Refreshed Air ready to show a new generation the joys of real music

The French duo, purveyors of sumptuous, atmospheric dream-pop, took a long break from live performance to ‘enjoy life in Paris’ and pursue other projects, but now they’re ready to return (slowly, of course) to the stage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:03pm

“Slow motion music.” That’s how Jean-Benoit Dunckel characterises what his band Air create. And if you’ve heard anything by this crafty French duo, you know what he means.

In songs like Sexy Boy, Cherry Blossom Girl and Playground Love (from Air’s soundtrack for the movie of The Virgin Suicides), Dunckel and his collaborator Nicolas Godin use breathy vocals and vintage-synth tones set at drowsy tempos to conjure a lush atmosphere of intrigue and seduction.

But Dunckel’s phrase also describes the pace of Air’s activity: the duo are making an unhurried return to the stage after years away.

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The group weren’t silent during that period. In 2012, Air released Le Voyage Dans la Lune, an album of songs designed to accompany a restored version of Georges Melies’ century-old silent film of the same title; two years later, the duo were commissioned to compose music for a French museum.

But after touring consistently since 1998, when Air released their hit debut, Moon Safari, the musicians were ready for a break – “to just enjoy life in Paris”, as Godin says, and also to work separately on projects outside Air.

Absence, though, made leur coeur grow fonder.

“The songs maybe had enough time to grow, and suddenly we were missing playing them,” says Godin. (Not coincidentally, there is also a recent Air anthology, Twentyears, to promote.)

Dunckel says he liked the idea of coming back and doing festivals as a way to expose younger audiences to “real music” – music that’s played, he specifies, not programmed – at a moment when many events are populated by guys standing behind laptops.

There’s some irony in the fact that one reason DJs now rule the festival scene is the huge success that Air’s pals in Daft Punk found while Air were lying low.

Asked what he thinks of Daft Punk’s popularity – not least with Grammy voters, who named 2013’s Random Access Memories album of the year – Godin strikes a philosophical note.

“If you want to be successful, you have to write big hit singles to get on the radio,” such as Daft Punk’s smash Get Lucky, he says. “But then you depend on that. It’s a lot of pressure.”

In contrast, he says, he and Dunckel were always aiming for timelessness – “songs that will stay forever” – over currency.

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Right now the musicians have no plans to record new music as Air. But evidence suggests the old stuff may have met their goal.

In footage posted on YouTube of Air’s performance at the recent Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, fans can be heard cheering the deeply mellow Playground Love as excitedly as though it were the latest high-energy top 40 jam.

“It’s always surprising to me to see that an entire crowd can sing along with a song that’s really slow,” Dunckel says with a laugh. “I mean, like, super slow.”