In his penthouse condo on the toniest block of Westwood, one of the world’s biggest dance music producers kicks back at his dining room table in an all-black Armani ensemble. A spread of magazine covers, featuring the producer’s face, stares up at him as he talks about his many new projects — remixes for buzzed-about pop acts like Haim and a DJ gig closing out the HARD Day of the Dead festival at L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown this weekend alongside Skrillex and Deadmau5.
His vocals were a centerpiece for a track on the year’s biggest dance album, Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” and, like many of the biggest stars of the genre, he’s pondering a major Las Vegas DJ residency spanning his whole career.
Giorgio Moroder, 73, is having one of the best years of his life.
“I’ve been playing shows in New York, Sweden and Mexico, and there’s nobody over 30 there, and they all know all the lyrics to the songs — you know, ‘Call Me!’ ” he said, quoting the hook from his 1980 hit for Blondie. “Most of them weren’t even born when these songs were released.”
The pioneering producer behind Donna Summer’s hits and Oscar-winning soundtrack cuts for “Midnight Express,” “Top Gun” and “Flashdance” needs no introduction for pop and disco devotees. But as today’s maturing EDM audiences hunt down older, analog styles — and classic disco regains its cultural cachet — Moroder’s suave sound is more relevant than ever.
Now that he’s finally picked up DJ’ing (with his performance and remix partner Chris Cox), he’s reaping the rewards of a genre he helped forge 40 years ago — and again turns heads in every club he walks into.
The return to the spotlight started when word got out that he was collaborating with the French duo Daft Punk on the top-secret LP that would become “Random Access Memories.” His track, “Giorgio by Moroder,” is one of the record’s strangest: Moroder tells his musical life story in a spoken-word monologue, while a torrent of vintage synths buzz and build to an exhilarating climax.
His tale is an edited-down version of a three-hour session. While making it, Moroder had no idea his life would become a metaphor for the return of handmade, heartfelt electronic dance music.
“I didn’t know what they would do with it. They just asked ‘Can you come into the studio and talk about your life?’ I thought they would just use pieces of it, like a sample of me saying ‘G-G-Giorgio,’” Moroder said. “When I went into the studio, there were three different microphones set up, each from a different period, so they would sound like each time in my career. They were such perfectionists.”
And with that, the name “Giorgio Moroder” again became shorthand for the coolest sounds in dance music.
Although he was technically one of the world’s first dance-club DJs (“In the ‘60s, I forget if it was Berlin or Munich, I made money going to discos and singing over tapes and records. They didn’t really have discotheques in America then,” he said) Moroder only played his first proper DJ set this May in New York. But it was such a hit, and timed so perfectly to a revival of his ‘70s and ‘80s aesthetics, that he became an instant festival headliner behind the decks.
“The man wrote ‘Tony’s Theme’ in ‘Scarface,’ nothing more to say,” said Gary Richards, the head of HARD Events who booked him to wrap up the Day of the Dead festival on Sunday, opposite Deadmau5. “It’s important for me to introduce the newer fans to this history. I feel it’s part of my job to introduce the younger generation to the pioneers.”
But Moroder isn’t on a nostalgia tour.
His production schedule is as busy as it has ever been, and he’s working with artists at the bleeding edge of electronic pop today. Among his many irons in the fire: an edit of “Forever,” the hit single from L.A. electro-funk sister group Haim (“That guitar part, the chk-chk-chk, is so good I’m going to have to sample and trigger it”); a new Moroder single featuring the lissome vocals of the underground dance act Class Actress; swapping production work with his fellow Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers on each of their new projects.
His most deeply felt new tracks are the two cuts from “Love to Love You Donna,” the new remix album of Summer singles in which he’s featured alongside such Moroder-indebted acts as Chromeo, Holy Ghost and Afrojack. His edit (with Cox) of “Love to Love You Baby” puts Summer’s incandescent moans atop a modern drum pulse and all-new bursts of synth color (Moroder found some of Summer’s long-lost master recording tapes in his laundry room). “La Dolce Vita” uses some unreleased Summer vocal demos to conjure a ‘70s dance floor with a contemporary house-music dreaminess.
Moroder helped make Summer a global superstar at the vanguard of the disco movement. After her death in May, getting back into these vocal recordings was a bittersweet but loving act.
“I was closer to her in the last few years than I was in the last 20,” he said, growing somber. “For a while she had the apartment below mine, and I remember one time I’d asked her if I was disturbing her by playing my piano. She told me, ‘No, that’s a great melody!’ I spoke to her on the phone just two weeks before she died.”
His tracks on the record prove that the Moroder sound — and the Moroder vibe of sleek suits, dark sunglasses and European distinction — will forever be a source of inspiration for dance artists. And the dramatic, throbbing moods of his ‘80s film scores are once again setting the tone in such hit films as “Drive” and “Spring Breakers,” each scored by top producers like Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. “It’s so nice to hear these sounds again,” Moroder said. “ ‘Drive’ is basically what I did in ‘American Gigolo’ and ‘Cat People.’”
As EDM matures, and its young fans move on from the 130 beats-per-minute crush of recent years, they’re finding that at the end of a sweaty festival, there will still never be anything cooler than a track by Giorgio Moroder.
“You can create tracks on a computer, but that’s so precise,” he said, sneering a little bit at the thought. ‘With analog synths, it’s not so pure. You need that energy, that sound.”