The world is full of people that want to be taken a little bit more seriously. The vast vaults of human history are lined with those that took the next stop; the innovators, the artists, those ready to put their name firmly on the map.
With their debut record, Bicep, made up of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, have done just that. No longer satisfied with a prestigious reputation on the club circuit, the boys from Belfast have taken a step towards a more artistic approach. Their decision to hold the homecoming live show in Belfast at the iconic Ulster Hall, a venue that has hosted some of the finest artists ever to grace the earth, instead of conducting a set at a local institution such as Shine (as has been tradition for some time), reflects this further.
The dust has now settled, and we’ve thoroughly rinsed the life out of Bicep. Now it’s time to explore the minds of its creators. We sat down with Andy and Matt to chat about rebuilding studios, covering new ground and that oh so familiar Facebook comment – “bicep unreleased.”
The term cross-pollination has been used a lot to describe the new record. How important is it to you that your work blends together elements from a variety of genres as opposed to sticking strictly to a house or techno sound?
We’re now many decades into electronic music and things can feel very samey. We obviously have our influences but we both want to try as much as possible to cover some kind of new ground whilst often having a nod to the very best of what we’ve liked in the past
The bio for the record tells us that you would revisit old compositions with the help of rare and new gear to enhance individuality. What pieces of rare and modern tech did you use to achieve such a distinctive sound and how did each piece impact each track directly?
Without going into specifics, we’ve built quite a bit of modular gear (mostly FX) which we often run new and old synths through to totally change their sound and give us something unique that’s often hard to re-create. Sometimes we need to re-record a certain element and just cant get it right or the same, yet the original has a big mistake or something. That’s pretty common, we’re learning to try and nail things first time. Another big one for us is guitar pedals, we buys loads and loads of them – again they’re an amazing way to totally change a “classic sounding synth” and really get your own sound.
I read recently that you are completely rebuilding your studio. How is it looking at the moment?
It’s coming together, it’s a total rebuild from the ground up. New mixing console with a custom built desk, full patch bay, lots of new bits of modular and all very well organised. We were afraid to change anything whilst working on the record, but as soon as it was done we had to move studio (old one sadly was shutting down) and it was the right time to totally start fresh.
The record does not rely heavily on party tracks. I noticed that you’ve tried your hands at more ambient influenced tracks on the new album. How does your creative process differ when producing ambience as opposed to straight up movers?
Well it’s definitely very different, you can’t rely on just banging drums or bass to carry the track, but for us we wanted to show a strong sense of variety in what we enjoy doing. The album is about showcasing us more as artists, not just club DJs.
The album, to me, symbolises your dedication to record digging; merging together the different tones and sounds that can be heard throughout the tracks on your prestigious and knowledgeable Feel My Bicep blog. Is there a particular artist or label that has inspired you over the years to indulge in so many different forms of music or is this simply a natural love?
Matt: Hard to say anything other than Aphex Twin as he’s the most varied and accomplished producer I can think of. He has mind blowing tracks in almost every single genre.
Andy: It’s a kinda natural love for many different forms of music, there are elements in old hip hop and R&B which I love and likewise there are amazing drums in some afro beat records that really inspire me. There isn’t really a formula – good music is good music no matter what genre someone wants to put it in.
The titles of your tracks are something I’ve taken an interest in. ‘Orca’, ‘Glue’ and ‘Vale’ being three of my favourites. How did you go about coming up with the names or was this just a random process?
Funny, this question has come up quite a lot! Interesting as we spent a lot of time on the track names. They aren’t random at all, we prefer it to be open to interpretation, but for example, the almost whale-like noises at the end of ‘ORCA’ influenced the name, and VALE means “Goodbye”. They all have meanings to us, but in general, we kept it pretty cryptic and we have already noticed people interpreting them in their own way.
I’m guessing that Ninja Tune was viewed as the perfect label for you guys to release the record on. It has allowed you to express yourself freely without the restrictions that music specifically for club use brings on. How refreshing was it to be able to do this?
Amazing, they’ve been fantastic to work with and very supportive. They’ve given us real creative freedom and supported some of the choices we thought others might find difficult. It’s been great.
What track on the record do you love the most and why?
Matt: Hmm, ‘KITES’ and ‘RAIN’ for me. I think they were both just the most successful of our experiments, trying something new. ‘KITES’ is 136 bpm and the fastest ever track we’ve made.
Andy: There are so many elements and tracks on the album that I really like, for me it’s too hard to choose one as I’ve listened to them also many times.
A number of times that I’ve seen ‘unreleased Bicep’ tagged in the Identification of Music (Facebook) group is insane. How does it feel when you see so many people itching to find out the names of your tracks prior to release?
Matt: Haha, I try not to look at that all too much. It’s funny, very “2017 internet”. I think in hindsight we need to be careful about playing so many demos out so far ahead of a release. It was an eye opener about how instant the world has become.
Andy: It was the ID groups and people tweeting us non- stop for ‘Aura’ in particular. It became a little stressful people asking when its out and we hadn’t finished it never mind the other 10 tracks on the album at that stage haha. I think those groups are both a good and a bad thing, at the same time it’s great to have people wanting your tracks.
You have recently embarked on the Bicep album live tour, which arrives in your home city of Belfast on the 30th of September. I recently came across an old video of you guys playing in Mandela Hall and the crowd is going absolutely nuts. I know you performed your live show at AVA Festival last year, but just how special will it be to you to have the stand alone tour arriving in Belfast?
Yea, it’s going to be really special. We really love Belfast and the crowd is always amazing, they have so much energy and spirit at home. We both really can’t wait.
Any future projects coming from the Feel My Bicep label?
It’s in a bit of a hiatus at the moment due to all the time spent on the album, but we’ll definitely get going again next year. Looking forward to working on lots of new projects and some new artists.
Bicep will perform at the Ulster Hall, Belfast, on September 30th as part of their live album tour. Presented by AVA Festival.