Skeptics wary of the convergence of hard rock, dance music, and France need look no further than a recent download offered at Vice Records' Web site. The stateside label for Parisian electronic duo Justice offers a downloadable feast that'll shut up the naysayers. It's a cover of Justice's "Stress" by one of the decade's great punk bands, Fucked Up.
If you blindfolded a skinhead and played him the song, he'd be slam-dancing within moments. Beginning with a snarky voice saying, "Techno ... Unnnhhh," the track is a dirge-punk anthem. It's wobbly with distorted guitars, a plodding bass line, and some dude grunting at odd moments. There are neither bells nor whistles, no rave-friendly bullshit. It's all energy and evil.
But then, that's the sound of Justice. Although Fucked Up's cover is hard, the original is even more sinister. In place of guitars is a screechy string section that sounds like the climax of a Hitchcock thriller, joined by a hearty four-four stomp and a few deep robotic burps.
"It's not that they're making rock 'n' roll tracks," says Adam Shore, president of Vice Records. "But they are bringing to their music a similar attitude, energy, dynamic, and aesthetic that a lot of great rock bands bring to their own tracks."
It's a vibe that permeates , Justice's debut full-length offering, a tight album with melodies, hooks, refrains, bridges, and massive strings. The only ingredient that separates and most pop or metal albums are the insipid lyrics — a point that is sadly apparent on the disc's only dud, "The Party," featuring the dull rhymes of American-in-Paris "rapper" Uffie.
On the other songs, midrange melodies play the part of singer. "Phantom," one of the standout tracks, uses what sounds like a distorted vocoder hum, while underneath, a clunky rhythm walks along with Frankenstein's gait. Justice's summer hit, "D.A.N.C.E.," is the most welcoming track on , thanks in large part to the children's chorus chanting a singsong ditty about the star of the dance floor. "You were such a P.Y.T., catching all the lights/ just easy as A.B.C., that's how you make it right/ Do the dance!" It's a joyous song, and one that's difficult to reconcile with the group's dirtier, more aggressive tracks.
"The more recent stuff we did for the album is more pop-oriented," acknowledges Justice's Xavier de Rosnay, who formed the group with pal Gaspard Auge. "We've moved away from the noisy things maybe one year ago, or a year and a half ago. But we like to make both."
Indeed, their discography bears this out. The duo rose to fame on the back of a remix of "We Are Your Friends," by British band Simian. They created the track in 2005 for a contest. Justice lost, but released the song anyway, and it blew up. Within a year they were remixing Britney and Madonna, Pharell's N.E.R.D project, Daft Punk, and Franz Ferdinand. Although each of these singles blends rock and disco, you can hear the sound of Justice discovering its voice.
"When we started, the only way for us to make songs together was to finish them ourselves — to bypass studios and recordings and just make them with computers and machines," de Rosnay explains. "But if we were great musicians and we had big studios, I think we would make something that sounds like late '70s West Coast pop music, like Steely Dan or something."
Generally, Justice professes ambivalence about the big pop machine. The pair's disregard for the hit-making grind moves from their attitude to their style. If they had their choice, he explains, Justice would go the Daft Punk route and be invisible as individuals, or don some robot helmets. But they already draw many comparisons to their fellow Parisian producers (the two duos share a manager), so creating a shtick is out of the question. The next best thing, he says, is to be themselves, warts and all. "We want to be like your neighbors," de Rosnay explains, "only cooler."