Music Interviews
2:03 am
Sun December 29, 2013

Giorgio Moroder On Dance Music's Present And Future

Originally published on Sun December 29, 2013 11:12 am

If Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco, then it's fair to say her king was Giorgio Moroder. The Italian-born producer presided over some of her biggest hits, including "I Feel Love" and "Love to Love You Baby" – and pioneered electronic dance music in the process.

Four decades into a career that also includes award-winning work in cinema, with scores for Midnight Express and American Gigolo, Moroder is still going as strong as the beat in his songs. Among other projects this year, he collaborated with one of the biggest names in dance music, Daft Punk. The Grammy-nominated French duo invited Moroder into the studio — not to push buttons and twist knobs, but to narrate his own life.

"I was talking for three hours in a studio in Paris. I said, 'What are you going to do with it?' But they didn't give me any clue," Moroder says. "I went back to the same studio last summer, where Florian Laggata, the engineer, was working. And I said, 'Okay, you know the song — you've heard it, because you recorded it. What did they do with my voice?' He said, 'I cannot tell you.' And I said, 'But you can at least tell me: Is it a good song?'"

The song became "Giorgio By Moroder," an audio mini-memoir set to a pulsing disco groove on Daft Punk's 2013 smash Random Access Memories. Moroder recently spoke with NPR's Jennifer Ludden about what else he's been up to recently, and where he sees the dance music he helped create going in the future. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of their conversation below.

So, decades later, here we are, and something you pioneered is still being recognized by people in the industry today. Can you go back and tell us — I believe you put it this way one time — how did you meet the synthesizer?

I was in love with an album by Wendy Carlos called Switched-on Bach, which was all done by synthesizers. And I found a German classical composer who had a big Moog modular synthesizer. I asked him if I could listen to what the synthesizer would do, and he played me a low note for about five minutes. It was a great sound, but not exactly what I wanted to hear. So when he left, I asked an engineer to give me some of the sounds, and he played me some of the basses and the string sounds and the oboe sounds. It was absolutely amazing, and I thought, "This is my instrument. That's what I want."

Wasn't it around the same time, in Germany as well, you met Donna Summer?

I met Donna in '74. I loved the Serge Gainsbourg song "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus." I wanted to do a sex song — but a little more, almost, controversial. So I told Donna, "If you ever have a sexy line, just tell me and we may do something." One day she came back, and she said, "How about something like, Oooohhh, love to love you baby..."

I went to my studio in Munich and we did a little demo, and my publisher presented it to the Midem, which is a music trade fair in Cannes every year where musicians and composers talk business and creative stuff. And a lot of people loved it; a lot of people wanted the recording. I met [record executive] Neil Bogart in Los Angeles, and he asked me to do a long version of the song. So I did a version of about 17, 18 minutes, and I think that was the beginning of her and my career.

Your music was so synonymous with the disco era. Did you ever have a chance yourself to go to Studio 54 and take part in that?

Not too much. I was in Studio 54 one time; it was great. But I'm not a discotheque guy. Sometimes, if I had a new demo I went to some discotheques to check it out — see how the reactions of the people were. But just to dance, I rarely did that.

Although you've done something new this year — you've actually DJed. What do you make of the dance scene today?

Right now, at least at the gigs I did, people were not really dancing that much. They are all looking up to the DJ, moving with the DJ, jumping. It's totally different from the discotheques I remember: At that time, the DJ would just do one song and then the next song, so people were more interested in dancing. Now, the DJ becomes a star in itself, because of the way he programs the songs with lows and then highs and then slowing it down. The big DJs, like Tiesto and Deadmau5 and all those guys, they are very, very creative.

I understand, not having been to Studio 54 myself lately, that the disco sound is back?

It's a little bit — actually, a lot — with the help of Daft Punk. That big hit "Get Lucky" is a disco song — not only the melody and the whole concept, but we had one of the great disco guys and one of the best guitarists ever, Nile Rodgers, to play on it. So that's great disco, but a modern disco, because it has great vocoders and synthesizers.

Do you wonder how music will sound in another 30 or 40 years? Maybe the revivals will just keep coming back — but do you hear a new trend emerging with the use of computers?

The trend now, I think, is to go back to more traditional composing, where you have an intro, a verse, a pre-chorus, a chorus. Avicii, with the song "Wake Me Up," that's more like a traditional dance song — in fact, it could be a country-and-western song. I think the music in the EDM world is going to go back to recording and composing the traditional way.

How do you feel about that?

I love it! Because that's what I do best.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

Donna Summer was widely known as the queen of disco. And her king? Italian producer Giorgio Moroder.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) I feel love ...They said it really loud, they said it on the air on the radio, whoa...He said I love you, yes I do...

LUDDEN: After pioneering electric dance music, Moroder continued his award-winning career in cinema. Among the soundtracks he scored: "Midnight Express," "Scarface" and this song from "Top Gun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE MY BREATH AWAY")

BERLIN: (Singing) Take my breath away...

LUDDEN: Four decades into his career and Moroder is still going strong, most recently collaborating with the French dance music duo Daft Punk. They asked Moroder to narrate his life story. That turned into a song called "Giorgio by Moroder."

GIORGIO MORODER: All I really wanted to do is music, and not only play music but compose music. At that time in Germany in '69, '70, they had already discotheques. So, I would take my car, would go to a discotheque, sing maybe 30 minutes. I think I had about seven, eight songs. I would partially sleep in the car because I didn't want to drive home. And that helped me for about two years to survive.

LUDDEN: We spoke with Giorgio Moroder and asked for his reaction to the Daft Punk song.

MORODER: I was absolutely not only surprised by kind of moved too because you hear me talking about my life and the music was beautiful and it was very emotional. But I loved it.

LUDDEN: Moroder told us more about those early days of his career in Germany. It was at that time when he met Donna Summer. Creative sparks flew and they soon had their first hit, the steamy song, "Love to Love You Baby."

MORODER: I had the idea of a sex song. I loved one of the Serge Gainsbourg song, "Je T'Aime Moi Non Plus."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JE T'AIME MOI NON PLUS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

MORODER: I told Donna if you ever have a line, a sexy line, just tell me and we may do something. So, one day she came back, and she said, how about something like ooh, love to love you baby. Ooh. And I went to the studio, my studio in Munich and we did a little demo, and that was the beginning of "Love to Love You." That was the beginning of her and my career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE TO LOVE YOU")

SUMMER: (Singing) Ooh, love to love you baby, ooh, love to love you baby, ooh, love to love you baby, feeling you so close to me makes (unintelligible)...

LUDDEN: You have actually done a recent remix of this song. Let's listen now to the remix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE TO LOVE YOU")

SUMMER: (Singing) (unintelligible)...

LUDDEN: So, Sergio Moroder, why do a remix?

MORODER: Well, the concept was let's do remix of all the songs of Donna (unintelligible), I think 12 songs. So, the record company asked me which one I would like to redo, and I said "Love to Love You." And I was lucky because I just found the original tapes of Donna about seven, eight months ago, because everybody thought, me included, the tapes were lost.

LUDDEN: What did you do differently?

MORODER: Well, the tempo is a little faster and new sounds. So, basically the instruments are new but the main, the most important thing, the moaning and the voice is exactly the same - just sped up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE TO LOVE YOU")

SUMMER: (Singing) Ooh, love to love you, baby, ooh, love to love you baby, ooh, love to love you baby.

LUDDEN: Your music was so synonymous with the whole disco, dance era. I don't know if you ever had a chance yourself to go to, I don't know, Studio 54 and take part in that?

MORODER: Well, actually not too much. I was in Studio 54 one time; it was great. But I'm not a discotheque guy. Even in Munich when I was working there, I rarely went. Sometime when I had a new demo, I went to some discotheques to check it - see how the reactions of the people are. But to go there just to dance, I rarely did that.

LUDDEN: I understand not having been to Studio 54 but the disco...

MORODER: Probably you were not even born.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUDDEN: ...but the disco sound is back.

MORODER: I love it. It's a little bit - actually, a lot - with the help of Daft Punk. That big hit "Get Lucky" is a disco song. That's great disco, but a modern disco, because it has great vocoders in and synthesizers. So, I think they revived the disco movement a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET LUCKY")

DAFT PUNK: (Singing) We're up all night to get lucky, we're up all night to get lucky...

LUDDEN: Do you wonder how music will sound in another 30, 40 years? I don't know, maybe the revivals will just keep coming back and back, or do you hear a new, you know, trend with computers and so forth? What do you think?

MORODER: No. The trend now, I think, is to go back to more traditional composing, you know, like, where you have an intro, you have a verse, a pre-chorus, a chorus, like my hits in general. And I noticed a lot of DJs now are going back to that. In fact, Avicii, with the new song "Wake Me Up," that's kind of a dance song but it's more like a traditional dance song. In fact, it could be a country-and-western song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME UP")

AVICII: (Singing) Don't wake me up when it's all over, when I'm (unintelligible), all this time I was sad (unintelligible) and I didn't know I was lost...

LUDDEN: Of all of the many and varied things that you have produced, what are you most proud of?

MORODER: I probably love the soundtrack of "Midnight Express" the best. I think it's innovative. It was my first Oscar. That was a turning event in my life and I really love to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUDDEN: Giorgio Moroder. He joined me from NPR West. Giorgio Moroder, thank you so much.

MORODER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

LUDDEN: You can find out more about Giorgio Moroder by going to our website, mprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin returns next week. I'm Jennifer Ludden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.