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19 January 2023

Air Celebrate 25 Years Of Their Classic Debut, ‘Moon Safari’

Air Moon Safari
Press/© Willy HUVEY
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Air are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their landmark debut album, Moon Safari.

Listen to Moon Safari by Air here

Released on 16 January 1998, Moon Safari, catapulted Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel to the uppermost rung of electronic music’s ladder. Their sound — Fender Rhodes trills, loping basslines and sensual-yet-playful vocal hooks, all woven into a texture as fine and luxe as chiffon — conjured the sensation of a space-age cocktail designed to be supped at a leisurely pace. It’s not challenging to see how this curious little record became a global sensation.

“The hype was a violent experience,” reflects Jean-Benoît Dunckel today. “Air’s music is not accessible or easy to discern: The format is strange, the voices are strange, the subjects are strange. Even Sexy Boy sounds strange. We were a duo doing some electronic thing, dreaming of selling 10,000 copies and being recognised by other musicians as cool. Then suddenly, we met the world. Personally, it took me time to see that we could be a big, important band.”

At the time of release, its success was far from assured. “This kind of bedroom music was all about fantasy,” says Nicolas Godin. “In my mind, I was picturing myself at Capitol Records, surrounded by all the best musicians, feeling like Burt Bacharach. In reality, I was in the fucking 18th arrondissement of Paris, with a sampler, singing into one microphone. But when your fantasy is so strong, I think it goes in the wires and through the speakers. The power of Moon Safari was to make people believe in what we believed in.”

During Moon Safari’s gestation in 1996-97, a “new wind of freedom and creativity was carrying through the same creative part of Paris,” recalls Dunckel. “And it was not only in music — graphic design, cinema and fashion were alive.”

“Suddenly, all the things I liked and was good at — slow, downtempo soundtrack music — could bring success”, says Godin. We were not formulating success itself. But until 1994, I was listening to the radio and thinking, ‘There’s no way I will make it; whatever this sound of today is, it is not me.’ But then, I heard Portishead’s Dummy on the radio — and thought to myself: ‘…I can make that.’”

Through Moon Safari, Air transfixed some of the great visionaries of the late 20th century — David Bowie, Madonna, Beck — as well as influencing preeminent aesthetes of the incoming age — including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kevin Parker and Sofia Coppola, whose creative relationship with Air became as synergetic as that of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch (another fan.)

Moon Safari birthed three UK hit singles in Kelly Watch The Stars, All I Need and Sexy Boy, shifted over half a million copies in the UK, and pushed Air into headline contention at banner festivals such as Glastonbury. This brought American, European and even hesitant French audiences and critics in line, a ripple effect which continued into the mid-2000s, with a string of international Top 10 albums. Still, on an artistic level, with Moon Safari Air achieved exactly what they set out to do. “To me,” Godin concludes, “Moon Safari is perfect.

Listen to Moon Safari by Air here

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