I remember like it was yesterday: I was sitting at the wooden desk of my college dorm, eyes red from staring at the computer for hours. I was stuck in yet another MySpace top 8 loop, researching every name in a long list of DJs and producers that started with Justice and ended with all kinds of musical magic. This is how I found Boys Noize. It’s how I found Midnight Juggernauts, the Klaxons, and a couple of crash test dummies called Revolte.
Then I found this strobing monstrosity. It flashed — a lot — but it was also very stark. A single beam of light shone on a pyramid, flanked by two Anubis figures. “Revolte at 22h10” started playing. Filtered vocal chops bled through a synthetic hum. My empty dorm was suddenly full of anticipation and electricity. I was tired, but I was spellbound.
That’s how I stumbled on Danger in 2007. He was fascinatingly mysterious, a masked figure with no face, only white, glowing eyes. I kept up with the underground artist as best I could in the decade that followed. A rare performer, I kicked myself when I missed his opening sets on Porter Robinson and Madeon’s recent Shelter Tour, but I was placated by the knowledge that I’ll get my chance to see Danger in action on his upcoming North American tour in support of his debut full-length LP, ??.
“Working on a 15-track album was a beast, a totally different challenge,” the producer, nee Franck Rivoire, says in an email interview. “You need to be extremely straight and to-the-point when building an EP with two or three club tracks, and you’ve got so much freedom on an LP where you could integrate atmospheric, and more cinematic songs. I never found a vehicle for that in my past releases. It’s great.”
A decade after releasing his first tune, Danger gives the world ??, pronounced ‘Taiko,’ like the Japanese drums. Cinematic is an understatement: ?? opens with a boom, the way a movie starts with a sound test. The next track, “7:17” comes in soft and menacing, like an opening credit score as a camera pans over a dark, wet alley at night. The taiko drums come in hard and heavy, then they quicken.
It blends seamlessly into exciting heights on “11:02,” which falls back into the stark opening mood of “11:03.” The drums are your leader on this emotional, winding path. You never know what will happen next, but it’s definitely going to be Dangerous. “I used a lot of real percussion samples recorded in my studio, Rivoire says, “especially some HD noises like computer keyboard noises, and the background hum of my own studio.”
?? feels like a simmering concept come to fruition. Danger has always been a character. His tracking VHS aesthetic smacks of ’90s comic cartoons, the sinister synthetic sheen of his look and sound reminiscent of an electro Blade Runner. I always imagined Danger was some anti-hero, maybe even a villain sent to make the whole world dance in the dark.
“I grew up between Japanese, American and French culture through TV, movies, and video games,” he says. “In France, we were the first generation of kids to totally embrace mangas and animes, while U.S comics and cartoons were already there and still very popular. As a French kid, the French and Belgium comics and their influence was very important. It was Hergé with Tintin but mostly Moebius (Jean Giraud), Philippe Druillet, and many other 70s French comic stars introduced me to psychedelic aesthetics.”
Rivoire began working on the album about two years ago, digging deeper into his personal history to find inspiration, tapping into the feeling of isolated creativity he remembers fondly from his childhood.
“As a kid, I spent many hours playing all alone,” he says. “I used to record my voice on an old tape recorder when I was imagining adventures with my Ninja Turtles. I love the quiet mood of creation. Being in my cave, computer screens as candles. Living in a violent contemporary world, I felt the need to rebuild that childhood cave for my album.”
That solemn spirit can be heard on tracks like “6:42” and “8:10,” song titles signifying the moment each track was finished. It brings me back to my own childhood, playing around on the computer in the dark, the rest of the house still asleep as I endlessly read about Sailor Moon characters and listened to midi files of the Tenchi Muyo OST, writing fantastical stories about superheroes and wayward youths of my own creation. It’s not hard to see why Porter Robinson and Madeon chose Danger as a partner on the road.
“It was very nice to be able to speak with them about the approach to music and visuals we each take with our projects,” Rivoire says. “Each of us has an attention to detail and are kind of a control freaks about a lot of things around our music. Living in the shadows, it was pretty interesting to hear very joyful music from Porter and Madeon. I was finishing my album at the time, and I think it inspired me to incorporate a little bit more of some kind of innocence in my music.”
Bright moments definitely shine through Danger’s signature darkness. ?? is a well-rounded portrait of a personality, half steeped in mystery and nostalgic reverie. Is ?? a fictional movie about a faceless figure, or an autobiography of a producer’s roots? In the end, it’s kind of the same thing.
“I always felt that the scariest figures are the ones who don’t have [a face],” he says. “I like the absence of expression in a mask. I like to see people looking into my eyes. My everyday life of my alter ego.”