Looking Back

Air’s Moon Safari at 25

Looking back at the Parisian electronica pioneers' influential 1998 debut

Think of all the classic hallmarks of French culture โ€“ sexy, sensual, avant-garde, louche and lustrous โ€“ and you’ll find them all at the swirling centre of Moon Safari, the cosmically lounge debut from Air.

Of course, these are cultural clichรฉs well known on the world stage, but it’s worth remembering that commercially, at least, the 1998 album from Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoรฎt Dunckel peaked at No.6 in the UK and didn’t even make the Top 20 on home terrain. In fact, a surprisingly small fraction of its total worldwide sales come from France.

AIR - Sexy Boy (from ๐‘€๐‘œ๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘†๐‘Ž๐‘“๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘– - Official Video)

There are several reasons for this that have been long been discussed in the quarter of a century since its original release. For a start, though often associated with the ‘French touch’ of Daft Punk and Cassius, their music was slow, ethereal and soft-edged โ€“ at odds with the serrated synths and thumping bass of this burgeoning scene of late 90s Paris. Another simpler explanation is the inclusion of English lyrics, still quite a big no-no if you’re hoping frequent radio plays across the Channel.

Regardless, Godin and Dunckel leant in to the breathy sensuality and cinematic elegance of Francis Lai and Serge Gainsbourg, a retro French sensibility that paired readily with English vocals from Beth Hirsch on the likes of ‘All I Need’. The cover, designed by Mike Mills, even ironically reiterates ‘French band’. The use of old analogue keyboards such as the Wurlitzer and Minimoog certainly helped as a sonic signpost, as did Godin’s Beatles-esque Hรถfner bass.

AIR - All I Need (feat. Beth Hirsch) (from ๐‘€๐‘œ๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘†๐‘Ž๐‘“๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘– - Official Video)

But to focus on France and the English-speaking world is to neglect the starry heights where Moon Safari actually existed. Long before Alex Turner was crooning of cosmic hotels set to sci-fi chamber pop, these two friends from Versailles elevated their blend of lounge jazz and ambient electronica into space.

As the album title intended, the floaty pace of its instrumental opener ‘La Femme D’argent’, its curious and assertive bassline and all of its otherworldly synth details created the feeling of gazing at galaxies with wide-eyed wonder. It wasn’t all weightless and elegant, as the early ‘Sexy Boy’ made sure of. With its warbled vocoder, wailing guitar and bilingual flirtation, this lead single naturally caused a universal stir. The psychedelic odyssey of closer ‘Le Voyage De Pรฉnelopรฉ’ had a rippled, funky punch as if from another dimension.

When Dunckel and Godin did return to earth, their Moon Safari had become an instant classic and earnt them a place in French music royalty. They would be hired to score films such as The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation and most recently Fire Of Love, not to mention inspiring a new generation of electronic artists and producers.

Next time you see a new star in the sky, put on Moon Safari and you’ll know where it came from.

Stream Moon Safari here.