AlunaGeorge Is Reinventing the Way We Think of R&B
Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge: The duo will lead a slew of up-and-comers Thursday.
Photo by Lloyd Pursall
In 2012, Aluna Francis and George Reid released their first single, "You Know You Like It." And though the duo's first album, Body Music, was still more than a year away, that debut track proved to be a fantastic piece of future-pop-meets-R&B with a hint of garage, a perfect introduction to AlunaGeorge. Featuring Francis' distinct vocals, which contain just the right amount of swagger, the track didn't exactly burn up the charts but instead was the kind of cut that was eagerly embraced by DJs, who quickly turned the song into a dance-floor staple.
Later, in 2013, French producer DJ Snake, best known for "Turn Down for What" — the hit that introduced trap music to your mother — gave "You Know You Like It" a rework featuring his signature snares and staccato with a beat that seemingly tripped over its own feet. But the remix still didn't gain much attention until it was released as a standalone single in 2014, eventually reaching number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015 — a full two years after its original release.
"You Know You Like It" joined the recent pantheon of slow-burning hit singles, which includes hits such as Icona Pop's "I Love It" and Baauer's "Harlem Shake." But Francis insists that no matter how late the response to the track, AlunaGeorge appreciates any attention their music receives.
"You're always surprised by success as a musician," Francis says on the phone from London, "because you are kind of hedging your bets that if you think you've made a good piece of music, maybe some other people will agree with you."
And although listeners' agreement may have come a bit late, Francis says she always thought "You Know You Like It" was destined for greatness.
"I think that song wanted to reach as many people as possible, because it's a song about freedom of self-expression, and people always need an anthem for that because we often forget and toe the line and make compromises. We always need as many reminders to live life to the fullest."
The timing of DJ Snake's remix couldn't have been more perfect either. Now that mainstream listeners are aware of AlunaGeorge's existence, the duo has returned with a sophomore effort, I Remember. And unlike the debut, this time around Francis and Reid invited other songwriters and producers to contribute ideas and sounds.
"We refused to work with anyone in the first album because we really wanted to establish our sound and work out who we were as musicians," Francis explains. "Now it was time to have some fun. It was great to see that, regardless of if anyone was involved, we still maintained our integrity as musicians with our sound... It's just something we developed over time."
Those collaborations led to songs such as "I'm in Control," the lead single off I Remember, which features songwriting credits by English singer-songwriter Rømans and Jamaican singer Popcaan. The result was a quintessential AlunaGeorge track with a lingering dancehall flavor.
Though AlunaGeorge shied away from features on its first album, collaborations aren't exactly new to the pair. In fact, before DJ Snake gave new life to "I Know You Like It," AlunaGeorge had found some mainstream success teaming up with Disclosure. American audiences had pushed Disclosure to top-ten status on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Latch" in 2014; however, critics were going crazy for the brothers' AlunaGeorge-assisted track, "White Noise," which had been released a year earlier. AlunaGeorge followed it with a string of other successful collaborations with acts such as Zhu, Jack Ü, and Baauer.
And it's important to consider them collaborations and not a traditional "featured" credit, which tends to imply that the featured artist had little, if any, creative input. So far, all of AlunaGeorge's efforts with other acts are co-creations that see Francis and Reid always receiving songwriting credits.
"I've never done what you'd call a traditional feature where somebody is written what I sing," Francis insists. "I mean a line or word here or there, I don't mind — that's part of collaborating. If I have to sing something, I have to know what the song is about and where it's coming from."
But the most tangible string tying together all the pieces of AlunaGeorge's body of work — either solos, collaborations, or remixes — is the duo's distinct take on a well-worn genre of music. No, it's not dance — even though, yes, there's plenty of that in their sound. It's R&B, a style that started in the 1940s and later achieved pop greatness through acts such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey.
"The R&B that we are doing happens to sound like R&B because of our working method. George is doing hip-hop beats that are glitchy and strange, and I'm using my vocals as an instrument that both goes with and weaves into those beats," Francis says. "And at the same time, I'm trying to write lyrics that have meaning, and we're creating a rhythm that you move your body to."
AlunaGeorge has already performed twice in Miami in less than a year — at two of the city's biggest festivals: III Points and Ultra. The group incorporated tracks such as "White Noise" and the Zhu collaboration "Automatic" into its set list, along with its own work from Body Music and the forthcoming I Remember. When AlunaGeorge makes its third South Florida appearance this year during Red Bull Sound Select's 3 Days in Miami, fans can expect to hear more from I Remember this time around.
"We are actually during rehearsals now, and we do have new songs from the album on our current set, but we're about to learn some more. I have no idea if we're going to feel brave enough to try those new songs. For the audience, it will feel all new, but for us, it will feel even more brand-new."
So what keeps AlunaGeorge coming back to bask in Miami's sunlight? Francis admits she has a hard time saying no to a Miami show, especially after learning how to DJ at Scratch Academy in Wynwood.
"I just met people who live in Miami, normal people not in the music industry. I loved it. I had such a good time. I really got a feel for the general Miami culture, which is such an incredible melting pot of different types of people, and that's really stayed with me any time I think of Miami. I get a really warming feeling in my chest," she says. "It's very genuine."
Red Bull Sound Select Presents 3 Days in Miami with AlunaGeorge, A$AP Ferg, Cashmere Cat, and others. 9 p.m. Thursday, September 1, through Saturday, September 3, at the Hangar, 60 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-702-3257; facebook.com/thehangar305. Tickets cost $15 per day via redbull.com/3daysmiami.
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