What does deep house, the work of Stockhausen, a self-programmed snake and a frozen Lily Cole have in common? No, it’s not the contents of a lost episode of Skins. Nor is it the XX’s Christmas list. It is, rather, just a few of the details that make up Clean Bandit, a new four-piece that in their playfulness and willingness to trample over musical boundaries offer a refreshing new direction for dance music in 2013.
Forget your rock revivalists or your retrofitted soul crooners, Clean Bandit could not have emerged at any time other than now. Comprised of brothers Jack and Luke Patterson alongside the classically-trained pair of Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith, the group formed in 2008. One night , in the dingy confines of a Cambridge nightclub, classic music met bass music, and it never looked back.
“It was at the band’s own club night called National Rail Disco. We set it up because we thought there was a real lack of new interesting music at the time. The first ever one was basically set up so we could perform. But as it carried on it became more of a straightforward club night we DJ’d or played live most weeks alongside other DJs and electronic acts we loved.”
The students, not normally thought to be a particularly clubby kind of crowd, were into it. “They loved it, it was really successful and always completely packed”, says Jack. “People didn’t expect the students to be into it, but they were. They all had a real appetite for the music. One of the coolest things was the night we had James Blake down. Three quarters of the way through his set he just played a Destiny’s Child acapella on its own. Even though there was no beat,. people just went completely off. That was amazing.”
National Rail Disco provided Clean Bandit with a blueprint for everything that was to follow. First, there was a willingness to take risks. Second a desire to blend beats and strings. Third, it was done in a DIY fashion, using whatever resources were to hand.
But first they decided to move to Moscow. Grace to learn the language and play cello. Jack followed her, and ended up enrolling in Russia’s famous film school, The Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. “I didn’t have much to do in Moscow and someone mentioned a film course that was open to international students so I thought I’d give it a try. It was a five year course,” Jack recalls. “I didn’t do the whole thing, but the whole of the first year you only do black and white still images. In the second year you do moving images but still only in black and white. It was all in Russian too, and to begin with none of the students spoke a word of it.”
It was at the Gerasimov that Jack’s ideas of blending music recordings with filmmaking began to take shape. “I was making music on a laptop a lot while I was there”, he says. “It was still a hobby though. I had long days at film school and then would come home and have a go messing around making music. I wrote Mozart’s House while I was out there. I was listening to a lot of house music there, there was a little boutique outside our flat that would blast out house for 24 hours. Maybe that seeped in.”
Now, in 2013, Clean Bandit are still mixing things up. Currently residing in London, this electroquartet are applying their principles to a whole new range of possibilities. Listen to single ‘A&E’ and you’ll hear classical, bucolic strings intertwining with UK funky bass and a melody of modern electronic pop. It’s a new sophisticated sound, but one that’s distinctive of our capital. The soulful vocals, meanwhile, are sung by guests Kandaka Moore and Nikki Marshall, found by chance in the group’s new home of Kilburn. “They were part of local community singing and dancing group next door to our studio”, says Jack. “We thought they would be perfect for this track.” And so they are, sharing the enthusiasm of the track and, also, the versatility of the group. Moore also volunteered as a dancer for the video, which necessitated her being part of a stop-motion animation. “She was completely unfazed by being painted gold over the course of two hours”, notes Jack.
That was far from being the most complicated part of the production, by the way. The video for A&E also required the creation of a golden snake. A serpent that, as in a real life game of Snake, slithered across central London. It was a challenge, one that Jack – typically – took it upon himself to rise to. So how do you make a snake? “We made it on the computer”, he says. “I taught myself to use Cinema 4D. I studied architecture at uni, so I had kind of got into 3d graphics, modeling and animation. Luke learned how to do the fluid dynamics, because the snake had to go through water at the beginning.”
Clean Bandit have also been getting a taste of a different experience closer to home whilst on tour this spring with teenage chart conquerors Disclosure. “The tour was really fun”, says Jack. “It was great to see how that world worked and to be in these really cool clubs up and down the country was brilliant. There were screaming fans. We had people who knew the words to our songs, which was quite amazing to see. It was unexpected.”
The stakes were raised even higher for new single ‘Dust Clears’. This concept video, also directed by Jack, was half-filmed on the frozen lakes of northern Sweden in winter. “In this video all the band work in a factory, but the lead singer is an older guy who’s got this fantasy of being an ice skater”, says Jack, with a smile. “We filmed the skating in Sweden and that was great, we used some special techniques. Two of us were towed along on a sled with two different lenses, two cameras filming our dear friend Nick as he skated past. Nick is our friend’s dad and while we were thinking about making the video we heard that when he was 17 he was a Scottish figure skating champion. When you see the video, you’ll see why we found this quite amazing.”
Quite clearly kids of the internet generation, Clean Bandit aren’t precious about where they find inspiration or how they deploy it (the aforementioned Lily Cole volunteered to stand in a freezing cold swimming pool for the video to UK Shanty, in return for Jack giving her a tutorial on her new video camera). Neither are they devoted to one type of creativity. They make music, they make video, they perform live.
“We try to think of each piece as being a music video rather than a song”, says Jack. “Videos for songs is the output. That’s how we’d like it to be digested. Now we’re doing more and more music, we’re having to make stuff without the videos, but hopefully we’ll be able to catch up.”