Release Date: Jun 10, 2016
Record label: Atlantic
Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel first emerged when French music was in one of its semi-regular ascendancies – namely the mid-90s – an era when no other country came close to offering up their kind of effortless panache. While the duo fitted well into a lineage of impossibly stylish acts from across the channel, they loosely fell in with the nascent Parisian French Touch dance scene (which also gifted us Daft Punk). Plus, they had affiliations with the UK’s ultra-hip Mo’ Wax label.
The first time I saw Air live was in 2002, when they played the second day of Portuguese festival Sudoeste, following Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and preceding The Chemical Brothers. They were then at the very height of their fame, with Moon Safari and The Virgin Suicides OST behind them and Talkie Walkie still two years away. Their performance must have been one of the most magical moments of my adolescence -- regardless of the drugs I was or wasn't taking back then.
For many years, Air’s clever hybrid of downbeat electronic, 1960s pop, and Gallic kitsch served as a gateway to undiscovered worlds of cool. They brought their cachet to artists long out of fashion: the leather-voiced Serge Gainsbourg, the antic electronic experimenters Perrey and Kingsley, the easy-listening maestro Burt Bacharach, the mellifluous synth wizard Tomita. Long before yacht-rock made lite acceptable, Air spun effortless good taste into a form as frothy, weightless, and melt-on-your-tongue easy to consume as meringue.
Initially lumped in with the trip hop scene of the late 90s, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel - otherwise known as French duo Air - soon outgrew that insular scene. The ubiquity of their second album, 1998’s Moon Safari, resulted in them playing an accidental part of the so called ‘chill out’ scene, an excuse for record labels to release compilations of slow, vaguely electronic tracks for people who, like them, had never been to Café del Mar but would one day love to (also see “At The River” by Groove Armada). Air could have easily have continued down this path.
For two decades, the French duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel have been devoted in their focus to suspend focus via series after series of downtempo synths and treated, blissful vocals—so much so that it seems out of character for them to celebrate their legacy with a high-gloss deluxe anthology. It’s damn near ostentatious for Air anyway. It does, however, help knowing that they were the ones to actually construct Twentyears in all of its grandeur.