Sowing their wild (Hall and) Oates

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Montreal’s Chromeo draws musical inspiration from the eighties

Chromeo’s David Macklovitch, BA ’00, MA ’02, and Patrick Gemayel (Photo: Vice Records)

Remember when the eighties were a joke? It wasn’t so long ago that the decade’s musical contributions were reduced to hair metal and cheese pop – sounds as disposable and easily-dismissed as the fashions that surrounded them.

But just as retro wardrobes have a funny way of finding their way back into rotation, suddenly eighties music is cool again, with the digital generation rediscovering the sounds of artists like Hall & Oates, Phil Collins and Huey Lewis – not ironically, or even as a joke, but with an appreciation for the craft by which those irresistible earworms of pop music were constructed.

At the forefront of this movement is Chromeo, two childhood friends from Montreal who’ve managed to synthesize those influences into a blistering electro-funk sound that’s ignited dance floors and blown speakers around the world.

David Macklovitch, BA ’00, MA ’02, who sings and plays guitar for the duo, has been making music with Chromeo’s other half, Patrick Gemayel, since they met at age 15, growing up in Outremont.

“We discovered funk music at the same time,” he recalls. “P. came from more of a hip hop background, and I came from more of a classic rock background, and we both fell in love with funk, hanging out together, listening to records.”

Though he worked as a hip hop producer while studying at McGill, Macklovitch considered music solely a hobby, with his academic pursuits remaining his first priority. But when his friend and Montreal-based DJ Tiga pitched the idea of starting an electronic group for his record label, Macklovitch recruited Gemayel to cultivate their shared affection for eighties pop into an updated funk sound.

“That kind of music – aside from being absolutely irresistible to us to listen to – it remained rather untouched as a set of influences at that time and we felt like it deserved more credit than it was getting, in terms of cultural impact and sheer musical value.”

That lack of credit explains why Chromeo was initially dismissed by many as a novelty act, but the duo proved their doubters wrong by scoring a club hit with “Needy Girl” and cultivating breakout success with 2007’s confident second album Fancy Footwork. Soon they were touring iconic music clubs, playing international rock festivals, appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and even collaborating with Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates.

“It was an extremely humbling, inspiring fantasy-like experience, as you can imagine. Never in our wildest fantasies did we think that we’d be sitting in the same room with him, let alone hearing him sing our own songs back to us.”

Chromeo released their third full-length Business Casual in September. Not only does the band have a busy year of touring ahead of them, but Macklovitch also hopes to finish his PhD in French literature at Columbia University, continuing an academic journey that was sparked at McGill.

“It was truly an intellectual coming of age,” he says, adding that he still recalls the seminar where his passion for French literary criticism was ignited. “I remember studying at the library every night until closing time. And even last year, when I was back in Montreal for a bit to work on a chapter of my dissertation, I posted up on the fourth floor of the McLennan Library at my old desk. It was still there.”

by Ryan McNutt

You can listen to Business Casual in its entirety at NPR.org.

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