Red Bull Music Academy is every motivated musician’s wet dream. Over the past eleven years RBMA has travelled around the world to unite up-and-coming musicians with acclaimed producers and arrangers to host incredible concerts and workshops. Each year 60 participants from diverse backgrounds and music styles get the opportunity to get involved and this year it’s in London at the Red Bull offices on Tooley Street, which has been totally transformed into a musical adventure playground.
In the past, heavy names such as Chuck D, Buraka Som Sistema, MIA, Flying Lotus and Kentish Town Kid Mr Hudson have participated in the Academy. This year, musicians and DJs from 32 countries have touched down in London to engage every inch of the city with concerts, workshops and club nights at venues such as the ICA, Royal Albert Hall, Dalston Superstore and Plastic People (to name a few). Millions of melodies and innovative ideas will set London on fire, from 5th February to 15th March. Don’t Panic teamed up with the Academy to bring to you the latest news and happenings from their newspaper the Daily Note, 80,000 of which will be distributed around central London hubs.
With their fourth and finest album in the racks, pick 'n' mix pop stars Hot Chip explain to Robin Turner why London will always be in everything they do, in this article from today's second edition of the Daily Note.
It’s always reassuring when London throws you a curveball and forces you to look at your environment afresh, eyes blinking as you snap awake. I’m standing in a record shop, one I’m pretty familiar with. The record racks – stressed under the weight of Stereolab and Eno, Bill Callahan and – are shoved against the walls to create a makeshift dancefloor. A couple of hundred people are packed tightly between the Americana and Krautrock sections. One sneeze and everyone would sway like a woozy Mexican wave. An hour or so earlier, the queue outside Rough Trade East was snaking halfway back to Liverpool Street. In biting February cold, a line of hipsters and curious record buyers wait patiently for entry to a free gig by Hot Chip, the defining London band of our age. This word-of-mouth show is the launch party for the quintet’s fourth album, One Life Stand. It’s the first chance fans will have to hear the new songs performed live.
Hot Chip are a textbook melting pot of cross-cultural ideas. In their music, you hear the street sounds of Brixton filtered through the quaking speakers of Fabric, via the six-string rattle-through-the-corridors of the sadly departed Astoria in full swing. Progressive and metropolitan, they’re a five-a-side team revelling in the endless possibilities of our sprawling 24-hour city.
One Life Stand has already been hailed as a classic (variously described “an early marker for the best album of the 2010” and “extraordinarily lovely”). As the queue begins to shuffle into the shop, Hot Chip – that’s Joe Goddard, Alexis Taylor, Al Doyle, Felix Martin and Owen Clarke – are sitting in a nearby pub cradling beers while telling The Note about love, life, London and Wiley’s all-star phone book.
The Note: For a band who are often labelled “intelligent”, this record seems to be coming entirely from the heart.
Felix Martin: It’s the heart filtered through the head via the balls.
The Note: Excellent. Was that intentional? The openness of it, not the balls.
Joe Goddard: There was some intention to be more open, because we’ve been labelled as clever-clever previously. I think there was a vague feeling that we shouldn’t let anyone misunderstand us with this record.
The Note: It reminded me of a lot of early house records, both sonically and lyrically, in the way those records quite often have very pure, uplifting lyrics. It’s like dance music has become darker and the euphoria has been replaced.
Joe: I think that’s a good point. I had it in mind that I wanted to replicate the feeling that you get from those records, and the feeling you get during a DJ set, where it’s serious, dark and moody, then you see just a crack of light at the end of it. I love the point where a DJ set relaxes and it all gets very loving, where the DJ tries to bring the crowd back together.
The Note: That seems like a very pure form of pop. In the same way that groups such as Pet Shop Boys just sound like themselves, One Life Stand just sounds like Hot Chip.
Alexis Taylor: We spent longer working on One Life Stand than any other album we’ve made. We kept listening back to what we were working on in order to give it more time to breathe. Obviously we still listened to music other than our own and DJed a lot, but it felt very different from everything else we’d done. All of last year was dedicated to this record. We spent so long listening to ourselves, living with the songs, rather than moving on quickly. It was a self-contained year, the most focused we’ve ever been as a band. We usually had intensive bursts of working on songs over quite short periods of time. We’d often end up mixing tracks while doing other things, like going on tour. We’ve never really had the luxury of time when recording before, but that’s often been our own decision.
The Note: There was a lot of extracurricular work going on over that period, including solo records (Alexis’ Rubbed Out and Joe’s Harvest Festival), doing productions or remixes, touring with LCD Soundsystem, and DJing. Do those external influences feed into the band?
Alexis: Knowing we were going to make a concise ten-track album meant we could all do those side projects more freely. I’d find myself working on certain songs that might well have made it on to previous Hot Chip records, but were never contenders for this one. This time around there was a focus on the succinct pop songs, getting it as tight as possible, to avoid it seeming like there were a load of very disparate sources firing. So the other ideas naturally ended up being explored outside the band.
Joe: It’s nice when you don’t have the burning desire to squeeze a random idea into the Hot Chip record just because you can – you can do that somewhere else if you want. It meant the Hot Chip record could be something very special. I really appreciated that. I enjoy making music on my own but it’s a lot of work making all those decisions yourself. Coming back to Hot Chip felt like such a pleasure.
The Note: In the last couple of years you’ve collaborated with an incredibly diverse array of artists – Wiley, Peter Gabriel, Robert Wyatt, to name just a few. How did they come about?
Alexis: All those names happened to be in Wiley’s phonebook.
The Note: Wait, Wiley knows Peter Gabriel? Brilliant. What did those collaborations teach you?
Joe: Wiley taught us the best part of the song to do the “olly olly olly”s in. We had one rehearsal with him prior to playing at Glastonbury in 2008 and we were trying to work out how the song [Hot Chip’s remix of Wiley’s Wearing My Rolex] would work live. He kept saying things like, “Short chorus here, then I’ll do the ollys”, which confused the hell out of us. He kept referring to the ollys as if they were the song’s big moment.
Al Doyle: And it turned out they were a pretty big moment! You’ve got 40,000 people going “Oi oi oi!” back at you while the sun’s setting in front of the Other Stage. It’s definitely a moment to remember.
Alexis: I loved all those sessions but, really, that one was the most enjoyable. It sounds odd saying he is so very musical, as you’d expect it of any artist you work with, but he is! He’s incredibly quick to come up with ideas and then act on them. He’d go into the vocal room, do a few things, and by the time he’d come out the song was transformed.
The Note: You’re playing in Rough Trade this evening. What does that shop in particular mean to Hot Chip?
Alexis: When I was growing up, I used to buy pretty much all of my records in Rough Trade in Ladbroke Grove. I have so much time for that place. And I love playing gigs in record shops. There’s an audience who you like to think are record buyers, and it’s literally the closest you can get to music fans: you’re three feet away from people.
The Note: It’s a shared experience, isn’t it? When bands play in-store, there’s a febrile atmosphere – there’s something inherently wrong about going crackers in a shop.
Alexis: Exactly. We haven’t played shows that up close and personal for years. We missed them out when we were touring Made In the Dark. I still have that fan thing where I get really excited the day an album is released. As a fan, I think it’s a brilliant thing to be there doing it in the week of release. I can’t think of a better shop to do it in.
The Note: How important is London to Hot Chip? I mean, does the environment affect your music?
Joe: I think we take London for granted, as we’ve never known what it’s like growing up anywhere else. When we’re doing interviews, people from all over the world talk about scenes, ask us what’s happening in London. You can’t sum London up. Every year there’s another six or seven subcultures emerging.
Alexis: There’s a lot of London music and club culture that’s been influential on us. I grew up listening to a lot of American music, but I’ve lived in London my entire life, bar three years at university, so I don’t know any different. It’s meant we can be quite open-minded as there’s always been so much on offer.
Joe: It would be stupid to say living in London hasn’t affected us profoundly. Going to the number of shows we used to, being able to go to Rough Trade, or Beggars Banquet in Putney, being immersed in music culture for so long, has affected the way we are as people and as a band. It’s maybe a reason why people say we try to throw such disparate influences into songs. Growing up, we’d be at a hip hop show one night and Stereolab the next. That’s a London thing; everyone passes through and we soak up everything we can. With this album, the songs are the strongest feature, so maybe it’s less of a London thing. Hopefully we’ve given them more of a universal appeal.
Hot Chip’s One Life Stand is out now on Parlophone. Download issue #2/24 of the Daily Note here.