The Collective /SHARE
All forms of art are guilty of mining the past to inform the work of the future, with music arguably more irreverent in its recycling than any other medium. French-born musician Anthony Gonzalez, who records, scores and tours under the name of M83, is particularly fond of this method of retrospective reappropriation to spark the imagination. Since first emerging 15 years ago Gonzalez has made no bones about his adoration of the sounds of his school daze, with every M83 album anchored in heavy debt to the nostalgia of his childhood deep in the midst of the 1980s down on the Côte d’Azur.
JUNK is the seventh M83 album proper and it comes five years after the last, following a short detour into film scoring for the now Los Angeles-based dreamer. JUNK soars with the usual high-gloss bombast of an M83 record, but this time, rather than diving down a singularly focused rabbit hole, Gonzalez flexes his diverse muscles and splays out in an array of different directions mostly unknown to M83 until now. French chanson, new wave, soft rock, 60s pop, TV themes, piano ballads and house music all rub up alongside the kind of dramatic torch songs common to the catalogue, a heady melange of styles thrown down that on paper don’t belong together, but given Gonzalez’s touch are perfectly fitting bedfellows.
“Right away I had this idea of a collection of songs that are not supposed to be released together, different styles of music, with the challenge in mind to make them actually fit together with a strong identity. I really had this image in my head of an old radio floating in space, just playing songs from different eras. I just wanted to have a compilation of different styles of music, a kind of organised mess.”
Gonzalez’s rose-coloured perception of the way things were extends to his views on the disposable way in which music is consumed now, and the formats in which we collect it, an idea he explicitly makes reference to in the album’s title. “It’s the way we listen to music nowadays, you know, people get my albums and put them into playlists and they’re just gonna trash out the rest of it. I really have a problem with the way we consume, not only music but art in general, TV shows, movies. There’s so much information that most of it becomes like trash, it makes me kind of sad. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and being excited about record releases, waiting for a month for an album and then when I had the album in my hand I had the object with the cover, the lyrics inside the booklet, I was just listening to the same album non-stop. I feel like that is something that is completely disappearing from the way we consume music,” he muses.
Like the music, though, it’s not all a bummer trip, and Gonzalez can sniff out a kind of innate beauty in the apparently dire path we’re taking. “I don’t really have a lot of faith in humanity and I feel like we are slowly destroying everything, and we kind of all have the same fate, being junk, being space junk, and it’s very poetic and very dark at the same time. I have this vision of this black space debris from humanity floating in space and maybe being picked up by another alien race one day, that’s kind of what the title means. I don’t think it’s a negative title, it’s just a good way for me to describe how the music industry works, but also expand the idea a little further, but still being hopeful with what we’re creating.”
Despite the often futurist bent to the soundscapes of M83, when it comes time to craft a new record Gonzalez still gazes to the past, turning his mind’s eye towards his favourites to inspire and invigorate him. “I’m not really attracted to new music that much, or not very inspired or influenced by any new art, really. When I’m making an album, I’m never trying to find the sound of the future, I’m always looking backwards, to see what I can bring back, more than what I can find to create something new. I’m always looking backwards instead of forwards in a way.”
As well as musical touchstones, the originality and craftsmanship of classic television played a pivotal role in informing Gonzalez’s approach to JUNK. “I consider myself very lucky that I grew up in France in the 80s, because there was really something happening in my music world, I was watching a lot of American TV shows, I really loved the innocence of some of those and I feel like we’re kind of losing a bit of this as well nowadays ... you know all the TV shows are really clean, but they lack an innocence in a way, it’s all very well made and well styled but what I loved in the 80s, you really felt like there was an art behind it. Even lighter TV shows like Punky Brewster or Who’s the Boss, the music was always orchestrated, you really felt like there was a composer behind it, you could feel that it was original. These days all the titles of TV shows are kind of boring, everyone is going for the same kind of music, there’s no discovery, everyone is trying to copy each other,” he laments.
Television coming out of Japan also had a surprisingly profound effect on the impressionable young Frenchman. “I grew up watching a lot of Japanese animation in France in the 80s. There was really something dark about it, it was very, very violent, talking about mature themes, talking about death, love – my parents had no clue about what I was watching on TV, if they knew I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to watch that much. And they always had amazing orchestrated music, always very lyrical. I feel like nowadays in the cartoons kids are watching, I don’t really see anything positive. For example something like Jim Henson, like Fraggle Rock, or movies like The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, there was so much work on making all the puppets, so much hard work, and I feel like nowadays it’s just all computerised, made in 3D. It doesn’t have the same feel to me, it doesn’t feel as human and as creative. Humanity is becoming more and more lazy, in a way, and we don’t take the time to do things well.”
In the end, the M83 process is still a very personal, internal trip for Gonzalez, heavily indebted to his heroes. Even as the act’s profile continues to rise and touch more and more people, very little has changed since he was a wide-eyed boy bugging out on anime in Antibes, and it’s arguably that raw innocence and optimism that continues to make M83 so compelling. “I just like simple things, I stay at home a lot watching a lot of films, listening to music and playing video games, I kind of have the same life that I had when I was a teenager. I’m still kind of like a teenager inside of an adult’s body in a way.”