French electro-punks Justice made a low-key comeback in late 2016 with Woman – their third album. Now, for the first time in nearly seven years, the iconic duo are finally returning to Australia. They’ll headline the inaugural Sydney City Limits this weekend with their live spectacle.
Formed by graphic design kids Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé in 2003, Justice broke out with a remix of Simian’s ‘Never Be Alone’ which they’d unsuccessfully submitted to a competition. When Daft Punk’s manager Pedro “Busy P” Winter heard it, he seized upon Justice for his fledgling Ed Banger Records. Retitled ‘We Are Your Friends’, the track became a sleeper phenom. Indeed, the film-clip scored “Best Video” at 2006’s MTV Europe Music Awards, where infamously Kanye West, nominated for ‘Touch The Sky’, mounted an early ceremonial protest (sadly, Justice were absent).
The Parisians introduced a cult aesthetic with Christian iconography and vaguely heavy metal references for their first single, ‘Waters Of Nazareth’, in 2005. Two years on, Justice unleashed their debut album, † (‘Cross’) – an instant millennial rave classic (which they nonetheless disrupted with the funky Michael Jackson tribute ‘DANCE’). After going ‘prog rock’ for the follow-up, Audio, Video, Disco, Justice reinvented themselves yet again with Woman – an epic Gallic disco concept album. (Mind, ‘Alakazam!’ is def a headbanger.)
Justice have enjoyed other achievements. They shot a zany tour doco, A Cross The Universe. They won a Grammy for their remix of MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’. Then, along with The Avalanches, they contributed music to 2013’s award-winning musical King Kong, premiering in Melbourne. Justice foreshadowed EDM – even as they represented an alt-EDM. Weirdly, ‘We Are Your Friends’ was repurposed as the title of a Hollywood movie starring Zac Efron as a wannabe EDM DJ/producer (Dillon Francis cameoed). And, ironically, Justice heavily influenced West’s Yeezus (for which he collaborated with… Daft Punk).
Music Feeds caught up with de Rosnay to talk about Justice’s career in 2018 – and have him spill on Yeezy.
Music Feeds: You’re coming back to Australia for Sydney City Limits. I’m not sure if you’ve looked at the line-up, but Beck and Grace Jones are playing and an Aussie band called Gang Of Youths – who are really big here at the moment.
Xavier de Rosnay: Yeah, the line-up is amazing. It’s really refreshing. I mean, I really love the line-up and, finally, at the moment with festivals, it’s becoming a bit rare to find a line-up with a sense of diversity and where you’re not gonna find just the big bands that have the big songs of the moment. We love Beck; we love Grace Jones. So not only the line-up looks fantastic, but it’s gonna be one of the festivals that I’m gonna be happy to hang around in and look at the other bands and watch other concerts.
MF: Have you heard of Gang Of Youths? They sound like Bruce Springsteen, but they’re almost as big as Tame Impala now. They’re making waves overseas.
XR: Oh, no, I didn’t hear of them – but the description you make of them sounds really good, actually!
MF: Your last album, Woman, came out at the end of 2016. I wondered what the response from fans, and the industry, was like. I guess the fan response is the most important?
XR:Ah, yeah, but it’s very difficult for us to know exactly what the fan response is because we just had a small window to really appreciate it – because I’m not really connected to social media and social platforms, so we don’t really know. The only sign that we can read is the kind of people who attend our shows – and this is where we really see if the people are growing up with us or if they’re replaced by new people. Actually, we are really surprised to see that the crowd did really refresh in a way since the last album. There are more young people, but actually very young – I would say around, like, 17, 18-years-old and there are more of them and more girls than before, which is great! Not because we prefer 17-year-old girls, but just because it means that there’s a new audience. I have no idea how they heard about us, but [they’re] getting into the music we make – and it’s really exciting. You always care… And it might eventually happen that one day you’re 50-years-old and you play a show for other 50-year-old people that have been listening to your music since high school or whatever – and, of course, that’s good – but having the people being renewed and being younger, it’s more exciting. Let’s cross fingers that it continues.
MF: You wrote music for the King Kong musical, which opened here in Melbourne – and it’s going to Broadway later this year. Are they still using your music for the Broadway edition?
XR: Oh… We have no idea! Maybe they do. The thing is that it took place such a long time ago – because, of course, they get prepared for the show years before it was opening. So now we’re talking about, I think we were discussing [it] with them in 2008, something like this – maybe 10 years ago. To be honest, I have no idea right now what their plan [is] or if they’re gonna continue using the music. We absolutely have no idea.
MF: Have you thought about a fourth Justice album – or will you take a break before you start doing any new music? What’s the plan?
XR: Ah, we don’t really have plans. We really believe in instinct and making things when you actually want to make them. But we have a lot of new ideas to make new music. So it doesn’t mean we’re gonna do it right now, but we are both really excited and really looking forward to making music because we have a lot of new ideas at the moment.
MF: One album you really influenced was Yeezus. I think you talked to Kanye West, but I wondered why you didn’t produce anything with him for that record?
XR:Hmm (laughs deeply). Actually, it’s kind of fun because we met him and we talked to him as he was starting to make Yeezus. At the time, we’d been connected by [West’s creative director] Virgil Abloh, who was working with him and who is making [the fashion label] Off-White now. It’s true that we were in the studio with him when he was starting to make this record… How can I explain that without saying too much? Well, let’s just say it didn’t work out exactly how we all wanted it to work out. But, no, it was interesting.
MF: Another crazy thing is how you actually inspired the title of this Zac Efron movie, We Are Your Friends, through the Simian remix. Did you ever see it?
XR: No, I didn’t see it, but I’m sure it is kind of fun. I see it a bit as the Cocktail of the new generation – you know, this  movie with Tom Cruise, because, [from] what I understood from the plot line and from the trailer, because we watched the trailer, was a bit the same kind of story as Cocktail, with the mentor, the girlfriend of the main character and everything… But how ironic that the first big studio movie about EDM in America is called after a track that was made in Europe maybe, like, 13 years before and from a band that finally doesn’t share much with this scene? So it’s kind of fun. I find it very ironic. When they asked us for the permission to use the track and everything, we didn’t hesitate one second – we’re like, “Cool!” It’s so remote from what we do and, at the same time, it was too good to be missed. We had people give [them] everything they wanted, because we liked the irony of the situation.
MF: I see the irony of the situation… But people secretly really enjoyed the film.
XR: That doesn’t surprise me. And, I tell you, Zac Efron is kind of like a good actor… I saw him in a couple of comedies, and as a comedy actor, I think he’s good!
MF: You did heaps of remixes up until about five years ago and then you stopped. Why?
XR: The thing is that, at the beginning, we were doing a lot of them because we had to – because we had not really an idea about whether we would make albums or things like this. So we were just picking things as they came. It was a good way for us to get familiar with the idea of actually producing music and everything – because we don’t come from this background at all. We were both graphic designers and we had basically no idea of how to make music and how to make things. So it was really our practice and our training.
Then we started doing less and less remixes. I think, by 2008, we almost stopped – we quit making remixes. We would just do them when it was too good to be turned down – like, for example, Justin Timberlake, we absolutely wanted to have our name on one of his records [‘LoveStoned/I Think She Knows’]. So we said, like, “OK, let’s do it.” Or when a band was really a band that we loved, like MGMT. But, at this time, indeed, we were not doing mixes anymore.
And the more it goes, the more we feel that the remixes are a bit of a limited interest – in the sense that, for example, if, when I was younger, I buy a record by AC/DC, I would not even care about a remix of one of their songs, you know what I mean? Finally, I think remixes are useful in the club area, but then we don’t really make club music. Also the profile of people who ask us [for] remixes now [means] that it doesn’t really appeal to us – not because we don’t like the artists who ask us to make remixes, but because we don’t really see how we can improve or put our sensitivity into their music. I don’t know if it makes any sense. The requests we have are from pop artists or stuff like this – and sometimes we like the song, but we don’t really know what to do with them. And, if we have time to make music, we want to make music for ourselves more than for remixes – that’s the main reason.
MF: What we can look forward to from the show? You’re playing the festival, but also an arena in Melbourne.
XR: Oh, it’s difficult to sum up in a couple of words. What can they expect? I don’t know what to say without sounding like I’m selling carpets (laughs). But it’s beautiful in an arena. We worked a lot for it to work on a big scale and also to be something that is more than just a big mish-mash of our music. Every time we’ve been filmed, and I look at it on the screen or whatever, I’m a bit disappointed because I know how powerful it is in real [life] and everything you lose once I watch films of it. I think, maybe more than on the previous tours, it’s something that has to be seen really to be believed!