It’s the song that just keeps on giving. “We Are Your Friends,” the remix of Simian‘s “Never Be Alone” by the French dance-music duo Justice, is the aural equivalent of crack: Once you hear it, you simply must hear it again and again and again.
On any given night, the song’s childlike refrain—”Because we! Are! Your friends! You’ll! Never be alone again! Come On!”—can be heard blaring from club speakers citywide. The positive, infectious message easily crosses genre lines. At Ruff Club, the Annex’s Friday-night party, the venue’s two floors are split by style, with techno, electro, and beat music dominating upstairs, and a mishmash of rock, hip-hop, and Top 40 hits downstairs. On a recent Friday, DJs played the song on both levels. Each time, the crowd ate it up, gleefully singing along and hoisting their beer bottles overhead. It’s the perfect bar anthem for the hipster set.
“When a track promises both friendship and a cure for loneliness, who isn’t going to play it, love it, and dance to it?” asks Tommie Sunshine, who says he’s been playing “We Are Your Friends” so long he can’t play it anymore—”It would be nice if people dug a little deeper and understood the genius of Justice, rather than wearing out this one track.”
That genius sound is big and crunchy and loaded with healthy doses of French funk—not unlike another infamous French duo, Daft Punk. It is no coincidence that Justice are signed to Ed Banger Records, run by Pedro Winter, Daft Punk’s longtime manager. (In America, Justice are signed to Vice.) There are other similarities between the two groups, including forceful repetition of catchy, playful phrases and thick, throbbing beats. But Justice feels more rock ‘n’ roll than Daft Punk, with squelchy distortion carrying many of their tracks, perhaps explaining why their tunes appeal to rock ‘n’ dance fans so much.
Still going strong nearly four years after their inception, Justice spin this week at Hiro Ballroom as part of the Ed Banger showcase, which will take over the GBH party Cheeky Bastard Thursday night. I first heard Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay perform at last year Winter Music Conference in Miami, at the always-fun Revolver party, which probably served as an introduction for many others as well. By the end of their raucous set—incorporating both “Be My Baby” and Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”—we were all sold.
This permeability between rock and techno sometimes gets Justice defined as nu-rave, the trendy revival of early-’90s techno with a nod to indie rock. “I think the phenomenon is real, but I am not sure nu-rave is a good word to describe us,” says De Rosnay, who was getting off a bus in Paris when we talked. (His cell phone battery was on the wane, and it was hard to understand his thick French accent.) “For sure, at least [the phenomenon] does exist. It should be called new big beat.”
Whatever you call it, Justice, like Daft Punk, are using it to reinvent French dance music’s image. Unlike London, Berlin, or New York, Paris isn’t known for its hot club scene. In the mid-’90s, Daft Punk gave it a shot in the arm, rescuing it from Gainsbourgian affectedness. Now, Justice is the medicine. “It has started again to be cool,” says De Rosnay. “For three or four years, it was really boring to play in Paris. But now when you play, the people that are coming are between 17 and 24—they are going out for the first time. It’s really cool to play for them.”
Before they made The Song, Justice had never even heard Simian’s original—nonetheless, they used “Never Be Alone” to win a 2003 remix contest sponsored by Virgin France. “It was just an excuse to do music,” De Rosnay says. “We did the vocal and the track without knowing the original track.” The boys lost the contest, but met Winter at a “cheese party,” as the Daft Punk manager and Ed Banger label head recalls it, later that year. Two days later Justice were signed just on the strength of The Song. In 2003, Winter released it as a single and sold 5,000 units; a year later, DJ Hell picked it up in Germany for his label Gigolo Records, where, according to Winter, it went on to sell 20,000 copies. (In dance-music terms, this is like going quadruple platinum). Up till now called “Never Be Alone,” the track was re-released by Virgin Records U.K. in 2006 with a new title—”We Are Your Friends” hit the Top 20 U.K. singles chart and took dancefloors hostage everywhere.
The secret to its longevity lies in its versatility. While DJs like Princess Superstar won’t play it in Europe anymore, U.S. audiences are still hot for it. (“I’ll play it in the States,” she says). Others are playing a remix of the remix. And for someone like Motherfucker’s Michael T, the track is still brand new. He’s never played it for his audience, but “I’m gonna debut it soon and think it’s a new song,” he says. “Which for me, it will be, since it’s from this decade and less than five years old!”
So successful is The Song that the video spurred its own controversy last year when it won “Best Video” at the MTV Europe Awards, beating an indignant Kanye West, who bumrushed the stage and claimed his “Touch the Sky” video was better because it “cost a million dollars.” Justice’s video did not, but it’s still more entertaining than Kanye leaping across canyons. Shot in slow-mo, the surreal short takes place in a post-party loft wherein all the remaining drunk, passed-out revelers have been drunk-pranked—painted, tied-up, blindfolded—and are just now waking up to their unpleasant situations. Though De Rosnay was not at the MTV ceremony (label reps accepted on Justice’s behalf), he bears no ill will toward Kanye’s poor sportsmanship. “We saw it on YouTube like everyone else,” he says of the outburst.” It was very funny. Music needs some freaks—he’s like a rock star really, so it was great to see.”
The video, of course, only served to further cement the Parisian duo’s world domination. It’s hard to follow up such success, but Justice keeps trying anyway—they released the Waters of Nazareth EP in 2005, and a full-length of all original material is slated for June. Expect more of the same, but different: The unnamed record’s first single, “D.A.N.C.E.,” featuring childlike vocals over a disco beat, serves as an enticing preview. You can get your grubby fingers on it in May.
Until then, we have Justice remixes of Franz Ferdinand, Daft Punk, and Britney Spears—and, as always, The Song—to keep us company. The success of “We Are Your Friends” continues to shock even the man who helped make it. “We were really surprised in the beginning, who was listening to it,” said De Rosnay. “But four years after, that they are not bored of it . . . I don’t really feel like I did it, you know? For me, we don’t own it anymore.”
Justice play Hiro Ballroom March 29, hiroballroom.com.