During Overmono's set at last year's III Points Festival, there was a moment that made clear why the UK techno duo is one of the best acts in contemporary dance music. It happened early on, just a few minutes after their start time, delayed to give the crowds at Rosalía time to filter in. A psychedelic, oversaturated video of two Dobermans playing in a field greeted the crowd as "Gunk," the lead single from the EP Cash Romantic, began to enter the mix.
Joy and anxiety, desire and heartbreak, euphoria and trepidation — the promise of the rave and the fear that it'll all go wrong, find shape in the complex emotional cocktail the track manifests. But freedom, above all, is the main idea, one that runs through their work. Freedom to dance and have fun, to be at ease with oneself and not be judged, to let go of ego and inhibitions, and to commune with your fellow dancers. Listening to a track like "Gunk," you feel as free as those frolicking Dobermans.
"We're always trying to do things in the most simple way possible, I think, like not overcomplicating ideas," says Ed Russell, one half of Overmono, along with his brother, Tom. "I think we're always drawn to music that feels quite direct, and we've always been put off by music with too many small little ideas that come in and out but don't really add too much."
Then there's freedom from the genre-mania that often defines British dance music — the brothers have made tracks drawing from UK garage, others from jungle, and so on, but all have a certain signature, a rawness and directness in both their production and in the way they reach right for your heart. It's remarkable how much emotional heft the brothers can wring from just two warbling, pulsating notes, filtering and transforming them as they move up and down the scale underneath one of the warped R&B samples that are a signature of the duo.
Getting to those moments, however, requires a lot of trial and error.
"'Gunk' is a perfect example of how frustrating it is to make music sometimes," Tom says. "You have the core idea that comes together pretty quickly, and we both know when there's a core idea that we both think is worth pursuing. But getting it to sound how we want it to sound can take just ages and ages. So we'll have the actual fundamental idea or the structure of the track, and just go in for hours, days, weeks, months sometimes, refining it, refining it, and getting it to sound how we want it to sound."
There's also a lot of equipment spread across two studios in Bristol and Devon. They describe their setup as "fucking chaos and loads of gear." Every time they finish a project, they rewire the entire system, taking the massive collection of synthesizers, drum machines, and other tools and rearranging them to find new ideas. It's the opposite of their songwriting process, which prioritizes simplicity and directness.
"We always know in our mind exactly what we want a record to sound like, and sometimes it takes us quite a long time to get to that point, but we always know as soon as we've got there," Ed says. "It's a kind of really long, really chaotic process of taking a raw idea and turning it into something that feels finished to us, but it's still not losing the kind of original rawness to it."
The brothers decided to form Overmono after a period of creative frustration. Both were having success as solo acts in the London club scene, but neither felt satisfied. Ed especially felt hemmed in by his work as Tessela; his track "Hackney Parrot" became an underground hit, leading to him being typecast as a breakbeat house producer. "It became the thorn in my side because it then got to a point where I had to use the 'Think' break in every record," he says, referring to the famous drum sample. "Tom [as Truss] was having a similar experience with harder techno stuff, and we both felt creatively that there was a lot more we wanted to get out of us. And so we thought, Well, yeah, maybe we should just try and do something else."
The two left London for a sabbatical in the country to clear their heads. "It was funny. When we started the project, we didn't start out to start a project; we thought, Let's just go away and write some music together, more like a holiday than anything," Ed explains. "And then when we listened back to the music we wrote over a period of three days, we were like, oh, this actually sounds way more cohesive than I think either of us were expecting."
Those sessions became the genesis of the band, which they named after their home village of Overmonnow in Wales. The project has grown to dwarf both of their solo careers, and they'll be returning to Miami with a refined show following the May release of their debut album, Good Lies. The Dobermans from last year will also return. Featured on most of their promo artwork and the album cover and EPs for XL Recordings, they've become an iconic symbol of the band.
Perhaps a bit worrying for them, they've also brought the controlled chaos of their studio on tour with them. Ed says they've brought more gear with them than ever to nail the tracks live and give them leeway to change things up while on the road.
"It's just getting bigger and bigger, we keep adding more," he says.
Overmono. 11 p.m. Friday, September 15, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; thegroundmiami.com. Tickets cost $37.47 via dice.fm.