ARTICLE T. COLE RACHEL
PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL MONTFORT
“PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS NEED TO DANCE,” SAYS THE LIVING SYNTH LEGEND, WHOSE CLUB-THUMPING TUNES HAVE BEEN KEEPING FEET ON FIRE SINCE THE ’70S. HERE, HE SPEAKS ABOUT DONNA SUMMER, DAFT PUNK, AND HIS FUTURE ADVENTURES WITH TECHNOLOGY
If you happen to love dance music—or music in general, for that matter—then you owe Giorgio Moroder a debt of gratitude. During the ’70s, the Italian-born producer-composer pioneered the use of what was then considered a fairly dubious instrument, the synthesizer, using it to revolutionize the landscape of pop music. His collaborations with Donna Summer—especially the genre-confounding “I Feel Love”—helped define club culture for an entire generation (and introduce the world to a little thing called “disco” in the process). His scores for films, including Midnight Express and American Gigolo, would prove just as popular—and perhaps even more influential—than the movies themselves. This year Moroder collaborated with Daft Punk on what has become one of 2013’s most celebrated albums. Having already led a generation of young robots to get funky to Italo-disco and make music with machines, Moroder—now 73—has no plans to unplug his instrument of choice anytime soon.
Your project with Daft Punk created a new groundswell of attention. Were you aware of how beloved you are?
GIORGIO MORODER No. I started to notice about a year and a half ago. People started to talk about me and how they felt influenced by my work. David Guetta did some very nice interviews where he mentioned me. Then, when the word got out that I was doing a song with Daft Punk for their record, it became almost a daily thing. My Google alerts started going off almost constantly.
What do you think about the state of dance music?
GM The technology is absolutely incredible now. Even if you aren’t a great musician, you can still make music that sounds incredible. I just worked with a young kid who doesn’t know how to play one note on an actual instrument, but he comes up with great sounds.
You’ve worked with a diverse array of artists. What about that appeals to you?
GM Sometimes it’s just about writing a song and having the best person sing it—whether you sing it yourself or you find someone to do it, that’s what you have to do. I enjoy sharing that process with another person.
I’ve always been fond of the music you made with David Bowie for 1982’s Cat People. How did that come about?
GM Oh, yes! Well, I had to do it. It was the same director as American Gigolo, Paul Schrader. It was a very unusual movie. I wrote the song and we immediately knew it had to be David Bowie to sing it, since he himself is such a mysterious guy. We flew to Switzerland, where Queen had a studio. We had dinner the night before and he said, “Giorgio, I wrote the lyrics for the song and it’s going to be called ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire).’” So I asked him what time he wanted to meet the next day to record. I suggested we meet around 5 pm—which is a typical time for artists to actually get to the studio—but he wanted to meet at 9 am the next morning. We were done in about an hour and a half. Bowie was so professional. It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.
What was it about Donna Summer that made her such a perfect fit for your music?
GM She was just so beautiful and so charming, always up for a joke and always so easy to work with. And her voice…she’s up there with Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. When we made “Love to Love You Baby,” the way it came out was kind of a mistake, because I had things in the wrong key. She couldn’t sing it the way she was used to because it was so high, so she had to sing in this very high voice…but the way it turned out was beautiful. She was just undeniable.
“I Feel Love” is widely considered the greatest dance song of all time. Did you have any idea that you were making something iconic?
GM Not really. When I made the first demo my publisher took it to a music convention in Cannes, which was where songs were kind of bought and sold. Typically nobody would buy it if it wasn’t good. I was terribly nervous. But she came back telling me that everybody loved it. That was the first moment when I thought, Okay, maybe we’ve got something here.
Are there any records in your catalog that you consider lost classics?
GM I made a record in 1975 called Einzelgänger that was very odd and electronic and experimental. It didn’t sell at all. I just listened to it again not so long ago and was surprised by how it sounded. I felt like I really did some nice work on that record. I wish it had sold better.
These days dance music is given the same kind of credence as rock music, whereas back in the ’70s dance and disco were scoffed at. Is it nice for you to see the shift?
GM I certainly was one of the people—along with Nile Rodgers—who were making successful dance music. Disco kind of died in the ’80s, but dance music lived on, particularly in Europe. Now it’s the DJs who keep it alive. But it never really went away entirely. People will always need to dance.
Did working on the Daft Punk record make you want to make new music of your own?
GM Yes. I just finished a song for a game that Google is launching. I’m also working with Avicii and doing a couple of other things that I’m actually not allowed to talk about yet. I’m also interested in making some new instrumental tracks using various instruments and maybe a vocoder. It’s funny, when Google put the song up on the Internet I could read all the comments people were leaving. Someone said, “Giorgio, what are you doing making this kind of music? You are 73!” I just laugh. You know, if the Rolling Stones can go out on tour—and they are in their 70s—then why can’t I make new music? I surely must look better than Keith Richards, right?
Photography interTOPICS/Michael Montfort (1979) Location Castel Place, Los Angeles