Giorgio Moroder won a bet. His brothers challenged him to play as well as they did — three months later, he returned home during Christmas break from boarding school and played for them. They lost.
"My life as a guitarist wasn't a long one," he says with a laugh. Moroder, now 75, is the architect of electronic pop music and disco, with a composing catalog that reads like a greatest hits of the late 20th century. By the late '60s, he was playing a handful of his songs around German dance clubs, but he put his guitar in the backseat once he listened to Wendy Carlos' groundbreaking work reimagining classical compositions with a Moog synthesizer on 1968's Switched-On Bach.
"I was so impressed by the sounds and the possibilities," he says. "I was listening over and over. ... I found a classical composer in Munich who had one. He played me a few things and he was great. When he left, I spoke to the engineer. 'What is this computer really able to do?' He gave me some sounds and I thought, 'This is really my instrument.'"
He returned a few days later to record 'Son of My Father,' a minor bubblegum funk hit and the title track from his 1972 album, one of the first pop records to feature a synthesizer prominently. From there, Moroder set out to compose ultramodern music using elements of early pop but propelled by a synthesizer — a simple metronome click track synced with the Moog, inadvertently building the repetitive four-on-the-floor dance beat now synonymous with dance music. In 1977, Moroder composed the massive disco hit "I Feel Love" for Donna Summer, for whom he produced several songs, followed by his all-electronic From Here to Eternity, then the award-winning instrumental "Chase" from Midnight Express.
"I'm not a good keyboard player. The simple stuff I can do," he says. "Especially in the disco time, the way to play was quite difficult ... I could not have played it. It was all live. Drums, guitars, keyboards, strings. Now the problem is if you want to be on top of the sounds, you have to sit on the computer for hours and get the latest music programs, the latest sounds — I don't have time for that. I just prefer to have a great musician who knows how to get those sounds in minutes instead of hours, probably, with me."
Moroder continued to compose throughout the '80s, writing songs for Flashdance, The Neverending Story and Top Gun, among others. He remained on hiatus for nearly two decades until Daft Punk asked him to speak on a track from the band's hit 2013 album Random Access Memories. On "Giorgio by Moroder," he speaks about growing up, his first gigs and his discovery of the synthesizer as the band performs its heavily Moroder-influenced dance pop.
"I was doing quite well playing golf and not doing too much," Moroder says. "I play golf. I do my crossword puzzles. Right now I'm not complaining. I'm busy. I'm busier now than even when I was working a lot."
Moroder received several offers to write another studio album, his first in more than 20 years. In June, he released Deja Vu, merging his circular synth riffs and propulsive dance beats with contemporary strobe-lighted club music with album guests like Charlie XCX, Sia and Britney Spears. He also is working on music for a Tron video game and plans another studio album and a musical based on his life.
Moroder largely avoids being in the spotlight, though he presides over a growing field of electronic artists as a kind of reluctant paternal figure. He doesn't take credit for the contorted electronic compositions dominating dubstep and microgenres within electronic dance music, or EDM — but he's a fan.
"I listen to what's new. I'm basically interested in dance music right now," he says. "My favorite guy now is Calvin Harris, not only as a DJ but a composer, arranger, whatever he does. ... Then of course the giants like Skrillex. I'm listening [to Jack U's "Where Are U Now"] with Justin Bieber, it's incredible how almost courageous with the singing part and going into a totally different part and back in — it's quite an achievement. ... There are guys like Skrillex, who is totally different, which I would never have been able to do — the technology right now is so good, if you know how to work it, you have great results," he says. "There are artists who I don't want to mention now, the inspiration is a little too much. .... If they are inspired by my songs and my notes, then I am happy."