David Macklovitch is a Teaching Fellow and PhD candidate in the French and Romance Philology department at Columbia University. He is also Dave 1, one-half of Chromeo, a synth-heavy electrofunk act from Montreal that bills itself as “thugged-out Hall & Oates.” Dave 1 sings about romancing at parties and searching for the perfect girl (ie one who reminds him of his moms) while his partner and best friend from forever, Pee Thug (Patrick Gemayel), makes good use of an 808 and a talkbox (don’t call it a vocoder) to lay down the duo’s highly danceable beats. The band’s most audacious claim is that they are the “the only successful Arab/Jew partnership since the dawn of human culture.” David’s students at Columbia had no inkling of his rock stardom until Alex Gartenfeld, an undergrad in his French conversation class, came across a Chromeo video on a website for hipsters. Dave admitted that music is a family affair: his brother Alain was the youngest World Champion DJ ever and is currently Kanye West’s tour DJ. Alex has followed Chromeo’s career diligently ever since, up to and including their latest album, Fancy Footwork. Recently, the two reunited to chat about Vampire Weekend, embracing your jock fans, poseuring, and Dave’s dad’s YouTubing habits.
What was your school like?
Our school was a French lycée. A lot of the people who came to our school were children whose parents grew up in French colonies and wanted their kids to have a French education. There were a lot of African, Haitian kids. My mom grew up in Morocco, which is how I ended up there. But there were lots of Lebanese kids, too. Parents who trusted the French educational system over the Canadian education system.
When did your parents come to Montreal?
My mom came over in 1964. My father was born in Canada.
Why did your mom leave Morocco?
Well, Algeria achieved its independence in 1962, and there was a fear at the time that a similar movement could emerge in Morocco. The king had been very protective of Jewish people. Their safety was guaranteed by the king.
So the whole family moved?
The whole Jewish population of Morocco relocated — mostly to France or Montreal. Some of them moved to New York; I have family here from Morocco as well. There wasn’t really any trauma — it was quite well planned. But whenever my mom goes back now, the guy at immigration always says, “Why did you guys leave us?”
How Jewish do you consider yourself?
Uhhh… Larry David Jewish. I’m the same Jewish as him. Not very practicing, I haven’t fasted for Yom Kippur in years. I have no ties to Israel. Actually… I won’t even go there. I’m not very pro-Israel. But at the same time? Culturally, I’m very Jewish. My mannerisms — I’m neurotic. I’m a complete neurotic. I’m the typical lefty Jewish intellectual type… Have you ever seen me reading at the library? You know what shuckling is?
Hasidic Jews — it’s what they do when they say prayers. They rock back and forth on their chairs …
Oh! I do the same thing! All the time!
Yeah, why do we all do that? My father does it, too.
That’s eerie. And incidentally, my shuckling is always something I’m mocked for.
I get called a self-hating Jew all the time. I make off-color jokes all the time. But I’m a super-Jew. I’m a Larry David Jew.
I don’t know. I don’t watch the show the way you do, but Larry David strikes me as somewhat sadistic. And certainly masochistic.
I do the same thing he does all the time.
Really? But he is delusional.
I don’t think so. I think he’s normal. I think he treats everyone equally. That’s why he talks to handicapped people the way he talks to a non-handicapped person. And we’re not supposed to talk to handicapped people the same way, so he gets into trouble.
It’s kind of like autism, that inability to read any cultural codes.
He’s autistic to the hypocrisy of etiquette, basically. But Jewishness, I link to him. My father’s like him. My grandfather’s like him.
What does your dad do?
Both my parents are gonna retire soon, so they don’t have much to do. My dad’s a linguist, and my mom heads a translation bureau. Basically they check our MySpace page. My mom reads all the MySpace comments and then calls me about them. She’s like, “There’s this girl, she said she loved what you were wearing, so that’s good!” My father checks all the YouTube videos. Whatever it is, even if it’s like some DJ did a mashup triple-bootleg remix, he’ll tell me about it.
Isn’t it weird for a Jew to be Francophone in Montreal?
Well, that’s an interesting story. Moroccan Jews are all Francophone, of course. But my father is an Ashkenazi. So basically when he met my mom he decided to raise his kids in French out of solidarity with the Québecois. During the 70s there was a big ethnic cultural explosion in Quebec, and at the same time it was the birth of Quebec nationalism. My father had a lot of sympathy for the Francophones because they were underdogs. They were generally lower class, and they were oppressed. And also to piss his family off, I think, my father went off and married a Moroccan girl. But yes, you’ll find that an Ashkenazi Francophone is very rare.
Why do you write your songs in English?
Because pop music to me, and music to me, has always been in English. I’ve never really listened to French music.
What type of music did you listen to as a kid?
Up until the age of nine, I was listening to my father’s records: Beatles, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison. I learned all those records by heart. Then we got MTV, so I just watched videos all the time. Prince, Hall & Oates, Barry Ocean — pretty much all of the things that Chromeo is influenced by, I was listening to by the time I was eight. Guns N’ Roses, Robert Palmer, INXS — classic 80s, basically. Then when I turned eleven, for some reason I got into classic 70s rock. I did that for three years. I knew every Led zeppelin record by heart. I listened to music for hours and hours a day. And then, at fourteen, I discovered black music: hip hop, funk, and soul.
Was that interest spurred by anything? Was it an adolescent-male thing? Was it the cool thing?
Jamiroquai. 1992 was when Jamiroquai first came out, and I thought he was cool. And that got me into acid jazz, which got me into James Brown and Maceo Parker, which got me into all the things that sampled that stuff. The Pharcyde, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest. And the next thing you know, it’s 1994, which was the biggest year for hip hop: Nas, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang. So by the mid-90s, I was completely into hip hop. And that was true right up until 2000, when I started listening to electronic music.
You’re like a walking chronicle of the last few decades.
The only thing I didn’t really get into was indie. I didn’t listen to Pavement.
Was that typical of Francophone Montreal?
No, that was typical of a macho kid. Pavement in high school — if you listened to that, you were like some goth or whatever. If you had any balls, you listened to Tupac. That was us — these little white kids pretending to be tough.
Wasn’t this the time you started producing hip hop records, too? You were so busy!
Well, I wasn’t getting a lot of girls in high school, so I had nothing else to do. I don’t smoke, I don’t play pool, I don’t play video games. I stayed home and listened to records and tried to make beats in the basement.
What was your crew like?
Poseur-tough. We were in a private school. We were writing graffiti but we weren’t really badasses. We were in this nice neighborhood, you know?
How did you meet P?
Patrick and I went to high school together. He was one year older than me, which … you know, in high school time is like dog years. But he had a band with all these older kids, and they were playing funk, and I said, “Man, I want to do that too. Enough with the Led Zeppelin.” And because I was the nicest guitar player, I joined their band, and we just became best friends. At some point we saw Wild Style and were like, “Whoa, this is the coolest thing ever.” We just wanted to make music like that. You know that movie Wild Style, right?
No… The only hip hop movie i’ve seen lately is that sneaker-collecting movie, Just for Kicks…
Yeah, my boy did that. A French guy. Thibault de Longeville.
Did that kind of collecting, rebel-capitalist part of hip hop culture make its way to Montreal?
Of course. You know how many sneakers I have? I’ve got, like, four hundred pairs up at Manhattan Mini Storage on 134th Street. To this day, I’m always looking at sneakers, always checking out graffiti. Especially when you’re a white kid from Montreal, you approach things with the discipline of a Chinese kid at Butler. But you know, when La Haine came out in 1995, that was the height of our poseur hip hop heyday.
I’ve seen pictures of you wearing the tracksuits.
That was us. It was great for us being Montrealian, because here was a hip hop movie in French. I had a radio show back then, Rap Attitudes — it was the biggest French-language hip hop radio show in Montreal. A huge college radio show, and I wasn’t even in college yet. And Mathieu Kassovitz and Cut Killer came to my show. It was cool. I remember that Mathieu Kassovitz was really short and Cut Killer was really tall. And Cut Killer was thugged out. Actually Kassovitz was thugged out, too, then. That movie was so powerful! We were extra tough after that movie.
Pee still dresses thug, but you stopped dressing thug entirely.
Well, I know better.
You know he’s not here to defend himself. So what caused the change?
Around 1999, my girl was like, “Yo, you look stupid.”
That old chestnut.
“Why you wearing shirts that are too big for you?” And I was like, That’s true, I look like a clown. So I started wearing tighter clothing. Funny, huh?
That seems like an important shift for you. Today you’re known for your style.
Well, no one’s gonna like you unless you look fresh. Every artist I like is someone I like looking at. The only bad-looking bands I like… well, Steely Dan, they don’t look so good. Steely Dan were always ugly. But all the bands that are out today — look at Vampire Weekend, they’ve got a perfect look. No one looks like them. Nobody sounds like them, either — they found a sound no one was doing. No one went full-on Graceland.
What designers do you like?
I always like the same stuff. APC for Denim, Dior, and Margiela for boots. Dior for shirts. And then I go to the most bogus thrift stores. Thrift stores for idiots. Then take it to a tailor. That’s the real trick, how well it sits.
Why don’t you guys do merch? You’d be perfect for it.
Well, we haven’t got our shit together. I mean, we have tee shirts.
But you need a whole lifestyle thing! Like Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony, except… Dave 1 for…
I think that our audience wouldn’t like that. We know who our audience is, and we can’t really count on Margiela to design our merch.
Your fans are not hip.
We don’t have a trendy fan base. I love it. A little bit of a hipster contingent, but not full-on.
They’re kind of bad hipsters, like straight-up American Apparel leggings—
—we have jocks! It’s great.
Yeah, and I’m stoked! I love it! They’re gonna stick around. Some kids are always gonna like the band that is the big thing because they’ve got to like the next thing … Our references have become a little cooler, though. Before, when I started talking about Hall & Oates or Graceland during phone interviews, people would hang up on me. They didn’t know what to do with it. No one had gone full-on Jheri-curl Rick James–meets–Robert Palmer 80s. But it’s become cooler. I don’t even mention that stuff anymore. I just say: Toto. “Africa.” Billy Joel.
No, that’s the next level! See what I’m saying? That’s hot!