More apt to cite stately rock paragons Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson as
their inspirations than Derrick May or Aphex Twin, the French duo Air
gained inclusion into the late-'90s electronica surge due chiefly to the
labels their recordings appeared on, not the actual music they produced.
Their sound, a variant of the classic disco sound coaxed into a relaxing
Prozac vision of the late '70s, looked back to a variety of phenomena from
the period -- synthesizer maestros Tomita, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Vangelis,
new wave music of the nonspiky variety, and obscure Italian film
soundtracks. Despite gaining quick entrance into the dance community
(through releases for Source and Mo' Wax), Air's 1998 debut album, Moon
Safari, charted a light -- well, airy -- course along soundscapes composed
with melody lines by Moog and Rhodes, not Roland and Yamaha. The presence
of several female vocalists, an equipment list whose number of pieces
stretched into the dozens, and a baroque tuba solo on one track -- all of
this conspired to make Air more of a happening in the living room than the
Though Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel both grew up in Versailles,
the two didn't meet until they began studying at the same college. Dunckel,
who had studied at the Conservatoire in Paris, played in an alternative
band named Orange. One of Dunckel's bandmates, Alex Gopher, introduced
Godin into the lineup. While Gopher himself departed (later to record for
the Solid label), Dunckel and Godin continued on, becoming Air by 1995.
During 1996-1997, the duo released singles on Britain's Mo' Wax ("Modular")
and the domestic Source label ("Casanova 70," "Le Soleil Est Prés de Moi").
Though Air often evinced the same '60s Continental charm as Dimitri From
Paris -- due no doubt to the influence of Serge Gainsbourg -- the duo had
little in common musically with other acts (Daft Punk) in the wave of
French electronica lapping at the shores of Britain and America during
1997. That same year, Air remixed Depeche Mode and Neneh Cherry and joined
French musique concrète popster Jean-Jacques Perrey for a track on the
Source compilation Sourcelab, Vol. 3. Signed to Virgin, Air released their
debut album, Moon Safari, in early 1998. The singles "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly
Watch the Stars" became moderate hits in Britain and earned airplay on MTV.
Later that year, Godin and Dunckel mounted an ambitious tour throughout
Europe and America, though they had originally decided to forego live
appearances. Their early singles were collected in 1999 under the title
Premiers Symptomes; the duo's soundtrack to the Sofia Coppola film The
Virgin Suicides followed in early 2000. Air's second studio effort, 10,000
Hz Legend, appeared in spring 2001 with a subsequent tour of the U.S., but
critics and fans alike didn't appreciate the darker, more experimental
direction. They bridged the gap between the pop of Moon Safari and the
experimentalism of 10,000 Hz Legend with their 2004 release Talkie Walkie.