Bicep Talk #2
Part two (Part one here if you missed it) of our in depth interview between the ever excellent Mr Dance Tunnel, Dan Beaumont and Bicep. R$N was there – in body at least – to witness them tear apart the Terraza at the opening of We Love… Space this weekend and we’re pretty bloody hyped about them coming to join us again this year in our tent in the woods!
This week’s section takes in geeky kids making music in their basements, breakbeat sampling, overnight success, hate from the ‘bottom half of the internet’ and digging for the weirdest records.
You can catch Bicep headlining under the Ransom Note <3 SOCIETY tent at Farr Festival on the 20th July.
Which producers do you rate at the moment?
Andy: Producer wise There are lots of labels, I wouldnt even be able to start pronouncing their names Labels like Lux Records are putting out some really cool stuff. Concrete records have been putting out some good stuff recently. Every record weve bought recently hasnt got a name particularly attached to it.
Matt: Ive really liked some of the Delroy Edwards, like the lighter stuff. I guess I just like a bit of stripped back fuzzy shitty made techno. Im trying to think of some of the stuff weve played on Rinse recently
A: Do you know the record label Mos Deep? thats like one of my favourites.
A: Weve also got a couple of records from Crme Organisation that are proper. They might be a couple of years old now though but we got them at a record shop in Dublin. I think were actually starting to like the really weird ambient kinda things now.
M: Our rinse show, apart from doing really camp disco the first week we did it, its been like this really weird techno-y kinda thing. Oh, Randomer as well! He does like this broken beat, really heavy stuff.
A: Genius of Time as well.
M: Their Boiler Room was class!
Oh yeah, we had them at Dance Tunnel, theyre really good.
M: Theyre just proper. Their release on Aniara was amazing.
Thats their label, everything on it is ridiculous!
M: In terms of DJs, Steffan Lindberg, I think hes from Sweden, I saw at Panorama Bar and Id been there for 19 hours, I was dead! Everyone else had gone home and I was on my own, maybe like one other friend was still there, I was like Im only here for a weekend fuck it. He came on, he was playing like really fast jungle loops but with techno open high hats and every so often there was this big devastating kick! And you like waiting there for ages, but it wasnt like that bollocks of broken beat it was like raging jungle techno.
Ive seen the breakbeat slowly creep back into house. Have you heard of Gnork? Hes on a label called Blind Jacks Journey, its like these really weird pitchy piano chords with the amen break on top.
M: I love that stuff. Our next release is like big jungle loops slowed down a bit.
A: Thats like my favourite Shed stuff. Like WK7 where you never know where its gonna go.
M: The reason I like more old-school sounding music is that it is just so full and rich and over the top and theres loads of snares shooting everywhere.
Its got quite polite now hasnt it.
M: Yeah yeah. For us, thats why Im always gonna be drawn back. Like the older, not templates, but older like vibes and stuff. Especially the older jungle an all. Not the rave style jungle but I mean we were just listening to an old LTJ Bukem mix and it was just the most ethereal almost aphex twin-y type pads over the most sparse, broken and skipped beats and there wasnt anything that I could want to listen to more at 9 in the morning if you know what I mean?
Especially somewhere like Panorama Bar where youve got the sun coming in.
A: It wasnt anything too heavy it was just like nice and dancey a lot of it. Ive been going through quite a lot of Bukems old sets and theyve just been amazing. I really hope people dont start just laying break beat samples over their shit.
Hang on a minute, havent you just told me youve been doing that?
A: Weve been sat in the studio for two years but were not gonna put it on every single tune we do. Its just that it works for this one particularly!
What do you think of your current success? Is it something thats taken you by surprise?
M: Its weird, because its one of those things that you work on every day for 4 or 5 years. And unfortunately it was like 4 years of nothing so when it came it was really cool. We didnt really think about it Without sounding cynical, dance music is quite vacuous and its very doof doof doof. You know what I mean? It doesnt really mean anything to us. Its great to be able to travel. For us the best thing about it is that we can kinda have the freedom now to hopefully, maybe in a years time, go in any direction we want and to be able to sustain that by being paid for gigs.
A: Its nice that people get to listen to your music. You know, you spend ages making a track, which we did before and wed be really happy with it but it was just the fact that nobody would listen to it. So its nice now to know that you can make something and people will want to listen to it.
I think whats interesting is that youve hand built your own network and youve basically created your own audience.
A: Thats one of the nice things about it. And its kinda lacking from a lot of people how rely on magazines and rely on PR, which I guess you have to do if you dont have the time but we made the time to do it. There are people on our blog that have been commenting for years and are the ones to tell the others that are saying oh theyre moving to 90s house to go and listen to our older stuff because they enjoy everything that weve done but they also just understand. So I think weve got a really intelligent group of followers right from the start.
M: Which is why, fair enough if your fan base suddenly grows 5 times but itll shrink again, dance music always fluctuates, but for us its just those core friends right from the beginning.
A: Definitely the people from the beginning always comment and are still active.
M: Some people if they have a burst of interest they let it go to their heads, but for us its very much like business as usual.
The over-night success can get a lot of hate. Have you experienced that?
M: Oh completely, but it doesnt bother us at all. Any time theres a review, say on RA, there will be like 30 comments where 15 of them are spitting hatred and 15 are positive. Its just one of those things. Its probably not even anything to do with the success its just that weve been brought into the limelight. Especially if youre somewhere thats familiar, like 90s house, half of the people are going to despise it and half are going to love it! Its just one of those things you know, and it doesnt bother us at all.
A: I like it
With dance music that bottom half of the internet can be quite lively and sometimes overly trollish. Do you think thats a recent thing?
A: Its recent but its been around a while. When we started up our blog there was a lot of blogs putting up stuff that they didnt like. Theyd put up a track and say This tracks terrible and Id be thinking Why would you waste your time putting up and slagging it off? And I always find that with reviews, especially from people that Id say arent particularly qualified to review stuff and theyd absolutely slate it. You have to spend as much time considering it as they have made it you know? And on our blog were always trying to be positive and we would rather spend our time putting up music we like. And all the trolling stuff we avoided by doing that, because we didnt really want any negative stuff on our blog. It was never about trying to take people apart, it was more about promoting good music that we liked.
M: I think thats the thing, I feel people forget what the point of dance music actually is. It is ultimately getting people together at the weekend and having fun, thats the goal. The goal isnt to make the most unique, icey cold techno that was created on a spring in the middle of Scandinavia you know? I think some people get completely detached from the whole side of what its meant to be about. But then I also understand that sound design and leading it into more intelligent music is very important as well. Like Aphex Twin is not club music but it is some of the best dance music ever made. So I do think that theres a lot of people that have completely and utterly forgotten
Some people take that over analytical, slightly pompous approach to reviewing warehouse parties and the acts.
M: I know, its like people going out and actually doing something and then one person comes up and its too hot for them and they think that the air conditioning is broken and theyll slag off the whole venue because its too hot. And you know like therell be like 3000 people thatll read it and think Shit, Im not going there I dont like hot venues. Its just something as simple and stupid as that. Or like some guy standing beside a sound system, when theyre designed for you to be able to stand away from them to hear it properly, and he thinks the sound system is terrible and then reviews it and then you get tarred with it..
As DJs what do you think you have that makes you unique?
A: I think what Ive noticed, especially playing out more at bigger sets is that we always stay true to what we like. We always play stuff that we like, we never play fillers. And I think a lot of DJs get to the point where they know a track will work with a big room or a certain crowd, but we always try and push it and ease in more fun things or maybe take a few more risks in bigger rooms. It took a while to get there, when we first started it was all risks! Sometimes you knew it wasnt working!
M: Our first few sets were disasters but weve always tried to play eclectic.
A: And always watching the floor as well.
M: I think for us, just having such a broad interest, when the times right I still have a couple of good Italo records in the box that are the right speed to play with house. And sometimes the time is right, like if we ever play Scandinavia – Scandinavia is probably one of my favourite places to play on earth – thats somewhere you can play really, really hard and then take it right down. I know you can definitely do the same with Panorama Bar but thats a given really but we find with Scandinavia, its the kinda place that we play huge energy music and bring in a sparkly Italo track and a whole burst of energy comes back. So for us, being able to dip into different genres has always been something we pride ourselves on. And thats totally inspired by Optimo, our first ever eclectic music experience was going there every weekend when we were at uni. I used to travel up, go and see their sets and theyd go through everything and on their home turf where they were completely comfortable. It was amazing.
What kind of relationship do you think you have with the underground?
M: Its hard to know…
A: Who calls themselves underground nowadays?! If you call yourself underground, youre not really underground. Do you know what I mean?
M: The underground dont talk to anyone so we dont know them! I dont know that kid in the basement who got given an MPC by his granddad. Its hard to know.
A: The underground dont have computers do they?!
M: The underground are painting and decorating and working in a car shop and making techno.
A: Recording onto tapes and giving them to their parents haha!
M: Certainly, we have a blog that weve done for a long time and thats given us a big online community so itd be impossible to call us underground. Especially after tracks like Vision of Love and stuff like that last year its very hard. But I think we still have the ability to delve into the extremely underground. We havent now re-aligned our sights, do you know what I mean? Were always trying to get back to it.
And thats geek power now?
M: Yeah yeah yeah.
Whens your album coming out?
M: Do you know what? Our manager was like Right okay, now lets work towards an album to come out this year. Imagine if wed done a 90s house album that was finished, being mastered and due to come out in May this year! Can you imagine it! Itd have just pulled it and bunked it! I think we need to find an ebb and flow that works for us or that we think will work. I mean, at the end of the day we will make stuff thats popular and people will listen to. We could go away and make a seriously icey, nerded out album this week. For us the challenge is very much morphing our taste with something that will work for lots of people. For us, thats an exciting thing to do, but we now need to find one thats going to feel very much like, personal to us, experiment with our studio for another year and come back to it.
So, what if you were to do a Daft Punk and work with your heroes. Who would be on your album?
A: Never work with your heroes!
M: Do you know what? Never work with your heroes. Dont even fucking meet them! Thats the golden rule! Nah, you know what, I love to throw in curveballs… Let me try to think of someone…
A: It would be good to get piano solos from someone like Stevie Wonder on your album… Just cos.
M: A prime example is someone releases a big track and the label says we need a remix from you. They turn in the remix, which is like 3 years after they released a certain track Oh no, no, no, we wanted the pianos. Whys it not that record?
A: The thing is the best thing to do is working with friends and people you can say thats shit too. You need to be able to be critical to them.
M: Id love to make a record with someone like Sven Vath. He hasnt actually released very much in the past 20 years really, and I think that could be like something Id love to do. Even though the cocoon stuff is kinda cheesey techno at times.
A: It wasnt cheesey for a very long time though.
M: The sounds of the 3rd season and the 4th season were weird kinda like glockenshpiels over like 909 and weird cool really emotional techno that worked for a long time it would be cool to maybe work with something like that. I just think this whole working with your heroes thing
A: I dont really know who Id want to work with. As I like him and think regardless of what you made it would be killer. What you made you end up being something completely different to what you first thought.
M: Were extremely happy with the track that weve done with SMD and it was one of those things where wed arranged a studio day three months in advance. We knew wed need a few days gap to do it and it was kinda like, you know when you turn and youre like, right, I have to make something in the next couple of days. It was very much that we didnt know what to expect but I think just like fucking around we got something that we were happy with, which wasnt actually what I expected at all.
Thats the thing thats blowing your iPhone up right now.
M: Notifications galore!
I wanted to talk to you briefly about remixes, do you think that remixes are still a valid medium in dance music?
M: Were doing a couple now so we cant really slag them off, but its a fucking joke. I dont want to mention names or labels because we try not to say anything negative, but there are certain labels and certain artists that are on the fucking hot button for anything thats remotely interesting. And its just like Oh lets dig up an old 90s house legend and hes gonna have a comeback remix thats gonna be an out of tune piece of shit. Its a joke. We try to do as little remixes as possible and we almost never get or own stuff remixed. Weve got two coming up that have been swaps. The only remixes that weve ever really arranged are been with friends that weve said if you want our track can we have yours and weve always said Please use one note noise, use a note. Just create your own interpretation. This idea of reworking the drums and basslines is dog shit.
A: We say If you want take 6 months or a year.
M: Yeah exactly, make it a piece of your work thats just mildly influenced by us that we can maybe have as something to use in our sets and kinda feed into our own tracks. I think Levon Vincent put on an interview that remixing really is only people only just trying to buy a slice of you. Theyre trying to like cut a bit of your name to use.
And they dont even really want you, they want a perception of you…
M: Yeah, exactly.
Whats the plan for the next 12 months then?
A: I think just get the studio up and really just kinda have fun. Make stuff that we like. I mean, for the track that weve done theres some stuff that were really happy with, weve done a couple of remixes and then with a blank slate start again.
M: Weve got a pop remix coming out, weve done one for Disclosure, and that was alright. That was like, we know ourselves that weve done two remixes for them. One of them weve just gone all out pop on it. The other one weve gone a little bit more underground, but then theyre both in a major key. Theyre fun, theyre happy, theyre very much what youd expect of us remixing a Disclosure track, keeping it fun. For us we just wanted to do something that was kinda poppy. And then weve got remixes for Motor City Drum Ensemble and some remixes coming out on John Talabots label and theyre so stripped and underground. The techno track we did with SMD. Our next release is like techno mixed with jungle
Dont you get everyone just trying to get you to make 90s house all the time?
A: Anyone thats asked us for remixes like Talabot, we sent him sketches of stuff and he was like oh i love this one, I love this one! and we were just like sweet! When youre working with people like that and youve got freedom, we can go anywhere. Wil Sauls one of those people as well, hes never negative in terms of his feedback hes always directing you in the right way. Its things like that that make it really easy for us to work
I think its a funny line that you have to straddle. You have to nurture the artists to do their own thing and on the other hand you have use your experience to guide them in some way. Its a fine line.
M: Its why weve said our label is only us. To be honest with you, even having to say no to stuff on the blog, weve never taken submissions. Its always been us digging. But then say, you post a track from a friends label theyre like They posted my music thats great!, but then the next release they come out with is not as good and theyre like Yo yo yo, can I get it posted on the blog? and then were just like aahhh, dare I say its shit?
Thats the thing. Because otherwise youre just part of that whole promotion.
M: Yeah, it is very much a fine line. You just have to be able to judge. Its kinda weird, its kinda interesting. Do I put it up or not?
A: You have to give things a couple of listens and try to get an angle on it.
M: Its a weird one. There are definitely times when we 95% like something but then theres a 5% mmmmm, but then theres also times when I was putting up italo disco that I was like I hate everything about this song apart from that synth in the intro, its going up! Its a lot easier when you find it because youre like, This is my little weird gem!
Is there competition between when youre digging to find the weirdest stuff?
A: Its kinda fun when someone picks out something as random as that, like a synth solo. Well be like Oh this tracks terrible, but I fucking love that synth! Music is weirdly one of the only things weve never disagreed on. Like 99% of the posts weve been so happy with. Even from the early days when a couple of people posted and now its just me and matt posting up and thats usually stuff that we like.
What label would you most like to release on?
A: Our own.
M: Our own. Because we get to control everything then. Theres no Oh were gonna do a re-press. Theres no Oh we got a promo video done. Theres no Oh weve organised an interview. Do you know what I mean? All that shit is pointless. Id rather just do it ourselves and on our own timeline.
A: I think all the good labels that are doing it themselves like FXHE, L.I.E.S theyve got their own vibes and theyre doing their own thing and its working well for them.
If they were working within the mechanism of the music industry theyd have never got off the ground. There would have been people lining up to tell them that they couldnt do it. Do you consider yourselves a brand?
A: Sort of…
M: I dunno. Its one of those things that we have a music blog, we run club nights, we make T-shirts for fun and we release music. Loosely you could pigeon hole it as that but for us its just doing what we love. A lot of people say that were a brand. We had a logo from day one, but thats because were both from design backgrounds so the idea of creating a full package has always been important to us.
A: The aesthetic of having like a coherent idea, like even this SMD track called Sacrifice, it wasnt meant to be called Sacrifice that was a complete accident but it kinda worked in the end and it fitted in the track in my head and then we did the logo with the whole bicep thing as just bones. I thought it was class, I love the idea of it. Just one off little ideas and they all fit in around the vibe. Its nice to just have a coherent brand.
Have you met a lot of new fans in the last year?
A: Its really nice just having people that are into you. Im just happy for anyone thats into it. People that might have been into pop music last year are now into our stuff. I mean for us its helping us to create a profile that if we make some more underground stuff that theyd be into it and then they can find other underground artists through our blog. We always just try to promote artists that arent so big. Like everyones heard of mixes by other people or tracks by the big names so we always try and dig out the smaller ones. Especially on our Rinse show, for instance the last Rinse show was Black Madonna and it was nice to give her feedback and props.
M: Shes the resident of smart bar in Chicago.
A: When we came on it was like wed had a couple of gigs in America, we knew the vibe in America but it wasnt really like blowing our mind with the tracks that people were playing. Then we turned up to the club and she was playing like slamming disco tracks but sped up and just like Paul Johnson and Dance Mania stuff.
M: Panorama Bar, its stood up to the hype. Some people say its changed but I dont think so, Ive been there 5 times now. Smart Bar in Chicago, people say its alright but for us, stinking black room with a strobe light going and people just going fucking nuts and all it was was a kick drum and a hat for 10 minutes. The girl on before us was doing 130 BPM and we were like oh shiiiit! but it was weird because she was playing 130 BPM but it still felt warm uppy. She was class.
A: So yeah, weve got props to her on our blog. Its really nice that weve got an audience of fans that weve built up over time and we can subject to music that we love.
M: We released Stash and Daddy P and all those ones and it was great to see some of the comments there. Stash actually got made Pete Tongs number one hit, I dont even know how that happened, like I dont even understand.
One final question and then well leave you alone. Do you let the last record play out or do you mix into it when starting your set?
M: Oh, mix in!
A: Yeah, mix in.
M: The whole point of being a DJ is to be able to think on your feet. It really depends, there was one guy who was playing like at 125 BPM. He stopped the record and whacked it on 115 for us. And I was just like What?! I always think its amazing that if you can nail that first mix and get the bass down for like a minute maybe so everyones waiting for it is my favourite thing.
A: If youre stopping and starting its like drawing a line. If you dont have to then the line is the kick drum coming in.
M: Actually when I think about the music weve made, our goal was never to think Oh shit 90s house is getting popular, lets make a 90s house track. It was always a case of were playing a set and we think Shit, wouldnt it be good to have like a really loopy piano track or Wouldnt it be really good to have a broken beat like that track You was like wed talked in our head about having like a set opener that was really broken and open and had that big feeling without it never actually kicking off. So weve always come up with ideas beforehand like in the track Darwin it comes from the name, Darwins evolution; the whole track is meant to be one loop that you can slowly open up though the whole track. We always try and come up with an idea so for us its definitely…
A: Making stuff for your own sets.
Stuff that appeals to your inner raver.
M: Yeah, so now I think theres always one track Ive always wanted to make. Again like a big huge arp. All it is is the track is a big arp with not beat. Something huge, but think of a way that that could be designed to drop into your first tune.
A: Thats what I mean if youre making stuff you might as well apply it to your sets if you can. Thats something were thinking about making. Like an arp with some high hats. Itd be a good way to start a set as you havent stopped anything as its still coming in. Theres definitely a way to make it for yourself.
Bicep play Ransom Note loves SOCIETY @ FARR Festival this July 20th.
Full details can be found here.