Hold tight, head shakers and naysayers: while a lot of people think EDM today is sort of rubbish, some know exactly how to do it properly. Exhibit A: Giorgio Moroder. He scooped up a Moog-full of cheese to make 1971 release “Son of My Father” a hit. Then there was Donna Summer’s 1977 smoldering disco pop single, “I Feel Love”, bursting onto dance floors like confetti cannons of ecstasy. There he was, a mustachioed Italian unaware that he had just become one of the biggest songwriters and genre-godfathers of all time. Moroder was our suburban Magnum PI, often photographed lounging by a bevvy of beauties who seemed unqualified to stop dancing, unless they drank more champagne, but if they drank more champagne, they wouldn’t be able to stop … you get it. It was disco. They were free. There’s this video about the making of 1979’s E=MC2, where the announcer says, “The sound is strictly Moogs, memory banks, and Moroder.” He had an identity. He was carefree. If you never cared for Moroder before, you love him now.
Listening to the septuagenarian’s first album in three decades, Déjà Vu, the difference between Giorgio Moroder then and GM 2.0 is blatantly obvious. Just like the album’s title, sonic remnants of his past remain, and you’ll feel you’ve experienced this Moroder-mood before, unable to glue it down to a specific concrete memory. The echoes of his past collaborators reprise through a new clan of A-list artists (Britney Spears, Sia, Kylie Minogue, Charli XCX), and you’ll hear the undertones of soundtracks like Scarface, Midnight Express, and Top Gun. While Déjà Vu is covered in that familiar intensity borne of the producer’s vibrancy, don’t call it a retread. The record breathes with all the spirit disco-pop once summoned. Moroder’s spent the past few years winning Grammys and Oscars, getting hefty reboots from the robots themselves, Daft Punk, during Random Access Memories freewheeler “Giorgio by Moroder”. But that is then, and this is now, and the synth legend sounds understandably and disarmingly delighted to be back.
After all these years, do you still get a buzz before releasing a new record?
No, not at all. If I was 18 and starting something, then maybe. If this album works out – great. If it doesn’t – I’m okay, but I’m confident it’s going to go well, so I’m not really concerned.
Well, I’ve been listening to it, and it certainly sounds like 2015 and 1974 Giorgio Moroder.
And you probably know it better than me? I haven’t listened to it at all. I never listen back to my albums. I heard them so often in production that I’m already thinking now of the next album.
Once those creative cogs are in motion, it’s really hard to stop them. But looking back at the original disco-dance ’70s generation, the genre has never shown much signs of aging – as in fading out
If there is one thing in life that most artists I meet want to do, it’s make dance music. It will always be great.
In your mind, then, because dance music is still so popular, how does it age? How do you adapt to the now?
Well, you know, first of all, I was never out of the music business. I was always listening to what’s going on, and it’s something I really like, which is so important if you like the music which you’re making, then you’re doing okay. This is how you adapt yourself over time.
Which makes me curious about your life as a music listener. Is there any specific genre you would happily skip over?
I will say that I never listen to anything I don’t like, which sounds obvious, but I select my music. If there’s a country-western song, I’ll skip over that straight away.
So why did you stop putting out records after 1985? Why was Innovisions and Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder your last?
I was interested in a lot of different things, so I checked out and forgot about the music, and then I played a lot of golf and enjoyed my life. I did some recording, which I enjoyed, and different art projects, so I was quite happy actually.
You weren’t even 30 yet when you wrote and recorded That’s Bubblegum – That’s Giorgio in 1969. Did you still feel young at that point?
I was 29. You’re right, and I definitely felt young only because I didn’t have too much experience, but the song “Looky Looky” came out quite nice. I still like it now.
What made club life attractive at that stage?
I didn’t go to the discotheque to dance. I only went to play in them. Everything was so much smaller than what they have now, and at that time I wasn’t really DJ-ing, which is something a lot of people get wrong. I was mostly singing.
You don’t really sing much on your latest album, just a few songs?
I still enjoy it, but now I sing with a Vocoder, so it’s very easy and fast. I don’t intend to sing. It’s just a thing that I do occasionally.
So I understand RCA gave you the deal, and that was the spark for the album, but wasn’t there something burning underneath to make music again?
Well, if you get an offer and a budget to do a big album, you can’t say no. Especially at a certain age, I’m not going to get many offers in the next few years.
Did you use anything that you wrote 10 or 20 years ago?
You’re the first person to ask that. No, all the songs are actually brand new.
One part of the new album acknowledges the cheesier end of your pop dance past, but then some are straight-up EDM. Is it hard to escape pop? Is there one side that’s more of a payoff for you?
I made it for the audience of 2015. It has some EDM tones, but I wanted to combine EDM with the punches of retro disco, like the song with Sia has strings, so I think it’s a good combination of everything I’ve done in the past.
What would a typical day in the studio have been like when making these songs?
Well, it’s totally totally different than before. A lot of stuff was done without the actual artist being there or my direction in the studio. With Kelis, we went into the studio with my sound engineer and started to compose the songs together, the verses and chorus, and then she sang it. It was almost like the old days where we would get into the studio, and you worked for hours with the artist, and then the song was done.
Do you ever send music with little notes attached to it for direction?
There was some stuff that I didn’t like, but mostly I worked on the tracks quite religiously. It was a lot of emailing and phone calls. Coordination was really important with this one.
I bet that back-and-forth get a little tiresome?
What’s worse is that it wasn’t every day. Sometimes it took weeks or months to work around people’s schedules. It became quite difficult to reach a few artists because of this, but it wasn’t ever stressful.
I suppose giving each song those days or months to breathe was probably great for the sound.
You’re so right. That was the best part. You don’t listen for a week, and then you hear it again, and then say, “Okay, what did I do?” you start questioning things and then move forward to see if you have to make changes.
And considering how powerful Kelis’ voice sounds … when you were producing that track, were you thinking what niche that song might fill?
Definitely. That song is a little bit what I did with Donna Summers, and I wanted it to be a more progressive dance track. Live drums, live instruments, guitars. I needed it to fit into a dance-y feel.
You’ve worked with Donna, Pat Benatar, Blondie, and now Kylie, Britney. You’ve surrounded yourself with female collaborators from the very beginning. What do you think about this current furor of women in music?
I’m happy for all the ladies in the world! I love female vocals for dance music, as they appeal to the audience more than men do sometimes. I also have two great male singers, Mikky Ekko and Matthew Koma.
How do you feel Mikky and Matthew’s voices melded with the female singers you already chose on the album?
Their vocals come through, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t ever think the male singers needed to change anything to accommodate the strong female vocalists. I let them do it the way they wanted to, and they both sang very nice actually.
One of the biggest standouts for me is the Swedish singer, Marleen, during “I Do This for You”. How did you two meet?
I worked in Stockholm with her, and she’s very beautiful too and so nice. The chorus she sung came out really strong. If I ever did another album, I would pretty much ask her first.
With the vocal in mind, do you continue to stay loyal toward the same synthesizers you’ve used all this time to remain true to your sound?
On this album, it’s all new. We have a state-of-the-art small studio. In general, everybody is using the latest gear. I don’t really know what they’re using.
I know you used to use the Moog Modular, and the Roland SH-2000 on one of your movie scores. I mean, the list goes on – but during your Sia Déjà Vu music video, there’s a pack shot of a custom version of Novation’s compact MiniNova synthesizer with your name on it?
[Laughs] Yes, the Moog Modular doesn’t exist anymore. Well, it does but nobody uses it anymore. All the disco sounds were created on the Moog, but they’re all product of the computer now.
But is that “MoroderNova” just a MiniNova synth with Moroder-style sounds and vocoder presets?
Yes, that’s a new synthesizer that Novation did on my behalf. It has some of my old sounds sampled from, well I guess Cat People? Maybe Midnight Express.
Has that been sold to the public yet?
To be honest, I don’t even know if it’s out. They did a limited edition, so I’m still even waiting to get mine!
I suppose guitar companies have released artist-themed guitars and effects for years, so it’s naturally exciting to see a synthesizer being custom made.
The only really big difference is that it has my sounds in it, which I’m curious to hear.
So when you head out on tour, what will you be using?
I used the Novation when I started DJ-ing. To play Vocoder live is quite difficult. The amount of problems you have is not worth doing it for 20 seconds for a song, so it’s really difficult to set up in a live setting.
For someone who wouldn’t know what the issues with setting up a Vocoder would be, can you explain?
First of all, I love to do everything by myself onstage. I don’t like to have people around me. Between doing the songs and the effects, now suddenly I have to do the Vocoder with a synthesizer and a microphone? Then the feedback is too loud! So I tried it several times, but I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not worth it. The audience couldn’t care less, and if you do some instrumentals and if the people don’t see you play, which is already difficult as a DJ because you’re behind the deck, it’s a waste of time.
How do you feel about touring with this particular set of songs?
I’m so happy. I’m just finishing up putting all my songs into the set, and I’m going next week to Italy.
Back home? What about that buzz before hometown gigs?
I’m in Italy all the time. It’s almost like I never left.
Do you notice the difference in audience personality when you go back?
The Italians are obviously a little more open. The fans are much more active. Mexicans are lovely and lively too.
Are you going to bring any of the artists you’ve collaborated with on the album with you on tour?
I hope so. I don’t know yet. Kylie is interested, but Sia is doing her tour, and Britney is busy too so only if the occasion comes up. I’m still waiting for somebody to organise it all!
As for Spears, I read somewhere that she chose that specific ’87 Suzanne Vega song, “Tom’s Diner”, herself?
She didn’t ask me directly, but she asked the record company if I wanted to do that song, which she always loved. Since I loved it too, it worked out well. It’s a great song. I believe Suzanne is playing where you are in Tel Aviv?
She is! It’s pretty exciting. The fan base here is going nuts.
Well, hopefully I will see you soon in Tel Aviv then too? Shalom!