Simian Mobile Disco

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Simian Mobile Disco


“We’ve never tried to do what people expect of us, I suppose.” Therein lies the philosophy of Simian Mobile Disco – the shy knob-fiddling duo behind dance floor destroying tunes like Tits and Acid, Hustler and one infamous mash up with Justice titled We Are Your Friends that gained them notoriety in the UK and internationally. Their CV includes collaborative works with Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip, Beth Ditto of The Gossip, and Chris Keating from Yeasayer, commandeering the production side of things for Florence and the Machine, Peaches, and the Klaxons. Not to mention the lineup of remixes: The Presets, CSS, Ladytron, Bjork and Muse comprise a small selection of their credentials. Whoa. Electro kids the country over were thoroughly enthused by news of them joining the lineup for this year’s Parklife festivals, and we got on the phone with one half of the duo, Jas Shaw, to have a little chat about the sounds coming out of their crazy little Mobile Disco.

We open up talking about how Jas and James met, and what got them into the game initially – the duo met at Manchester University studying philosophy and biology respectively. Both enjoyed their studies but were motivated by something more – “The Manchester scene is big, but not too big – London can be so big you get lost in all these different scenes, but in Manchester it’s small enough that you eventually meet everybody, and we were there to meet other people.”

From there, they joined their first band, an indie quartet named Simian – which broke up after an extensive, tiring tour of the United States. By that point, Simian Mobile Disco had been established, but almost as a joke – the latter half of their moniker referring to the mobile discos native to their home of the UK, recalling images of balding sweaty dudes playing bad nineties dance at fiftieth birthdays. Luckily, Simian Mobile Disco are a cut above them.

Their background as kids playing in an indie band provides context for their current incarnation. One particularly interesting thing to note about Simian Mobile Disco and their deftly-wrought tunes is that their production setup differs from that of most dance music producers – Google for it, and you’ll find some fabulous photos of their little studio, crowded with charming pieces of decaying analogue synthesizers and old-school outbound gear. Their material is rehearsed, played-out between them and recorded straight into Pro Tools with little editing in between. “Because we started off [in Simian], that setup works really well for us.” It’s not one often employed in electronic dance music, and one you wouldn’t necessarily pin them for listening to their riotous brand of acid-tinged electro, but it sounds perfect on record. Jas explains their aversion to relying on sequencers and editing in digital audio workstations as a creative thing – “Most producers spend so much time in front of a computer, pushing pixels around and I think it’s easy to get caught up in it and forget what’s important. We rehearse and record things in one take – it gives our sound a lot more personality and makes it sound more human.”

Given that they’re headed down here in just over a month for Parklife, it seemed natural to spend most of our time discussing their live performance. Asked about their musical influences, Jas cites everybody from Autechre, The Chemical Brothers and Deerhunter to Underworld as some of the best acts they’ve checked out in a live setting – all acts known for their eclecticism, melodicism and propensity to tear up the rulebook. We get distracted briefly talking about their shows at Underworld’s Oblivion Ball in Tokyo 2007, and Jas is more than happy to reminisce. “Their setup’s ridiculous,” he claims. “It’s so complicated they’ve got all these laminated strips over their mixer, labels telling them what’s what, just because of how much they’ve got going on! And some of the things they do…”

It’s a refreshing change to talk to an artist just as happy to bang on about their peers in electronic dance music as themselves, but given their upcoming string of shows here, I find it advisable to move onto the topic of their own work. Jas tells me that at the core of things, their live setup is similar to their in-studio shenanigans – “It’s the same equipment – we’ve got doubles of most of our gear because of how much they’re used both in the studio and on the road.” Likewise, the idea is the same – get up, play out, have a riot. One would assume that this meant their live gigs were carefully rehearsed and pre-planned, and I am surprised to hear that it’s almost the opposite. “Some of the set list is planned and we’ll come up with a few songs that we want to play, and often the set list will include sections where it just says ‘jam’! We can’t do that the whole time, though, otherwise it just sounds like a weird improv session, which most festival crowds aren’t there to see.”

We finish by discussing who we’re keen to catch at Parklife – “Death from Above 1979,” Jas recommends, as well as their old mates The Gossip (Beth Ditto features on a track on their sophomore album). Simian Mobile Disco are your friends – make sure to get in on the loving at Parklife this year.