Groove Armada have been at the forefront of UK dance culture for over two decades. Famed for hits such as I See You Baby and Superstylin', the duo have toured the world, playing everything from festival main stages to intimate club nights.
Now, as free as they have ever been and with independent label Cooking Vinyl, the two have been taking things back to their early house days, creating the music that they love the most. This summer, they'll be taking over their own stage at Eastern Electrics, and inviting the likes of Waze & Odyssey and Kölsch to join them.
Ahead of that set, we caught up with Tom Findlay to chat about Eastern Electrics, the music scene today, and how being back on an independent has influenced their sound and style.
Let's start with last year's Little Black Book release. How was the experience of putting together such a unique release? And what did you most want to express when you set out to do it?
It was probably more challenging in a way, because when we first came at it, we were thinking about it in terms of a classic mix album. But you know, people mixing stuff of yours is very much a personal thing, and once things get personal, the sense of ownership gets greater, and before you know it you're kind of deep in it. We went almost half way into writing a new album. Which is not what we anticipated at all really.
The positive that came out of it I think was that people kind of had a sense of what we were as a live band; Black Light and all the stuff up to that point. And then there's a bit of hiatus, and I think people were like: "What have you been doing? What are you doing?" So we thought we'd use Little Black Book as a way to pull together some of that material we've done over the last three years to say to people, "this is what we're doing", and "this is what we're going to be for the foreseeable future." So yeah, that was the intention of the album I guess.
You've spoken before about bringing your sound back to your early house days – almost coming full circle. Would you say that was a reflection of your opinion on the electronic music scene today – do you feel it's got too commercial?
Erm, not really. I think the music scene today is really great and lively, and actually really varied. I think it was more our reflection of where we found ourselves when we were playing, particularly with a live band, you know, we'd find ourselves on a main stage between like Laidback Luke and Calvin Harris, and we just found that we couldn't really compete with that. You know, the DJs are like smashing stuff out like white noise, and our stuff is more of a subtler palette than that. And to be honest, we just didn't want to have to compete with that.
So we thought it made sense to step away from that, because we didn't really want to write that kind of music. And at the moment, there's a lot of energy in the club scene. When me and Andy started out and made our first tune together, it was on a label called Tummy Touch, and it was based in a warehouse on Charlotte Street in Shoreditch (London). And yeah, our first ever residency was at Fabric, and we got offered the chance to go back, and there just seemed something kind of circular about it and it all seemed to make sense. And you know, I guess our priorities and who we are as people has changed. I think if you're going to do that main stage thing with the major labels and go head to head with people, it has to be your complete and only focus, and we just had other interests as well.
Over the course of your career you've been on a number of major labels, but you're now back on the independents. Do you feel much more in control of your sound now?
Yeah I do. But you know, there's probably like 10 or 15 really good dance labels, good house labels, that as a DJ or a punter you're going to go to first. You've still got to work hard to make sure you can stay in there, so there is still a sense of competition, but yeah, it's a bit more human, and I'd say even when we were on the major labels and it came down to parties and stuff, we were still kind of kicking around with people from that scene, so I think we always felt more comfortable in that company.
You've touched on it already, but how would you say your sound has developed throughout your career?
It started out as being relatively unique in that we were a dance artist trying to write albums, and then later our sound became informed by the live band and we spent a lot of our time really kind of amping ourselves up, things like Superstylin', and the experience of playing on main stages.
David Byrne wrote a good book about music, and one of the chapters is about how the music you write is informed by the spaces you play in – he was talking about Heebie Jeebies for punk, and I guess you could argue the whole EDM thing has come out of people on big, big stages. It is true that you fill the spaces you're in, and when we were playing those main stages it was a bit more bombastic, and now we're back in clubs and particularly smaller rooms, things have got a bit more subtler and a little more groovier, and that's now the sort of vibe we're going for.
Like you say, you've played a real range of shows – from festival main stages to small, intimate clubs. It must be really nice to have that variation...
It's been great! It's been a really amazing experience, and it was only really 5/6 years ago that we retired the live thing. We did two nights back-to-back at Brixton, and played the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury. It just felt like a really great year – we did the Black Light album – and we just felt collectively like we couldn't take it any further and we couldn't really do anything else with it.
So yeah, they were all amazing experiences but I'm kind of liking the night club thing now. And in a way just keeping on top of that stuff is enough for the job. One week we'll be doing a festival – like Eastern Electrics where we're headlining our own stage – and the next we'll be going straight into somewhere like Elrow at Space or Sankeys in Ibiza, and it does require and demand something slightly different of you as a DJ. To keep up with all that is enough.
You've played around the world, different size shows, collaborated with different artists. Is there anything left you'd love to do?
Yeah, I think there's lots of stuff. I still sort of feel like I'd like to make records without an agenda, and just making music that's fun and without thinking about a label, and with Andy again. At the moment we're writing house records and that's great and I'm enjoying it, but something a bit balarious again would be fun in terms of going back to approaching stuff in that sort of way again.
I also love that sort of deep disco scene that's going on and I wrote quite a bit of my own stuff and I'd like to get back into that again, and to find the time for it. The sort of energy around that scene now is great and I'd love to get back into that.
It really sounds as if you're at one and free to explore your own sound. Free of any over-head pressure...
Yeah it's really nice, and we're really lucky to have really good management at the moment who are letting us do our thing. It is true that once you get out of that major label system you do feel a certain sense of freedom, you know, the time becomes your own and you've got to just keep motivating yourself with little projects to keep yourself going, like the Fabric thing we just did. Next year is our 20th anniversary so I guess we'll have to do something to celebrate that, but I have no idea what that'll be yet.
What can you tell us about your Eastern Electrics stage?
It's going to be brilliant! That's the sort of stuff that our management company – they look after people like Seth Troxler, Patrick Topping and Eats Everything – are involved in, and those are the sort of gigs I've really wanted to play, so I'm really delighted to be doing it. We feel like we've tried really hard to keep playing records and shows that we believe in, and when it comes to a show like Eastern Electrics, that's like the flowering of all the ambition really, when you're headlining an event that's massively credible, with a great bunch of people, great crowd, loads of heritage and great lineups. I'm thrilled. It's definitely going to be the high point of the summer for us.
I read back in 2010 that you thought the days of albums were numbered. Do you still stand by that? Vinyl's been making a bit of a resurgence.
I don't think they're numbered, I just think it's harder and harder because of all the streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music; it just forces you to listen to music in a certain way, and they push music out in a certain way. You're asked to constantly produce playlists, and it seems the idea of the album has sort of got lost a bit.
That doesn't mean there hasn't been great albums since then. I love the new Blood Orange record, the James Blake album is amazing, Kendrick Lamar etc. People like that come along and they make essential records at any time, and they work as a piece of art when listened to in that sequence. So I don't think they're totally numbered, I just think people's attention spans have got a bit shorter and they've been pushed to this idea that you listen to music through algorithms and playlists. Some of them are great and I myself even listen to them. I just think it's gotten harder to find the time to sit down and listen to a record all the way through.
Do you think that would influence you when making music?
Yeah I do. I think that's why in some ways of all the albums we made, the penultimate one – Black Light – is the one I go back to the most because we really tried hard to make that feel like it had a sound. We were aspiring to make an album like that, and I'm not saying we got to anything like that level, but we were listening to a lot of stuff like Bowie at the time, and we were trying to find that sound. It would inspire me if I ever went back to making a record, to try and make it have a sound, and that's what those albums – the James Blake one, Kendrick Lamar, etc – do. They're just things of beauty, and they have a real journey vibe to them.
And finally, what can we expect from yourselves in the next year or so?
I guess we'll do some sort of event to mark the 20th anniversary. I don't think it'll be live, but I'd love to do an event. We did a few "Best of" albums but we've never done one that we've been really happy with, cause they've always been knocked out by labels, so I think we might do a double album of our favourite bits. And yeah, just making more house records; hitting those labels that you love like Hot Creations. That'd be great!
Sounds great! Well, thanks for chatting to us Tom and good luck for Eastern Electrics.
Pleasure. See you later.
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