It was 20 years ago that Air’s sonic waves first travelled across a dimly lit room.
I still remember the first time I heard La femme d’argent and I’ll never forget it. I was left thinking about my childhood, where I had been and where I was headed. I stopped what I was doing, leaned back in my chair and had an introspective experience.
They tapped into my circuits as well as they did the MiniMoog. But what the hell were they doing? How could music from 1998 make me remember the fuzzy edges of rewinding the Jurassic Park III VHS, or the bright colours of Sunday morning cartoons?
A synthesis between faultless creativity and sonic savoir-faire, Air’s Moon Safari flew us to outer space and landed right on time.
Before we delve into my dinosaur infested childhood, I think it’s important we talk about who Air actually are. Don’t worry dear reader, I didn’t know who they were either. The music satisfied me, there was no need to know any more and I was happy with that.
But when I started digging, I got a whole lot happier.
Air are an electronic duo hailing from Versailles, known for museums, the beginnings of WWII and some rather nice paintings. It’s a place many people – namely its citizens – would label boring, which may or may not be the reason it harbours such exciting artists such as Phoenix, Darlin’ (who would later go on to become Daft Punk) and these guys.
Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel began making rock music in school because “playing guitars loud through amps is great fun when you’re 15” but quickly became disillusioned. Godin believed rock music is not for the French as they “are better as chefs or fashion designers” and was convinced he’d look “ridiculous” anyway.
With guitars unplugged, the two pulled a 180 and travelled down some right-brained career paths, Godin to study architecture and Dunckel to teach mathematics.
The itch to create came back, and Godin was inspired to make electronic music while studying. He was working on a complex drawing, got lost in the small details and decided to make something original instead. His tutor was impressed and he was motivated to push his capabilities back into music.
Using his knowledge of design, he started creating music like a 3D object. Godin claimed he could’ve been a decorator “because you open a door and you’re in a universe. And this is the thing I love to do, I like to create worlds.” Even today, he still doesn’t think of himself as a musician.
Perfectly complementing his interstellar approach, Dunckel, who was classically trained, focused his efforts on the mood, the chords and the melody. He’s the one responsible for keeping our feet firmly on the ground while our heads are in the clouds. He’s the one carrying La femme d’argent with his high pitched, melodic bassline, a technique that would later be adopted by Kevin Parker.
They had some cheap vintage synths, a common goal and were confident they had found what they were looking for. They were ready.
“Electronic music is different. When we discovered it, suddenly we had an outlet.”
It wasn’t long until their debut album was hitting the shelves and soon the French took the electronic music world by storm, spearheaded by the tech-house bangers of Daft Punk and the off-kilter lounge music of Air. Wine and cheese.
Little did the two sci-fi geeks know Moon Safari would go on to become double platinum in the UK, attract international popularity and solidify its well-deserved position as a classic album some 10, and now 20, years on.
And what a classic it is. From the moment I heard rain pattering on the opening track I was lost, staring off into the distance, riding quivering oscillators on my fantastic voyage. The warm feeling that washes over your body as the quaint brass section takes the centre stage on Ce matin-lä is truly unbeatable, get on it, it’s a real hit.
The song Sexy Boy, a track Air wrote about wanting to be one of the sexy boys because they weren’t, is exactly what it says on the box. Regardless of the literal perspective from which it’s been written, I can’t help but see a macho French bloke strutting down a piss-stained Parisian alleyway.
Just like Godin said, he sees music as a drug and Moon Safari is like a beer to me. After a long day of toil, it’s peaceful and rewarding. Every time.
The feeling of nostalgia is stronger now than ever, and despite the fact that ’60s style electric pianos and soft rock play no part in my upbringing, I can’t escape it. The sound of Moon Safari is nostalgic, it’s the music, its construction and its vibe. The album beautifully fades into the background, creating a colourful pallet for your reverie. Its ambient highs are carried by the gorgeous melodies below, keeping you here, on earth, but with your head in another world, a time or a place you’d like to see again.
Some say Air just got lucky, getting in at the right time when people listened to downtempo music ironically. I don’t believe that, nor do I want to reduce it to good luck alone. The music managed to stay relevant and not fade into obscurity like a forgotten meme.
What Air created is unique, moving and has stood the test of time. This was more than just good timing. It was oxygen.