IN THE summer of 1977, Italian producer Giorgio Moroder invented the modern pop song with I Feel Love, a dance-floor juggernaut recorded with (and credited to) singer Donna Summer.
Its impact was immediate and far-reaching – Moroder likes to tell an anecdote about Brian Eno bursting in on David Bowie as the pair were recording Heroes in Berlin, waving the 12-inch, eight-minute version of I Feel Love. “This is it,” Eno is supposed to have told Bowie. “This is the future.”
Now, at age 74, Moroder is tearing up the rulebook again. He has reinvented himself as a superstar DJ, touring the same megabucks circuit as blinged-up deck spinners David Guetta and Calvin Harris. Moroder will showcase his DJing skills at the Metropolis Festival in Dublin this weekend, at which he will also participate in a rare public interview.
“In today’s record industry you don’t make a lot of money from selling records,” he says.
“DJs are becoming bigger and bigger. A guy like Calvin Harris can earn $40 million a year – you have to be a big rock artist or movie star to bring in those amounts.”
Moroder was born in South Tyrol near Italy’s border with Austria and, though nominally Italian, speaks English with a pronounced German accent. His music, for its part, pulsates with a teutonic relentlessness. He explains that I Feel Love was written with the explicit goal of pushing boundaries and upending convention. It achieved exactly that, quicksilver beats and sci-fi production creating a blueprint for the contemporary pop scene.
“I really put a lot of thought into that project,” says Moroder, from his home in Beverly Hills. “The concept was to have songs in the style of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. I had done all that. Now, it was time to do something that looked to the future – that would make sense 20 or 30 years later. The fact it was all electronic gave it a feel for the future.”
He wasn’t operating in a vacuum. By the late ’70s, electronic music was beginning to cohere into a recognizable genre, spearheaded by innovators such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Moroder did not see himself in competition with these acts. He felt they were all hurtling towards the 21st century at the same breakneck speed.
“I really liked those groups, especially Tangerine Dream because they had some great lines,” he says. “Kraftwerk’s minimalist sounds were beautiful also – they were the guys who made electronic music what it is today.”
Moroder discovered Summer in Munich, where she was working as a part-time model (he was already an established hit-maker in the German-speaking world). Together they crafted several disco classics that stand toe to toe with I Feel Love, including Love To Love You Baby and Hot Stuff. These made Summer internationally famous and also brought attention to Moroder.
He was soon in demand as a soundtrack composer. Here, too, he left an indelible imprint, beginning with The Chase, the glittering, stripped-down theme to Alan Parker’s 1978 Turkish prison drama Midnight Express.
“The movies came to me,” Moroder remembers. “Alan Parker said he wanted me to create something for Midnight Express that had the sound of I Feel Love. I made The Chase which worked quite well. For the rest of the soundtrack, he gave me absolute freedom to do whatever I wanted.”
He was quickly the toast of Hollywood. Moroder won an Oscar for Flashdance…What A Feeling, from the movie Flashdance, collaborated with Limahl on the title song for the NeverEnding Story and penned Take My Breath Away and Danger Zone for Top Gun.
“Those were very positive experiences,” he recalls. “It was exhausting from time to time. However, to work with [hard-charging Top Gun producer] Jerry Bruckheimer and all those directors and producers was incredibly exciting. I didn’t have too many weekends off in those years. I loved it.”
By the ’90s, he was taking a step back. Hollywood had made him wealthy and his position as one of the godfathers of electronic music seemed assured. So he indulged other interests, launching his own line of cognac and developing a 16-cylinder sports car with a team of former engineers from Lamborghini
He had drifted into semi-retirement when French electro duo Daft Punk got in touch and wondered if he might narrate a spoken word tribute they had written about him. Giorgio By Moroder would become a centre-piece of the group’s Grammy-winning Random Access Memories LP.
“I was spending a lot of time on the golf course – maybe too much time,” says Moroder. “I had done so many other things - created a car, done computer-generated art. Almost everything to avoid music.”
With Daft Punk jolting the public’s memory, Moroder was suddenly a name to drop once more and several major labels clamoured for his signature. Released over the summer his Déjà Vu LP proved a worthwhile comeback, with artists such as Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue collaborating with the producer on a sequence of high-tempo dance excursions
“I started DJing and it was pointed out to me that the more hits you have the bigger the fee. After Daft Punk won a Grammy for Random Access Memories, I had lot of offers to do an album. You don’t say no at 74 – how many other chances will you get? To go back into the studio, with a budget and start working again, was fantastic.”
Giorgio Moroder appears at Metropolis festival, RDS, Dublin Sunday. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday at multiple venues across the RDS