Simian Mobile Disco are somewhat of a perennial favorite here at BYT. This is our third time eagerly awaiting their arrival in DC– they’ll be at U Street Music Hall on September 18th (NY Friends – on Sept 21st they’ll be at the Music Hall of Williamsburg)
Simian Mobile Disco is one half of what used to be the experimental electro-rock band Simian. After splitting from the group in 2005, James Ford and Jas Shaw began creating their own electronic music through analog methods only. The result was an instantaneous dance party wherever their music was played.
Two synths, two sequencers and a mixer and three days the Joshua Tree desert later, Simian Mobile Disco has come out with their latest album/live concept, Whorl, which they will be performing live in its entirety on the 18th.
Check out the Whorl video teaser here:
interview by Jeb Gavin
You’re playing U Street Music Hall on Thursday the 18th, touring in support of your latest album Whorl and playing it live. You’ve played DJ sets at UHall before, how does the room stack up? Are you looking forward to getting back in there, or is there some apprehension in playing live compared to a DJ set?
It’s definitely going to be different, and interesting playing there as we’ve DJed plenty of times – not too much apprehension though, the responses we’ve been getting so far have all been great.
Is it a challenge to recreate the album in a new room every night, given the album was mixed from three different recording sessions, only one of which was a live performance?
No, not really… you have to understand that all three sessions were all live performances – there was just no crowd there for the one we did in the desert valley or back in London. There is no difference now between recording in the studio and perfoming live, so potentially we could record every time we play live.
Is the goal to reproduce the album perfectly, or are you open to experimentation in the moment?
Definitely not trying to reproduce the album perfectly. The whole point of the new set up is to keep it as live as possible, so experimentation and mistakes are allowed and encouraged. The album was born out of just such jams and experimentation, so we want to keep that element. It should sound slightly different every night.
Did you record the album knowing you were going to perform it in its entirety, and did this influence its inception?
Recording the album was performing it live, they’re the same process, so the question doesn’t really make sense framed in that way! We’re not “playing the album in it’s entirety” in the way bands play a classic album, track by track, trying to reproduce it as best as possible. The point of Whorl is that it’s a project which is both a performance piece and a recording. The recording is essentially highlights of the live perfomances, mixed and squenced together to make an album.
There seems to be a trend, particularly among younger and more pop-leaning electronic dance music artists to release records that feel unfinished, as though they’re simply blueprints upon which a live show can be built. Was there any concern you might be allowing for the leeway of a live performance when composing the record?
The album has a looser and more freeform feel we think – a few reviewers have commented to that effect too, so I think people are getting it. Not sure what you mean about it being a concern – it was the point to make it like that?
Is the intent of these performances to narrow the gap between artifact and artifice- that is to make the album and performance of that album the same thing?
Yeah, exactly. The album and the performance are pretty close to being the same – although not quite, it’s not a live album in the sense of capturing a particular performance
Has there been a point during the tour where you’ve wanted to break from Whorl live to alter the order of the tracks (assuming you’ve been playing them in order?)
So this refers back to the earlier question… we’re not performing the album in it’s entirety, we’re not performing the songs in the same order as on the album. Some of the tracks work better with transitions between them in a slightly different order to the album, and there’s a couple of tracks not on the album that are in there too. The structure of the live show is broadly similar in pace though.
How about falling back on previous hits in live sets, either to pacify the audience or mollify yourselves (again assuming you’re sticking to the album at hand?)
We can’t simply “fall back on the hits”… Because of the new set up, we have to work out how to play the older music on it all over again. We’ve done a couple of tracks, which we’ve been closing on, but apart from that it’s only tracks from Whorl (and b-side tracks from the Whorl sessions).
Were there artists who influenced the album- either for better or worse?
A lot of krautrock, Cluster etc as well as early electronics, Delia Derbyshire, Raymond Scott.. they’ve always been our influences, but they’re probably most clear on this album.
Anyone you wished joined you on the album, or would like to work with in reproducing it live- or does Whorl only work if it’sthe two of you?
No… the decision to not include any guests was made very early on. If we had someone join us live, it wouldn’t really be Whorl would it? They’d be adding something extra that isn’t part of the hardware setup or the musical elements that went into the recording and performances.
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
Pretty difficult to single out one. They all fit together as part of a whole. That’s a bit like asking “Which is your favourite finger?”. The Sequentix sequencers are pretty crucial to the current set up though.
What piece of gear started out as vanity (you just had to have it, even though it wasn’t essential,) but the more you play the more you realize how vital it is?
Hmm not really…
Do you use any of your equipment in a way for which it was not designed as a work around for tasks you might consider simple had you used a computer?
Not exactly… but there are plenty of modules we use that plug the gaps that would be easy to do on a computer. The sequencer of course does most of the work the computer would be doing.
Finally, was this a worthwhile undertaking in your estimation? Do you think you’ll repeat the process in recording further albums and reproducing them live, or just a one-off? Has it been a fun process?
Absolutely. We enjoyed the experience so much we’re already considering when and how we can do it again! Probably the most fun album recording we’ve ever done.