Chromeo | Good Music Comes From The Ass

Flaunt chats with iconic neo-disco duo ahead of their set at Portola Festival

Written by

Annie Bush

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Photographed by Addie Briggs

Dave 1 and P-Thugg are five studio albums, one live album, seventeen music videos, several EPs, thirty singles, one Grammy nomination, and twenty years deep into their genre-bending disco/funk band Chromeo when they talk to me. During the conversation, they’re perched atop this throne built on a mountain of hard work and great music and avid fans, and they’re also seated side-by-side on a tiny black couch on top of a vast concrete pier in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

We’re in the media tent at Goldenvoice’s second annual Portola Festival on the last day of September. Our time together occurs about two-and-a-half hours before their set, about four months before the release of their forthcoming sixth studio album, Adult Contemporary, and one day before they drop the record's lead single, "Personal Effects." During our brief and enjoyable stint on these plush little love seats, the duo reports that there hasn’t been a single day in their thirty-year-long friendship on which they haven’t spoken. In constant contact as bandmates and best friends, P-Thugg and Dave 1 have one of those unique creative partnerships that bears the most wonderful kind of fruit: that evergreen, ever-juicy groove.

It’s easy to tell why Chromeo has been a mainstay of nu-disco/funk music for these decades. Their stage presence is formidable and their music is foamy; synthy– funky. Over the course of their near-twenty year career, they’ve collaborated with just about everyone from every genre (La Roux, French Montana, Toro y Moi, Solange, and DRAM, to name a random few).

The duo, currently in the midst of their FUNK YOURSELF tour in music halls and festivals across America, flaunts a new stage setup throughout the sets: most noticeably, the new live architecture displays four custom chrome modular synth towers, designed with contemporary artist Freeka Tet. With a renovated live soundscape and an impending February album release, Chromeo continues to keep their thumb on the throbbing, danceable pulse of whatever genre they decide to produce (Electro-funk? Nu-disco? Synth Pop? Dance-rock?).

On these couches, on this industrial loading dock in the San Francisco Bay in the midst of this enormously popular music festival– a life-changing career event for some, a blip in a long and storied history for Chromeo–we talk about the festival, their personal history, and relationship to the Bay Area.

Photographer by Alexander Gay

Can you tell me a little bit about [your most recent record] Clusterfunk and how you started working with Ric Wilson?

During the pandemic, we had a lot of time in the studio and my younger brother, A-Trak, [Editorial Note: Yes, Dave 1’s younger brother is famous producer A-Trak, of Duck Sauce and “Heads Will Roll” fame.] was like, “Check this kid out. He likes rapping over funk beats and he stands for all the right things and he's really interesting.”

We hung out with them a couple times and we were like, 'We'll just make you an album.'  That's it. That was easy. It's awesome. It was part of our larger mission that we wanted to have, to kind of empower and support younger up-and-coming artists. We've been doing this for almost 20 years now, so we felt like it'd be cool to just provide a platform.

I’ve noticed you do a lot of collaborations with young and hot artists. I liked your work with DRAM.

Yeah, 2018. We try to catch them early. Also, it has to make sense organically. Every artist we've ever collaborated with, there's a personal connection.

Speaking of personal connections, what was the first time that you fell in love with the crowd and the most recent time?

Two days ago. One of the best shows ever. First time? Uh, wow. Hard to say. We fell in love with the crowd early on. We’ve always loved the crowd. We loved the crowd before Chromeo...The difference is just the size.

Do you prefer a smaller crowd or do you like a big crowd?

We like a small crowd if it’s a smaller crowd of our fans, but sometimes it's great to win people over. We've done that our whole career. We love winning people over. Put us on the stage– it's whatever, we're up for the challenge too. 

How have crowds changed since you got together in 2002 to now?

In 2002, we weren't playing festivals. We started festivals like 2005 or 2006, but definitely when we started it was peak Indie Sleaze era and blog house-era so there was a lot of drugs, a lot of sweaty people jumping everywhere. Lots of makeup running everywhere before the technology of mascara improved.

It was amazing. It was really beautiful. After that, it was very EDM-esque crowds, because we were still playing. And we also played for like twee indie. It just always changed depending on the dominant musical trend at the time. Luckily we were here for all of it. We just see it evolve, you know?

Do you think that the internet has changed the way that people interact with each other in crowds specifically or interact with you? 

Yeah. There were less phones when we first started. It was more open. Yeah. Now people are always kind of looking out for what you're doing. What they're doing. But also, it’s helped. When we do headlines now, our fan base is mixing up more and more. We still have people who met at our shows 10 years ago. People come to our shows after getting married and having kids. It happens all the time. A lot of them are like, 'We met at your show and now we're married.' They come to see us at the meet and greet.

What do you think it is about your music that brings people together like that?

It's about love. It's humoristic. It's light hearted, you know? I guess it brings people together. It just puts you in a good mood. It's uplifting, I think. Like, in our case, like the lyrics add a little funny twist to it, forcing you to put out all your sexy dance moves, and that's how you get dates. 

Lets talk about the Bay Area. San Francisco. What’s your opinion on tech bros?

[Chuckles] You're trying to make us talk shit?

Do you like it?

We don't care. As long as they like our music, we don't care. We've been coming to San Fran before the tech boom. We've seen it evolve. When we first started coming here it was still very hippie, you know? It's great to see things evolve. I think a lot of the West Coast has changed after the pandemic. It's a little bit sad in the streets. I hope that, you know, people find that there's a solution to that. 

Maybe if we lived here we would have a stronger opinion, but we love it here. We’ve been coming here since day one. It’s the bomb and Oakland is fire. There are so many great places. There's a lot of places outside of the tech world, which is essentially three neighborhoods in San Francisco. There's a beautiful musical culture for funk in the Bay Area, for hip-hop in the Bay Area. Even like, the tradition of the Filipino community and mobile discos. DJing is huge. Like my brother, you know, my younger brother A-Trak was part of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz. We've been coming here since my brother was a kid.

What part of the body do you think good music comes from?

Ass. Because it's what you gotta shake first if you like it. 

What makes a show successful? What will make Portola successful to you?

If the vibe is good. The crowd is good. That's all we could ask for. If it’s not raining down. Weather is the biggest thing at festivals. Good attendance and hopefully people come to our tent and not the other tents. That’s all we can say.

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Portola Festival, Chromeo, Annie Bush, Music