A giddy old man is onstage, smiling from ear to ear. He’s spent the last few minutes retelling the soon-to-be familiar tale of how he became a musician — a truncated version of the three-hour interview he recorded for Daft Punk’s new album, Random Access Memories, which drops today (May 21). From the booth at Williamsburg, Brooklyn, nightclub Output, the 73-year-old spins a tale of recording “Love to Love You Baby” with Donna Summer, kicking everyone out of the studio and dimming the lights so she would feel inspired enough to moan just right.
And soon enough, he says the words that so many on the floor came to hear: “My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but you can call me Giorgio” (just slightly different than how he phrases it on the record). With that, the beat for Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder” drops, and the staggeringly brutal sound system at Output carries Giorgio Moroder into the future.
On the eve of Random Access Memories’ release, it seemed odd to be celebrating an Italian producer whose connection to the record was at most tangential, if influential. But his influence on disco and funk (and subsequently, Daft Punk) is undeniable, evidenced by the rousing cheers for his spin of the aforementioned Donna Summer classic. The party that hosted Giorgio is called Deep Space, a Monday night jam hosted by Paradise Garage and Studio 54 veteran Francois K that’s become a fixture in Manhattan’s West Village. This particular event was put on by the Red Bull Music Academy, and the crowd skewed young — a room filled with twenty- and thirtysomethings gawking at a senior citizen who made the records their parents got wild to in the discotheques. The music had transcended generations.
Though irrepressibly enthusiastic, Giorgio didn’t do much mixing at this, his first, DJ set, which kicked off around 12:15 a.m. and went just past 1:30. He spent most of his time conducting, matching his hand to the beat as wisps of silver hair swirled about his receded hairline. He played some percussive notes on a sampler, and peppered in vocoded vocals when it suited him. He played the hits: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Bad Girls,” “On the Radio,” and “Hot Stuff“; his classic “Chase” theme from Midnight Express; the From Here to Eternity suite; and even the new track he wrote for a Google Chrome game, “ Racer Experience.” He also spent some time on the air bass, and tried his hand at pumping up the crowd. “Are we still having a fun time?” he taunted. “Do you want some more?”
A newbie to a club setup, he often had to be reminded where to find things, or seemingly, what to do. It would have been obvious this was Giorgio’s first time behind the decks, even if the event hadn’t been expressly billed as so. A younger man with two laptops appeared to be running the show in the booth, setting up Giorgio’s cues, reminding him which buttons to press, and chatting him up throughout the set.
But the set felt more like a coronation than a club debut; a celebration of Giorgio’s music, energy, and his contributions to dance music. Francois K appeared to be his biggest fan. Despite spending the start of his own first set smugly railing against contemporary electronic dance music, once Giorgio hit the stage, Francois showed humble deference. During the end of Giorgio’s set, he broke in to heap praise on the star of the show, beckoning to the crowd, “Let him know how much his music has meant to us over the years!”
In the end, Giorgio’s visit to Williamsburg was less mind-blowing than it was heartwarming. And after watching him follow his records to the club — only 40 years later — it seems you really can teach an old dog a new trick.
– Words and photos by Matthew Ismael Ruiz, NYC