As Ed Banger Records’ flagship act, Justice ushered in the noughties era of French electronica with their mutant electro-punk. Now Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé are back with their first album in five years – the retro-disco Woman. It could be the underground Random Access Memories.
Justice’s interviews run late as, tying in with Woman‘s roll-out, they’ve been autographing records at an Ed Banger pop-up store in their home city of Paris. Alas, de Rosnay, Justice’s slightly less hirsute member, is under the weather. “I’m feeling a bit sick, so I might sneeze a bit,” he laments. “I hope you won’t mind.”
De Rosnay and Augé, both graphic design students who’d played in bands, initiated Justice in 2003, having bonded at a party. Pedro ‘Busy P’ Winter, then primarily Daft Punk’s manager, signed the outfit to his fledgeling Ed Banger label on hearing the remix of Simian’s Never Be Alone they’d submitted to a competition. Later retitled We Are Your Friends, it became a sleeper hit. The single won Best Video at 2006’s MTV Europe Music Awards. Kanye West bumrushed the stage, protesting that his exxy Evel Knievel-inspired clip for Touch The Sky had been overlooked. Last year’s Hollywood EDM flick We Are Your Friends, starring Zac Efron, was named after the enduring song.
In many ways, Justice foreshadowed the US EDM explosion by reinventing rave for millennials – their music dubbed “noise”. The sometime DJ’s resembled heavy metal stars. Justice chose the crucifix (†) as their symbol – supposedly reverentially (the French DJ Tchami has continued this eccentric Catholic subversion, wearing clerical attire). Justice established themselves with 2005’s banger Waters Of Nazareth. Two years on, they unleashed their debut, †, led by the bouncy Jackson 5 homage DANCE. Justice scored their first Grammy for a remix of MGMT’s Electric Feel.
More punk than Daft Punk, Justice had their controversies. The Romain Gavras video accompanying Stress caused furore with its depiction of racialised gang violence. Justice did crazy shit, too. Their notorious tour doco, A Cross The Universe, saw Augé wed a hanger-on in Las Vegas. “The thing is that it’s not that hard to go to Vegas and marry a random person,” de Rosnay demurs. (The couple are “still technically married”.)
Justice changed direction with 2011’s Audio, Video, Disco, revelling in kitsch prog. Midnight Juggernauts’ Vincent Vendetta was a guest vocalist. Meanwhile, Yeezy himself replicated Justice’s electro-punk on 2013’s Yeezus – recruiting Daft Punk plus those techno rebels Brodinski and Gesaffelstein. “We actually talked to him just at the moment he was starting Yeezus,” de Rosnay reveals. They’re cool with the American’s adaptation. “We think it’s great – we like the idea that guys like this take elements of maybe not-so-popular music, or music that’s not really easy to listen to, and try to bring it to a level of mainstream.”
If Woman has been ages coming, then it’s not seemed as such for Justice. The duo gigged solidly behind Audio, Video, Disco – launching a live world tour in Australia over the summer of 2011/2012 – before going on hiatus. “We could have rested more, actually!” de Rosnay says. Justice began their third album in early 2015. “The process of making things takes quite a lot of time.”
Woman is distinct from Justice’s previous projects. It’s a romantic, and amatory, disco opus indebted to that Gallic cosmic master Cerrone of Supernature fame. Justice even recorded with the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir (likewise credited on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool). However, they do reference their own classics. The lead single, Safe And Sound, is a DANCE throwback.
Woman is Justice’s tribute to femininity. “Our entourage has always been made of very strong female figures,” de Rosnay explains. He extols women’s traditional maternal roles. But de Rosnay also mentions Lady Justice – “a woman with a sword”. “So, when we thought of ‘woman’, we are thinking of this goddess of life and strength and another sense of expressing power that is out of the usual clichés of muscular power.”
On Random Access Memories Daft Punk worked with Pharrell Williams. Yet Justice prefer to collaborate with leftfield singers – the best known on Woman, Johnny Blake, frontman of Stuart Price’s electroclash group Zoot Woman. Morgan Phalen, returning from Audio, Video, Disco, graces Randy – French touch-meets-soft-pop.
“We do believe that, working with famous people, it tends to distract a bit, this stuff, from the music – because you’re already paying too much attention to who is doing what,” de Rosnay says. Justice privilege chemistry. “The truth is that the people we feel closer to so far are not-so-famous people.” Mara Carlyle, a UK arranger, facilitated Woman‘s orchestral sessions. “She likes to be called ‘the vibe editor’ on the record.” Carlyle plays the musical saw, and sings, on the album’s apex, Chorus – akin to a mash-up of Morricone and Queen.
Justice recently discussed their favourite artists in the rock mag Q, citing albums by T Rex, ELO and Snoop Dogg – but, ironically, no women. Today de Rosnay readily corrects that. “The first one that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell. She’s an amazing writer, musician, performer – seeing her playing live is almost magic… But there are so many others.” He also lauds US rockers Heart.
In 2016 Justice engender nostalgia. “Some of the songs we made are already retro,” de Rosnay admits amusedly. “I remember when we started DJing around 2003, we were playing ’90s jams – like Technotronic, Pump Up The Jam. That was only 10 or 12-years-old [in fact, 14 years] and it felt already very retro to us. And, look, now we are in 2016 and, if we play We Are Your Friends, it’s 13-years-old – so it kind of feels the same way as playing an old tune from another decade. For young people, it must feel like a throwback. So, in a way, some of the songs we made are already vintage. Hopefully, we are not vintage as a band, but some of our music definitely is.”
Justice have a devoted Australian fanbase – and they’re planning to tour Woman here. “We are just starting to talk about it together and to see what we can do and how we can organise things. But, absolutely, we would love to come to Australia. We will come to Australia at some point, but I don’t know when.”