x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

P-Thugg: 'Why Chromeo sticks to the 1980s'

The Canadian hip hoppers Chromeo, whose album Business Casual was re-released yesterday with contributions from the likes of Duck Sauce and Elly Jackson, explain their approach to music.

Dave 1, left, and P-Thugg of Chromeo met at school in Montreal and have been making music together ever since. P-Thugg was born in Beirut but his family moved to Canada in the mid-1980s.
Dave 1, left, and P-Thugg of Chromeo met at school in Montreal and have been making music together ever since. P-Thugg was born in Beirut but his family moved to Canada in the mid-1980s.

If at any point last year you found yourself dancing to the outlandishly cheery slice of disco house that is Barbra Streisand then you're already more than familiar with the work of P-Thugg (or Patrick Gemayel to his mother), who contributed a solo to the track.

In a different incarnation, together with his musical collaborator Dave 1 (David Macklovitch), he is one-half of Chromeo. The Canadian synth-funk outfit who with Mr Thugg taking charge of keyboards, synths, vocoder and general knob-twiddling and Dave 1 on vocals and guitar, have for the past decade been making bold - and largely successful - attempts at becoming the 21st century's most 1980s band.

This week sees the re-release, with extra material, of Business Casual, Chromeo's third album and the follow-up to 2007's wildly successful Fancy Footwork, which helped plant their flag on the dance map. Where Fancy Footwork laid out the band's slap-bass and keytar-heavy road with tracks such as Bonafied Lovin and Tenderoni, Business Casual takes to it with an open-topped Lamborghini. Close your eyes to the singles Night By Night and Don't Turn the Lights On and imagine Don Johnson types in white linen suits chasing after girls with excessively bouffant hairdos.

For their latest single, Hot Mess, released last month, they teamed up with Elly Jackson, whose electro-pop duo La Roux also seem intent on giving the decade of shoulder pads and Rick Astley a 21st-century reprisal. It's all quite tongue-in-cheek and cheesy, certainly, but just toe-tappingly funky enough to stay on the right side of cool.

Based in Montreal, P-Thugg and Dave 1, who flippantly bill themselves as "The only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human creation", have been playing in bands together since they met in a Montreal high school aged 15. However P-Thugg was actually born and raised in Beirut during the height of the civil war. "We left in 1983, as it was getting really dangerous. We went to Egypt for a year and a half and then to Canada when I was about eight. But I pretty much spent my childhood in the Middle East," he says.

Curiously, while Chromeo's entire musical direction appears to be influenced by Hall and Oates, Roger Troutman and other icons of the funk and slow jam scene in the early 1980s, P-Thugg admits he missed it all the first time around.

"I was a bit young, but I don't remember any American music in Lebanon. Perhaps it didn't get there," he says. Instead, he began finding these sounds for the first time in the 1990s, long after they had become famous. "My first albums were LL Cool J and Michael Jackson's Bad," he laughs. "I remember discovering Thriller six years after Bad and thinking, 'This is amazing'."

He may have been a late-starter, but P-Thugg has certainly been catching up with all things 1980s since. Promo shots for Chromeo often have the pair sporting sunglasses and leaning against a Delorean, gull wings open, and he admits to owning a mannequin covered with disco mirror balls. "It's on display in the entrance to my house, greeting you when you come in."

Like Roger Troutman before him, P-Thugg has become adept at the talkbox, a device that is put in the mouth to apply speech to a keyboard. The robotised effect has become a staple part of the Chromeo sound. For the past round of sell-out live shows across North America and Europe, he's used this bizarre, tubelike machine to perform his own version of Barbra Streisand, occasionally with the multi-award-winning A-Trak (who was involved in the production of the original hit), turning up to provide DJ support.

Thankfully for Chromeo's growing legion of fans worldwide, the future is destined to be just as fun and funky as before. "The synths will always stay; they're a very strong component," says P-Thugg. "Although we might dabble a bit."

Business Casual saw the band bring in a string section and even an acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks, as well as a slew of guest vocalists. "But we'll always try to have a balance with fun. We'll try to keep the same sort of humour, or innocence and candidness in everything we do," he assures me.

And why shouldn't they? The next chronological step would be for Chromeo to plunge head first into the 1990s, which would clearly entail a darker, more serious and self-aware sound that few would want to hear. For quirky electronic melodies, raucously bouncy baselines and vocoderised choruses, there's really only one decade to consider. "I'm reliving the 1980s," says P-Thugg. "Just like it was brand-new music."