When I met Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind of M83, his eyes were squinting at the light of his laptop screen. Even in the moments before his sound check at the Paradise Rock club last Tuesday, Gonzalez looked to be on the brink of revelation. He stood only to shake my hand, glancing up from his music only briefly.
“I’ve been touring since September,” Gonzalez says. “First France, then the UK and the US.”
Gonzalez spoke with a reticent, delicate voice, his accent unabashedly French.
Dressed in baggy jeans and a tattered sweatshirt, he looked humble and vaguely more ordinary than I had imagined. M83’s music is so imposing, so uniquely electro-emo, that I must have expected something hipper. When Gonzalez smiled, his mouth curled quickly around his nose and he crossed his arms.
The concert that night was sold out.
Since the release of the band’s first major album, 2004’s “Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts,” M83 has filled venues from New York to San Francisco with an ever-growing fan base. Building off of the shoegazing rock tradition of My Bloody Valentine and a childhood obsession with Sonic Youth, Gonzalez says he always hoped to create music that challenged and intrigued.
“I wanted to discover a new sound so I bought a keyboard and tried to make electronic music,” Gonzalez says.
In looking around the green room, artifacts of Gonzalez’s multi-instrumental finesse suddenly uncovered themselves. A guitar sat on the bench next to the artist; an old Casio was propped up against the wall; the mixer case flashed an M83 sticker.
On the band’s most recent album, “Before the Dawn Heals Us,” Gonzalez composed all of the tracks, and jumped from instrument to instrument during recording.
In the band’s early days touring in the south of France, M83 had been a collaboration between Anthony Gonzalez and his longtime friend, Nicolas Fromageau. The two artists parted ways this year, and the music seems somehow justified by independence. Gonzalez said succinctly that he likes “to walk alone.”
The new album is brilliantly cohesive, but somewhere underneath is a shimmer of humanity aching. Songs are titled “In the Cold I’m Standing” and “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun.” Gonzalez blinked when I asked him about the new trope, the sadness, and the morbidity.
“When I listen to music and watch movies, I think these melancholy things and I think that I want to reproduce this,” he says.
Within an hour, Gonzalez had taken to the stage. He had traded his old sweatshirt for a black button-up; a little more “rockstar.” He wore a guitar around his neck and let sweat pour into his eyes. When he played, he stared at the floor.
The tiers of the Paradise that had been empty and beer-smelling earlier in the day had filled with people. The crowd looked predictable. Lots of Converse All-Stars and tight-kneed jeans. Sprinkled amongst the twenty-somethings were a few grey hairs sprouting from aging hipster temples.
From one song to the next few people let their eyes wander from the stage. Bobbing their heads softly, they watched Gonzalez spin from keyboard to pedal board. He played guitar solos and ducked down out of sight when the electronics took over; his laptop was out of sight but ever-present.