The birth of our underground brand Factory 93 not only brought on an adrenaline rush reminiscent of the renegade warehouse era of raving—on which Insomniac was founded—but it also had us thinking back to all the people, places and parties that made this whole operation possible. And with that came a burning desire to crack open our collection and dust off the classic records we couldn’t live without. Through our From the Crates series, we break out seminal and obscure cuts alike, imparting some knowledge in the process.

Stardust is one of the best one-off, one-hit wonders in dance music history, and one of the Frenchest and most emblematic songs from the very French ‘90s filter house scene. The house trio’s discography begins and literally ends with “Music Sounds Better With You,” a simple, sly earworm that still works on almost any dancefloor it’s dropped on. The record just turned 20 and is due for a reissue (and remaster) sometime on the horizon, so let’s just jump into it:

Stardust (and this, their only real tune) represents perhaps the pinnacle of the French touch sound, which—like anything that becomes wildly popular—had rinsed itself out by the end of the ‘90s. This side project/backdoor supergroup was the result of Alan Braxe and Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter getting together in the studio and roping in singer Benjamin Diamond to capture a little bit of minimalist disco magic in a bottle.

Daft Punk was riding high on the release of their first LP, Homework, the year prior and still had not yet morphed into being full-time robots. Bangalter, the Daft Punk member more likely to work solo or on side projects between their albums and tours, got together with Alan Braxe in Daft House, the Daft Punk studio, with the help of then-unknown vocalist Benjamin Diamond.

Braxe was also riding the crest of a big breakout in 1997, when his shuffling and skittering house classic “Vertigo” caught fire as a 12″ on Bangalter’s Roulé imprint, and he seemed full of ideas of how to further mangle disco into house with a fin-de-siècle Euro twist. Braxe’s later collaborations with Fred Falke and Kris Menace would strike a cleaner, more stringent strain of house. But here, his production assistance—along with Bangalter still in a shaggier mode than the more pristine work Daft Punk’s later catalog would come to represent—feels a bit rawer, clunkier, and ultimately more charming.

The lyrics are almost childishly basic, but clearly, they’ve hit that universal or archetypal core that the best Daft Punk tunes and French classics from that era seem to capture.

They nicked a tiny instrumental snippet from the opening bars of Chaka Khan’s “Fate” and wrote some simple vocals that Diamond sang over the loop:

Oh baby
I feel like
The music sounds better with you
Love might
Bring us back together
I feel so good

The lyrics are almost childishly basic, but clearly, they’ve hit that universal or archetypal core that the best Daft Punk tunes and French classics from that era seem to capture. Diamond’s vocals feel pitch-shifted and over-processed, lending to this dreamlike otherworldliness somewhere out of time.

Is it ironic and detached? Or is it pure, unabashed, syrupy nostalgia? Could it be both?

In a recent essay for FACT, Ryan Alexander Diduck argues that “Music Sounds Better With You” is a key artifact that “unofficially marks the start of a regressive tendency that characterized the majority of pop production well into the twenty-first century.” Diduck isn’t sure whether this is a song that’s entirely backward-looking or one looking toward a future that is just a cut-copy regurgitation of the past. Its ambiguity perfectly encapsulates that end-of-the-‘90s full-on plummet into nostalgia (remember all the Tarantino knockoffs coming out by 1998?), before the analog world was subsumed by the digital.

In many ways, “Music Sounds Better With You” is a very anticlimactic classic. Like “Vertigo,” it kind of ambles along, more intent on looping itself into the clouds than hitting any sort of crescendo. Instead, it rides tiny, circular, looping crests. In that sense, the song really doesn’t have a beginning or end; you could loop it forever, and no one would really know where the head or tail is. Diduck finds that this structural antithesis to most club music creates a state of suspended animation, where the song both harkens back to a nostalgic, post-disco 1980, when Chaka Khan released “Fate,” and this kind of lifeless electronic future that we currently inhabit.

The Michel Gondry–directed music video for the song only helps reinforce the notion that this whole Stardust concept is supposed to exist in some other familiar but foreign liminal space, something ghostly but still warm and inviting. In the video, the three figures have screen faces. Mind you, this is still several years before Daft Punk shifted into their robot personae, but this could be the sort of missing link between the human and the robot: proxies that are neither human nor machine, reflecting ourselves in their visages.

Diduck concludes that it isn’t irony, but rather, maybe an antidote to an irony-poisoned decade—at least, musically and culturally speaking—and a simple nod to embracing the simple things in life: love, community, having fun, reflecting on the good times. Is it corny when stated like that? Probably. But that was always the charm of this song and the early Daft Punk work—a profound, willful naiveté that they had more and more trouble trying to capture down the line.

It’s worth mentioning that the song re-emerged during the Daft Punk Alive 2007 tour as the encore, mashed up with Daft Punk hits like “Together,” “One More Time,” and “Human After All,” as the robot pyramid revealed the faces of human beings. The conclusion seemed to be: We are humans, of course, and this is music for human beings.

“Music Sounds Better With You” is being remixed, remastered, and reissued for the 20th anniversary with some “subtle” compression, as Braxe puts it. And apparently, somewhere there are some other demos from their only recording sessions back in the 1990s. But there are no scheduled plans for a Stardust “reunion” or new release on the horizon.

The fact that this is the only Stardust track ever makes the song all the more ephemeral, magical, and something that still almost doesn’t feel real.

 


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