Lady Gaga has already proved her underground bona fides via an appearance — two of them, actually — at Berlin’s Berghain club. But that’s nothing compared to the subcultural excavation she undertakes with her new single, “Venus.”
“Venus,” cowritten by Gaga and core Artpop collaborators Paul Blair (DJ White Shadow), Nick Monson, Dino Zisis, and Hugo Leclercq — a.k.a. the 19-year-old French EDM producer Madeon — contains an officially licensed sample of “Rocket Number 9,” recorded by the French synth-rockers Zombie Zombie. For fans of France’s dance-music underground, that’s pretty unexpected. Zombie Zombie, the duo of Etienne Jaumet and Cosmic Neman, are known for a darkly seductive sound that draws from Krautrock, French cosmic rockers like Heldon, and the horror soundtracks of John Carpenter. (In 2010, they even released a mini-album of John Carpenter covers.) Nationality aside, in terms of sound and visibility, the duo — signed to the Parisian independent label Versatile, home to left-field house artists like I:Cube and Chateau Flight — is worlds away from the buzzing-in-every-way Madeon, a rave-pop prodigy whose peppy, sidechain-heavy sound is halfway between Deadmau5 and Daft Punk (who actually turned up on Versatile way back in 1996, remixing I:Cube’s “Disco Cubizm”).
But as far as curveballs go, the mere presence of Zombie Zombie pales in comparison to the fact that “Rocket Number 9” is actually a song by the legendary jazz musician and avowed intergalactic traveler Sun Ra. Originally released on 1972’s Space Is the Place, the song brackets incendiary, lickety-split ensemble melodies, mind-bending soloing, and a long, abstracted breakdown with a chanted chorus — “Rocket Number 9 take off for the planet Venus / Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Up in the air!” — more in keeping with Raymon Scott’s Saturday-morning cartoon soundtracks. In addition to the Zombie Zombie sample, Gaga borrows Sun Ra’s chorus wholesale and folds it into new lyrics addressed to “Goddess of Love, Venus,” coming up with a song that’s very Barbarella 2.0. The distance between Venus and Saturn, where Sun Ra said he was born, may be vast, but leave it to Artpop to blaze a shortcut.
“Venus” is slated to be the second song on Gaga’s Artpop, due out on November 11. Its online premiere follows sneak previews of the EDM-influenced “Aura” and “Swine,” the Purity Ring-remixed “Applause,” and the R. Kelly duet “Do What U Want“; last week, she sang a stripped-down version of her nomad’s lament “Gypsy” to an invite-only crowd in Berlin.