M83: The Doorways Music Can Open in Our Lives

Image courtesy of M83

Image courtesy of M83

Note: I’ve been trying to write this article for about a month now. I started strong but it has been very difficult to put into words the things I am trying to put into words. Because of this time-differential, i.e. beginning the piece the day after the M83 concert in Los Angeles, November 9th, then struggling, putting it aside, moving back to it, etc. there are some possible tense or chronological hiccups. Bear with me – the last thing I want to do is streamline this into one time frame. That wouldn’t be very Gonzo, and although that is not my sworn oath, it is a very important tool for the box.


Okay, admittedly the title for this piece is fairly pretentious, but honestly – and you’ll see where I’m going with this – it’s appropriate. In the following paragraphs what I want to do is align and discuss different events I’ve experienced with music in order to try and understand just what the heck happened to me last night (November 9th, 2011) when I walked into Hollywood’s Music Box Theatre and witnessed Anthony Gonzalez – better known as the core of music group M83 – and his band perform live.

Why do I need to go through all of this armchair academia in order to process a concert experience? Well, let me tell you my friends, I have been to hundreds of shows in my life, but nothing, NOTHING has ever affected me the way M83 did last night at the Music Box. What I’m talking about isn’t just the groups’ performance but how my body reacted to it; it was, in many regards, very similar to how certain drugs affect my mind/central nervous system. This site is new, and when I get around to publishing a much belated review of the groups’ recent double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, I’ll be talking about how in the month or so since its release, I’ve begun to experience the music on the album in a similar way – driving to work on Los Angeles’ freeways at 5 AM, while it is the fringe of the morning to some and the dying tendrils of the night to others, I’ve had experiences with these songs; experiences that leave my pulse pounding, my spine humming and my eyes flooded with tears. This is the type of reaction people get when listening to music that they have undergone some drastic life event to and yet I have only known the songs on this record for a month? How can this be?

When you listen to M83 it becomes apparent that it theirs’ is highly influenced music, however not in the way that someone like Tom Petty is noticeably influenced by Bob Dylan or Sleep was obviously influenced by Black Sabbath (neither a bad thing). No, this is something else. Maybe because Anthony Gonzalez appears to be less influenced by any one artist and more by the strange, urban landscape of modern world cities circa 1985, complete with the neon street lights, hollow television buzz and distant saxophones that seemed to define much of the popular culture of that era. In hindsight now we can ascribe these things as a sort of zeitgeist of the 1980’s, so their influence is understood when discussing someone who grew up during those times. But it is his ability to synthesize these different components in a way that feels almost futuristic, instead of dated, that is, I believe, worthy of consideration.

Gonzalez has acknowledged the 80’s as an influence. But he has also stated that one of his major influences for Hurry Up is the Smashing Pumpkins’ double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Banality. Being of the camp that left Mr. Corrigan and his perpetual teenage agonies behind after the transition from opiate rock to hard rock with the release of said double album I have to say, format wise the influence may be there, but from where I’m standing there is next to no cohesive juxtaposition between the two mens’ music. Mellon Collie was a decided effort by an excellent band with mid-level fame to take it to the next level by becoming something else entirely. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is another brilliant endeavor that features Gonzalez’ emotional talent for turning the residual image/sound pastiche from his childhood into a kind of waking dream state delivered through music. If you’ve never heard M83 my elevator description is that they are to music what director Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko is to film. And it is art such as what Kelly does (although not always as successfully as with Darko) that really gets my synesthesia* flowing. Thus we can begin to put a finger on the point where my perhaps overly-emotional reaction to music in general comes from. But again, M83 live was something… else. Something infinitely stronger, infinitely more personal and affecting.

Some background for juxtaposition’s sake:

I took ecstasy exactly twice in my life, both times in my late twenties and both times while attending live music performances. One was a ground-breaking jazz/electro fusion group from Chicago named Trioizm, the other Dayton, Ohio indie rock staple American Static. Both experiences were indeed what I would classify as enlightening. As I’d anticipated from my research with the drug – which took years before I decided to try it – the benefits of the experience of music – let alone live music – while under its effects were simply astronomical and well worth any risk involved (of which I suppose there is not much, but I am not one to take drugs, in general, lightly).

Shortly after these experiences, and largely I believe because of them, I began to garner some insight into my own operating system. I don’t want this article to degenerate into college-like drug name-dropping, however anyone who has ever consumed Marijuana or hallucinogens and listened to music can tell you that the two definitely share a symbiotic relationship. I’ve always been a very casual user of both and following those experiences with ecstasy I began to realize exactly what my motivations were for that use. I’ve never been one to ‘catch a buzz’ with drugs just to catch a buzz – in my book that’s why the Universal Forces saw fit that humanity discovered how to brew good beer. No, I really began to understand that my entire adult life, the whole reason I continued to use these substances after the initial, juvenile experimentation phase wore off was because of music. Hell, a good night for me can be just smoking a little pot and sitting on our couch, allowing the twin speakers positioned on opposite sides of the room (placed in front of the left ear and behind the right ear of the couch pilot) to pull me into some new or beloved record, cassette or compact disc. It is often that under these circumstances I truly feel as though I travel into the music, and it is not uncommon for me to describe seeing some albums as much as hearing them**.

Okay, so now that I’ve mired us in a potentially questionable topic (in both of my initial articles for that matter) in order to further set the stage for my experience at the M83 show, let me tell you about that specifically. Suffice it to say I had just enough Marijuana in me to put me in the zone and from the opening note (and that is no exaggeration – the opening note) of M83’s set I was hard-wired into the sounds coming out of the massive speakers lining the stage and clinging to the rafter of the Music Box. After show opener ‘Intro’ –the first track on disc 1 of Hurry Up – I realized I could hardly contain myself from bursting into tears. ‘Intro’ was followed by ‘Reunion’, another track off of Hurry Up disc 1. My emotions continued to escalate unabated; I began to openly weep and my entire body was alive as if I’d just come up on LSD. I was loving every second, but at the same time the analytical side of my mind was combing through the effects, trying to figure out where it would end or if I was actually physically on the cusp of a complete emotional breakdown.

Just as I might be getting a reprieve, my mind cordoning off a usable section to evaluate what was happening now that there was a lull in the set for Gonzalez to say hello to the crowd the maestro instead took his musicians into ‘Kim & Jessie’ from 2008’s Saturdays = Youth.

This is one of my favorite songs EVER. To give you a sense of what that means, I’m writing a novel based around it.

The thing is, emotional collapse is always disturbing, even if one is not conditioned to find it weak or inferior, as I most certainly am not. However, it is disturbing because it gives you a sense of not only your limitations but just exactly how fragile we really are, despite our best intentions day-to-day to convince ourselves and the world that we are anything but. Add to this an emotional collapse in public, and well, I just couldn’t let go.

And then I did.

Until now I’d found myself unable to even hoot or holler between songs to congratulate, reward and fuel the musicians before me for the absolutely amazing gift they were giving me, unable because of the simple fear that at any moment I might burst into a massive, sloppy deluge of wet, racking sobs. However now my facial muscles relaxed and I felt a further surge through my nervous system (what we usually describe as ‘our heart’) that fluttered through me from toe to head and back again. It was like unto a cascading emanation of emotion literally pouring from my body. I imagined that to see it from a distance with the right eyes one would see something that looked like a firework or sparkler, but in human form, throwing waves of colorful energy up and out across the space before it. I know this is harboring not only a flair for the dramatic but also one for the new agey, but trust me: I’m not a yankee candle, tree-hugging phish guy. I spent the two months before this show stocking up on French black metal and reading about the devil.

In other words, I’m not colouring events in a way as to support a new age agenda.

What I am doing is trying in the best possible sense to perform and record words strung together in a way as to make comprehensible something that I experienced that was not comprehensible. We’re all familiar with the old adage you can’t force a square peg into a round hole. Well, that’s what I’m doing by trying to fit this experience into our limited lingual concepts, so wherever it’s failing is where the edges of the square are simply peeling away via forced entry.

Okay, well before I tread further down the spiral of possible euphemisms I should look towards a conclusion that fulfills at least some form of purpose to this possible exercise in run-on sentences and metaphor rehearsal. The emotions I felt at the show, realistically, cannot be transposed to a shareable platform, however I feel as though I’ve done a good job recording something that – to me – was an out and out phenomena of the highest order. If I can leave you with but one general thing it is this –

For the god’s sake go buy some M83 and indulge in the closest thing I’ve found to musical ecstasy in quite some time***.



* Defined at Merriam-Webster.com as

1: a concomitant sensation; especially : a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulate

2: the condition marked by the experience of such sensations

** Some good examples of this are Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses (digi pack version), Miranda Sex Garden’s Fairytales of Slavery, Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, to name a few time-tested standards

*** The full set list for the Los Angeles show can be found at this wonderully helpful website:


Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to M83: The Doorways Music Can Open in Our Lives
  1. Trackback: SBaker
    [...]telling you about those things because as you may have noticed if you read my M83 concert review last Nov...

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