Time Out São Paulo

Interview: Arcade Fire’s Win Butler

With their 2013 album Reflektor, Arcade Fire took a disco-fixated turn. We quizz Win Butler about his love for lamé.

What’s the idea behind the disco shows you’ve been putting on?

We wanted to translate the spirit of something we’d experienced at Carnival in Haiti to a way people back home would understand it. It was the first time I enjoyed dancing as part of a huge crowd.

Are you a good dancer?
I don’t think it matters – the point is to feel moved by music. I’m not someone who can dance to a song I don’t like. In high school, if New Order or Depeche Mode or something I liked came on, I’d jump up. But the idea of dancing to bad house music is something I could never get behind. Ecstasy probably helps – but I never partook.

Why not?
I never needed the help. I’d rather be moved by something great, rather than use drugs to make something that’s shitty seem great. There’s a big difference between going to Ibiza and watching people do drugs and try to sleep with each other, and being in Haiti when there’s a voodoo drummer playing and the kids come out and dance until three in the morning, and then jump in the ocean.

James Murphy [of LCD Soundsystem] is really inspired by the disco scene of ’70s New York. Did that rub off on you?
Yes. But Montreal in the ’70s was another hotbed of disco. David Bowie and Grace Jones would come up. There was a club in Montreal called Lime Light. People used to line up all the way around the block, hoping to get in. It was an inspiration.

What about the ‘disco sucks’ movement? Why did people hate it so much in the ’70s and ’80s?
I think disco was this gay, countercultural thing. There’s a song on [Arcade Fire’s album] Reflektor called ‘We Exist’, which is about a gay kid talking to his dad [‘Daddy, it’s true, I’m different from you. But tell me why they treat me like this?’]. In dominant cultures there’s what’s normal, and everything else is abnormal. It’s one of the darker tendencies of humanity to think everyone should fit into a mould.

Did you and Murphy hit it off right away?
Everything we’d read made it seem like we’d find each other annoying. But we had a ton in common. When we saw each other play for the first time, we were both, ‘Hey, I really like your band!’ And he has a great beard.

Are you thinking of growing one yourself?
I’m not a good hipster – if I let my moustache grow, it really just looks like I have dirt on my face.

What does that word ‘hipster’ actually mean?
The term ‘hippy’ was coined by the beatniks because in the ’60s, hippy meant ‘little hipster’. ‘Hipster’ means absolutely nothing now. If you think our band are hipsters, then … whatever. I do like a good cup of coffee, whatever that makes me.

Hipster enough for your ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ video to attract a shedload of stars. How did that all come about?
James Franco just happened to be in town. The Michael Cera bit was funny [Cera, of Superbad fame, plays a scornful Spanish waiter], because I called him and he was like, ‘Well, I speak pretty good Spanish.’ That just wrote itself: Michael Cera speaking Spanish – it’s going to be funny.

What have you learned about the world recently?
One of the most powerful things I’ve seen was in Haiti. After the earthquake, there was no electricity – everywhere blacked out. There were people in the streets with all their belongings and joyful women singing songs of praise to be alive. I just continue to learn a lot from Haiti and Haitians about how to be grateful for what you have.

And you became a father this year. Do you worry about your son?
He’s six months old. He doesn’t really know what ‘scary’ is yet. Sometimes, though, you can see it in his eyes: he’s like, ‘Whoa!’ – totally freaked out by something unrecognisable. But I feel that sense of wonder is all part of growing up.

Arcade Fire play Lollapalooza on 6 April.  

By Jonny Ensall


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