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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Music /  The modern musical gentlemen
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Thursday, September 29,2011

The modern musical gentlemen

Renaissance, academia inspire Chromeo’s musical philosophy

By P.J. Nutting

"We´re just excited to show up and show people who we are,” David Macklovitch, a.k.a. Dave 1 of Chromeo, says about the duo’s first show in Boulder. “Smile, play the songs, have some banter, hear what a bunch of screaming fans in Boulder sounds like — that’s just what I want to do.”

This is a big part of Chromeo’s appeal in an environment full of vapid DJ personalities and rappers thriving on creating envy and intimidation. Fans who “get” Chromeo seem to understand that the personalities of guitarist/vocalist Macklovitch and keyboarist Patrick Gemayel (a.k.a. P-Thugg) are amicable and disarmingly innocent.

The name Chromeo comes from the fusion of “chrome” and “Romeo,” like a well-oiled love robot that has traveled across time to show one lucky lady a romance from 2079. Or is it 1979? Either way, Chromeo creates a retro-futurist tint with talk-box vocals and other throwback gear, transporting their simple, catchy pop tunes to a more fun-loving region of electronic music.

It’s pop music for ravers: Chromeo’s music is driven by soaring synths, keytars and sampled drums that place it firmly in electronic territory but stay true to lyrically driven pop structures. Remixes and blog culture have further pushed their catchy hooks to wider audiences through heavy electro artists such as Laidback Luke, Yusek and MSTRKRFT, as well as Chromeo’s own remixes of songs by indie favorites such as Cut Copy, Treasure Fingers, Tiga and Vampire Weekend.

But more poignantly, Chromeo makes quirky love songs for a generation saturated with typical ones. Many have a humorous twist: Macklovitch points to the lyrics of “Momma’s Boy” that mock Oedipal tendencies, and “Needy Girl,” about gracefully handling over-attachment. But many are true to life: from “Night By Night,” Macklovitch sings, “C’mon girl, don’t make a fuss / Let’s have a conversation that’s not just about us.”

“It’s really cliché to make a regular love song like, ‘Baby, let me take your clothes off and serenade you,’” Macklovitch says. “But ‘Momma’s Boy,’ ‘Needy Girl,’ ‘Bonafide Lovin’,’ ‘Night By Night,’ ‘Don’t Turn the Lights On’ — those are all weird, quirky, fun takes on the love song theme, and that is what’s important to us, to give it a new twist.”

Musically speaking, the “twist” comes from a hodgepodge of generational influences that hearken back to hip-hop’s stylistic genesis, where Dave 1 and P-Thugg first found common ground.

“When hip-hop started, you had a bunch of dudes wearing Jewish grandmother clothing, i.e. Gucci, Louis Vuitton,” Macklovitch says. “You had Puerto Rican dudes on the train in New York wearing that and making music out of ’70s breakbeats. That juxtaposition is what always fascinated me.

“If you look at Chromeo, y’know — two sort of ambiguously ethnic French- Canadian kids working Rick James into their music in 2011 — you’ve got that same sort of juxtaposition, that same anachronistic approach. … When you have gear from the ’70s and software from the ’90s to make music that rocks from the ’80s but wouldn’t be possible without the influence of R. Kelly, you know what I’m saying? That same collage is there.”

Aside from looking like a Jewish Buddy Holly, Macklovitch has a potent geeky charm. He has taught French at Barnard College and pursued a Ph.D. in French literature from Columbia University, where his dissertation was “Theorizing the Pleasure of Reading in Eighteenth Century France.”

“If anything, I think we should look back to the Renaissance, to humanism, or even later on in the 18th century, when going to university really meant acquiring all the knowledge in the universe,” he says. “To a time when it wasn’t exceptional for someone to speak four or five languages; to a time where you weren’t only concerned with what goes on in your country, more of what goes on everywhere.”

“The gentleman’s never-ending quest for self-improvement,” Macklovitch says. “I have that around music. Harmonically, melodically, we could go deeper than what we’ve already done, and without losing the sincerity and the innocence and the funny aspect, you just combine it, you know what I’m saying? We could get so much better, and that’s what we strive to do.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

On the Bill: Chromeo and Mayer Hawthorne and the County play the Boulder Theater on Thursday, Oct. 6. Doors at 8 p.m. Sammy Bananas open. Tickets are $43.25. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.

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