Justice: In Service of the Cross


In their new tour documentary, Justice lay themselves at rock’s altar in the great name of music, sex, debauchery and exploitation. On the night of the film’s premier, they sit down with us to discuss how they made America their playground.

This is a story about a movie about two Parisians who are in the process of becoming rock stars. They are the stars of the movie, and yet you learn practically nothing about them between its beginning and end credits. The movie, a documentary about their first U.S. tour, aims to avoid rock ‘n’ roll clichés by exploiting them. Tits and guns and sex and violence and crazed fans and boring journalists and police all play large roles, but viewers can expect very little concert footage, because the film isn’t actually about what these guys do on stage (which is why they’re becoming famous in the first place). Long stretches of highway. Short bursts of hysteria in venues. Bizarre exchanges with strangers. Clichés. The tour-bus driver, Roger, sings religious hymns as he steers his employers to their next gig. His employers look at the cross, the symbol of Christian salvation, and see justice. One of them holds a crucifix up to his lips for the other to kiss before every show.

A Cross the Universe, the Justice tour documentary, has no journalistic ambitions. The band directed it with their friends Romain Gavras and So-Me, both of whom have directed Justice videos in the past. They filmed for 20 days, ended up with somewhere between 200 and 300 hours of footage, and then spent the next four months editing it down to a single cohesive hour. The movie is everything you want it to be because it’s nothing you would expect from Justice. Then again, audiences know so little about Justice, there was hardly any idea of what to expect, just a general sense of anticipation that the movie needs to feel as forward thinking and sexy as their music.

“Everything we do is always for us to experiment with something,” says Xavier de Rosnay, the more talkative half of the duo. (Gaspard Augé, notable for his towering curly hair, mutton chop sideburns and enviable mustache, mostly communicates in smiles, nods and varying levels of distractedness.) “For example, what we wanted to do with this one is change the timeline of a normal band and make a documentary after we’ve done just one album. But we wanted to avoid the normal plots: Not talk about the music and not talk about the band. And the only time that we can do that is now. We made enough music that people can get interested in watching the documentary, but not enough that we could focus on it. We’re not famous, so we don’t have to talk about us.”

Gaspard chimes in, “To us, it’s more risky to not talk about the music.”

“Some people think this documentary is 100 percent crazy,” Xavier adds. “Some people think it’s depressing. But I can understand the two points of view. People can think it’s either.”

A Cross the Universe shows Justice getting fucked up, brawling, flirting with insanity, marrying in Vegas, rummaging through junkyards, pillow fighting fans, sexing their groupies, going to jail, peeing on the cameramen and, of course, eating at Hooters. Along the way, Gaspard and Xavier try to set Kansas girls on fire backstage, and party with furries on stage. Having just viewed the film, and with this image of the duo fresh in my mind, it was somewhat jarring to see them in New York City’s Tribeca Grand Hotel bar during their Big Shot photo shoot, hours before their movie premiered at the IFC Center. They were sipping espressos. In leather.

The men behind Justice, it turns out, are seemingly 100-percent harmless and disarmingly friendly. Just as our interview is starting, an acquaintance who works at the hotel saunters up to the table and chides them for not booking their stay through him. (He would have gotten them a discount!) Then he invites them to a DFA party he’s organizing. They’re pleasant as can be, apologetic even, and invite him to their DJ set later that night, “with plus-100, if you like.”

I asked Justice about their rapport with the cameras, because you never get a sense from the duo that the eyes watching them are intrusive. They said it helps that they’ve been close friends with Gavras and So-Me for years. “It doesn’t ever feel 100 percent natural, but you get used to it,” Xavier explains. “It’s not like a journalist is watching you and you don’t know what will be on tape. We knew we could make the distinction of what we wanted to show. So we were just living our lives. And whenever weird stuff happened, we would have in our mind, ‘It’s OK, I can edit it out later.’” He adds that this film is about 0.5 percent of the footage they had to work with, so it’s not necessarily representative of what their lives were actually like.

“Some people think this documentary is 100 percent crazy,” Xavier adds. “Some people think it’s depressing. But I can understand the two points of view. People can think it’s either.”

The point of A Cross the Universe, they say, was to surprise themselves with their own behavior, to indulge in as many rock ‘n’ roll clichés as possible, to think up the wildest shit, do it, and then deal with the consequences later. The record label behind this release, Atlantic, surprisingly had no comments about any of its content. Says Gaspard, “You know what? The record label saw it when it was done. We did it and were like, ‘OK, It’s finished. I hope you like it.’ We just proposed it to them as, ‘If you want to release it, do it. You can turn it down, but you can’t tell us to take a scene out.’”

The fact that the cameras were rolling pushed them farther, they say, than they might have gone otherwise. Like Gaspard’s aforementioned drunken marriage to a Vegas fan as Xavier and the crew look on bemused. She disappeared after the ceremony, and no one knows where she went. “Even though it was not supposed to be a loving marriage, I would have liked to see more of her,” he says.

So, who are these guys and why do we care, anyway? Obviously, quantifying rock stardom in 2008 is a slippery slope; nobody’s selling records except for Lil Wayne and AC/DC. Justice started off as remix artists, taking on Britney Spears’ “Me Against the Music” in 2005 before hitting the jackpot with “We Are Your Friends,” a Simian track that they took to blistering heights. Instant hit. They walked away with MTV Europe’s video of the year award. The EP Waters of Nazareth started an official frenzy. Ear-grating high notes met distorted synth guitars over tough drum kits. Justice became poster boys for the new French noise—heavy metal in an orgy with stutter edits and disco. The gays loved it. The punks loved it. The hipsters smelled a Next Big Thing. Strippers everywhere mounted their poles with newfound inspiration.

As you no doubt are aware, Justice ushered in their 2007 debut, Cross, with the single “D.A.N.C.E.,” a brilliant, sucker-punch disco pop song in which children sing bits of Michael Jackson lyrics. The video (directed by So-Me) nabbed another MTV Video of the Year nomination, this time in the States, where the group suddenly found themselves selling out huge venues as headliners. Cross went on to move 83,000 units according to Nielsen SoundScan, highly respectable numbers for an indie act. Though bands don’t typically announce make their profit and loss statements public, it’s safe to assume the tour (all but six shows sold-out) probably grossed close to a million dollars. Every step so far has been surprising.

And here’s another unexpected turn: Near the conclusion of A Cross the Universe, a young, drunken fan attacks Xavier in the parking lot before a show. Xavier has to break a bottle over the guy’s head and ends up with a huge gash in his hand. Both members of Justice are taken away in a police car, as dopey fans cheer, “Way to go, Justice!” (The two were cleared of any wrongdoing hours later, and say the attacker wrote them a letter apologizing.) The incident reminds you of their recent video for “Stress,” which follows angry young men around as they beat up civilians for no reason. They say there’s no correlation between the two; Romain Gavras shot the video months before they toured.

Justice’s thrilling live show appears briefly (probably no more than a minute of any given song), which is why the DVD comes packaged with a live CD. (It’s a killer set.) By and large, the songs act as background music to the exploits of its characters. The duo disagrees sharply that this movie’s main stars are its starfuckers (“No, no, no!” they exclaim in unison), which leaves two other possibilities: their tour manager, Bouchon, who is obsessed with and always brandishing guns (“It’s my version of a bracelet,” he says defensively), and their Christian driver, who is trying to win the Guinness World Record for hitting the lowest note with his voice. Did they find it odd that a man so devoted to Christ would want to spend his life driving debauched rock bands from gig to gig? “Maybe he was trying to test his faith,” Gaspard says. “Or maybe he was offering salvation.”

If you’ve made it this far in the article, the saving grace you probably care about the most is the next Justice album. The sad news is that fans shouldn’t anticipate new music anytime soon. They haven’t had time to record anything in the past two years, and even worse, Xavier says they don’t have an idea for the next album’s concept, which they need to guide them as they go. “We have ideas for the music, but we don’t have an idea for something that can hold them together,” Xavier says. “So, as long as we don’t have this idea, we don’t start to make music.” The plan, Gaspard adds, is to take a break after they are done promoting the movie with their current DJ tour. And maybe then think about music.

The bright side is that they don’t feel pressured to live up to anything. They say they have no idea why their debut was such a success in the first place, so they wouldn’t know which aspects to of it to copy, even if they wanted to pander.

Which isn’t to say that they want to pander at all. “Now we are waiting to discover what will happen with this documentary,” says Xavier. “Earlier, when we were talking about experiments, I was trying to explain that we use each one to help decide where we want to put Justice next, which playground. A track like “D.A.N.C.E.” takes us one step into mainstream, and then we go into another playground and make a documentary, and then we go somewhere else. What can you do using images and music?”

Words: Christian W. Smith


Darren Ressler

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