Simian Mobile Disco on the vagaries of voice and onky-bonky techno
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James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco had been plugging away as remixers and producers for acts like the Arctic Monkeys, Björk, and Klaxons when their debut album, 2007's Attack Decay Sustain Release, broke them big. Since then, they've juggled their time to allow for production, live DJ sets, and Simian Mobile Disco work. To the dismay of some, this summer's sophomore release, Temporary Pleasure, boasted guest vocalists on nearly every track, including Beth Ditto, Yeasayer's Chris Keating, Jamie Lidell, and Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys. In advance of the Simian Mobile Disco show Sunday, Nov. 1, at 9:30 Club, Shaw talked to The A.V. Club about the vocalist overload, a release party gone awry, and "onky-bonky techno."
The A.V. Club: What are you in the studio working on right now?
Jas Shaw: We're working on a techno record. Our last record was supposed to be more or less instrumental, and it sort of didn't work out that way. We're going to have another crack at it and this time it won't totally be vocalists and hopefully will come out instrumental. We just got loads of new stupid toys like synths and such, so it's just an excuse for us to make some really bonky techno.
AVC: How did Temporary Pleasure end up so dominated by guest vocalists?
JS: You know, it's our own stupid fault really. We kind of underestimated people. With the last record our experience was that we could knock out instrumental tracks really quickly, and it's still the way we work—knocking out one or two in a day and then coming back and choosing the ones that work and spending another day or so refining them. With the last record we had real difficulties finding vocals. It was one of those things that we couldn't get vocals to fit with the instrumentals without it sounding like it had just been pasted on top. In light of that, we sent off lots of instrumentals to different people, thinking that most people would get back to us and probably only a few would work. Fitting vocals to electronics is difficult. But we were really mega-pleased with all the vocals we got. They added loads to the track and made it feel like this different record. It was a welcome departure from onky-bonky techno
AVC: Do you imagine the next record will be entirely instrumental?
JS: We don't know. We've only just started messing around. It's just us making weird noises, but I suspect that it'll be largely instrumental. It's always a reaction to what we've just done. All that with the vocalists, well, I love that stuff because when I'm at home I don't always necessarily want to listen to 15-minute mixes. But when I'm playing out as a DJ, I'd much rather have a 10-minute track that you can do winding mixes and add another track to the top. This next one will probably make sense at the club but sound a bit odd at home: Lots of stupid low noises that come out of the speaker. It'll just sound like white noise at your laptop. [Laughs.]
AVC: For your album release in London, you put together a pop-up store that featured a "human augmented reality music and visuals mixer." What is that?
JS: It sounds really pretentious, actually, doesn't it? [Laughs.] We just wanted to do a party for our launch. The alternative was to put a couple of hundred quid behind the bar at some swanky place, so instead we asked if we could put that money into software. How the software works is that, from the user's point of view, there is a projection, and on the floor in front of you there are a bunch of discs. There's a camera pointing down at the discs, and if you turn the discs the right way, then a weird kind of animation appears in time with music. The closer the disc gets to the camera, the louder it is. At the actual party, someone bright realized that if you pick one of the discs up and put it right in front of the camera, then the music gets insanely loud. Of course, we had some drinks as well. So as people got officially drunk, there was more or less a fight in front of the camera to get their discs in front, which was pretty amazing.