Air filled with tension

Jean-Benoit Dunckel (left) and Nicolas Godin make up Air.
Jean-Benoit Dunckel (left) and Nicolas Godin make up Air.PHOTO: SECRET SOUNDS ASIA

The French electronica duo are like an old couple, says member Jean-Benoit Dunckel, but this helps puts pressure on them to do their best

When French electronica duo Air perform their first show in Singapore at the Esplanade Theatre this Saturday, the audience will hear them play the luscious, downtempo anthems found in their critically acclaimed albums and soundtracks from the last two decades.

What they will not hear are new songs.

Air's most recent album, Music For Museum, was released three years ago and one half of the pair, Jean-Benoit Dunckel, tells The Straits Times there are no plans to do any follow-ups.

"We are busy with solo stuff, we can't meet," the 47-year-old says in a telephone interview from a studio in Paris, referring to himself and Nicolas Godin, also 47, his partner in Air.

While the pair do get together for live shows around the world - they recently played to 15,000 people in Mexico - meeting to make new Air tunes is not the priority now.

Dunckel says their relationship is not always smooth sailing, much like "an old couple".

"When we work, there is a lot of tension and it's good in a way and it's bad in a way. It's good because it puts some pressure on you and you want to do the best of what you can do, (and make) some powerful recordings.

"But it's bad in a way that sometimes it's too tiring and it doesn't let you go deeply into the best that you can do because it interferes with your inspiration."

The friction seems to have paid off though. Formed in 1995, their debut album released three years later, Moon Safari, became popular worldwide. The first single, Sexy Boy, was a staple on alternative radio playlists.

Dunckel explains their decision to sing in English, instead of their native French: "Yeah, we wanted to speak to the rest of the world and not the French people," he says with a laugh. "I think we wanted to express some kind of international English poetry."

He also points out that in sciencefiction and technology-based literature, English is almost always used as "machine language".

In 2000, the duo released The Virgin Suicides, a soundtrack album for the film of the same name directed by Sofia Coppola and released a year earlier. It was nominated for Best Soundtrack at the 2001 Brit Awards.

Last year, they released Twentyears, a compilation album of songs from all their releases, plus several remixes they have done for artists such as Depeche Mode and the late David Bowie.

In their early years, Air were often compared to Daft Punk, another French electronic duo that became prominent in the 1990s.

"We are really close and we are were doing the same (music) at the beginning, but Daft Punk went really big and we stayed on the same level," Dunckel jokes.

Despite often being tagged with other electronic music acts, they take pride in the fact that they approach their live shows like a band.

Their upcoming Esplanade show will see them play live with a keyboardist and a drummer, sans any pre-recorded music.

"We're going to play 16 or 17 songs, the singles, the hits and the soundtracks that Air have done.

"Everything is played for real, there are no tapes, no clicks, no computers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Air filled with tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe