|Bicep: Flex the house
RA's Todd L. Burns speaks to the rising house duo about the pleasure of simplicity in advance of their appearance at The Warehouse Project.
"I mean, the thing is...in Ireland, you know..."
"There's not a lot to do," Andy Ferguson laughs, finishing Matt McBriar's sentence.
The duo who make up Bicep are attempting to explain how it is they came to start attending parties at such a young age. McBriar begins again: "You're drinking by 14, and by 16 you're going to raves. Need some sock rolled up inside your shoes to give you an extra couple of inches, fake ID..."
"Fake moustache," Ferguson concludes, seemingly speaking from experience.
It's only been a few years since Bicep came about, first as a blog, now as a DJing and production team. But they have more years behind them than you might expect. Those days sneaking into Shine, Belfast's finest nightclub, were an essential techno and house education—even if they didn't realize how good they had it at the time. "Looking back at lineups, especially ones at Shine, they were ridiculous. Going to see people like Underground Resistance at 16, Tiga playing techno, Christian Smith, Josh Wink…" starts Ferguson.
"...at the time we had no idea these were particularly big DJs. We weren't really aware of what was going on around us, in terms of Europe and America, so at that time it was a real introduction to underground music, and then obviously when we decided it was music we really loved, we started to research it a lot more and then at that stage we kind of became aware, certainly for other places of similar size there was a lot going on," McBriar concludes.
In conversation—as you can already tell—Ferguson and McBriar have a habit of finishing each others' thoughts. Theirs is a true collaboration, borne out of a long-time friendship. (They've known each other since they were four, and went to the same high school.) As a result, their viewpoint on many things is relatively similar. Like Belfast, for instance. Despite the high quality of music being brought into the city, both looked outward for university and beyond. Ferguson ended up in London after school, McBriar Dubai.
Eager to keep in touch both musically and socially, the duo began a blog called Feel My Bicep. Started in late 2008 along with three other school friends, Bicep's blog was unusually popular at a time when mp3 blogs seemed like a dime-a-dozen. The varied selections were a big part of things. Ferguson says that, at the beginning, "it was everything from weird Turkish music we found in kebab shops in Dalston to really camp Italo disco records." A devotion to graphic design didn't hurt either. (McBriar has said that they often spent as much time looking for images to accompany their posts as they did writing them.)
As time has gone on (and the DJing has picked up) the blog has inevitably veered more toward tunes that may end up in their sets each weekend. "There was five year's worth of listening to music that had built up, and then we started the website, and at that stage it was just like every day you'd remember something that you'd want to put up there and it all came spilling out," explains McBriar. "Now I think it's just a complete reflection of probably what we are listening to."
The increase in DJing and releases has come about because of McBriar's move to London to join Ferguson in giving music his attention full-time. The duo had been sending tracks to one another via Skype, but the time zone difference made work almost impossible—"one of us would be starting work, one of us would be finishing it, and it was just hard to coordinate everything," admits Ferguson.
Those were the days, however, when music was merely a hobby. It soon became clear with the respect that the blog was earning, a few releases on NYC label Throne of Blood and an increasing amount of DJ requests that it might be possible to take things to the next level. Even so, it has been a "lot of hard work" to get things into place, says McBriar. Early on, they took on a monthly Wednesday night residency at Plastic People. But they quickly realized that it was either devote themselves to music-making or promoting parties—doing both simply took up too much time to do properly.
So far, it's been a smart decision. They toured China earlier this year, became regulars at We Love... in Ibiza and are set to play twice at the Warehouse Project in Manchester this fall. This increase in bookings is no doubt down to the incredible run of singles they've had in 2012. "$tripper," their one-off for Love Fever Records, was limited to 500 copies, but currently has more than 65,000 plays on SoundCloud. The track is an unrepentant throwback to New Jersey house.
Kerri Chandler, whose influence hangs heavy over the duo's recent work, is a huge inspiration in both their selections as DJs and in the studio. When asked by Sonic Academy about the one piece of gear they'd love to own, they picked out Chandler's modded TR-909. "[Chandler] talks of stacking 909 kicks of different frequencies to get that killer sound you hear on all his records. Nothing kicks like a Kerri kick in our opinion."
If they someday get to that level, they'll likely have New York to thank as well. Ferguson spent a month there last summer in the Throne of Blood studios to soak up knowledge from producers Max Pask and James Friedman. "Max has a Arp 2600, Minimoog, a lot of Junos. He worked as an engineer for quite a while, so he taught me a lot of stuff. It was literally a crash course. When we decided that we were going to start doing music full-time I thought I needed to get in and learn the stuff inside out."
The most important part of their studio, however, is their monitors. McBriar remembers listening to the master of one of their first releases—before they were working on higher-end equipment—and being frustrated by the sound. Once they got a pair of Mackies, things changed. "One of the things with good monitors is you can understand how effective simplicity can be," explains McBriar. "You don't need to cram."
You can hear this in the first release on the duo's new label, out next week. They've pared things down on "Vision of Love" to the essential elements: Anthemic pianos, cut-up vocals, a garage skip. You'd rightfully call it retro, but the duo aren't too worried about becoming tarred with a revivalist brush. "We have a lot of stuff that we haven't released," says McBriar. "It's going to be very telling over the next year, once we launch our label, how people react to how varied it's going to be."