MAN MOST UN­LIKELY

How 74-year-old disco leg­end Gior­gio Moroder re­vived his ca­reer to be­come the most wanted mu­si­cal iden­tity on the planet

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

‘IHAVE had so many firsts,” says Gior­gio Moroder dur­ing what is, in fact, his first Aus­tralian in­ter­view. Such a state­ment from any­one else may sound hubris­tic: not so from Moroder. The leg­endary Ital­ian-born song­writer and pro­ducer, known col­lo­qui­ally as the god­fa­ther of disco, comes across as ego­less and ca­sual — most likely be­cause his state­ment is true by any yard­stick.

Lean­ing back into an el­e­gant, tall­backed chair in his Los Angeles din­ing room, the win­dow be­hind him re­veal­ing an ex­pan­sive (and ex­pen­sive) view of Beverly Hills, the 74-year-old has spent the past hour of an April af­ter­noon re­call­ing a ca­reer as one of the most in­no­va­tive and suc­cess­ful mu­sic mak­ers of the past century.

As the man be­hind some of the world’s big­gest hits of the 1970s and 80s, and with three Gram­mys and three Os­cars to his name, Moroder is en­joy­ing an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer re­nais­sance, one that has taken even him by sur­prise. Af­ter all but re­tir­ing more than a decade ago, Moroder in re­cent years has col­lab­o­rated with the likes of Daft Punk and Cold­play, and is back tour­ing the world.

One shore he has never man­aged to reach dur­ing his 40-year ca­reer, how­ever, is Aus­tralia’s. All that will change on May 31, when the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian makes his an­tic­i­pated Aus­tralian de­but at the Syd­ney Opera House as a head­liner for the sixth an­nual Vivid Live fes­ti­val.

He’s at the core of a trio of Vivid events that mark not just Moroder’s first ap­pear­ances in Aus­tralia as a mu­si­cian but “as a hu­man”.

“I’ve never been to Aus­tralia be­fore, ever, in any ca­pac­ity, so this is quite an hon­our,” he says.

Moroder is used to ex­plor­ing un­charted wa­ters, and he ar­rives in Aus­tralia with a newly res­ur­rected pop­u­lar­ity and rel­e­vance, cap­ping off what has been one of the most dis­tinc­tive, di­verse, and in­flu­en­tial runs in mu­sic his­tory. As a pro­ducer and song­writer, he has worked with the su­per­star likes of David Bowie, Cher and Fred­die Mer­cury, cre­at­ing nu­mer­ous world­wide hits. Moroder is also famed as a sound­track com­poser: he won his first Os­car for his rev­o­lu­tion­ary score to the 1978 film Mid­night Ex­press. He also has a place in the hearts of thugs every­where for his mu­sic driv­ing the gangsta clas­sic Scar­face, and se­cured in­ter­na­tional No 1 smashes for film tracks such as Blondie’s Call Me (from the 70s neo-noir Amer­i­can Gigolo), Irene Cara’s Flash­dance … What a Feel­ing (from 80s block­buster Flash­dance) and Berlin’s Take My Breath Away (from the Tom Cruise-pow­ered Top Gun).

Moroder also has been a tech­no­log­i­cal pace­set­ter: his 1997 solo ef­fort E=MC² was the first fully dig­i­tally recorded al­bum, while his 1984 vis­ual and sonic reimag­in­ing of the sci­ence fic­tion cin­ema clas­sic Me­trop­o­lis boasted the first four-track dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion sound.

Moroder re­mains an elec­tronic-mu­sic pioneer. He claims to have played the first syn­the­siser on a pop song — the 1970 solo track Son of My Fa­ther — de­spite the fact the Bea­tles and Emer­son, Lake, and Palmer had used them on record­ings pre­vi­ously. “Those were rock — mine was the first pop song to use a synth,” Moroder clarifies.

Most of all, how­ever, Moroder is renowned as disco’s god­fa­ther and the pa­tri­arch of con­tem­po­rary elec­tronic mu­sic. The break­through songs he wrote and pro­duced for Donna Sum­mer — 1975’s Love to Love You Baby and 1977’s I Feel Love — not only made Sum­mer a global star and epit­o­mised the disco era, they also re­de­fined club mu­sic in Moroder’s ul­tra-mod­ern im­age. His com­bi­na­tion of Sum­mer’s diva vo­cals and stark se­quenced syn­the­siser arpeg­gios on I Feel Love pro­vided the DNA for techno, house and EDM in one fell swoop.

Dance mu­si­cians Daft Punk paid de­ci­sive trib­ute to Moroder’s in­flu­ence on last year’s pop-cul­tural jug­ger­naut al­bum Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries (which re­ceived its world pre­miere in ru­ral NSW, at the 79th An­nual Wee Waa Show no less, 550km north­west of Syd­ney). On the track Gior­gio by Moroder, Daft Punk recorded Moroder mem­o­rably re­count­ing his var­i­ous tri­umphs — and, in the process, in­tro­duc­ing his ge­nius to a new gen­er­a­tion of dance-mu­sic fans.

“I wanted to do an al­bum with the sounds of the 50s, the sounds of the 60s, of the 70s, and then have a sound of the fu­ture,” Moroder re­counts over Daft Punk’s thump­ing synth-disco grooves. “And I said, ‘Wait a sec­ond, I know the syn­the­siser. Why don’t I use the syn­the­siser?’ … I knew that it could be a sound of the fu­ture, but I didn’t re­alise how much im­pact it would be.”

Song­writer and fel­low elec­tron­ica mu­si­cian Moby says Moroder’s in­flu­ence on con­tem­po­rary mu­sic is far­reach­ing. “Be­fore Gior­gio Moroder, elec­tronic mu­sic was just sounds,” he says. “He was one of the first people to bring elec­tronic mu­sic to song-based pop. And it can’t be over­stated how he mixed white Euro­pean cul­ture with black cul­ture: the his­tory of dance mu­sic can be summed up in a nut­shell as Ger­man and Ja­panese elec­tron­ics com­bined with African Amer­i­can singers — and Gior­gio Moroder was the first per­son to bridge those worlds.

“What he did with the score for Mid­night Ex­press, though, was in a way even more sem­i­nal for a lot of elec­tronic mu­si­cians be­cause it was in­stru­men­tal and min­i­mal.

“It had a pu­rity and a dark­ness to it: it drew you in, yet was scary at the same time — like a night­club you shouldn’t go into and prob­a­bly won’t come out of.

“I guar­an­tee that if you went through the early record col­lec­tions of (Detroit techno orig­i­na­tors) Kevin Saun­der­son and Der­rick May, or Depeche Mode, they’d all have Mid­night Ex­press in there.” One can de­tect Moroder’s in­flu­ence on Aus­tralian mu­sic: from Kylie Minogue’s elec­tro-pop an­thems to groups such as the Pre­sets, Cut Copy, and Em­pire of the Sun, such ex­am­ples re­flect Moroder’s pen­chant for blend­ing in­deli­ble pop hooks with for­ward syn­thetic grooves and state-of-the-art con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tion — a link­age not lost on the man him­self.

“Cut Copy I met at a fes­ti­val in Mex­ico six months ago, and we talked about maybe do­ing some­thing to­gether,” Moroder says. “And I love the vis­ual style of Em­pire of the Sun. And Kylie wants to do some­thing; she’s wait­ing for me to send her a new song.”

Says Cut Copy’s Dan Whit­ford: “When you look at the artists that have come out of Aus­tralia in the last five to 10 years, they’ve all com­bined el­e­ments of pop and elec­tronic song­writ­ing, which stems from the work of people like Gior­gio 30 years ear­lier. I would put Gior­gio’s work in my top five of all time, so meet­ing him was pretty mag­i­cal.

“He was very friendly and down to earth, which is amaz­ing for some­one who is so leg­endary. When I first started writ­ing mu­sic, I was in love with his solo record From Here to Eter­nity — ev­ery­thing from the fu­tur­is­tic cover to the vocoded vo­cals and com­pletely syn­thetic in­stru­men­ta­tion were a rev­e­la­tion to me as a young elec­tronic mu­si­cian.

“Now that he’s made a re­turn to mu­sic, I sup­pose any­thing is pos­si­ble.”

Up close and per­sonal, the leg­end of Moroder doesn’t dis­ap­point. With his groomed mous­tache and grey, el­e­gant rum­pled hair, he re­sem­bles no one so much as Al­bert Ein­stein. As he speaks, he re­veals the warm, cu­ri­ous con­ti­nen­tal ac­cent of a true global cit­i­zen — the

cu­mu­la­tive prod­uct of hav­ing grown up in his na­tive Italy, then hav­ing worked for many years in Ger­many, and fi­nally hav­ing be­come an expatri­ate to the Hol­ly­wood myth fac­tory. The apart­ment he shares with his wife Fran­cisca in an el­e­gant Beverly Hills high-rise is tes­ta­ment to Moroder’s pop-art per­sona: it’s filled with loom­ing, lip­stick-coloured Ital­ian art deco sculp­tures and beau­ti­ful, if se­vere, mid-century mod­ern fur­ni­ture.

“Even if it’s beau­ti­ful, it’s the most un­com­fort­able couch ever,” he groans about the ivory di­van fill­ing the liv­ing room.

A large, Warhol-es­que paint­ing of Donna Sum­mer ren­dered from a pho­to­graph Moroder took stares down from one cor­ner with glow­ing, cus­tomised emer­ald eyes. “I just love green eyes,” he says by way of ex­pla­na­tion. (For the last 10 years of her life un­til she died in 2010, Sum­mer was also Moroder’s neigh­bour, liv­ing one apart­ment be­low).

The liv­ing area is dom­i­nated, how­ever, by totems rep­re­sent­ing Moroder’s ac­com­plish­ments. A man­tel­piece dis­plays all — well, most — of Moroder’s var­i­ous award stat­uettes.

“I keep one each of my Os­cars, Golden Globes and Gram­mys back in Italy,” he says. “When I got my first Os­car, I lived there, so I took it home.”

Then there are the gold and plat­inum plaques fill­ing much of the avail­able wall space, most bear­ing mar­quee names such as El­ton John and the like. Moroder points to a framed disc he re­ceived for his work on Flash­dance: “It says they sold 14 mil­lion, I wish they would have paid me for 14 mil­lion!”

Fergus Line­han, di­rec­tor of Vivid LIVE, nods to the re­newed in­ter­est in Moroder’s ca­reer.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing how cer­tain people cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion, and Gior­gio is ex­tra­or­di­nary: he’s worked on ev­ery­thing from big, bom­bas­tic sta­dium hits to quite eclec­tic elec­tronic mo­ments,” he says.

“You lit­er­ally could do three com­pletely dif­fer­ent Gior­gio Moroder shows: to make that legacy co­her­ent is re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Part of mak­ing that hap­pen is that it’s tak­ing place at the Opera House: its pro­file al­lows for an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion. How do you weave cur­rent pop­u­lar cul­ture into the fab­ric of that build­ing?

“But we’ve cre­ated a tra­di­tion of go­ing af­ter people who are hav­ing a big ef­fect on how mu­sic sounds right now. There’s enor­mous re­newed in­ter­est in Gior­gio af­ter he did the Daft Punk stuff, but re­ally his sound is just so big at the mo­ment every­where. And when we asked him if we could in­ter­fere and ex­pand on his canon, Gior­gio was re­ally open. Usu­ally people have to be dead be­fore they al­low you to do that, but he was very flat­tered by the idea.”

To present the scope of Moroder’s past, present and fu­ture, Vivid is pre­sent­ing three events: a key­note ad­dress, Gior­gio Moroder in Con­ver­sa­tion, free and open to the pub­lic; The Gior­gio Moroder Stu­dio Party — a dance-floor-driven DJ set by Moroder, span­ning and ex­pand­ing on his past hits and cur­rent projects; and The Mu­sic of Moroder, a sym­phonic reimag­in­ing of a wide range of Moroder’s work in the Opera House’s main per­for­mance space.

The last un­der­tak­ing makes its exclusive world pre­miere at Vivid Live 2014 un­der the aegis of the Lon­don-based Her­itage Orches­tra, which has per­formed sim­i­lar feats at Vivid in the past with the mu­sic of Joy Di­vi­sion and Van­ge­lis’s score for the sci-fi film clas­sic Blade

run­ner. Other than a con­cert in Italy where a mere 11 min­utes of the Scar­face sound­track was per­formed by an orches­tra, Moroder’s mu­sic has never be­fore been given the full sym­phonic treat­ment.

“I’ve never had a full ret­ro­spec­tive of my work or­ches­trated, so I’m ex­cited,” he says. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how they do it.”

Con­sid­er­ing the Her­itage Orches­tra’s icon­o­clas­tic modus operandi — its bio­graph­i­cal man­i­festo pro­claims it as “the orches­tra that rocks out are­nas, messes with other people’s mu­sic, and keeps or­ches­tral tra­di­tion in the cel­lar” — one should ex­pect lib­er­ties to be taken.

“We al­ways try to give ex­ist­ing ma­te­rial a dif­fer­ent cast, and this has been fun to an­a­lyse and de­con­struct,” says Chris Wheeler, Her­itage’s mu­si­cal di­rec­tor and or­ches­tral pro­ducer. “Some things — like, say, the bassline of I Feel

Love — are so iconic you re­ally can’t go off piste with them too much, but half the set will be un­ex­pected ver­sions of clas­sic Moroder.”

Moroder’s ap­pear­ance at Vivid Live caps one of the most un­ex­pected res­ur­rec­tions in the his­tory of pop­u­lar mu­sic. Other than the oc­ca­sional visit to the stu­dio — he and Sum­mer won a Grammy in 1997 for best dance record­ing for their col­lab­o­ra­tion Carry On — dur­ing the past 25 years Moroder had largely re­tired from the pro­fes­sion that had brought him wealth and ac­claim.

He stayed some­what busy with an eclec­tic slate of projects: cre­at­ing a high-end co­gnac; dab­bling in a se­ries of dig­i­tal-based vis­ual art­works; de­sign­ing a failed hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in the shape of a pyramid in Dubai; col­lab­o­rat­ing on a “su­per­car”, the Cizeta-Moroder V16T, with en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers from Lam­borgh­ini and Maserati. Mostly, how­ever, he kept a low pro­file. Then Daft Punk came call­ing.

“Un­til two years ago, I didn’t fol­low mu­sic at all,” he says. “I was happy just play­ing golf and re­lax­ing. Then Daft Punk came to town and said, ‘Why don’t we have lunch?’ I wasn’t much in­ter­ested — I was like, ‘Why would I go back to work?’ But then I told my son, who’s 24, and loves Daft Punk: he’d seen them. He said, ‘Gior­gio, if you don’t at least go see them, you’re crazy.’ We talked about do­ing some­thing to­gether, and then one day while I was liv­ing in Paris, they asked me to come to the stu­dio and tell my story, and that’s it.”

The 74-year-old has since taken off as an in­ter­na­tional su­per­star DJ: in the past six months he has played large-scale fes­ti­val and club dates in Tokyo, Bel­gium, Aus­tria, Chicago, Mex­ico and through­out Eng­land. Be­fore last year, Moroder had never spent a minute be­hind the decks. That changed when he was asked to spin for 12 min­utes at a Louis Vuit­ton event, and then at a fundraiser in Cannes — nei­ther of which re­vealed him as an ex­pert mix­mas­ter. “It didn’t go well,” he says, laugh­ing.

“Par­tially I wasn’t good — I didn’t have a clue what I was do­ing — and par­tially be­cause the crowd were just snobby Hol­ly­wood people hav­ing drinks and not pay­ing at­ten­tion.” Moroder got his act to­gether, how­ever, by the time he was asked to DJ at the seri- ous New York mu­sic venue Out­put last May: in front of The New York Times and sev­eral of the world’s top DJs, Moroder played a rous­ing, gal­vanis­ing set that drew raves (and a sweaty dance floor).

“I have so many ad­van­tages com­pared to other DJs,” Moroder says. “They have to take songs from oth­ers and cut them up. but I have my own songs, and a lot of them tend to be au­di­ence pleasers. When I play Hot Stuff, ev­ery­body’s singing along: not ev­ery­one can do that.”

Of course, with the re­newed in­ter­est, Moroder has re­turned with gusto to his first love: cre­at­ing pop­u­lar hits. The lev­els of his am­bi­tion are clear from the dry-erase board in his stu­dio, which fea­tures names such as Lana Del Rey and Adam Lam­bert.

To­day’s pop world has taken no­tice of his re­turn: Cold­play com­mis­sioned a Moroder remix of the Mid­night sin­gle pre­view­ing that group’s highly an­tic­i­pated new al­bum, Ghost Sto­ries. As well, Moroder has wel­comed the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of elec­tronic-mu­sic pro­duc­ers into his world, and vice versa: he has dis­cussed col­lab­o­ra­tions with star du jour Avicii and Moby, and he is con­firmed to be work­ing in the fu­ture with young French dance-mu­sic star Madeon.

“A lot of people hate EDM, but I love it,” Moroder says. “The sounds they have, es­pe­cially pro­gres­sive ones like Skrillex — oh, yes! And Madeon, his idols are Daft Punk, but then I’m one of Daft Punk’s idols, so now it’s across two gen­er­a­tions.”

A new Moroder record, mean­while, is in the works, with ses­sions un­der way with hit Bri­tish song­writer Gary Go.

“I’m do­ing my al­bum now,” Moroder says. “I’ll prob­a­bly sign the deal next week. I have two big of­fers. Ba­si­cally, I’m wait­ing to see what kind of artists they can give me. I love Lady Gaga; I think she’s great, and a real mu­si­cian and song­writer — I’m sure one day I will work with her. Kelis is beau­ti­ful and in­cred­i­ble — we’re def­i­nitely work­ing to­gether; Ri­hanna, I love her voice and pre­sented her with a song, but I don’t know if she’s heard it.

“I’m back in busi­ness: in six months, I’ll have a hit; I know that. You have a hit, and sud­denly ev­ery­thing is great.”

Gior­gio Moroder per­forms at Vivid Live, Syd­ney Opera House, on May 31.

I WAS HAPPY JUST PLAY­ING GOLF AND RE­LAX­ING. THEN DAFT PUNK CAME TO TOWN AND SAID, ‘WHY DON’T WE HAVE LUNCH?’

GIOR­GIO MORODER

Gior­gio Moroder to­day, left, and work­ing the desks at a Los Angeles gig last year, be­low

Elec­tronic band Daft Punk paid trib­ute to Moroder on its 2013 al­bum Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries

theaus­tralian.com.au/re­view

From Here to Eter­nity

From left, Gior­gio Moroder with Donna Sum­mer at the time his songs made her a global star; with pals in 1979; the cover of his clas­sic al­bum

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