Nicolas Godin studied architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Versailles, and Jean-Benoît Dunckel studied mathematics, before forming a band in 1995. Before founding Air (erroneously considered as an acronym of Amour, Imagination, Rêve, which translates to Love, Imagination, Dream), Dunckel and Godin played together in the band Orange with others such as Alex Gopher, Xavier Jamaux and Jean de Reydellet. The former two subsequently contributed to remixes of tracks recorded by Air.
Initially, Godin worked alone, recording a demo with members of Funkadelic as his backing band before releasing his first entirely solo effort, "Modular Mix", which featured production by Étienne de Crécy.
After making several remixes for other acts in the first half of the 1990s, Air recorded their first EP, Premiers Symptômes, in 1995. They released their first album, Moon Safari, in 1998. The first single, "Sexy Boy", was heavily played on alternative radio stations. The album received universal acclaim and became an international success. In 2000, they composed the score The Virgin Suicides to Sofia Coppola's debut film of the same name. In the 2000s, they released four studio albums, including 10 000 Hz Legend (2001), Talkie Walkie (2004), Pocket Symphony (2007) and Love 2 (2009).
Air have often collaborated with Coppola. Air drummer and former Redd Kross member Brian Reitzell put together the soundtrack to 2003's Lost in Translation, including one original contribution by Air titled "Alone in Kyoto". The soundtrack for Coppola's October 2006 film Marie Antoinette featured a track by Air ("Il Secondo Giorno"). They wrote and played the music of the album 5:55 by Anglo-French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, which was released in August 2006. Air have recorded a DJ mix album, Late Night Tales: Air, for Azuli Records' Late Night Tales series. The release was initially scheduled for October 2005, but was delayed several times. It finally was released, complete with a new sleeve design, in September 2006. Darkel, a solo album by Dunckel, was released that same year.
City Reading (Tre Storie Western) (2003) started as an idea for a collaboration with contemporary Italian writer Alessandro Baricco, known for his unusual characterizations and lyrical, poetic style. Baricco contacted Air in summer 2002 with the idea to marry narration of texts from his book City with live original musical accompaniment. The performance premiered live in November 2002 at Rome's Teatro Valle, and was deemed such a success that both parties resolved to make a full studio recording that resulted in the album.
Influences and musical style
Air are associated with a wide variety of musical styles: electronica, downtempo, space rock/pop, dream pop, trip hop, ambient, and progressive rock.
Dunckel grew up listening to both classical music and electronic music, especially Kraftwerk. Next, he took an interest in what he called the "English dark rock" of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, while being a fan of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Brian Eno and Cluster were two of the electronic acts who inspired him the most. He cited among his favorite artists: Maurice Ravel for classical music, François de Roubaix for music soundtracks and Siouxsie and the Banshees for pop music. Dunckel shared with Godin a special liking for the music of Michel Legrand, Philip Glass and Grace Jones. During his childhood, Godin was fascinated by the Beatles before later discovering the soul of Sly and the Family Stone. The duo were influenced by progressive rock pioneers Pink Floyd.
Air use many of their studio instruments (like Moog synthesizers, the Korg MS-20, Wurlitzer and Vocoder) on stage, where their ability to improvise is more clearly highlighted. The band perform the well-known tracks from the albums live as extended or altered versions. Air often collaborate (both in the studio and live), with artists like Beth Hirsch (Moon Safari), Françoise Hardy ("Jeanne"), Jean-Jacques Perrey ("Cosmic Bird"), Gordon Tracks ("Playground Love" and "Easy Going Woman" - Gordon Tracks is a pseudonym of the French singer Thomas Mars from Phoenix), Beck (10 000 Hz Legend), as well as on the 2004 tour with Dave Palmer and on the 2007 tour with drummer Earl Harvin, Vincent Taurelle and Steve Jones.