Old School

Senior-citizen stars like Georgio Moroder prove that electronic music can age gracefully

When it was announced in spring of 2012 that legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder would appear as a keynote speaker at Ibiza’s IMS conference, the overwhelming question from industry insiders was “What has that guy been doing?”

It turns out that the 72-year-old musician was preparing for what is undoubtedly the biggest comeback in dance music history. Moroder was in Ibiza to announce that he had recently spent time in the studio with Daft Punk (who were working on their insanely anticipated Random Access Memories album). Upon that revelation, the interviewer onstage (your truly), took a pause to let those in attendance pick their jaws up off the floor. And to tweet this astonishing news to the world outside.

Moroder wasn’t the only Daft Punk-collaborating senior citizen in the room when the announcement came. Sitting right in the front row of the audience was Nile Rodgers, leader of 70s disco hit-makers Chic, who several months earlier had revealed his own studio sessions with the famous French robots. That collaboration would result in “Get Lucky,” Rodgers first hit record in decades, that is currently nominated for Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Moroder’s contribution, the nine-minute epic “Giorgio by Moroder,” on which the legend narrates his own history, has launched him into a DJ career that has found him playing his vast catalog of 70s and 80s dance music classics to crowds in New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and, soon, Berlin. He is also booked as a headliner for North Carolina’s Moogfest in April, during which he will celebrate his 74th birthday. Also in big print on the line-up is Chic (newly billed as “Chic featuring Nile Rodgers”), along with proto-techno legends Kraftwerk, and early-80s new-wave art rock icon Laurie Anderson.

The average age of these four headliners (counting Kraftwerk’s sole original member Ralf Hütter) is 67 years old. That’s only three years younger than Mick Jagger. Yet unlike the Rolling Stones, whose tours have been the epitome of grandpa rock for years, all of these veteran dance and electronic acts feel fresh and revitalized.

As it enters its fifth decade as a genre, dance music, like rock and hip-hop before it, now has to consider it’s expiration date. The good news is, unlike the other two music forms, which have dominated the mass consciousness for most of the past 40 years, dance music is just now finding it’s footing in many parts of the world. And, if the EDM investment class is to be believed, still offers great room for growth. This late-bloomer phenomenon is perhaps what is allowing older acts to appear onstage without falling into the usual trappings of nostalgia and revue.

That is not to say there aren’t considerations to be made when competing for the attention of fans (most of whom weren’t alive when these senior acts were making their seminal work), against artists who have never had to make a minute of music without clicking a mouse. Moroder’s DJ appearances thus far have featured assistance by dance music chart-topper Chris Cox, who apparently handles much of the technical side of the performance, while Moroder takes advantage of his newly famous speaking voice by introducing songs on the microphone. Cox has also worked with the disco godfather to remix his hits, giving them a more contemporary thump that the crowd demands.

Kraftwerk have also upgraded their well-honed man-machine performances over the past several years, mainly converting their classic visual accompaniment into 3D, and offering an eight-night residency at New York’s Museum of Modern Art during which they performed one of their archival albums in its entirety each night, along with a selection of greatest hits. These intimate events revealed some lumps underneath the skin-tight light suits, but that didn’t seem to bother the kids up front, who danced to “Numbers” as if they’d never heard it before (likely the case).

Then again, perhaps there’s really no such thing as music the kids haven’t heard anymore. Not only has the Internet made all music available at all times, that phenomenon itself is at least a decade old. James Murphy’s ultimate ode to vintage hipster fetishism, “Losing My Edge,” is, having been released in 2002, itself almost old enough to count as a classic.

Fortunately, unlike rock & roll, which early on defined itself as a young man’s game, and hip-hop, which still concerns itself mainly with youthful pursuits, electronic music exists in a largely age-neutral context. Its space-age sound palette remains relevant, even if the funky futurism now feels vintage.

By sound-tracking the emerging technological conversation that we’re still having today, and combining it with the ageless desire to dance, the pioneers of electronic music have created an art form that transcends many of the typical ageist trappings of “youth culture.” And that is good news for artists and enthusiasts of all ages. Technology might become obsolete, but robots never age.