This month sees the 20th anniversary of the release of Moon Safari the debut album by French duo Air and the record which set the mood music for the final years of the last millennium.
Dim the lighting, light the candles and relax those shoulders. Breathe deeply through your nose and out slowly through your mouth. Feeling better?
Walk over to your rack of CDs. Run your finger down the alphabetically arranged titles and close to the top of that list you will find what you are looking for.
Seeking to set that environment for whatever lays ahead this evening, you find the CD marked “AIR (FRENCH BAND) MOON SAFARI” down its clear plastic spine, the information in brackets seemingly important in informing your original purchase.
By the opening bars of La Femme D’Argent your guests are beginning to breathe a little deeper too. By the time Sexy Boy comes on 7 minutes later, the nouveau-lounge mood has truly been set.
Testing that GCSE French vocabulary you try to decipher the lyrics but soon let the album wash over you as Beth Hirsch breathes All I Need and the English language through the microphone.
The year is 1998 and Zinedine Zidane and France are just months away from winning the World Cup at the Stade de France. Meanwhile, a pair of Versailles’ finest musicians are about to release their collection of “down-tempo space-pop” recorded in Paris and London onto an unsuspecting world.
For some, the electronic easy-listening of Moon Safari lowered the heart’s BPM the morning after the night before. For many other Brits, Air were bringing Gallic sophistication to a million suburban dinner parties. Whisper it, there may even be young adults preparing to leave university and seek gainful employment who were conceived to You Make it Easy.
Either way, there are many who can be grateful to Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, not least a record industry seeking to bridge a gap between the hard to classify Electronica and Alternative genres.
Moon Safari was released at a time when popular music was served over ice and the record became a crossover hit. Ibiza compilations reflected chilled sunset sessions at Cafe Mambo and sold by the bucket load to clubbers and Mondeo drivers alike. Air’s mix of laid-back French moods with an English lyrical base caught onto that vibe and sold more than 2,000,000 copies peaking at number 6 in the UK album charts.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2016, Jean-Benoit Dunckel recounted; “It was the tail end of Britpop, and people were wanting something else. We came along with this alien, psychedelic, loungecore music you’d listen to on a Sunday morning after you’d been out clubbing the night before. And one month after Moon Safari came out, we were huge.”
Critics swooned for Air and whilst to some, the record has been played and parodied to breaking point, Moon Safari is regularly listed in reviewers’ best albums of the 1990s.
Air went on to provide the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides before experimenting with different styles across later albums Talkie Walkie and Pocket Symphony.
Air list musicians as diverse as Siouxsie & the Banshees, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd among their influences and there is a place for all of those artists as well as a bit of funk and soul in Air’s broad church.
Nicolas Godin reflected on the record’s influence and told the same Guardian readership in 2016; “Before Daft Punk and us, French pop was synonymous with Sacha Distel. I hated it. But electronic music meant you could make cool music without being a rocker. In France, we’re not considered a great band. The French still have very bad taste in music.”
And there we have it.
Twenty years on, the French may still beat us at football and just about any other pursuit we turn our minds towards, but collectively, us Brits will always have the upper hand and better taste when it comes to music.
Where were you and what were you doing when Moon Safari was released in January 1998? Please leave a comment below!
3 thoughts on “Fresh Air: Moon Safari at 20”
Amazing article! Air (French Band) were part of the soundtrack to my uni days between 2000 – 2004, especially this album. I’ve seen them live twice and their subsequent albums included a mixture of electronica and rock which worked so well with a live band.
This album influenced so many parodies of middle class dinner parties; see the sketches from Monkey Dust – a truly dark, animated portrayal of how sad and depressing life was around the turn of the new millennium.
Whilst Daft Punk released their genius debut ‘Homework’ a year before this album, ‘Moon Safari’ set the benchmark for the chillout genre and opened the door for other French artists to spread their experimental wings.
This album made me realise that there was more to French music than just ‘Je T’aime’. Let’s hope that in another 20 years’ time, it’s not just remembered as pompous background music – it’s so much more than that.
I was at the 3rd year of university. It is the album of my life and the best album ever. Every time I hear it, it is as if I just bought it. And in my life I’ve bought more than 50 times on CD (as gifts).
It’s sheer perfection.
Wow! You have some very fortunate friends and family José!