If you, were walking down the streets of Berlin, Paris or New York City in the mid-to-late ’70s, chances are you’d have spotted Giorgio Moroder’s luxuriant black moustache and sunglasses in the window of a record store. Between 1969 and 1979, the Italian composer and producer brought out 10 albums, including his Oscar-winning original score for Midnight Express (1978) and I Feel Love, his seminal hit with Donna Summer that was being played at nearly every nightclub around the world. Steeped in the disco music scene, the big hair, moustache and glasses were his calling card. “I hated that moustache then. Now I don’t hate it because I’ve decided that when the hair doesn’t grow anymore, I’ll stop, I’ll retire,” says Moroder, a day before his debut DJ set at Johnnie Walker The Journey, an arts festival in Mumbai last week.
At 75, Moroder’s moustache is snowy white and trembles every time he laughs — he’s thrilled to be in India. “I didn’t play live to many audiences in the ’70s, it’s all happening now,” says Moroder, whose 15th studio album, Déjà vu, was released in June after a 23-year hiatus. It’s not a comeback album — because Moroder had never left the building. “I’ve made music all my life. I was already working on soundtrack for films back then, I did more of that. Then I composed music for the Olympic Games in Beijing. That was nice,” he says modestly, not mentioning the official themes he’d written for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 1990 Football World Cup.
If there’s a reason why Moroder wears his accomplishments so lightly, it’s because he never imagined the impact his music would have. Rewinding the tape to his formative years in Italy in the ’60s, Moroder says that he knew he wanted to be in the music business early on. “I grew up in northern Italy but I did not really listen to Italian music. There was a radio station in Luxembourg that I used to catch, they played all English stuff — Elvis Presley, The Platters, all the American Black guys. Then I started to play guitar just for fun,” he says. A few years later, Moroder received an offer to travel and make music professionally in Switzerland. “I travelled a lot then, to Germany, Austria. I didn’t sing because I wasn’t good enough, I was too nervous and I’d forget the lyrics. I just wanted to compose music,” he says. Moroder’s story, in his own words, forms the track Giorgio by Moroder, on Daft Punk’s phenomenally successful 2013 album, Random Access Memories. “When they approached me to talk about my life, they didn’t tell me what it was for. They’re crazy, I tell you. They had a separate microphone from every decade I’d talk about, they’re so much into detail,” he says.
As he recounts in the Daft Punk song, in 1977, Moroder recorded a click on a 24-track, hooked it up to a Moog synthesizer, and rolled the bass and melody into one in a track called I Feel Love. It did more than becoming a hit, it became the “future of sound”.
At Mehboob Studio, Moroder slips it in after playing his other hits, Love to Love You, Call Me, Flashdance (What a Feeling). As the bassline thrums through the venue, it becomes clear that essentially, a Moroder song is a time machine. It takes you back, or forward, depending on where you are. Even his remix of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner, with Britney Spears, is a testimony to his ability to assemble disparate elements together to great effect. “It was Britney’s idea. I love the original, I thought it would suit her very well,” he says.
Halfway through his set, Moroder plays a remix of Take My Breath Away, the theme from Top Gun, pulsing at 128 bpm (beats per minute). It lacks the haunting appeal of the ballad, the song that is Moroder’s favourite of all his work. “It’s the one I am most proud of, along with I Feel Love. Every year, for the past 10 years, at the Oscars, when the show wraps up, they play this,” he says.
The crowd has been dancing but
waiting patiently for Giorgio by Moroder. The Italian complies; and when he picks up the microphone to say “My name is Giovanni Giorgio”, a room full of people from the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s scream back “But everybody calls me Giorgio”. What a feeling.