Anthony Gonzalez could go no bigger. At least, so it seemed after 2008’s Saturdays=Youth. Departing from the ambient soundscapes and instrumentals of earlier M83 releases, Saturdays=Youth was a breakthrough for the project, introducing a whole lot more people to M83. It featured songs that were lush and gloriously over the top in their ’80s-isms and teenage visions. There were songs that walloped you over the head with great waves of yearning, and there were songs that drifted off into spacious, droning outros. It was a lot to take in, but easy to immerse yourself in. And then, to follow that up, somehow Gonzalez did go bigger.
If you thought there was no way Gonzalez’s music could get more stratospheric, more delirious with synths and youthful emotions, Saturdays=Youth’s successor immediately proved you wrong. He made a double album. He made an album that cohered and expanded every previous element of M83’s identity. He made Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. With Saturdays=Youth, Gonzalez tapped into the beginning of the millennials’ story about themselves. With Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming — released 10 years ago today — he made a generational statement.
It’s not as if Gonzalez could be accused of lacking scope and ambition in his music, but personally he felt he needed to go somewhere different. He hadn’t been entirely satisfied with Saturdays=Youth, and as he neared 30 he felt the need to really take a swing. That included upending his life, leaving his home country of France after 29 years and setting out for sunny Los Angeles. “I needed to evolve in a different country and different culture,” he explained to The Guardian in 2011. He went on to cite California as a major influence on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, regularly driving out to Joshua Tree and holing up to work on music he soon realized would develop into a double album.
At the same time that Gonzalez’ new surroundings proved inspirational, he was also in a new town and a new country at the end of his twenties. There was, as one might expect, some degree of loneliness and isolation. He found solace in revisiting memories of his childhood. It sounds like a heavy premise, but Gonzalez always argued it was quite the opposite, a tribute born from contentment rather than loss or depression. “I’m a very nostalgic person, but not in a sad way — it’s a happy nostalgia,” he said at the time. “I always love to cut memories from the past, and think about my childhood, and this album is really about that. It’s about being an adult but still creating this kind of fantasy in a childish environment. I had the best childhood, I was the happiest kid, and this album is a tribute to that.”
The result was what he deemed the story of his life to that point, exhuming childhood memories and traveling through the years via dreams — distant dreams from youth, how dreams change as you age and your perception of the world changes with you. “I like the idea of making this album more like a retrospective about someone,” he told Interview. “The way this human being will dream as a kid, and growing up. For me, this is a journey, a travel in life, a lot of changes, different experiences, and moments in life.” The double album sprawl came with a concept, related to its cover art: The first half represented the “spirit” of the young boy and the second the young girl, with the discs displaying related but different viewpoints, each song linked to a sibling song on the corresponding half.
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming soon became regarded as a musical retrospective of M83 as well. At the same time that it pivoted and surprised, opening up what would become a whole new era for the project, it also encompassed everything about the band thus far. To achieve that double-album sweep, Gonzalez wanted room for a lot of moods and approaches — so there were plenty of aqueous then celestial instrumentals and ambient passages, the dream pathways between the clearer images of the more traditional songs. And with the latter, that’s where Gonzalez had learned to go for the throat. Here he displayed a sharper and more pervasive pop acumen than ever before. It could be easy to lose yourself in the overhwhelming layers of electronics and textures, like a sugar overload sending you into a numb daze, but then there were those sticky, whooping vocal hooks in so many of the songs latching on and bringing you back. After the lovestruck rush of “Kim & Jessie,” Gonzalez had learned how to boil that down into smaller, even more direct packages.
The pop songs on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming were laser precision nostalgia machines, three or four minutes that aimed straight for your heart and could yank you back through the decades with one synth riff. These remain the peaks of the album — crashing drums and emphatic synth-rock structures fueling the momentum of anthemic, infectious tracks like “Reunion” and “OK Pal” and “Claudia Lewis” and “Steve McQueen.” M83 was always a lot, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was the pinnacle of that. There was so much drama on the album; sometimes when I hear “Wait” I get dislocated and think I must be at the album’s climactic finale before realizing it’s only the fifth track. With all the transitional tracks, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming can induce trances, watery segues inviting you to wander in your own memories and dreams. Gonzalez very much envisioned it as an album experience, and it’s rewarding if you can wade through it all at once — but it wouldn’t have ever worked if he didn’t have all the pristine pop songs anchoring it.
Which brings us to “Midnight City.” Ten years ago, it still seemed like a fluke when the current generation of indie artists started crossing over into more of a mainstream consciousness. This being the 2010s, it’s not like Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming sold in the blockbuster numbers of the past, but it had that sneakier cultural ubiquity. “Midnight City” became something larger, destined to be played at seemingly every single college party alongside “Oblivion” and “212.” Between the most insistent deployment of Gonzalez’s processed yelps in an unshakeable wordless chorus, that sax solo, and the song’s overall inevitability, it was an ultimate anthem amongst anthems. And perhaps most importantly, it represented why M83 connected, why Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming felt like such a generational touchstone.
Gonzalez’s claim for happy nostalgia goes a long way towards explaining the murky, malleable nature of M83’s music, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming as a whole. Something like “Midnight City” could soundtrack just about any exuberant or listless night in early adulthood, because it seemed equally joyous and wistful — just like so many of the other standouts on the album. The album title, too, captured a particular timbre and moment: a generation coming of age in the seemingly halcyon days of the Obama presidency, in a window of relative calm between the financial crisis and the dire reckonings of the Trump years. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming could’ve easily been a slogan for a generation being thinkpieced into oblivion at the time — the new baby boom that was supposed to change everything, bestowed with the mantle of digital era idealism. But at the same time, it communicated something missing, the growing pains of sifting through the past to make sense of a present that moved too fast.
Nostalgia had long been in the air at this point. Nine years earlier, James Murphy had burst onto the scene with “Losing My Edge,” a whole self-lacerating takedown of retro fetishism that also presaged the ascension of Brooklyn indie/hipsterdom as a cultural and generational signifier, with a bunch of young digital natives crafting their identities out of fragments of lost decades. And while the ’80s in particular became a point of fascination and rehabilitation in the ’00s, it was cresting into a new obsession as we crossed over into the ’10s. Just a little before Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming arrived, we got the Drive soundtrack — itself a signifier for an amorphous, suggested ’80s aesthetic and tone that permeated pop culture through the ensuing decade.
The prominence of that decade was pivotal to M83 and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and not just because Gonzalez was making synthesizer music. As an older millennial, when Gonzalez talked about revisiting his childhood, he was talking about the ’80s — watercolor memories of a decade that itself was already lined with nostalgia and longing. For those of us 10 or so years younger than Gonzalez, the music of M83 got at a very specific strain of millennials’ received nostalgia. We could vaguely remember the before times, but were formed by digital culture. Time stretched and collapsed. Something like Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was one big garden of lost innocence, but one you couldn’t even quite remember or touch yourself. An echo of the years just before we were born — a time we remain fascinated with because it’s the beginning of a new technological era crucial to our upbringing, but also the end of a different era that’s been passed down to us as a reminder of supposedly simpler lives we never got to experience for ourselves.
When promoting Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez name-checked the great old double albums that inspired him — the White Album, Pink Floyd a couple times over, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. The latter always stuck in my head. The difference between the ‘90s and the ‘10s means that Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was nowhere as big an album as Mellon Collie; for true ubiquity, you had to look to artists like Kanye West and Drake. But at the same time, I’ve often thought of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming as very much being the Mellon Collie for millennials. An almost ludicrously ambitious work striving to say just about everything, made by a single mastermind with no qualms about depicting oceanic, almost fictionalized teenage emotion. Each captured what would become the stereotypical tone of their times, Billy Corgan channeling the hurt and angst of Gen X and Gonzalez the desperate search to reclaim a more youthful sense of wonder that has always been an undercurrent to the millennials’ supposed ebullience.
This time, Gonzalez really couldn’t go any bigger. There was no more epic memoryscape he could paint than Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and so half a decade later we got the loopy comedown of Junk. At the time it was divisive, a seemingly combative and intentionally goofy successor to the romantic overdrive of M83’s preceding two albums. But this was always the end destination, digital detritus and cartoon space garbage. On the other side of immersing yourself in the past’s neon hues, there were no clear new answers — just the clutter of over-stimulated and -mediated millennial minds. That album mirrored generational experience in its own way, too.
In the near-decade I’ve been doing some version of this job, nostalgia has been ever present. We look back at the great albums of the past, at albums that defined the moment 10 or 20 years ago. We’re constantly reminded of the passage of year after year. Now, these 10-year anniversaries are creeping up to when I started working as a music journalist. That’s head-spinning on its own, but revisiting Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is something else entirely. When this album came out in 2011, it already had a disorienting emotional impact — taking me back to a childhood that wasn’t mine, infusing my own hazy early memories with borrowed nostalgia, making me excruciatingly aware of my own age even when I was still young.
On all those nights where “Midnight City” blared out of one window or another, there could be a moment where the song would stop you in your tracks — an outrageous saxophone, reminding you that you were, theoretically, in the prime of your life but right at this very moment that chapter was fleeting, slipping right past you. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming could make you feel like a kid again, and then a lovelorn teenager again, and then an idealistic young adult with the whole future ahead of you, and then someone very old before their time, pining for a past that was now well-preserved and almost still living alongside us. Now, the album that could trigger all these convoluted interactions with memory and experience is itself 10 years old. And with all that time passed, once more, it’s a reminder that Gonzalez didn’t just go bigger. He didn’t just make a generational statement. He built a time machine.