Why I Like M83

“Why do you like M83?” Mrs. Beifong asked me the other day, implication being that she is not that crazy about the group. Not an unreasonable query, given that she knows I’m basically a cranky old folkie guitar player who looks askance at anyone who uses a capo and who has said that “looping” does not belong in live performances. Regarding the latter, it’s getting to where I hear it everywhere. Or think I do. I was watching a jazz funk band play the other night at a small club, and the drummer was very good. So I was watching him closely, but what I was hearing did not match what I was seeing him do. So during a break I complimented him on his playing, then asked him if he was doing some looping. He looked at me and went “Looping? Wha…?” Never mind. I didn’t press it (but he was looping).

I first caught on to M83 by listening to studio recordings (where, as I figure it, electronic shenanigans are quite all right) and the music was fantastic. Lush instrumentation sprinkled with interesting electronic glips, highly processed vocals, engaging melodies, and lyrics that range from tranquil to emotional to dramatic to hopeful. But never angry. The driving force is a guy named Anthony Gonzalez, a very talented musician from France, and some of their songs are in French. Tres bien!

I had two of their albums (Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up We’re Dreaming) but had never seen them perform live. In fact, I had the chance to see them once in Seattle, but figured they would not be very good in person. I realized the depth of my stupidity on that one when I fell ill last winter and, since I was spending some time in bed, I flipped on YouTube and watched the M83 concert at the 2016 Sasquatch festival in Washington State. Huh. They were great!

There were 5 of them: a sax player, an energetic guitar player (who looks to be about 13), the drummer was a rhythmic maniac, a woman on keyboards with a lovely voice, and there was Anthony front and center, standing next to a steampunk box with patch cords going every which way, and a keyboard. (Yeah, I wondered about the patch cords too…) All around them was this awesome light show, and the Sasquatch crowd was on their feet and loving it. I had the flu and I loved it.  And as the sharp falsetto doots of “Midnight City” rang out, the Sasquatchians took it up a notch, jumping off the ground, waving, and cheering. They were responding purely to the power of the music. Well, see for yourself—here’s the opening lyric:

Waiting in the car.
Waiting for a ride.
At night the city grows.
Look at the horizon glow.

Nice. The words are softly poetic, calming you might say, yet the crowd was nearly hysterical with joy. A friend who was at the concert has told Mrs. Beifong that it was “magical.” That is the power of music. I would have loved to have been there, and I must have watched that video, beginning to end, six times by now. What an amazing show and yes, it included beaucoup looping and other effects. But M83 clearly demonstrated that live performance + electronic processing can actually work.

So I now plan to resign as president of the I Hate Live Looping club unless we can amend the bylaws with an M83 exemption. And such an exemption would make sense: the text would stipulate that in the case of a band which is by its nature electronic…and so on… notwithstanding whatever…(still working on it).

I will not pass up the next chance I get to see them live but, alas, I worry that I may have missed my only shot. Anthony is, as I said, very talented, and I’ve read that he is going to be the composer and musical director for a Cirque de Soleil production. Will he stop touring as M83? Well, I suppose I could go to see the acrobats…as long as there are no capos involved! (smiley face)

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