Retro funk, with a PhD

When he is not tour­ing with US elec­tro out­fit Chromeo, ‘Dave 1’ teaches at Columbia Uni­ver­sity. PaulLester meet­sav­ery­funky­a­ca­demic

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

TAKE ONE Le­bane­seChris­tian Arab and one Jewish-Cana­dian of Moroc­can des c e nt — b o t h ob­sessed with ’80s machine disco and the sort of mid­dleof-the-road pop­boo­gie known in the UK as “guilty plea­sures” and in the US as “yacht rock” — and you have got Chromeo.

If their name sounds like Cameo, the cod­piece-wear­ing band which made the slick­est Amer­i­can elec­tro-funk of the ’80s, it is no co­in­ci­dence. That is be­cause Chromeo’s re­cently re­leased sec­ond al­bum, Fancy Foot­work, fea­tures some of the coolest bass-heavy grooves since, well, Cameo.

But Chromeo, who are play­ing in Lon­don next week, in­sist they are not some nos­tal­gia act or com­edy troupe.

“There’s a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween pas­tiche, par­ody and trib­ute,” points out David Macklovitch, alias Dave 1, from his home in New York, where, when he is not mak­ing retro-elec­tro boom-box funk, he teaches French at Columbia Uni­ver­sity. (He has a Phd i n a dvanced hermeneu­tics — the science of in­ter­pre­ta­tion — while his Chromeo part­ner, Pa­trick Ge­mayel, aka P-Thugg, is an ac­coun­tant.)

“Pas­tiche is an ex­er­cise in vir­tu­os­ity,” he s a y s . “ When y o u d o p a s - tiche, you’re be­ing a show-off. I could do you a pas­tiche of Prince on the gui­tar just to show you how good I am.

“Par­ody shows an un­der­ly­ing con­tempt; it’s a very so­phis­ti­cated form of mock­ery of the thing you’re im­i­tat­ing. A homage is a heart­felt trib­ute, and I think a large part of what we do is homage. We’re very sin­cere fans of the mu­sic we grew up lis­ten­ing to.

“It’s not satire, ei­ther,” he adds, in case there was any doubt. “Satire is also a form of crit­i­cism. What we do is a lit­tle bit cheeky, like Steely Dan’s lyrics were cheeky. But I’m a Jewish grad­u­ate stu­dent — if I sang: ‘I love you, baby, I wanna see you take that dress off’, it wouldn’t be true to what I am. I’m try­ing to re­main true to my own so­cial type while still writ­ing love songs.”

He does con­cede that: “It’s a lit­tle bit funny, be­cause when­ever you take some­thing out of con­text it’s funny, but it’s funny in the same way that a white guy and a white girl from Detroit [re­fer­ring to The White Stripes] play­ing the Mis­sis­sippi delta blues is funny.

“We re-con­tex­tu­alise the mu­sic and put it into an aes­thetic that’s our own. God knows, we don’t have cod­pieces.”

Macklovitch is far re­moved from the ma­cho lothario archetype or gangsta/playa life­style. Born 29 years ago in Mon­treal, he de­scribes him­self as “half-Ashke­nazi, half-Sephardic”.

His fa­ther is from an East­ern Euro­pean back­ground and a third-gen­er­a­tion Cana­dian. He mar­ried Macklovitch’s mother, a Moroc­can im­mi­grant and Sephardic Jew, “to piss his fam­ily off”. Then he de­cided “to raise his kids in French to piss them off even more: French is my first lan­guage”.

In Canada, he ex­plains, there are “two types of Jew — the Chom­skian type and the rich type. The Chom­skian Jews are like my fa­ther — leftie in­tel­lec­tu­als who de­spise cap­i­tal­ism and think the peo­ple in their fam­ily who make money are id­iots. Over­grown hip­pies, ba­si­cally.

“My mother isn’t very re­li­gious, but she does Yom Kip­pur, and ev­ery year she and my fa­ther will have the same ar­gu­ment. My dad will be like: ‘Your re­li­gion equals su­per­sti­tion’, and she’ll be like: ‘No, there’s a beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion there.’

“My­self, I feel close to the Jewish cul­ture. The way I talk, my man­ner­isms — I’m such a Larry David; I’m Larry David to the core. He’s the only per­son in the world I want to meet.”

At school, Macklovitch was “al­ways the best stu­dent and al­ways the funny dude. I had to make them laugh to get the girls. Now I don’t have to do the shtick.”

What is it about the Jewish con­di­tion that tends to­wards the self-lac­er­at­ing and neu­rotic?

“I think there’s some­thing like an Ashke­nazi cul­ture, with cul­tural traits stem­ming from sim­i­lar val­ues and be­havioural pat­terns. This comes from an ex­treme sense of aware­ness mixed with ex­treme in­se­cu­rity mixed with a re­ally good sense of hu­mour and not tak­ing your­self too se­ri­ously.

“If you’re ex­tremely aware of ev­ery­thing, that makes you para­noid and your in­se­cu­rity feeds into that, but you’re funny and de­tached enough to be aware of it and talk about it. And that cre­ates things like Curb Your En­thu­si­asm.”

To­day, Macklovitch is some­thing of a lapsed Jew with strong views about Is­rael.

“I don’t have any­thing to do with the coun­try,” he says. “My fa­ther thinks Is­rael shouldn’t ex­ist. He said: ‘Theodor [Herzl] wanted a place where Jews could be safe. Is­rael’s a place where the Jews are the least safe; there­fore, mis­sion failed, bad idea, let’s get rid of it.’

“But my fa­ther’s ex­treme. Me, I think Jerusalem should be split and the pre’67 bor­ders re­in­stated. I don’t want to be a part of it un­til I can ap­prove of the place. And I don’t ap­prove of it now.

“New York is the real Is­rael. If Theodor could have gone to New York, he’d have loved it.”

Lon­don is his other favourite city, where Chromeo have won over the hip cognoscenti who get the ’80s funk ref­er­ences as well as the MyS­pace kids who just like the catchy tunes.

“Why do we love Lon­don?” he re­peats the ques­tion, be­fore list­ing the rea­sons: “Mon­ster Munch, Cad­bury’s Twirl, Ribena, fish ’n’ chips… It’s a beau­ti­ful, eth­ni­cally di­verse, cul­tur­ally rich city. It’s the city where the im­mi­gra­tion model has worked the best.

“And it’s the only place in the world where you can put on a ra­dio sta­tion like Choice FM and hear all the songs we copied! What’s not to like?” Chromeo’s al­bum, Fancy Foot­work, is out now on Back­yard Records. Chromeo play Fab­ric, Lon­don EC1, on Novem­ber 28. Tel: 020 7336 8898

David Macklovitch ( right) and Pa­trick Ge­mayel: “What we do is homage”

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