Giorgio Moroder Talks 40 Years of 'I Feel Love,' Which Made David Bowie Depressed & Nile Rodgers Practice

Sebastian Kim
Giorgio Moroder

When Giorgio Moroder recorded his album I Remember Yesterday in 1977, he sought to record the “sound of the future.” He didn't realize just how future his work would become.

“When they said it was 40 years of 'I Feel Love' I thought, 'no, that's not possible,'” he says. “And then I checked, and it turns out it is possible.”

The anniversary of his seminal hit has Moroder in a reflective mood, but it's also got him ready to celebrate. He's lookin' to infect a new generation with disco fever, and he's bringing the magic back to where it all began, with a special free-with-RSVP performance tonight (July 27) at Shimanksi in New York City.

It all started with a click. Moroder, his pal Pete Bellotte, and a few others were holed up in the studio recording I Remember Yesterday. The concept was simple: Create an album that captured the sounds of the '50s, '60s, and '70s -- and as they finished the album, the sound of the future.

Moroder had recently made friends with a composer named Eberhard Schoener, who was one of the only guys in Europe with a Moog synthesizer. After seeing what it could do for classical compositions, Moroder rented the wiry, modulated keyboard. He also borrowed Schoener's engineer, Robby Wedel, and the gang began to have some fun.

“I did not compose ['I Feel Love'] the way I usually compose, which is having headphones and hearing a rhythm track, like drums and my voice, and then playing the synthesizer or piano,” he says. “I didn't really know how to start, so I stated with a bass line, which was a C, so Robby gave me a C, and then I asked for a G, and then a B, and so I had dun dun dun dun. Then I triggered it, so it started to play dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun.”

Over that, he laid 16 bars of a C chord, then 8 bars of an E flat, and the song was built that way, with this repetitive, synthetic bass line as foundation. He created drum sounds from white noise, enveloped over themselves to sound like snares and hi hats.

The final piece of the puzzle was simple but critical. Wedel added a delay on that bass line, ever so slightly. It turned the solid dun dun dun into a wiggly diddle diddle diddle.

“That changed the whole atmosphere of the whole sound of the song,” Moroder says. “That was the moment when I thought 'This is a great song, and possibly something new.' I didn't really think it was something for the future, but I was happy with the sound.”

With the skeletal structure of the tune was complete, he tapped one of his favorite collaborators to breathe lyrical life into its bones.

“Pete (Bellotte) and Donna (Summer) started to write the lyrics in her home,” Moroder says. “She said something, like, she broke up with a boyfriend, and now she felt free, she felt love -- which to be honest, I don't remember, because they didn't tell me what happened when they composed the lyrics. But she came in happy, and I think she took it really very, very easy.”

When Moroder drops the tune of the evening at Shimanski, no doubt the whole club will be transported to a time when New York City was dirty and rugged, covered in sweat and glitter. Everyone will be singing along with that celestial, airy voice. If you dance hard enough, you might be able to summon the spirit of Summer herself.

“It's a difficult song to sing, but she did it absolutely great,” Moroder says. “It was always fun with her. She was always joking quite a lot, and at the end she definitely delivered -- always a great sound and great voice.”

When the album dropped, and “I Feel Love” began to reach its synthetic tendrils into international airwaves, it was met with adoration and astonishment. It broke the top 10 in eight countries, and it earned the envy of some of the world's hippest and most groundbreaking musicians.

“I produced a song with David Bowie for the film Cat People, and he told me that he was in Berlin at a point when the song came out,” Moroder says. “He was working with his parter in crime (Brian Eno), and they were looking for a new sound. [When they heard 'I Feel Love,'] David said, 'Don't look anymore, because I think Giorgio found the sound of the future.'”

“I said 'Wow, this is great,'” Moroder continues. “I didn't realize that Bowie was that impressed by this song, but if he says it, than it must be true. David said they were depressed for a few days, because weeks and weeks on they were trying to find that famous new sound which every artists wants, and especially Brian and David in Berlin, so it was definitely an acknowledgement that it is something new. Brian said, 'This is going to be the sound of the next 15 years,' and here we are 40 years later, and we're still talking about it.'”

Bowie wasn't the only musician who suffered in the wake of Moroder's sonic discovery. Two years ago, Moroder and Nile Rodgers were hanging out, taking a moment to catch up between sets at a co-headlining gig. The producer and the Chic guitarist had known each other for decades, but both had recently collaborated with Daft Punk and so they were enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Conversation turned to old times, and Rodgers brought up Morder's hit.

“When the song came out in '77, he obviously was doing so well with Chic, and he said he wanted to do 'I Feel Love,'” Moroder remembers, “but nobody really knew about the Moog at that time. He thought I played [the arpeggio] with a guitar, so he told me he was trying to rehearse for hours with a guitar. With a synthesizer, its not that much easier, but it's certainly difficult with a guitar.

“That was really funny,” Moroder laughs. “I said, 'I'm sorry, I didn't know you had such a hard time.'”

Looking back, Moroder can pinpoint “I Feel Love” as the song that changed his life.

“Director Alan Parker loved the song,” he says. “He's the director of Midnight Express. He asked me if I wanted to write the music, and I obviously I said yes, but this would be my first music for a movie. I didn't have a clue, so he said, 'Okay, use the Moog. Use the synthesizer.'” Parker heard “I Feel Love” and immediately wanted that diddle diddle for a big chase scene.

“I was able to get into the movie business,” Moroder says, “which up to then, there was very few people coming form pop, if any. Now it's different, but then, they all had people coming from the classical world, music conservatories… So, I say the song changed my life, and for others, and especially the synthesizer. That simple-but-interesting sound, which I think was very well done in the movie Drive. That is definitely inspired by some of 'I Feel Love' or some of my other work -- like the movie Midnight Express, which was all synthesizer.”

Today, 40 years later, it's a sound that still inspires. If you're in NYC and up for a bit of inspiration, RSVP for free entry to Shimanski Thursday, July 27. Moroder will be joined by a host of groovy friends. Check the flyer below for details.