Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford on the ups and downs of EDM moving into the mainstream
Motor Mouth Media
Simian Mobile Disco (due for a DJ set tonight at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom) is two brilliant, slightly nerdy British dudes with a powerful, slightly aggressive grasp on man-made machine music. They create dirty club stompers and nostalgic, atmospheric, glitchy house anthems and blistering electronica, but despite a shared friendship and band size with French duo Justice, neither of the Londoners can really dance worth a damn, which is okay, considering their entire audience makes up for this.
Only weeks after the partners in craft released their third and most noticeably relaxed album, Unpattterns, we caught up with DJ/producer James Ford to discuss dubstep, the duo's creative process and which member is kind of a better dancer -- or at the very least has rhythm.
Westword: How did this album become so pared down in comparison to previous releases? Was that a goal when you entered the studio?
James Ford: Not really. We don't tend to have much of a plan, if you know what I mean. We knew we didn't really want to repeat ourselves and do lots of vocals and featuring. I suppose the main plan was to make a record we'd want to play as DJs, because that's how we started making music. We just sort of plugged in and got down to it. We've been deejaying a lot, and we don't really play that many vocals when we DJ.
We've used a lot of vocals in the past, and we weren't really excited about them. We tried to use vocals, and it didn't seem to fit in with the instrumentals that we had. With a few, we were messing around with vocals and ended up using short loops in their place while we were trying to fit the vocals in. And then we were like, "Well, hang on, this is actually better." We actually enjoyed the texture and more instrumental part instead of that human element.
Is there ever a pressure to improve upon yourself?
I think all the albums we've done have been quite different, and we like that. We like moving on. We'd get bored too easily if we kept to a formula. I think if you didn't know you could improve on the last thing you did, you wouldn't continue to make music. Of all the records we've put out, there have been good bits and bad bits, and I think you strive to make less bad bits and more good bits as you go on.
We've learned from things we don't want to repeat. One thing we missed this time was the tracklisting: We always make quite a lot of music and take the album from the tracks that are there. On the few of the others like Temporary Pleasure, we kind of picked all the vocal ones even though there were more instrumental ones, and I think we got a little skewed. This time, we were more cautious and wanted a cohesive album.
How many tracks did you create before whittling the album down to nine?
Probably thirty. We tend to work quite quickly. We can do a track in a day and tend to do that quite a lot. Some of it were more clubby, more poppy. Some of it were weirder. We just tried to pick the ones that would become an album, otherwise it seems pointless. We wanted to create something that makes sense to listen to the whole way through. Some of them will come out as singles or be part of our Delicacies project, but I don't know really. Some of them will end up as a bin. You either like it and use it or you get rid of it.
Where does the title Unpatterns come from? What does that word mean to you guys?
It was a made-up word to sum up how we were feeling when we were creating it. It's like pulling all these tiny pieces together to create something complicated, and it has an obvious metaphor to how we make music with all these machines. You make a pattern on one machine and then another, and the sounds knock each other out of time and space until you create something that surprised you.
It's finding simplicity in the chaos. There are all these strange pushes and pulls as you rotate one image into the other and create something that never existed before. We spend lots of time together on journeys just talking about things, and these concepts pop up, so we apply them to the fairly arbitrary task of naming songs.