Truancy Volume 129: Bicep

Today’s Truancy Volume comes from our favourites AKA the boys behind Bicep. We first heard of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar a few years ago through their very own blog Feel My Bicep, and they have been two of our top selectors ever since. Seeing the London-via-Belfast duo establish themselves as some of the most captivating DJs and producers around has been a joy to witness – the likes of “Silk” (‘11), Satisfy (‘13) and Circles (‘14) still being as popular as ever round Truants’ way. Their recent schedule also speaks volumes about their current thrive and popularity among listeners across the board, comfortably delving between house, techno and disco whilst also having plenty of time for Bollywood soundtracks, atmospheric drum and bass and new age ambient music in their downtime. Following a limited 12” for their XOYO residency and their Just EP on Aus Music, they’ve just released the mighty Dahlia EP in collaboration with fellow producer and long-time friend Hammer. Gerd Janson also recently enlisted them to contribute to his Musik For Autobahns 2 compilation, with their sublime track entitled “Carmine” and you can also look out for a track called “Closing Sequence” forthcoming on 50 Weapons as part of the label’s final run of releases. 

Having carved up such a reputation for themselves, it was no wonder Bicep were asked to lead a residency at London’s XOYO over this year’s summer period: they just finished their 13-week workout last Saturday, which consisted of a strong curated roster including the likes of Derrick May, The Black Madonna, Palms Trax and Space Dimension Controller. The two have an equally crazy agenda coming up: from their next Feel My Bicep night at Amsterdam Dance Event featuring the likes of Midland, Optimo and Sandrien as well as their next Australia/NZ tour.

The pair has unquestionably been responsible for some of our fondest music-related memories over the years: from sunny afternoons at Dekmantel and ZeeZout, to getting caught by surprise by means of their Dominica edit at other festivals. Their final instalment at XOYO was also one for the books – going from “Just” to Art Crime and Devilfish in proper confetti-canon style fashion. Featuring recent tracks from Mikael Seifu and Dawit Eklund to 2000 era house from Joshua Iz, we’re thrilled to share Bicep’s mix for Truants with you. Equally as uplifting as it is danceable, it is more importantly 100% Bicep vibes. We also spoke to Andy and Matt about their creative processes on both a musical and visual level, what music from beyond the dancefloor they’re currently loving, and their upcoming album.

Your Dahlia EP is out now – it’s absolutely incredible. This is your third time working with Hammer – could you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Rory (we understand you go as far back as 2009 to nights at the Admiral) and the collaborative process of the release in general?

The relationship with Hammer goes back to school, we have both known Rory since we were 5/6 years old. He is based up in Glasgow and we have been playing together since we all parted ways for university. The nights actually go back even further to Hetherington Research Club, where Rory organised parties in a postgraduate research club for 80 people. It quickly outgrew that place and moved to The Admiral and now to Sub Club.

Rory is still based up there but will take occasional trips to London. In the studio we generally we will each take a piece of equipment we want to use and just start to jam live. There is not really a set process, we kind of make something and move on if we find it doesn’t work after a while. Which is why we already have a stack of tracks that are pretty much finished but probably wont see the light of day. We try and rotate working on maybe three or five tunes a day and repeat that for a solid week.

We were wondering how the FMB005 video came about. We read it was sourced from old VHS tapes – did you produce it yourself, and what about your earlier teasers/videos such as “Day 3“, “LYK LYK” and the FMB Records teaser?

In the past we have opted for sampling video and combining it into something of our own putting a new spin on the footage. The latest video is a collection of videos we found ourselves and worked together with Billy and Joe (http://bbjw.co.uk/) who essentially edited it and added effects. For the previous videos we worked with a guy called Stijn who also runs the amazing Holger parties in Brussels. It’s always been a collaborative effort and it’s great to keep working with different people to get a new twist.

One of the factors that we feel makes Bicep stand out so much as an overall brand to us are things like the logo, your videos, the imagery on your website, merchandise and your general design/aesthetic consistency. It’s funny how much the spinning Bicep logo from Razzmatazz sticks out in our memory too. How involved are each of you in the design and visuals surrounding Bicep?

(Matt) Yea, we do nearly all of it ourselves. The great thing is that we can slowly update and change things and try out new ideas that we probably wouldn’t get away with if we were doing it for someone else. I was a graphic designer previously and Andy has always have a strong interest in design. The logo, posters, blog design, record sleeves, our photography Tumblr (http://feelmybicep.tumblr.com) etc. is all done by us. It’s fun and we can kind of be silly and not take it too seriously. We also originally did all our t-shirts ourselves but have recently began to collaborate on some of them with illustrators to get a fresh feel. It’s also great to come up with an idea and pass it on to someone and see what they come back with.

(Andy) Yea, I have always been interested in design and branding from a young age. I did engineering at university, but throughout was doing design things on the side. When I left uni I worked in various magazines and then at a few advertising agencies where I developed on what I already knew.

Feel My Bicep was one of our main inspirations for setting up this site a few years ago, so it is crazy for us to have you in the mix. Do you remember where you were when you posted your early posts? How would you describe the progression of the website, and what are some of your favourite posts or memories related to the running of the site? 

(Andy) I had been down in London nearly a year or so, working in a shitty job and not really djing much. I used to go out to nights at the likes of  T-Bar, the End and Visions in Dalston, which was kind of the only thing there at this stage. Disco and Edits scene was pretty big then so would generally listen to this kind of stuff mixed with more techno Perlon-esque sort of things. Gradually then developed a more intense love for Italo disco through nights like Spangles and Disco Bloodbath which is probably documented well through the blog.

(Matt) I was at university in Newcastle. The place at the time really sucked for underground music (although it’s great now), so the blog was my outlet and kept me feeling involved in the music I loved. A big inspiration for me were trips to Optimo on Sunday nights up in Glasgow. I had a lot of friends living there so regularly went up to Scotland to get my hit of decent music. They always played so eclectically, mixing Italo with punk and techno, it was always a very eccentric mix and the crowd were amazing every time. It was definitely a very strong inspiration for me. The blog kind of became addictive, we weren’t really producing seriously at that time and it was the main focus for the first year or two. I remember some days posting up to 13 tracks in a day, the endless searching for imagery as well made it equally exciting as the blog wasn’t only an audio “scrap book” but also a visual one.

How would you describe the difference between the music you play out and the music you listen to in your down time? What have you been feeling lately? 

(Andy) Would listen to a lot of similar music via mixes when going to gym but generally listen to less club focused music in downtime. I have been getting really into old atmospheric drum and bass again, within that there is quite a specific sound I like but it would best be described by LTJ Bukem and his Logical Progression CDs. Just digging deeper into those artists and old mixtapes from the ’90s, buying random white labels etc. Other than that, I have been digging into the ‘Electronical Soul‘ Scene, I don’t know if that is the official name but it’s the name of the compilation that got me into it. It’s an amazing mix of old drum machines and soulful live music in a completely different way than we know it, this compilation is a great entry point. Also have been digging lots of what I call proper ‘deep’ house, mainly from Japan – Ian O’Brian and Shinichiro Yokota espicially.

(Matt) I’ve been really into some new age ambient stuff recently, it comes hand in hand with getting our modular stuff, so stuff along the lines of Redshift and Arc (Mark Shreeve). Amazing huge big 12 minute live jams but very musical at the same time. They fit so well as interludes in tougher techno sets as well! I’ve also been listening to quite a lot of world music. Bollywood soundtracks, African field recordings, Japanese drumming and even some early ’80s Celtic stuff. I think recently I’ve wanted to really massively broaden my palette beyond the whole disco-house-techno world, it’s easy to become uninspired when everything you listen to fits the same 4×4 formula. I’ve also found some UK grime stuff I appreciate. Basically, I don’t listen to too much dance music apart from set “digging days” – We generally take time in each city to hit the local record stores and try and do a few hours there. Also have a few secret gem spots in London which have amazing bargain bins.

In your interview with Little White Earbuds in 2014 you were speaking about how in your early production phases there wasn’t much emphasis on EQing drums, whereas by 2014 that amount had gone up tenfold. Do you think there’s limitations in both scenarios? Also, seeing as we’re now in 2015, we are keen to know what you guys have learnt on the production side over the last year? 

We are always learning new things in the studio, as we spend nearly every day we aren’t travelling in there. Over the last year we have been getting into the whole modular side of the hardware end. It was definitely the boost we needed as it’s really opened things up for us.

There is quite a lot to get your head around but definitely makes you learn and expand your knowledge on making sounds. The modular world is like an endless rabbit hole of ideas and possibilities due to the fact to can totally re-think the chain of modulars every time you sit down. Sometimes we only use it quite subtly, maybe only for effects, sending a normal synth through a eurorack filter with external triggers. Once you get your head around sending and using triggers from drum machines and how much you can really expand upon one melody in terms of movement (Variable controlled filters, triggering reverb size with the Erbe Verb etc.) it really become a never-ending source of inspiration.

You recently posted Orbital’s “Belfast” to Facebook and one of the comments said “[it] figuratively has your name all over it” which felt exactly right. We’ve found that you aren’t scared to get overtly melodic in your sets and productions – tracks like EOD’s “Phontron (030303 Mix)“, “Just, “Carmine” and Noo’s “Heaven’s Gate” (from your Truants mix) come to mind. What do you think has contributed to this? 

I think just our fairly broad tastes and appreciation of stuff outside dance music has always installed a real want to create stuff that’s quite “full” – not just “beats”, although we really enjoy making techno as well. I suppose we’ve always both had a very strong love for Italo disco as well, which is very melody heavy – that would be a real influence for us (even if it’s not directly noticeable).

You’ve hinted at a Bicep album being in the works which is incredibly exciting. Is there anything you can tell us about this at all? Do you have a concept in mind, and are you going through with the idea of recording it in Scandinavia as you mentioned in the past?

We are starting to consciously work on an album now, so actually setting time aside and starting on some sketches etc. At the moment it’s really in its early stages, we plan to just experiment in the studio as much as we can to get to a point to where we are happy. In the future doing an album in Scandinavia locked away in the countryside with a definite concept in mind will probably happen, but we are not quite there at the moment. I think we want to do a fairly rounded album to start off and maybe get more conceptual down the line, heavily restricting what equipment we use and how long we spend on it.

When was the last time you danced? 

That’s another great thing at XOYO, booking friends and good DJs means a lot of our time is spent on the dancefloor, every week we have something to dance about!

Bicep & Hammer’s Dahlia EP is out now, buy the vinyl and digital here. For more information on and tickets for the FEEL MY BICEP night during Amsterdam Dance Event, see the ZeeZout event page

Bicep: Feel My Bicep, Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter

Soraya Brouwer
Soraya Brouwer

LONDON / soraya @ truantsblog.com / @sorayea

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