While the quick revisioning of recent history via documentary and photo book would suggest that disco became acceptable once again due to the diligence of Jersey kid James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem, it neglects the groundwork laid by another Jerseyite, Morgan Geist, in conjunction with partner Darshan Jesrani as Metro Area. Starting in the wee months of the 20th century and carrying on through the next decade, Geist and Jesrani looked back to the last days of disco and amalgamated it with Italo, new wave, and deep house to create a forward-looking strain of dance music that felt both futuristic and classic, synthesized and sweaty. While never quite garnering mainstream attention, Metro Area’s influence on modern dance music was cemented when their 2001 sylphic, string-laced single “Miura” was ranked #1 on Resident Advisor’s Top 100 Tracks of the ’00s. This month, the duo released Straight A’s a double set of vinyl that is simply that, the ageless A-sides of their first four singles. “This was a sort of ‘Let’s brush off Metro Area’ year,” Morgan Geist said while the duo toured their Russia and Europe this summer. “We’re reissuing our vinyl just because we felt like doing it.” Hive recently spoke to the duo about discovering dance music, their role in the New York City scene and the notion of being underappreciated.
What led you to first get into dance music? Was there a particular track that set you off on this path?
Darshon Jesrani: The thing that led me into dance music was the sound of the synthesizer on rock records like Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and then looked for it on the radio. I still remember that feeling of really trying to hunt something down, but that something was a feeling — an intangible. I found the most interesting synthesizer sounds on R&B radio around 1983/84 like “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton and “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club.
Morgan Geist: Electronic sounds were innate somehow. This led to listening to novelty records and prog rock, which led into new wave and hip-hop, which led into pseudo-industrial dance stuff and New Beat, which led into techno and house and disco. I grew up in the NYC metro area and heard lots of great stuff on even Top 40 radio.
How did you and Darshan meet up and what was the club climate like in New York City in the late ’90s?
DJ: We bonded over an interest in exploring and re-discovering early ’80s dance records and production techniques — just stuff that we felt had been lost or buried in favor of production techniques that were, to us, boring and repetitive. We were motivated both by inspiration and frustration … a desire to dig up and re-present some lost ideas in a new context, in the face of all the disco-loop house records that were being made at the time.
MG: In high school I went out to places like The Ritz or Limelight and attended huge concerts like New Order or Depeche Mode. By the time Darshan and I met, I was going out a bit more, but hardly a clubber. We’d go to Body & Soul, Save the Robots, little things we DJ’d at but I was never a partier or comfortable in club situations unless I was DJ’ing. I still regard going to clubs as medicine I have to take. I much prefer being in a studio (although I love dancing). All the electroclash shit that was hitting as we were putting out our third or fourth Metro Area 12″s.
Did you feel Metro Area music was underappreciated at that time? Were you surprised when Resident Advisor named “Miura” #1 of the ’00s?
DJ: I don’t think I felt that they were underappreciated. That would imply that I harbored a feeling that the records should’ve been bigger than they were, which wasn’t the case at all. I was proud of the records and stood strongly behind them, even with (or even because of) their underdog status, but I think we both felt that they were a little weird in relation to what was going on at that time. In terms of hindsight — 10 years on and I still feel that disco is the template for dance music going forward, and that we were really on the right track. I never thought of MA as a statement project, or “let’s do disco production because no one is doing it.” I thought of it more as a thesis — something that’s still being borne out.
MG: I think our music was underappreciated in the specific way we wanted it to be received. I mean, “underground” is a nice way of saying “under-appreciated” or even “unpopular.” I think we always identified with the notion of doing music to satisfy ourselves, which is the opposite of manufactured pop music, which is made to satisfy others. I think we almost forget the RA thing unless we need to ask for something for free from a gear company – something where you need to quantify your “importance” in terms people understand. However, we feel incredibly lucky and thankful that people ever cared about our music. We know there are loads of people who wallow in obscurity and don’t get the opportunities that have been handed to us. That’s not lip-service or false modesty. We know we got very, very lucky.
Metro Area’s compilation Straight A’s is out via Environ.