Charting the New & Familiar: Duran Duran Hits SA

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Coming together in Birmingham, UK in the late nineteen-seventies, Duran Duran would evolve out of the English new-wave scene into one of the most iconic, influential, and striking acts of not only the decade, but the century. In particular, the MTV premiere of their 1982 music video for Hungry Like the Wolf off their critically acclaimed album Rio catapulted them to wild success not only in the states, but in impacting a global audience with their range of engaging synth-pop sounds and a meticulously curated image, mystique, and aura.

At the heart of all of this was a sound heavily influenced not only by the new-romantic movement flowing throughout much of the UK in these formative stages, but an extensive range of early punk, rock, disco, and jazz styles simmering in Birmingham and beyond.

“It was an incredible time to be around because you had all these different cultures of music running together in a parallel sense,” spoke drummer Roger Taylor in a recent phone interview with the Current, “In fact, we formed at a club called the Rumrunner. On a Monday night there was a big jazz/punk scene going on with a (David) Bowie night on a Tuesday night and a disco night on a Sunday night. We’d be rehearsing there 24/7 and picked these elements of these different scenes that kind of crept into our music, I think.”

By 1985, extensive touring and the pressure of overnight success on a grandiose scale had taken quite the toll on the band, and particularly Roger, who retired to the English countryside with his family. The band carried on with their music however, and would eventually reunite the original lineup in 2001. A string of new, well-received, and successful albums would follow, with the most recent, Paper Gods, having debuted in September of 2015.

While the band has always had great working relationships with synthetic instrumentation, they’ve dived deeper and deeper into exploring the depth of electronic sounds over the course of their most recent work, and certainly on Paper Gods.

“I’m very open to electronic drums,” said Roger Taylor, “Actually one of the first bands I saw as a kid that kind of stepped out of the traditional acoustic sound were Kraftwerk. I saw them when I was 16 or 17 years old, and there were these guys up there making drum sounds out of homemade electronic instruments based off little wires coming off their drumsticks.”

Roger also mentioned contemporary electronic duo, Daft Punk, as being of particular interest to both him and the band. The influence of both of these electronic acts is certainly prevalent on one of the more edgy and dance-friendly numbers from the new album, Dancephobia. Featuring contributing vocals and a prominent music video role from Lindsay Lohan it’s a number that’s as catchy as it is deceivingly simple.

“Dancephobia took a long time to make,” said Roger, “kind of like a two year process to make that one song because we loved the title and built a song around that.”

For that matter, the album as a whole also required a great deal of effort, patience, time, labor, and love toward its construction as the band worked very diligently on exploring creative routes for each of these songs, sharpening the sound, and whittling a pool of material down to the album’s current structure.

“We sat in our studio Monday through Friday, and we just kept working at it. Each song was kind of like giving birth to a baby. It was a tremendous long period of time of working and working through the pain, but we were determined to make a great record. We have a lot of history to live up to, the last record was pretty successful with with (producer) Mark Ronson, and we really knew we had to deliver.”

For a band with such an incredible legacy of musical feats, awards, and accomplishments, meeting— or not living up to— such a broad and ranging set of expectations from critics, fans, and casual listeners can certainly constitute quite the tall order to tackle.

Yet, it’s a testament to Duran Duran’s confidence, willingness, drive, and creative desire to charge head on, challenge themselves, take new risks, and branch their sound out into simultaneously familiar but different directions, even in the face of these great expectations, that really show how truly adventurous they still are, even after all these years.

Paper Gods, of course, is living proof of this in hitting— or coming very close to nailing— the bulls-eye they set for themselves which in turn has not been an accomplishment lost on fans and press. Rolling Stone had particularly high praise for the band’s profound "sense of invention” on the record. And it’s true— invention has always been buried deep in the band’s DNA.

“A lot of people stumble on a sound, kind of stick with it, and every album sounds very similar,” spoke Roger Taylor, “I don’t think we’ve ever been afraid to venture into new territory.”

Rest assured, there’s still plenty of new territory left for this legendary band to explore. And as Duran Duran, now in their 38th year as a band, prepares to forge their way into downtown San Antonio for a two night-stand at the Tobin Center, it will be a lot of fun to see what new uncharted waters they'll seek to conquer next.

Courtesy San Antonio Current