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By Michael E. Miller
When M83 was announced as part of 2012's Ultra Music Festival, it wasn't unexpected. The band, led by Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez, was coming off a stellar year with the release of its sixth studio album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. However, when the second day of Ultra came around, things didn't go exactly as planned.
After a great set by English synth-rock group Metronomy, stage hands quickly went to work disassembling instruments and arranging M83's keyboards, synthesizers, and drum kits. With only a half-hour to set up and test equipment, there wasn't much room for error.
Soon, M83's 8 p.m. start time had arrived. But crew and band members continued to test equipment. Five, 10, 15 minutes passed. Ultimately, the crowd patiently waited another half-hour before Gonzalez stepped up to the microphone to say how sorry he was for the delay, leading his band into its most recent hit, "Midnight City." Then, after the band took out some obvious frustration during a rushed performance of "Couleurs," M83's two-song Ultra Music Festival show was over.
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Normally, we'd shrug off the shortened set, saying, "Shit happens." But this was the band's Miami debut, fresh off the heels of a very successful album. And following Ultra, M83's busy schedule made it seem unlikely the band would return for a redo. Especially considering the fact that Miami's remoteness makes it tough for most acts to justify the cost and inconvenience of regularly touring South Florida.
Surprisingly, though, wedged between a cluster of Canadian dates and a stop in Virginia, the group scheduled a pair of Florida shows, including one at the Fillmore Miami Beach. So, approximately six months after the Ultra debacle, Gonzalez and company are finally prepared to make their proper South Florida debut. And if any band deserves a second chance, it's M83. Just ask any of indie music's expert prognosticators.
As a broodingly cerebral outfit, M83 has gained popularity beyond the Pitchfork set that couldn't have been predicted. In particular, the mainstream appeal of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is somewhat perplexing. The album breaks all the rules that came with the digital music revolution. It's concept-heavy and it's too long, something the music industry hasn't really seen since the Smashing Pumpkins released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in 1995. But luckily for Gonzalez and gang, pop success would be won with the first 35 seconds of the album's lead single, "Midnight City."
The song's intro is a warped siren call — powerfully alluring, even hypnotic. And it was that simple, short snippet that seized the attention of retailers like Victoria's Secret and Gucci. Smartly, Gonzalez accepted what electronic musicians such as Fatboy Slim and Moby have known for years: licensing music for television commercials is just another way to reach potential new fans.
"If not for this ad, I wouldn't have bought the CD... It's fantastic!" says one YouTube user, commenting on the lingerie ad soundtracked by "Midnight City." And it's exactly this kind of exposure that earned the brainy ambient rock group a broader audience, a spot on Billboard's Hot 100, and a gold record.
Of course, though, it would be foolish to reduce Gonzalez's success to a 35-second audio clip — or even a four-minute track. Equally outstanding is Hurry Up, We're Dreaming's follow-up single, "Reunion," as well as "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" and "New Map."
But ultimately, M83's most important achievement is probably its ability to survive, thrive, and stay true to its beautifully strange dream-pop aesthetic, regardless of trends and industry expectations. Now six albums deep, Gonzalez and crew are chasing longevity in a business that produces and releases music designed to be quickly consumed and then discarded. Yet Hurry Up has given listeners a reason to slow down and savor the sonic landscape. And that's reason enough to give M83 as many chances as it takes.