If you've only ever heard debut album Attack Decay Sustain Release, you might think otherwise. But Simian Mobile Disco was never just a killer indie-dance crew.
Sophomore record Temporary Pleasure had its fair share thudding, tech-y moments, not the least on sparkling, climactic "10,000 Horses Can't Be Wrong" and the robot-house of "Synthesise." And its newest collection Delicacies only further proves the fact by serving up nine tracks of deep techno. Even the pair's DJ sets, aside from its live shows, have long been knee-deep in these waters.
Crossfade caught up with James Ford recently to get the scoop before the pair's 5:45 p.m. performance today on the Ultra Music Festival's Live Stage.
Crossfade: The last time you were here in town, you were talking about how you were looking forward to going to parties for labels like 2020 Vision, basically all techno parties. At that point, had you written any of the material on your new album?
James Ford: Probably not, no. We've always had kind of a techno leaning, but it's almost like a Jekyll and Hyde thing with the pop stuff. We always have a certain pop sensibility. But really, on Delicacies, we really let the techno side come out. We were DJing a lot, and we just kind of wanted to make stuff that we wanted to play out, quite simply, and that's what came out.
Had you always been interested in more pure techno, or at what point did you get really interested in it?
We've always been interested in it, you know? Even on the first album, there were a few nods to that, like "Sleep Deprivation" and "Wooden." Then, I suppose just like I said, just from last year, having DJed a lot, we really just felt it was a good idea to start a little label and make stuff for ourselves on the DJ side of things.
Really, it wasn't meant to be an album in the traditional sense. We don't really class it as our third record. It's more of a collection of 12-inches that we've been doing.
What's the semantic difference for you between this and a proper album? Delicacies is after all a collection of all original tracks. Is the difference for you that when you'e writing an "album," it's conceived all at once with a particular theme?
I don't know, because this was kind of conceived all at once, really! We came up with the Delicacies idea, and I suppose the original intention was just for them to be 12-inches, really. We didn't intend it to be collected together, at all. It was only later down the line when we were sort of convinced that we should kind of put them out as a body of work. But really, the tracks were made to be played by DJs. They're all quite long-format with intros and outros, and they'r eintended to be mixed. We didn't really write them as album tracks.
So your album tracks are consciously more of a pop structure?
I think they're more concise, maybe, yeah. We're working towards a new album now, and I don't think we'll ever return to quite as poppy as we ended upon on Temporary Pleasures. But i do think that when we put together our next album, it will be more concise and designe dfor listening at home or on your headphones. Whereas these tacks were intended to be listened to at 4 a.m. with a large sound system.
You mentioned that they came out of your DJing. Is that the kind of stuff you were playing, longer-form techno?
Yeah, that's what we've been playing for ages as DJs. We've never played electro bangers as some people maybe expected us to do. We've always kind of leaned in that direction, and I suppose, especially recently, we've gone into this deeper, darker techno world. They're literally quite indicative of the kinds of tunes we were playing, really. We can play most of those tracks quite easily between the other sorts of tunes we play.
We definitely noticed after we finished Temporary Pleasure that we couldn't really DJ any of the tracks on the album, well maybe one or two. It wasn't quite a shock, but we definitely noticed, "Well, hang on, that;s weird." so really, Delicacies was almost a reaction to that.
If you had been so interested in playing this other material as DJs, why did it take up to this point to really start releasing tracks like that? Temporary Pleasure was still very aggressively poppy and vocal.
Yeah, I think on Temporary Pleasure, there is "Ambulance" and "10,000 Horses" and a few techno tracks. At the time, when we made Temorary Pleasures, we did make quite a lot of other techno-ey tracks as well. I think we just got kind of carried away when choosing the tracks for the album, carried away with the poppy tracks, and in in hindsight, we shoul dhave maybe gone for more of a balance.
It doesn't seem like we suddenly changed, it feels like that's always been there, it's just the bits we choose to sort of put across.
Are any of these singles left over from those sessions?
A little bit, yeah. I think "Aspic" was probably around at that time; that was one of the first ones we did for Delicacies. Then we did an EP called Extra-Temporary as well, which was some of the other stuff we left off the album that could have gone on there. I just suppose we got the balance a little bit skewed.
Was the complete lack of vocals intentional?
Yes, definitely. We don't tend to play much vocal stuff out when we DJ, really. And really, I think that when we use a vocal, we have to collaborate with people, and it's fun and good. But sometimes it's nice for just me and Jas to collaborate.
Delicacies, the label, is mainly going to be instrumental stuff, really. I definitely think we will use vocals again in the future, probably on our next vocal, but maybe not in quite as extreme a way as we dd on previous albums. Maybe there will be some sort of middle ground between the two.
How has it changed the songwriting process now that you don't need to collaborate with these other guests?
Honestly, collaborating was the hardest bit. For me and Jas to just go in and make tunes is the easy bit, kind of the defauls. That's why we almost got sort of carried away with it, because it was almost like making a pop tune is more of a challenge for us than making a techno tune.
I suppose we were just kind of, on the Delicacies stuff, kind of more messing around in the studio in our comfort zone, really, which we can do until the cows come home. We can definitely push ourselves to use vocals, because we've always found it quite difficult.
When you started playing your new, material out, did you get any kind of confusion or backlash from fans who were still expecting tracks like "Hustler?"
Well, I don't know really. I think now people have kind of gotten what we're doing, and it's easier. But definitely when we first started playing that kind of stuff out, we definitely got a few slightly disgruntled fans -- mainly girls, I think, looking at you with a bit of a sad face, like, "When are you going to play 'Hustler?'" We still play it in the live show to be fair though we've got a bunch of different versions, and we still play stuff from the first album. We're not that belligerent. But we try to change them up and keep them fresh.
You can't always just keep playing -- you have to do what you want to do, otherwise you may as welll not do it. It's a balance between the two.
That was my next question. When you're playing Ultra or Hard or a big festival like that with a young crowd, there's obviously such a pressure to play big, banging kinds of songs. So how do you balance your set now?
I think for something like a festival, we probably will play like 50-50 probably, but they mix together quite well. You'd probably be quite suprised how it feels like one bunch of music, I think. It doesn't feel too jarring.
I'm confident that it works pretty well, and people don't be left wanting those old tracks, specifically, because the new ones almost work better in that situation. So yeah, I think it's going to be pretty good. We've got a whole new light show as well, so yeah, we're looking forward to this one.
Simian Mobile Disco as part of the Ultra Music Festival with a performance Saturday, March 26 on the Live Stage at 5:45 p.m.. Bicentennial Park, 1075 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Gates open at noon on Saturday. Tickets are sold out. Visit ultramusicfestival.com.
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