M83 bring their stellar grooves and sweeping cinematic pop to Hong Kong

Five years since they hit the big time, the electro-pop pioneers are playing their first gig in the city – and even if you don’t know their name, you’ll undoubtedly recognise the music of theirs that has appeared in film and TV

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 May, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 May, 2016, 5:19pm

The past five years have been a whirlwind of success for French electro-pop outfit M83, thanks to a multi-million selling album that won a global fanbase by being featured in a string of Hollywood blockbusters.

But now M83 are ready to do things a little differently, with a project shrouded in such secrecy that frontman Anthony Gonzalez can give only the merest hint about its nature.

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“I’m working on a project that’s neither pop nor movie soundtrack – I can’t speak about it,” Gonzalez says conspiratorially from Calgary in Canada, where he and the other four members of the M83 touring band are resting after a gig before flying off for the Asian leg of their world tour. “All I can say is, it’s still related to music. I want to try something else – a project that pushes me and leads to new inspiration and ways to express myself through music.”

If that sounds like a threat akin to David Bowie’s assassination of Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s, Hong Kong fans do at least have a chance to catch the band before they potentially reinvent themselves: M83 play their debut gig in the city on Wednesday.

While Gonzalez is formulating mysterious future plans, for the time being he has a job to do. The band are promoting their latest album, Junk, another sumptuous slice of ’80s-inflected electro groove. It’s lighter than 2011’s mega-selling Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and delves deeper into Gonzalez’s influences, with a hint of ’70s disco and ’60s funk.

There’s just one catch. The music is so new the band have yet to master all of it live.

“It’s still very new to me but we’re getting close to the place where fans start to know the songs – and the band as well,” he laughs. “The first gig of the tour, the audience didn’t really know the songs and we didn’t know how to play them! It’s getting there now, these things always take time. But I think that’s pretty normal.”

Even if you don’t know the band by name, you’ll know their music; it’s cropped up practically everywhere. From TV ads to movie soundtracks and trailers, M83’s credit list gives even Moby’s promoted-to-death Play a run for its money.

Midnight City’sunmistakable shrieks featured in The Mindy Project, Warm Bodies, Katy Perry’s Part of Me and 22 Jump Street. The soaring track Outro found its way into even more films, including the out-of-this world thriller Interstellar.

Both were lifted from Hurry Up, and while they sounded purpose-built for the big screen, they weren’t. That’s why half a decade later, the band – who came together in 2001 in the sun-drenched French Riviera city of Antibes – are still coming to terms with the album’s success.

“In a way I wasn’t prepared because before that, every time I released an album it was just like an indie band releasing an album – I would tour a little and do a little promo,” multi-instrumentalist Gonzalez says. “This album has truly changed my life in so many ways.”

The biggest difference it’s made is that he can now hold his head high when asked what he does for a living.

“I’m able to say that what I do is a job without having people laugh at me – now people take me a little more seriously,” he laughs. “It’s amazing and, of course financially it got better for me: I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I only started making money in the last two years. Before that I was living with my parents and trying to make a name for myself.”

It’s been a long slog for M83. Gonzalez formed the band with school friend Nicolas Fromageau. But when, after two albums, success was still alluding them, Fromageau called it a day and left Gonzalez effectively as a solo act, hiring musicians only for touring duties.

M83 plodded along with little acclaim until 2005 when the British label Mute saw the kernel of something bigger in their swooping choruses and cinematic melodies. Mute picked up the band’s contract and began promoting them to a worldwide audience. The follow-up album Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts won rave reviews in the indie music press, setting the band up for the sucker punch of seven years later.

“I never felt I deserved success – there are so many amazing artists, better artists than me, who never had the success I’ve had,” Gonzalez says. “For me, it was just luck.”

A decade ago, permitting your music to be used in commercials and movies would have attracted accusations of the band selling out. In today’s music biz, where physical music sales are in what seems like terminal decline, artists would be cutting their throats if they turned down such lucrative opportunities.

For Gonzalez, being picked up by brands such as Bose, Renault and Gucci represents the sort of affirmation that topping the chart would have had for bands decades ago.

“I remember first hearing Midnight City in a commercial and it was insane,” Gonzalez gushes. “I’ll remember that moment all my life because I know it won’t happen again. I feel super lucky and even today some of these songs are still used in commercials – it’s impressive five years after it was recorded.”

So can we expect similar success for the new album?

“I’m not sure there’s a new Midnight City on Junk and I’m totally happy with that,” he says. “I’m not looking for success: when I wasn’t looking for it, success came. I had a hit single and sold lots of albums, which is rare. Now if I think I’m going to have some success I think I’m going to be disappointed.”

Wednesday, 8pm, Star Hall, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$480, HK Ticketing

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