Electro-funk and a passion for books
How Dave 1 adds balance to his nomadic musical life.
Words: Leanne Cloudsdale,
journalist and communications consultant
Photography: Ben Grimes
“I stopped my grad studies to become some guy prancing around on stage in tight pants,” declared David Macklovitch, who has spent the past two decades performing under the moniker ‘Dave 1’ as part of the acclaimed electro-funk band Chromeo. It was an unlikely vocational trajectory for someone who was well on track for a life in academia. Raised in Montreal, Macklovitch moved away from Canada to pursue a PhD in French Literature and Literary Criticism at Columbia University in New York, with the intention of becoming a full-time professor. By 2001 however, the hobby he’d started in high school with best friend Patrick Gemayel (or P-Thugg) had stopped being a weekend-only pursuit and turned into a successful musical career of sell-out shows and top 40 hits.
Balancing the nomadic pop-star lifestyle with a love of books, mid-century furniture and home comforts is something Macklovitch excels at. Fresh off a flight from New York, he’d landed in Los Angeles just a few hours before the interview, but rather than complain about jet lag, he explained how he makes it work and said, “I know two types of musicians. There are those who put their belongings into storage each time they go on the road, because they figure there’s no point wasting money on a home when they’re touring for years. They’ll just get Airbnb’s here and there, stay in LA for a few months and maybe finish up in London before heading back here to California. Then there are others more like me, who really cherish their home base and see it as a place of stability, calm and serenity. Home is our everything – it grounds us.
“The material things that many people associate with any sort of public facing profession don’t interest me. Sure, I’m a little coquettish with the way I dress, but I don’t have a driver’s licence and don’t own a car. I don’t have a big flat-screen TV or fancy jewellery either, because that’s not my thing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not living in a barrel (like Diogenes) but ‘home’ to me should always be dialled in, so it becomes a sort of sanctuary and a place where I can focus, re-charge and feel cocooned by.”
Macklovitch has ping-ponged across the United States for over a decade, moving between New York and Los Angeles seven times in twelve years. With each relocation, his vast book collection is prioritised over every other possession. They’re the first thing he unpacks and the ritual of reorganising them always begins with the reconfiguration of his trusty 606 Universal Shelving System. Smiling, he points out, “They really are the most ponderous possession of mine. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve schlepped them about. In the last apartment we had in New York, my fiancé did the colour coordinating thing. I reluctantly accepted because it looked cute but was so impractical! I think I cling onto organisational principles because I’m an inherently anxious person. Systems give you a sense of control. I can’t control what the music industry will become, but I can definitely control how organised my book collection is.”
He attributes an understanding of good design to his childhood. Both parents studied literature and encouraged his interests in architecture, typography, fashion, photography and fine art. His upbringing was modest but taught him to cherish nice things and never take them for granted. With a grin, he points out, “There were no family heirlooms. No antique watch being handed down from my father. I do recall getting this crap bright orange shaver from my Moroccan grandfather for my bar mitzvah – and I never used it. Now of course, I know it was designed by Dieter Rams and I see it differently, as a modernist milestone. Sometimes, I think we don’t always have the perspective to recognise the best things in life. Innovation and radical thought are often better appreciated with a bit of distance, especially when it comes to design. The beauty of certain things that have a long shelf life, is that we can enjoy them for different reasons at multiple points in our lives.”
When his brother asked for help with a mid-century renovation project, terrazzo floors were high on the list of David’s interior design suggestions. A staple choice for institutions, supermarkets and schools all across the world, this indestructible investment was a nostalgic nod towards their past. Laughing, he recalled family visits and explained, “Terrazzo was a thing in the fancier apartments where my dad’s parents lived, but even as a boy, it felt passé to me at the time. They were fancy, but out of style when I was a kid in the 1990s and reminded me of being at high school. Of course, the semiotic charge changes over time and they changed from having a naff significance to being a permanent fixture on my mood-board 24 years later.
It’s exactly the same with music. I remember doing an interview with a British music magazine in 2003. The journalist asked me to name my musical heroes and I think they expected me to say Brian Eno or Kraftwerk – and I said, ‘it’s a toss-up between John Oates and Phil Collins.’ He thought I was taking the piss/mickey/just being provocative and hung up the phone. Surely, he knew that ‘Easy Lover’ is played at every wedding and bar mitzvah in the world? Even Roxy Music never gets that airtime. For Chromeo, the references were Cameo, Rick James and Shalamar, which some people thought were naff and tacky. We were ridiculed and derided, but I honestly didn’t care. As an academic I knew that if we stuck with it long enough, people would understand. I guess one of the most beautiful things about hindsight is that it allows you to look back with the right interpretive lens. I knew that our genre of music had something visceral in it and would become trendy again at some point – and lo and behold, it has.