Giorgio Moroder wants to set the record straight. Sat in the living room of his family home in the Italian Alps, which pleasingly features a white grand piano, wall-to-wall avocado shag carpet and dozens of framed gold discs, the super-producer and owner of music history’s most glorious moustache wants to unpick some cliches. First of all, he says, he never really liked or went to clubs. Nor was he ever much of a dancer. And despite his profound impact on, well, both clubs and dancing, he would prefer it if we stopped referring to him as the grandfather of dance music.
“No, and I do not like being called the godfather of disco and electronic music either,” he says, wryly. “It’s better than being called the grandfather, but I still don’t like it.”
But it’s not an overstatement to declare that Moroder definitively changed the face of modern pop. The man who created what Brian Eno breathlessly described to David Bowie as “the sound of the future” had a staggering knack for creating floorfillers that have birthed entire genres: one track alone, the euphoric 1977 Donna Summer mega-smash I Feel Love, has been credited with paving the way for Italo, house, techno, trance, Bollywood disco and, for better or worse, EDM.
“But you can’t dance to I Feel Love,” claims Moroder, and then begins riffing that famous pulsing synth – duhduhduhduhduhduhduh – and nodding along. “It’s not very good to dance to. Songs like Call Me [Blondie] is really good, Hot Stuff is better” I point out weakly that he might be wrong; not uniquely, the full 15-minute mix of I Feel Love is my single favourite record to dance to. His eyebrows waggle in glee.
“Can you dance to it? I don’t even like dancing, but my wife dances quite well a lot.”
I tell him I danced so hard to it at a wedding recently that my entire sari unravelled on the dancefloor. He roars. “Maybe that’s why I make good club music – because I don’t go to clubs!”
At 78, with more than five decades in the music industry, Moroder is preparing to embark on his first ever live tour across Europe. The production has been over a year in the making: he’s hoping to create a “discotheque feeling, [where I can be] spontaneous, not produce some big stiff concert like Hans Zimmer where you cannot change a note.”
Not only will this be his first ever live showing for the raft of iconic hits he and Summer created together, but a chance to revisit the golden period when Moroder released From Here to Eternity (1977); reinvented Sparks (No.1 in Heaven, 1979); produced Janet Jackson (Dream Street, 1984); worked with David Bowie (Cat People, 1982); and gifted Phil Oakey his then biggest hit (Together in Electric Dreams, 1984).
Is he nervous?
“All my life I was backstage, in the studio, in the background, but nervous? Me? Not at all.” He chuckles. Moroder may have worked with the biggest egos in film and music, but it doesn’t seem to have rubbed off; he is softly tuned, self-effacing company. “If I were to play the piano or designed difficult things then I would be nervous, but I do exactly what I want to do and the big work is not mine – that will be the singers, and they are absolutely top.”
He considers himself an average musician. “I learned a little about music, I play a little, I play enough to compose; but with a computer, if you make a mistake you just redo it as often as you need. I could never play live what we have the musicians doing on stage or in the studio.”
And yet, at his peak, Moroder led a hit factory that became dance music’s answer to Motown. Once the disco backlash kicked in, his team of musicians and engineers pivoted to Hollywood and scored Flashdance, Midnight Express, Scarface, American Gigolo, Top Gun and much more. He won four Golden Globes and three Oscars for his film work, and picked up four Grammys in a career that has spanned more than a dozen studio albums.
With the sort of silly money offers that come with the reputation Moroder had, it was inevitable that he also produced a fair amount of dross: blustering arena rock, cornball 80s guitars and a line of commissions for Olympics anthems. At one point, he was convinced by Sylvester Stallone to visit Bob Dylan at home in Malibu to ask if Dylan would write the lyrics for a song Moroder had composed for Rambo III. To his credit, Dylan listened to the track “about four times” before politely declining.
Moroder’s last major hit was Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, for Top Gun, which won an Oscar in 1987 for best song and went to No 1 in the US, UK and across Europe. “It was difficult, it took days of work… I had two different versions of that one, but it is probably my favourite song [that I have written].”
A period of apparent quiet kicked in. Moroder married Francisca Gutierrez, the hostess of his favourite restaurant in Los Angeles, became a father at 50, and took up golf. He built and sold cars, designed a pyramid for the Dubai skyline and began spending half the year in Ortisei, the pretty Italian town he grew up in.
Then Daft Punk called. The French duo have been lifting from the best of Moroder unashamedly since the beginning of their career; their early noughties reconfiguration as a pair of robots was partially in homage to the sleeve of Moroder’s 1977 album, Munich Machine. “All I know is that Daft Punk say they wouldn’t be here without me being there,” he says, with an emphatic shrug.
His son urged him to meet them, but Moroder didn’t think too much of the experience and had almost forgotten about it until, two years later, a track called Giorgio arrived on Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s 2013 disco album. Suddenly, he was everywhere again: David Guetta, Avicii, Lady Gaga wanted to work with him. He began a DJ career at 73 and played sets across the world. A new album followed, 2015’s best-overlooked Déjà Vu, featuring Britney Spears, Sia, Kylie Minogue et al.
Now, every couple of weeks, Moroder sits at the laptop in his home studio and works his way through the US Billboard 100 and UK Top 40 charts on YouTube. “The quality of recording is just so good now,” he marvels. “I love digital, I was one of the first to use it; it’s clean. Some people say analogue has a sound that’s more human, but if you really want analogue sound you can have it in the computer too. And I still love dance songs and EDM – not everybody likes it, but I do. Even Ed Sheeran – he has some incredible sounds and arrangements; some of the songs now have two billion clicks on YouTube, but they deserve it, they’re so good. All those new guys, they work so hard, I don’t know how some of them handle it.”
Moroder is certain that hedonism is far rarer in the industry now than in his heyday. “I was talking to David Guetta recently – he doesn’t even drink coffee! Aoki has maybe one sake and he is exercising all day long. He does 150 shows a year, it’s mindboggling – you can’t drink or be high if you’re working like that. Of course, Avicii was an exception.”
Moroder pauses solemnly and strokes his moustache. Swedish DJ Avicii was found dead in a Muscat hotel room last April, aged 28.
“I knew Avicii, I play his songs [in my sets], I worked with him in 2013 and he was on drugs then and kind of already… you know.” He shakes his head. Surely Moroder is somewhat inured to that kind of thing? “I never did coke… zero,” he says. “Now, the musicians and the technical guys… they were on coke when I was not there. The only thing I noticed, but I didn’t realise at the time, was that when they were so high they broke a lot of speakers.”
Did they start kicking in studio equipment?
“No, they would just get so high they needed to listen to music so loud, they blew the speakers. They were breaking one every week!”
Still, the best of Moroder’s work – Utopia, First Hand Experience in Second Hand Love, Chase – builds to replicate the warm, skittish rush of being high. As the story goes, Love To Love You was extended into a 16-minute epic with Donna Summer moaning in no fewer than 22 recorded orgasms on the demand of Neil Bogart, head of Casablanca Records, who wanted a longer version of the original song to soundtrack the orgies at his house. She recalled being so mortified that she had to record it lying down in the dark.
“She didn’t! She said she did, but…” Moroder twinkles. “I remember she was embarrassed to do the moaning with the guys in the studio – her husband was there, Pete Bellotte [Moroder’s long-time silent collaborator] was there, and the engineer, so I said: ‘OK, everybody out.’ I switched all the lights off, kept just a little light so I could see her, but she was sitting on a chair. Maybe she dropped to the floor… but I do know I was her inspiration, that I know.”
He won’t reveal some of the “terrible decisions” he made and offers he turned down over the years, but he will admit to saying no to being a judge on The X Factor recently. “It was a really big offer, a lot of money, but I was a little nervous. To live in a city which you don’t really like for three months and spend long hours with the TV company … I love to be in the studio and work when I want, so I passed on that.” Instead, a Moroder musical, Mamma Mia! style, is financed and in the works for “2020 at the earliest”, despite the fact “we are still looking for the story. It takes at least a year to find and develop the story.” He is busy but undaunted: “I’m very happy.”
What’s the best thing about being Giorgio Moroder, then? He laughs. “Oh, he’s a nice guy! I’ve heard Giorgio is a nice guy – I love him!”
Giorgio Moroder tours the UK from 1 April
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