It was a star-studded affair. After years of being name-checked as an influence by the world’s top dance producers and a much-hyped collaboration with Daft Punk, famed musician and producer Giorgio Moroder unleashed his first studio album in decades on June 12, 2015. Fittingly, the roster of vocalists for Déjà Vu read like the guest list for an incredibly hip pop party: Sia! Kylie Minogue! Britney Spears! Kelis! Foxes! There were enough big names to guarantee buzz for the album, but its best moment came not from the guest vocalists — it arrived courtesy of the album’s mastermind himself.
“74 Is the New 24” is as much a party-starter as a four-minute reflection on Moroder’s place in electronic-music history. Moroder repeats the title as synths build, race, drop, and swell again. It is every bit as intense as “Chase,” the highlight of his score for the 1978 film Midnight Express, and every ounce as euphoric as “From Here to Eternity,” from his 1977 solo album of the same name. It is music that will make you claw the arms of your seat as the film it is soundtracking hits peak suspense. It is also music made for spinning under a disco ball. When Moroder hits the clubs, burning through a set of classic and new tunes via Ableton Live and a Pioneer mixer, “74 Is the New 24” is one of the big hits.
“I always liked uptempo, driving sounds,” says the L.A.-based producer by phone. He cites “I Feel Love,” his disco masterpiece with Donna Summer, as the pinnacle of this mode. That sort of exhilarating tension is something he still tries to inject into his work, whether it’s for a score or a dance track. In the case of “74 Is the New 24,” the piece began life as an instrumental. It gained a title and lyrics when Moroder was asked, “Do you still feel young?” His answer was affirmative. He felt like he was 24.
Now 75, Moroder spent a good chunk of last year traveling the globe. He played gigs in Europe and South America. In Australia, he opened for Minogue and then joined the pop star for a set in the middle of her performance. “To open for an act like Kylie,” he says, “that’s something quite extraordinary.” He’ll draw older fans at the small clubs and attracted mixed crowds at bigger shows, like one in a city square in Italy, the country where he was born.
Moroder didn’t intend to become a king of dance music. In fact, he wasn’t even sure music would become his career. “Until I was thirty, I didn’t think I would be able to get into the music business,” he says. Once he had his first big break, though, he kept going. “Once you’re in, you get excited,” he says. That’s kept him going more than forty years later. “I love to get up in the morning, not too early, and get in the studio and work. It’s nothing like going to an office at nine and coming back at six. It’s a lot of work, but I love to do it.”
By the mid-Seventies, Moroder’s music veered into the electronic, and disco became an international phenomenon. Then came the work with Summer, resulting in a string of singles that were massive on both the dance floor and the radio. Moroder is among a small handful of artists adept at balancing the cutting-edge and mainstream. At times, like on the 1975 album Einzelgänger, his futuristic sound was downright strange. He seemed similarly attracted to artists who were also simultaneously on the vanguard and at the center of pop music. He produced “Call Me” for Blondie (and says this is still a crowd favorite in his DJ sets) and has worked with artists such as David Bowie, Sparks, and Human League frontman Phil Oakey.
As disco’s popularity waned, Moroder became more involved in film music — another unexpected opportunity. “Usually, at that time, the composers were all coming from classical music,” he says. But the success of the Midnight Express soundtrack led to many more credits. Most recently, he worked on a score for USA’s forthcoming television series The Queen of the South.
Meanwhile, as dance music and DJ culture grew, Moroder became a cross-genre influence. DJ Shadow sampled his pre-disco instrumental “Tears” for “Organ Donor.” He’s frequently cited as an influence for electronic and dance music artists, so much so that his name is now shorthand for describing a producer’s or band’s highly energetic, disco-infused sound. Then there’s Daft Punk. “They knew my songs almost better than I know,” he says of the monumentally popular French house duo, who collaborated with Moroder for their album Random Access Memories.
With that LP’s “Giorgio by Moroder,” the producer once again hit the pop-culture zeitgeist. While his accomplishments are many — those three Academy Awards (for Midnight Express, Flashdance, and Top Gun) are pretty cool — he says he’s most proud of the fact that he’s still making music. “At 75, to be able to work with a young kid like Britney Spears, that’s quite amazing,” he says. “I’m quite happy to do that.”
Giorgio Moroder plays Output on Wednesday, February 10. For ticket information, click here.