A Cross The Universe
(Ed Banger; 2008)
By David Abravanel | 12 December 2008
I love corny puns, so why the lukewarm score for A Cross The Universe, the new live document from electro-house It band Justice? Best to answer that question with a couple questions.
Question One: what is the purpose of a live album in the age of instant bootlegging? The ’70s was the golden age of official live releases, and back then they were labored, layered and cut together. Expert studio technology, and recordings of performances from a number of dates, went into producing the perfect live product for home listening. The merit of a live record depended on its sequencing, track selection and sound quality—best to be clearer than tape quality, but still including healthy doses of audience noise and grit. With the right kind of selection, a live release can serve as an excellent greatest hits compilation, even surpassing actual best-ofs. This still holds true: check Orbital’s Live At Glastonbury 1994-2004 (2007).
But Justice have all of one album and a scattering of EPs under their belt, so nix the greatest hits potential here. As for the grit-balance, it’s decent, if skewed a bit toward orgasmic fan reactions to every breakdown and buildup. And, much as the live material on A Cross The Universe deviates from the studio recordings, it’s hard to imagine that any fans into Justice enough to buy this haven’t already experienced the live versions from blogs, YouTube, bit torrents, or, you know, “live.”
Question Two: what is the purpose of a live album from an electronic dance music act? Any electronic act is going to have to rely largely on pre-recorded loops and edits for live performance. This, of course, is the nature of electronic music, fundamentally negating any provable, of-the-moment causality in live electronics. A live set from an electronic dance act works best if thought of as a kind of DJ/remix set of original material. Think of Daft Punk’s pair of live discs and you’ve got a good idea. It’s music made with the dance floor in mind anyway, so why not take influence from the structure of a good dance set?
Recently, a swirl of rumors has dogged Justice, suggesting that their live shows aren’t exactly as live as they want the audience to think. Whether or not this is true, A Cross The Universe doesn’t give any clues. The visuals on the documentary are mostly of the “two guys hunched over gear” variety—sure, they could be playing solitaire, or they could be ripping it. Either way, the set included on A Cross The Universe is of the constantly morphing and sampling and remixing variety. This piece of “DVNO” pops up and then there’s a sneak peak of “Waters of Nazareth” and, hey, is that the beginning of Klaxons’ “Atlantis To Interzone” that suggests “We Are Your Friends” is just around the corner? It’s a fun game, and Justice plays it well. If you’ve heard the originals, what’s new for you on A Cross The Universe is basically some good mixing and a few heavy metal samples to remind us that Justice didn’t come up on house.
This isn’t a bad release, and chances are, if you liked †, you could like this just as much. But it’s not going to contain any new revelations, and the extra reverb and applause are not enough to justify the release of a live album. That Justice don’t have more material to draw from makes A Cross The Universe even less necessary; there’s no blends of old and new material to recontextualize the music here like on Daft Punk’s Alive 2007. Justice are still one of the best of the electro-house clique, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here, but this live album should have appeared a few years from now. And “Stress” is just as unbearably over-the-top live as on record.