Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Chromeo on Electro-Pop’s Past & Future

Photo Riley Sparks
Photo Riley Sparks

It’s been quite a ride for Chromeo, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. The 21st century disco band has already accomplished what most budding musicians could only hope to achieve, while still staying remarkably independent.

Artists today have a whole different set of tools to work with, one much broader and easier to access than ever before. With synthesizers having evolved so much even since Chromeo’s beginnings, new artists aren’t limited with regard to what hardware they can afford anymore.

“With the whole digitization of music you can make everything with one box, one program with all the soft synths and all the plug-ins,” said P-Thugg, the vocoded half of the duo. “You can create something out of basically nothing. [With] just a program and a couple hundred bucks, you can actually create demos that you can share.”

It’s an advantage, the synth junkie admits, that would have been a huge help in the beginning of his career.

“That’s a great starting point for everybody, I wish I had that years ago. When you first start collecting synths, it’s expensive to fix, expensive to shape, so now in a way it’s more democratic,” he said. “If you have a laptop, the world is yours.”

Even so, Chromeo is the force that it is today because of their original struggle with a few pieces of hardware. It’s a situation that electronic artists today need not worry about, but something that was essential to the band’s growth.

“We like to work in constraints, because if you have too many options and too much choice, you sometimes lose a lot of time and focus,” said P-Thugg.

It’s pretty hard to find a band without a synthesizer these days, but there’s also no active band that matches the old with the new like Chromeo does. Their electronic-ified Hall & Oates grooves had the benefit of beginning with fixation on only a handful of sounds.

“I feel like [today] you can have a bit of ADD with everything around. That’s part of the charm of working with hardware stuff. It does sound a couple of notches better, but there’s that fighting with the machine, too, that plays a role in songwriting.”

With a library of electronic tones past and present at your fingertips, the process of using and shaping your voice is a totally different beast from when one console was all a young artist had to work with.

“I feel like [today] you can have a bit of ADD with everything around,” said P-Thugg. “That’s part of the charm of working with hardware stuff. It does sound a couple of notches better, but there’s that fighting with the machine, too, that plays a role in songwriting.

“You have to struggle with the machine to get the most out of it. It plays around with you, it’s out of tune, [but] the next day it’s fine.”

Working under these conditions forced P-Thugg and partner-in-funk Dave 1 to choose their sounds carefully, and to mix live instruments in with keyboards and drum synths.

Like their music, the duo’s live show is no monochromatic affair. To keep things visually interesting, they combine guitar, keyboard and percussion onstage and, of course, they have their trademark keyboards with glowing lady legs. Getting a drummer back onstage is even a possibility now that they can afford to pull it off.

“Everything that goes into a song, every little detail, is there for a reason,” said P-Thugg. “You’ll never see me or Dave during the show goofing around looking at the other one, we need to make sure we keep both our hands busy at all times. It’s a live show; you’ve got to show something visually.”

Sometimes it seems that practice is a little archaic with the way electronic music has grown. Even with bands, it’s more common than ever for members to be replaced with laptops, simply because of the money and time it can save.

But Chromeo has always kept a throwback style, and not just in their high regard for exciting live shows—the ‘80s disco tunes have always been at the heart of their sound, a natural side effect of two guys obsessed with those records.

“It’s stuff that we respect to the highest level, that we don’t really try to emulate, just pay tribute [to],” said P-Thugg. “We’ve listened to and played so much of that stuff that it’s becoming instinct. All these reflexes that we’ve heard on so many records, little musical tics, that when you listen to so much it becomes a part of you.”

And it’s remained part of them, even after years of sharing their music with the world. P-Thugg and Dave work as closely as ever, even though the latter no longer lives in Montreal. Chromeo is their music, plain and simple.

“People often ask us, ‘What would you do if you had a side project?,’ but we have the same taste. Chromeo is our outlet for whatever we want to do. If we want to do a French ballad, we do it. It’s total freedom,” said P-Thugg. “The ultimate is total freedom.”

Chromeo & We Are Enfant Terrible & Aeiou / Metropolis (59 Ste. Catherine St. W.) / Sept. 24 / 9:00 p.m.

This article originally appeared in Volume 32, Issue 04, published September 20, 2011.