Justice’s new film IRIS a Space Opera is a tribute to the cosmos
Justice’s new film IRIS a Space Opera is a tribute to the cosmos
Text: GREG FOLEY
V alum Greg Foley sat down with Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé of the Grammy Award winning duo Justice and director Andre Chemetoff to talk about precision, guilty pleasures, at the SXSW premiere of their new film IRIS: A Space Opera by Justice. The film adaptation of Justice’s "Woman Worldwide" live show that toured throughout 2017 and '18, was recorded in the largest sound stage in France focusing on the intricately orchestrated production and music from the album and live show. It revolves around a floating structure comprised of 13 independent moving frames, each one featuring 4 rotating panels of LEDs, mirrors and traditional warm lights which offer infinite combinations.
Check out the official poster for IRIS: a Space Opera by Justice here.
GREG FOLEY: This isn't your first time releasing a film. How is the experience different this time around?
XAVIER DE ROSNAY: Well the type of film is completely different. The first one we did 10 years ago with Romain Gavras, it was a documentary, and this time it’s not a documentary, so both in the substance but also in the form itself they are very different. When we did the first one 10 years ago, it was Romain and So-Me just coming with handheld cameras and filming us doing the US tour for 3 weeks.
There was a bit of preparation but not too much and all in all it was a short process. We just shot it, edited it, and then released it. Since 2007 we’ve tried to find a way to film our live shows and we tried like so many times but it was never good. So we shelved all the projects. This year we thought to film it with no audience and in the space that doesn't look like a concert venue. We had in mind all these sci-fi movies like Blade Runner or Alien, and we wanted to film it with the precision of a NASA documentary, with very long and slow shots. We called Andre, who we’ve known for ten years since he was the Director of Photography on our first video with Romain. Everything from the preparation to the editing and post production was ten times longer than that first film, because it had a different purpose.
GF: I assume it’s about “seeing” but what does the title IRIS refer to?
GASPARD AUGÉ: We wanted to have a female name, or the name of a woman because it made sense with the name of our tour and the name of our album. And also it works as some sort of acronym of a NASA project. There is already a satellite named IRIS.
And also it’s like the goddess of Earth and the sky. It just felt right for many reasons.
GF: A bit like HAL from 2001 A Space Odyssey
GA: Yeah, exactly.
XdR: For us the main idea of having a female name was to have something that sounds a bit like an artificial intelligence or computer that welcomes you onboard saying “Hello, I’m IRIS. Welcome to the spaceship.”
GA: It’s a coincidence but it’s Siri in reverse.
GF: With Woman Worldwide and Iris you’re purposely blurring the line between something that's live and the type of precision you're talking about. Why is that? What's your biggest interest in controlling the process?
GA: We tried to film the show in proper live conditions in the venues or festivals. But the directors couldn’t really grab what we wanted from each event because most of them are busy filming the audience and missing what’s happening onstage. So it’s a bit hard to get a very objective and precise result. So we need it to be in a very controlled environment and obviously like to do and re-do the show as many times as needed.
XdR: With playing live with both the music and also with what’s happening onstage, there’s too many parameters we can’t control and in this tour we never managed to play a show exactly how we wanted from beginning to the end. There will always be mistakes or if we play well there’s going to be something that doesn’t work with the set up. And of course this is what people want to see when they see a live film. This is the imprecision and you’re going to see something that is a bit unique although we try every time to do the same thing, we never really manage. The idea of releasing Woman Worldwide was that we could control the precision of the music. So in this film the music is an actual live take but the control is happening more on the visual aspect of it. It’s just that if we were completely alright with making mistakes and not being one hundred percent precise because that’s life and it’s almost impossible. But if we were to release the audio part of it or the visual part of it we want it to be a close to perfection as possible. And it goes hand in hand with the idea of doing something close to sci-fi aesthetically, that is based on precision and not on the human mistake. For us it’s almost like the human aspect of it has to be taken away.
XdR: It’s really the machine that interests us. In the film I think you see us like maybe four times, we are really almost just an accent of this film. We are there because we make the music and what you hear is what we make, but visually we are not there.
GF: Is the film one take?
Andre Chemetoff: It isn’t. We made several takes of a chunk of songs and we repeat it. We filmed it with camera cranes. In a graphic way it’s showing the beauty of the set up. My interest in the project was very pure, to film the light and the beauty of what they already established also in the concert. But in a perfect way, with the perfect amount of smoke and the ambient haze to show the beams. The whole machine is very intriguing in that sense.
GF: I read somewhere that you don’t mind categorization, or that you admit to using it when hearing new music. Are you comfortable in a category?
XdR: Totally. Because our greatest luck is that depending on the people who put us in those categories, we belong to different categories. For some people we’re gonna be like EDM which is great for example, because we get to play big slots in EDM festivals. For some people we’re gonna be more like French house or whatever and it’s great because I think it played a big part making us exist in the US because there was something exotic about it. For some people we are more like indie for them, and that’s good because then we can also get to appear to these people. So as far as we’re concerned it’s true that we have a bit of all those things, although we just consider ourselves to be making good music at the time we make it, and that’s the only valid category.
GF: Ideally what would you be called?
XdR: Pop music. Because that would mean that the state of general pop music would be maybe… I don't know, it's not bad. You know like there’s always a hit every year. There’s always gonna be one or two hits that we love. But most of it, our main contact with it is when we go in a cab for example or an Uber and the guy is listening to the radio and you swear that most of it is a bit like an aggression. You know like the way you feel it. But amongst that there are always people who make huge hits and this is great music. So it’s good you know?
Whats one hit that you can name that’s a “guilty pleasure”?
XdR: But it’s not guilty because for the moment, when we like it then we think it's cool, you know and we’re not ashamed of that. I like some of the stuff of Ariana Grande for example. Or it’s not that recent, but one of the most perfect songs I think, was Royals by Lorde and that was a huge hit and at the time she made it she was like 17 years old, which is kind of insane, you know?
GA: Or Toxic by Brittany Spears, like that’s such a great song.
XdR: Even Happy by Pharrell Williams, you know that song of the anime? It was a huge hit and I think it’s a classic.
GF: What’s one of you favorite live albums?
GA: To be very honest we don’t listen to live albums. And it’s something we made in the past to have something very vivid and raw with our two first live albums. But this time around we just thought maybe people will enjoy and apprehend the music in an easier way if we don’t put the audience noises and everything. And I guess it’s just how it works.
XdR: There’s one live album Neil Young made just before he released The Harvest and it’s just him playing the guitar and singing. I can’t remember which venue he’s playing, but I listened to this one a lot and what’s great is that when you listen to those versions of the songs and then you listen for example to Old Man on Harvest it seems like overproduced because there’s a purity of him just doing it on his own. Joni Mitchell live recordings are really good too, but usually it works with this type of singer because then you can get the barest version of the songs and it works very well. And in most cases, this is what’s great with live music and doesn’t translate very well when it’s recorded. Most of the time what you get is the album versions but a bit less good. But there are some exceptions.
GF: You seem to have a very measured pace for the work you make. With the film coming out now, which seems to be the last iteration of the Woman album, when do you expect to settle back into the studio again?
XdR: (laughs) That was a very nice way of saying it, thanks. Yeah, we were going to start working on all new things, on the new album. But we work kind of like… It’s not that we are slow, but we are only good when we make one thing at a time. So this is why everything is sequenced that way. So we have no idea what's going to be the next thing. Hopefully not too long.