by Jonathan Keith
Anthony Moore, the mysterious singer/producer known to the dance music world as "Romanthony," has passed away. He was 46 years old. Moore's sister, Mellony Moore, confirmed yesterday that he died of complications from kidney disease on May 7th at his home in Austin, Texas. He appeared on numerous acclaimed but arcane house music singles throughout the '90s, including "The Wanderer," "Let Me Show You Love," and "Hold On," released on Roulé Records, a side label of Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter. But he is best known as the vocalist on Daft Punk's worldwide house music smash "One More Time," which topped the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart and was recently voted "Greatest Dance Track of All Time" by the readers of prestigious UK magazine Mixmag.
Some context now. "One More Time" was once an "underground" record; in the Winter of 2000, long before it would be played every New Year's Eve at every singles bar in America. Before it was played during timeouts at NBA games and before your tipsy, quasi-cougarish auntie twirled to it at your cousin's wedding reception (briefly trying to relive her own singles bar heyday), "One More Time" was the surprising new white label track from the hotly anticipated Daft Punk sophomore album, "Discovery." "Surprising" because, although first introduced at raves and tastemaking dance clubs, it was a full-on pop song, which vexed many DP fans, following their mostly-instrumental debut "Homework." The track featured the duo’s first full vocal, performed by Romanthony (pronounced “Roman Anthony”) who also supplied the lyrics for his soulful r&b-style treatment. His voice was manipulated in one of the first transparent uses of Auto-Tune, later a ubiquitous production trend and a lighting rod for controversy in the '00s. But, rather than using the technology to mask vocal deficiencies, Daft Punk employed it as an effect to explore the relationship between man and machine, an emerging theme in their body of work. Roman's vocal is chopped into key repetitive phrases before dropping into the now-famous free-flowing affirmation that is more gospel than EDM. "Music's got me feelin' the need" ... "We're gonna celebrate one more time." With only a filtered organ accompaniment, his lengthy ad-lib feels very personal and could make a room of 5,000 seem like 5. It represents a very powerful moment for dance music and it only took one listen to recognize that this was a record for the ages. As joyous and engaging as the musical track was, with its cleverly looped sample of Eddie Johns’ "More Spell On You," the spotlight was on Romanthony and his emotive performance. He was the star of an instant-classic record, about to become a much bigger star on the world stage.
And then he disappeared for several years.
"The success of "One More Time" just changed my life in a lot of ways," he tells Germany's Slices DVD magazine in 2009. For the first time in his career, Romanthony was able to sit back and watch a major record label's marketing machine create a hit record. During this same timeframe, he witnessed a new generation of producers, with new tools, moving into the scene. "I enjoyed listening to the new things coming on, some of the electronic acts like Justice, Digitalism, Deadmau5. It was a good energy that came in," he reflects. "My energy isn't the same so I don't wanna just go in there and fight it. So that's the reason I was quiet ... I was hearing new things ... it was inspirational. And I wasn't ready to do it, so you gotta listen." Recently, Roman had been collaborating with German producer Boys Noise on what he described as the best material he had ever written.
We are on the eve of another hotly anticipated Daft Punk album, “Random Access Memories,” so the news of Roman’s death is especially poignant. RAM is an album based on collaborations with other artists, and it's worth noting that Romanthony was their first ever collaborator, helping them first express their ongoing thesis that human innocence and joy will always overcome technology. “Music’s got me feelin’ so free.” Whether it’s made with an acoustic guitar or a digital sampler, whether it’s played on a turntable or streamed on the Web, what could be simpler than that? This is the greatest virtue of music -- to make the human spirit fly free -- and it has been crystallized in this song. And now, whenever and wherever it plays Romanthony, the obscure underground house artist who unwittingly became part of pop music history, will live. One more time.