When French musician Anthony Gonzalez started recording as M83, his deeply dreamy signature sound was a total anomaly.
The year was 2001, and the electronic music world was still deep in the throes of proggy four-four beats. Meanwhile, the cool-kid rock scene was about to get warmed up by a garage revival from the Strokes and company. So Gonzalez, with his electrified, shoegaze-y slabs, seemed as out-there as the Messier 83 spiral galaxy from which he cribbed his band name.
Fast-forward 11 years, though, and Gonzalez, still under the M83 moniker, is enjoying indie-superstar status.
The five albums he released between 2001 and 2008 -- from his self-titled debut to the dreamy Saturdays = Youth -- were all critically acclaimed underground hits. But the most recent M83 effort, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, did something none of the others had managed to do, hitting the U.S. album charts' Top 20. The key: Its massive lead single, "Midnight City."
As an M83 song, this track is par for the course -- full of vaguely retro synths, sweetly understated vocals, echo, reverb, and nostalgia. For longtime M83 fans, it wasn't necessarily new. But for everyone else, "Midnight City" was a revelation. Its updated analog sounds, almost New Age-y drums, and sax flourishes captured and refined a certain aspect of the popular zeitgeist, giving listeners a more sophisticated version of various bloggy musical micro-styles that began a couple of years ago with chillwave.
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Of course, M83 predated these by almost a decade and "Midnight City" was only a sequel to the bittersweet splendor of earlier songs such as "Kim and Jessie" or "Teen Angst." But with tough times and uncertainly abounding, this warm musical cocoon of childlike hope became extra appealing. And suddenly, here he was again, for this new generation of Tumblr-addicted kids who were too young to catch him in 2001.
Fatefully timed, "Midnight City" reminded everyone that it was, in fact, OK to dream again.
Ultra Music Festival 2012. Friday, March 23, to Sunday, March 25. Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets are sold out. Visit ultramusicfestival.com.