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Up In The AIR

Author: Cyclone
Friday, 14 March 2008
They aren’t venerated like their robotic compatriots Daft Punk, but Air’s impact has been just as profound. The French duo created not a genre, but an ethos. 3D’s Cyclone goes skyward to speak with the duo.

Air’s dreamy pop – blending psychedelia, ambient kitsch and Serge Gainsbourg – is invariably tagged ‘French touch’, yet the term is as nebulous as their music. In 2007 Air resurfaced with their fourth album proper, Pocket Symphony, comprising intimate, spacious and subliminal songs for the iPod generation. Now, finally, they’re heading to Australia to perform at V Festival. Nicolas Godin promises that, on Air’s inaugural Antipodean tour, they’ll play their back catalogue.

Astonishingly, the former architecture student claims that he can’t discern Air’s influence on other ‘chill-out’ artists.

“I don’t feel like we influenced a lot of bands,” he says. “I never see in a newspaper, ‘A drummer and bass player looking for a keyboard player who sounds like Air.’ The kind of music we do, only we can do it, so that makes it original. It’s not that it’s great, but that it’s original.”

The modest Godin was previously in the Versailles indie band Orange with Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Etienne de Crecy. Godin and Dunckel progressed to Air, capturing international audiences with 1998’s charming Moon Safari.

Pocket Symphony, guided by de facto Radiohead member (and Brit) Nigel Godrich, doesn’t contain overtly pop tunes – remember Sexy Boy- – but Air haven’t lost any of their eccentricity. Indeed, Godin introduces an unusual Asian element.

Writing Alone In Kyoto for Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation, he discovered traditional Japanese string instruments. Godin studied the koto as well as the shamisen, only to suspend his lessons because of Air’s tour commitments.

“My master is in Japan, so it’s too much work and too much travelling, you know-” he rues. The restless Godin is now being taught classical piano – and delving into the music of Debussy, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. “It’s a completely crazy, crazy, crazy world,” he enthuses.

There are other revelations on Pocket Symphony – Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker rocks up on One Hell Of A Party. Air are currently considering their next opus. Godin has no idea of the direction.

“Actually, we’re going in the studio today – our first day. Right after my interviews I’ll take the car there,” he admits. “It’s interesting. You go there and you can feel something happening, but you don’t know what it is. Then, by recording, you’re looking for it – and that’s the surprise. I think it’s gonna surprise us – and then the people will be surprised, too.

“It’s a good thing that we don’t know exactly what to do.”

Air are multifaceted. They produced material for Charlotte Gainsbourg, the glam movie star daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Her Air-brushed single The Songs That We Sing appears on 2008’s So Frenchy So Chic, the “unofficial” soundtrack to Australia’s French Film Festival. Godin confesses that Air’s sessions with Charlotte were “so magic” that he wouldn’t wish to reunite.

However, Air have worked on successive projects for the innovative Coppola, starting with The Virgin Suicides. Godin raves about Coppola’s open-mindedness, the American allowing them total freedom, in contrast to most directors. Godin even cameoed in Marie Antoinette in addition to contributing to the baroque’n’roll soundtrack.

“We are from Versailles, so maybe our ancestors were in the real movie, the real story, 200 years ago,” he laughs. Godin dressed in an antique costume and endured two hours of having his bouffant styled to puff opium with Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette.

“My costume was 200-years-old. It was from that era. I couldn’t believe I was wearing it!” he beams. “I had to protect it between all the scenes. I had to be really careful. It was amazing.”

WHO: Air
WHAT: Play V Festival, Centennial Park / Sydney Opera House
WHEN: Saturday 29 March / Sunday 6 & Monday 7 April