M83: Perpetual Stargazer

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Last month, renowned electronica artist M83 (Anthony Gonzalez) dropped his most recent studio offering, the giant double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, containing 23 tracks of Gonzalez’s distinctly large, spacey sound.

While electronic music is more prominent as ever with the explosion of the dubstep and electro scenes, the proliferation of high-profile collaborative remix-albums and the adoption of synths and Auto-Tune by just about every Top 40 radio artist, M83 has been refining a very specific electronic sound for more than a decade. The stately grandeur of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is testament to his singularity of focus.

Gonzalez grew up listening to epic double-albums like The Beatles’ White Album, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but when it came to making his own, it was the ordering of songs that proved most daunting. The album maintains a steady pace by weaving soaring, triumphant synthpop tunes between slower, contemplative ambient tracks. “Trying to pick all the tracks in this big album was the challenge,” says Gonzalez. “You’re working on an album for a long time, it’s a journey, it’s a trip. You have to be careful with all the track listing, especially for a double-album, so it was kind of a challenge to pull this album together [in general].”

Like his previous efforts, it’s hard to categorize. Over the course of the album’s 79 minutes, examples of all the various genre labels ascribed to M83 over the years appear and intermingle: dream pop, electronica, shoegaze, New Wave. None of these distinctions fully captures Gonzalez’s sound, but the 30-year-old Frenchman is unfazed. “It’s just music; I don’t think putting a name on it is very important to me.”

His thoughts on music trends, specifically the recent resurgence of electronic music, are similar: “Trends are changing all the time. Electronic music was so popular at the beginning of the 2000s when I started to make music, and now I see that maybe it’s getting popular again, but I don’t know, I don’t really follow music that much.”

The steady development of his distinctly spacey and emotive sound reflects this sentiment. In an age where many musical acts lust after constant reinvention and trend capitalization, M83’s steady evolution stands in stark contrast to the deluge of one-trick synthy buzzbands in recent years.

One particularly standout feature of the album is the collaboration with genre-bending singer/songwriter Zola Jesus on the opening track “Intro.” Nika Danilova and Gonzalez’s voices spiral around each other as the music swells and rises, setting a clear tone for the rest of the album. Gonzalez started inviting guests to record for Saturdays = Youth, where Morgan Kibby of The Romanovs contributed writing assistance, vocals and keyboard/piano playing to a number of songs (she also lends backing vocals once again on the newest album), and it’s a trend he plans to continue. “There are tons of artists I’d like to work with, definitely,” he says. “I hope to have guests on the entry to my albums; this is probably something I’m going to continue to do in the future.”

Considering his recent move from his native France to sprawling Los Angeles, he’ll have plenty of acts to choose from when he begins his next project. After growing up in the picturesque resort town of Antibes, L.A. has been a bit of a culture shock. “It’s very different from Europe, obviously,” he says, “but I love the culture in L.A. I love the music scene and that it’s so big. You can see a different live show every night—it’s fantastic, so I’m very inspired there; it’s a very inspiring city.”

Besides a change of scenery, there were more concrete career goals behind the move as well. In the spring of 2010, M83 composed the score to French director Gilles Marchand’s cyber-fiction noir L’Autre Monde (Black Heaven), an experience that left him immensely displeased. Regardless, it’s hard to deny the cinematic scope and feel of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (along with all of M83’s work, really) and the idea that M83 and movies should go together like steak and Merlot. Despite that previous sour experience, Gonzalez is unperturbed. “I would love to try that again. This is also the reason I moved to L.A., to be able to get into this world of building soundtracks.”

So where does M83 go from here? Wherever he feels drawn, it seems, and he’s got a lot of options from which to choose. Besides the scenery change, guest collaborations and soundtrack work, even the potential tone of his next album could go a number of different directions. “I’m just up for experimenting,” he says, “trying different stuff every time.”