revolution, and the sound your granny would describe as ‘that racket’ is the culmination of decades of high concept, sonic experimentation of the type that could only happen in Paris. Justice show that aggressive and epic can also be clever, and theirs is a form of Gallic punk philosophy to be embraced as readily as the metric system, pasteurisation and thin chips.
02 Academy, Glasgow, Sun 12 Feb.