Women in Music 2016
The 15 Best Justice Songs
This week, the world celebrates a third glorious album from French electro juggernauts Justice. Five years in the making, Woman is a brilliant return to force that perfectly distils the duo's vision and sound. It's got all the hard-edged electro bite of debut classic † with a steadier, more original sheen of '70s rock and disco first explored on sophomore LP Audio, Video, Disco.
Woman sounds very much like a hidden puzzle piece that connects the two previous releases, whereby when listened to altogether, it seems to show the best comprehensive picture of what Justice songs are really all about. That's what we at Billboard Dance choose to explore today, the running theme throughout Justice's career of new meets old, analog meets electronic, dance floor meets crowd surfing, and so on. It's a vibe beautifully illustrated in these, the 15 best Justice songs of all.
Audio, Video, Disco is somewhat overlooked, but it's got some of the best Justice songs in the game. Fans were not so silently disappointed when the duo failed to turn over another †, but the world of dance music had moved on, and so had Justice. Two years before Daft Punk released Random Access Memories, Justice brought life back to music through the lens of '70s prog metal. “Helix” is one of the album's finest examples of arena-rock grandeur merged with the textured and choppy synths and samples of †-era recordings. “Helix” would fit just as well on Woman. And that total switch-up breakdown at the 2:45 mark? Very The Who circa “Won't Get Fooled Again.”
There really isn't a whole lot to this song, but what it's got is groovy. “Alakazam!” is solid electro magic. It was the third and final single from Woman before the album's release, and the first not to feature a topline. Who needs vocals when you can make a synth melody the star? It's mix of soaring highs and muddy lows sound like Justice uncovered a lost Gary Numan track and sprinkled it with some whiskey-scented glitter. It's pretty, but not too pretty to deck you in the eye, which is probably similar to how Justice likes its women.
“Stress” is exactly was it promises to be. It is the sound of fear, the beat of your heart as it begs you to pick “flight.” It is simple, but very disturbing and immediately effective. The music video, directed by Romain Gavras, is an iconic visual to the track's alarming audio. But what in the hell was a dance duo doing recording music that could very well fit behind any murder scene in some B-movie thriller? In 2007, the rock-infused blog house movement Justice led was not about being pretty. It was about being raw, and Justice was the rawest of them all.
Of course, the opposite of horror is “Pleasure,” although one will find the line between joy and pain is often blurred. This cut from Woman positively shimmers through the speakers. There's a delicateness to it we usually don't see from the Justice boys, and maybe that's why we like it so much. It's a picture-perfect love song floating above crunchy guitar and funky, echoed bass. This is what it feels like to fall in love in a dark, smoky room.
It's common today for electronic producers to chop rough samples that rush by at dizzying speeds like highway traffic, but in 2007, that wasn't a normal sound at all. To match that deluge in and out with the sound your stereo makes between fm stations, and glittering sounds one might overhear in a space-station was just not a thing anyone did. Everyone recognized there was something funk and soul inspired happening, but this new package it came in was nothing short of revolutionary.
#10: Let There Be Light
It feels sinful to listen to “Let There Be Light” without first listening to “Genesis.” The former plays as a beautiful extension of the latter, and together, the act as the mind-blowing intro to Justice's game-changing debut album. Still, “Let There Be Light” plays out as its title suggests. In the beginning, there is darkness, there is chaos. By the end, there is angelic refrain. Justice shows a lot of love for '70s disco and arena rock in this song's last section. In hindsight, it's a great hint at what comes on later albums.
#9: Audio, Video, Disco
This has got to be one of Justice's lowkey catchiest tunes. It's not as classic in the hearts of fans as “D.A.N.C.E” or “We Are Your Friends,” but it is jammin' just the same. The video depicts the guys throughout the album writing process. It also reminds us that, before they were electronic producers, they were dudes in metal bands, and they do know how to play piano, drums, and guitar. That's why their music has always kept rock elements close to the heart. It just goes to show, you can take a guy out of a metal band, but you can't take the metal out of his disco hits, and hey. Maybe rock and disco aren't really all that different?
“Phantom Pt. 2” is the single, the one that got the really cool Soulwax remix, and the awesome on-the-road music video. You know it, you love it, but we're here to say, “Phantom” part one is better. The argument hinges on the 1:54 mark and the beautiful insanity that follows. Justice just dropped a section of nothing but brash, aggressive, heavily-filtered noise. It's the most punk rock thing that's ever happened to a dance song in history. The groove comes back, and the rest of the tune plays out noisily as ever, but in that brief breakdown, something changed. All rules of electronic dance were thrown out the window, and the door was opened for creative minds, Skrillex among them, to get really wild. Also, it's really fun to “sing along to.” Go ahead, try it. No one is looking.
The word “epic” has been completely abused by the Millennial generation, but we swear this song actually is. It's so Led Zeppelin-esque, so sweeping in Styxian fashion. The lyrics are beautiful and poetic. He's talking about a lover. He's talking about all of humanity. There are lots of fun Book of Genesis references and zodiac play. It's all very esoteric and mysterious. You can't tell us this isn't exactly like those classic rock ballads our parents used to get high and listen to on vinyl.
Another instant hook, “Randy” has been stuck in our heads since it came out. It's the perfect mix of rock and disco, mean and clean. At six and a half minutes of strings, guitar, and drum machines, it's even more of epic than “On'n'On.” It's a bit more uplifting, too, cock-walk music, for sure. We see John Travolta on that light-up dance floor, grabbing his destiny by the lapels of its pastel leisure suit. Its disco-tized elegance is introduced and interrupted by tamer takes on †'s rough sonic themes. It's got rockin' highs, bassy lows, and lots of theatrics. Put this song on when you're ready to become a man, or, you know, a Woman.
BOOM. Just as with the Universe, that's how this song starts. That's how † starts, and that's how Justice began its musical domination. With all its filtered noise and funky bright spots, it could totally be a lost track from Daft Punk's Homework days, if Homework were recorded and released in the mid-2000s. It's a song that announces “We have arrived, the leaders of the new school, and our arms are laden with old-school records that will rock your house into rubble.” It's also the best way to open a Justice set, that giant cross glowing between a wall of Marshall amplifiers. Cool is an understatement.
Justice has always been about the big themes. When † came out, people actually wondered if they were a Christian group because of all the Bible references, and, you know, the giant cross. The first taste anyone got of Audio, Video, Disco was this anthemic beast that tackled nothing short of the entirety of “Civilization.” This lead single was the official introduction to Justice's lush second act. This song is an awesome wall of sound, a power rock electrical storm best enjoyed by acting out your own arena rock god fantasy in the comfort of your empty living room.
I once got the chance to speak with Justice's Gaspard Auge, and when there was a lull in the conversation I blurted out, “I think Planisphere is totally underrated,” and he said, “thank you so much. That's my favorite thing that we've done, actually.” I was therefor completely validated in my thoughts that I was the biggest Justice fan ever, then I died happy. Really though, it should be no surprise that Justice's 17-minute electronic symphonic movement in four parts is the band's proudest achievement (or at least by the standards of 2013). It was originally written for Dior Homme's Summer 2009 fashion show, which was very dark and sleek with pops of color accent pieces and male models in clunky futuristic sunglasses. Part 3 starts with a pitched down, guttural vocal sample that is shockingly a rip of Britney Spears and Madonna's joint hit “Me Against the Music.” Part 4 is a breath-taking guitar solo. The whole piece is like Justice's condensed version of Mike Oldfeild's seminal album Tubular Bells.
#2: We Are Your Friends
Summer of 2006, every indie kid darling was rockin' this Simian song “Never Be Alone.” That song's moment was fleeting, because it was only a few months later when it was completely and utterly usurped by the official remix from Justice, who almost no one had ever heard of before, most notably Kanye West who stormed the EMA stage after losing to the song's music video, infamously quipping “If I don't win, the award show loses credibility.” That first in a series of boastful award show acts brought notoriety to the French duo whose breakout hit has become a generational rallying cry. It was weird when that Zac Efron EDM movie copped the title, but it's a no-brainer. This was the song, an instrumental turning point in dance music, and certainly the inspiration behind a million bedroom producers, many of which have become superstars today.
It's an early hit, but it still seems to personify Justice's best. It's got dramatic strings and a walking bass. It's got an infectious hook, handclaps, and it's all about Michael Jackson. Pretty much all the lyrics are some reference to Jackson's musical career, and of course, his incredible dance moves. Something you didn't know, maybe, is that the song's iconic vocal pattern is actually a sample from, again, Britney Spears and Madonna's “Me Against the Music.” You may recognize the lyrics “Under the spot(light)” as they were slowed and re-purposed in Jay Z's “On To The Next One.” The song was performed “live” by Jackson, Prince, Rick James, Stevie Wonder, and Rod Stewart impersonators on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show. It is the most purely joyful production of Justice's career, and sometimes, a three and a half minutes of pure joy is exactly what the world needs.