Wild Mercury Sound

Justice, weird '80s nostalgia, blog house and so on

John Mulvey

I am, I must confess, a bit unclear about what exactly is meant by the very hip term blog house. I've a hunch that it refers to dance music whose success is driven by online theorists rather than exposure in clubs. But to be honest, I've a bit of a dilettante attitude to the dance scene these days: much as I try to keep up to speed with as much music as I can, I think I'm missing a lot of this stuff.

Which means, I suspect, that the debut album by Justice is probably seen as a bit passe by the hardcore bloggers. For me, though, it sounds great. If you don't recognise the name, there's a fair chance you've heard at least one track involving this French duo: their remix of Simian's "We Are Your Friends" has been maybe the most ubiquitous party tune of the past three years. And a pretty ubiquitous soundbed on the TV, if you don't get out as much as you used to.

Anyway, Justice's debut album seems to be called "†" (I know, but give them a chance). It's not exactly the future of music, as far as I can second-guess these things, but it is a fairly exhilarating update of that filtered house sound that came barrelling out of France in the late '90s.

In fact, "†" (I've impressed myself by working out how to do that symbol, by the way) would have sounded great if it had been the second album by Daft Punk. It has the same kind of deadpan intensity, the '80s fixation, and the ingenuous spirit which teeters precariously close to kitsch, but usually steers clear of it. A case in point is the current single, "D.A.N.C.E", which matches up a children's choir with some fairly gymnastic house and a few glittery disco swishes which echo Chic. It's cute, it's very nearly naff, but it also has a steely dance imperative which adds momentum rather than whimsy.

Someone in the office (Phil or Mark, I think) spotted some John Carpenter sounds here, and it was definitely Mark who reckoned that the jabbering, super-intense "Stress" is built on a Herrmann-ish string sample of David Shire's "Night On Disco Mountain" from "Saturday Night Fever". It was me, shamefully, who detected the influence of Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters" theme on "DVNO".

A lot of '80s revivalism turns my stomach, to be honest, but there's something about Justice that makes me excuse their penchant for some ridiculous synth patches. Perhaps it's that ingenuousness, however studied it might be: I guess an evocation of playgrounds resonates more with my memories of the early '80s than the glamorous and debauched nightclub references that often stud '80s throwback records. But then that makes me guilty of that kneejerk childhood nostalgia which I usually abhor, especially that weird nostalgia for the sort of music you never liked at the time. It was all Echo & The Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, stentorian pieces in NME about African music and not much fun in North Nottinghamshire when I was growing up.

I am chronically overthinking all this, of course, and a certain anxiety about liking certain aspects of Justice is probably what defines them as blog house. What should I say? It's a really entertaining record, and one which makes me think - along with the Simian Mobile Disco album, that we might finally have some successors to the knackered old stadium techno acts like The Chemical Brothers (Bits of the solo debut by Orbital's Paul Hartnoll are OK, incidentally: he's really living out his John Barry fantasies this time).

I'll tell you one thing about the Justice album, though. All that '80s angst notwithstanding, the Mark King-style bass solo at the end of "DVNO" really is a bit much.


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