Producer Giorgio Moroder, who helped invent disco in the 1970s with Donna Summer (“I Feel Love,” “Love to Love You Baby”) before conjuring the ’80s synth sound of film soundtracks (“Scarface,” “American Gigolo,” “Flashdance”), disappeared from pop culture for two decades. Catapulted back into the spotlight with an unexpected starring role on Daft Punk’s 2013 megahit release ‘Random Access Memories’—a four-time Grammy Award winner, including album of the year—the 73-year-old is basking in EDM’s ecstatic embrace, working on a new record, remixing ascending acts like Haim to blogosphere acclaim and DJ’ing before jubilant international crowds of tens of thousands easily young enough to be his grandkids. Billboard asked Moroder to reflect on his remarkable re-emergence.
Until recently I was mostly playing a lot of golf. I picked it up while living in a small city in the Dolomites [in Italy]. One day I was putting on a hill in Zurich, and a few hundred yards away Diana Ross was doing a sound test at an arena for a performance that night of “Take My Breath Away,” my song with her. That was a very nice game, an incredible feeling. But now I’m too busy for that. Things have come around for me again. It started with the Daft Punk song “Giorgio by Moroder,” from their new album. I didn’t have any idea what they would have me do when they called me in to their studio on La Cienega [in Hollywood], around the time they were working on ‘Tron.’ My agent was talking to their manager, Paul Hahn. Paul said, “Why don’t we set up a lunch?” I went there; they showed me their synthesizers.
I brought my son. At the time he was 22. Kids: They are not too easy to impress. Growing up, he was heavy, heavy into Korn and Linkin Park, and I didn’t do too much in the last 20 years. But he loves the Dafts so much. For him, I grew in his esteem enormously.
It’s interesting to see the rise of EDM. Obviously the movement of the past five, six, seven years took a lot from “I Feel Love.” When I speak to David Guetta or Avicii or Tiësto, that’s the first thing they tell me. Then they tell me about soundtracks like Scarface. I don’t know how many samples they took from that.
In film, I was surprised when I first saw the movie “Drive.” I said, “Oh, God. It sounds great—I love it. Wow, this could be the soundtrack from ‘American Gigolo’ or ‘Cat People.’” But I’m surprised that the director would agree with a composer to write that kind of sound. In the early ’80s, my sound—especially that mysterious kind of synthesized sound that was used so much—every relatively cheap TV show eventually had it because it’s not expensive. It’s just one guy doing the whole soundtrack. So it was overdone. But the great thing is now the quality is so much more interesting. Think of what Trent Reznor did in “The Social Network”—those beautiful, sparse sounds.
I’d like to do it again myself. I was supposed to do a movie, which I cannot mention. The budget was OK—nothing great, because even in movies, they don’t pay millions anymore. My agent saw, I think, 20 minutes and he hated it. So I didn’t do it, thank God. To have my first movie after all of these years flop? That would have been terrible.
This year I’ve begun DJ’ing, and it keeps growing. I have to tell you it’s absolutely incredible. I did some gigs as a singer 30 years ago and it was terrible. I didn’t have the voice, or I was nervous, or I couldn’t remember the words. The day before I couldn’t sleep: “Am I going to be able to reach that note?”
Now I do an hour-and-a-half [of DJ’ing] but if they would let me, I would do two hours. The audience goes and doesn’t stop. At the end I do “Call Me” and it’s the end of the world. In Mexico, the audience of 20,000 was still shouting “Giorgio! Giorgio!” as they took me out. “Sorry, I have to go.”
Now I’m talking to a hotel in [Las] Vegas to do a disco-themed club show. I don’t know yet if it’s once or twice or three times a week. I have to think about it. I may get an apartment. The traveling I am already doing is quite demanding: Tokyo, Berlin, Paris. I am 73.
Of course, there’s also a new club named after me—Club Giorgio. Bryan Rabin plays disco music at the Standard on the Sunset Strip. I went one time—he invites me every weekend but my wife loves it so she goes there once every few weeks. I don’t because I want to keep a little bit of mystique. —As told to Gary Baum