Chromeo isn’t afraid to suffer a little bit for their art. On the cover of the recent album Head Over Heels, band members David “Dave 1” Macklovitch and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel are all dressed up, wearing sharp mini-skirts and high heels to die for. All in a day’s work, apparently.
“We had to shave our legs and learn to walk in heels,” says Gemayel of the experience. Macklovitch adds that “it was a little painful on the ankles, but fun.”
For Chromeo, it was worth it for them to put their best foot forward for Head Over Heels, which shows the duo saluting their long-standing love of funk music, complete with generous servings of robotic voices courtesy of the most ‘70s instrument of all: the talk box.
“It sounds so silky, so the thing about the talk box that we love, that caught my ear when I first heard it, was how silky and smooth it sounds, how sexy it sounds. But also, it also sounds robotic,” Macklovitch says. “I guess that’s also the essence of Chromeo, the name in itself is chrome, which is the metallic, and Romeo, which is the romantic aspect. And the talk box embodies that.”
The pair has been united in their devotion to all things grooving since they met as students at Montreal’s Collège Stanislas in the mid-90s. “Growing up in Montreal, it gave us a really open mind culturally, because it’s a really cosmopolitan city,” Macklovitch says. “Part of me thinks that Montreal is the reason why a Jewish kid and a Middle Eastern kid could meet in high school, bond and become best friends and speak the same language, French, and discover something like funk music together. It happened because Montreal is so multicultural and so open.”
The pair released their debut album She’s In Control in 2004, and since then they have explored everything from thumping club and hip-hop beats to sweet blue-eyed soul melodies. They’re very popular in the electronic dance music world, without quite being of the current dance scene, blending in live guitars and bass into their sound and sidestepping the overwhelming thump of EDM while still getting festival crowds on their feet.
“We’ve never really fit in. We’ve always sort of lived in parallel to every scene or trend that was existing. I think we just sort of take what we like from those scenes and exist as our own thing,” says Gemayel. “It was important for us, in Montreal, to build a foundation within the dance community, but as outsiders. So our first releases came out on Turbo, which is an independent dance and techno music label from Montreal. And that allowed us to be the non-dance dance guys.
“We were able to get remixes and all kinds of support from the dance music community while doing whatever we want,” he added. “And to this day, we get tons of remixes, we encourage remixes, we remix other artists, we play electronic music festivals, but from the beginning, we established that we were gonna do different kinds of stuff and do funk, disco and 80’s influenced music, but rooted in the dance world. And that’s what keeps us modern.”
Chromeo has learned a lot in their time, and they’ve recently begun sharing that hip-swinging knowledge. Macklovitch is a Ph.D. candidate in French Literature at Columbia University and has lectured at Barnard College. And now it seems as though both members of the band have been bitten by the teaching bug. Before their set at Wake Up Call at W Hollywood, the pair gave Elite SPG members a DJ Masterclass session, guiding budding DJs through the process of rocking the crowd.
“We really think it’s important at this point, almost 14 years in the game, to share our experiences,” Macklovitch says. “We’re gonna work on a bunch of other content, where we show people how our studio works or how we build or tracks and stuff like that.”
Chromeo has been keeping it funky for 14 years, and one of the ways they keep things fresh is by trying something different each time. For Head Over Heels, they brought in outside producers such as r&b legends Raphael Saadiq and Rodney Jerkins and guest vocalists including The-Dream, French Montana and DRAM.
“To keep the songwriting process fresh, we try to challenge ourselves with each new release. So on Head Over Heels the idea for us was to make a collaborative album, and to bring a bunch of people into our world and to our songwriting process to work with them and bounce ideas off of them,” Gemayel says. “I think that as we start working on some new music later this year and next year, we’ll set another challenge for ourselves. Maybe it will be to make music that’s more personal, intimate, adult, maybe it will be to make music just kind of like in an improvisational way. Who knows? We’ll just set an agenda and that will be like the theme of the album.”
Dance floors everywhere await the results.