Track by track with Simian Mobile Disco
James Ford: “I remember all the bits and loops for Sleep Deprivation came from us trying to get sounds out of an Analogue Systems Modular synth. The tune started as a drum pattern, and we left it to one side for a few weeks and then added this bassline and it really took a new direction. It was like, ‘Wow! This is where we should be going!’ When we landed on that one it was like we’d figured it out.”
Jas Shaw: “When we did that bassline we were already mixing the album downstairs. It was the last record we finished in the whole bunch. It actually knocked something else off the album. We’d almost finished the album at that point. We were both like, ‘This is the one; this is where we wanna go.’”
I Got This Down
Jas: “This track has a lot of echo effects on it. James had just bought an Ibanez delay box. At the time we were really into [early electro outfit] Jonzun Crew. They were quite silly and, in there own way, psychedelic. There was an oddness to them, about being in space and stuff that we liked.
“We used some 808 into a delay that was set really short – that made it all sound weird and spacey and chrome. I remember when we got that Ibanez box we were like, ‘Right, everything is going through that’. Whatever you put into it, it just came out the other side sounding more magical.”
It’s The Beat
James: “This features Ninja, the vocalist from [Brighton beat boppers] The Go! Team. They were just around, or in the premises. We knew them at the time from gigs, and we’d remixed [their single] Ladyflash for them. It was a case of, ‘Hey. You wanna try a coupla hours of fucking around and seeing if anything works?’ Again, we were trying to go for something ridiculous.
“The ‘beepy’ noises were borderline... well, not even borderline, annoying. We wanted kinda out-of-tune, kinda odd party vibes, really. And we liked some of the stuff The Go! Team were doing at the time.
“Ninja came to the studio and we gave her a beat. It wasn’t like there was any writing involved. It was a case of messing around for 20 minutes and see you later, sort of thing.”
Jas: “We used the Korg MS-20 on here. We were going out a lot to clubs like Fabric and places like that at the time. You’d just hear all these really mental techno tracks that didn’t have any obvious tonal centre. The idea was that everything, apart from the odd stab, would be quite liquidy and bendy.
“A lot of the time we’ll set up a sound source, and then something that will modulate it, and then something else, and then fiddle with it until it did something good, or we got hungry.”
James: “Yeah. Work stopped when we got hungry. We would be writing out names for the tracks and once I absentmindedly wrote out ‘potato’. The cafe downstairs did really good jacket potatoes. After that anytime someone was hungry we would surreptitiously drop the word ‘potato’ into sentences. That would mean work stopped [laughs].”
James: “We had quite a lot of instrumental stuff. We’d been messing around for six months or a year, DJing, making tunes to play out. And at that time I’d just started to try to become a producer and was working with different bands. There were a few random bands coming through doing try-out sessions. At the end of these sessions I would go, ‘I’ve got this electronic thing, you wanna try some vocals?’ That’s how
Hustler came about. “I was trying to do this track with Char Johnson and she just freestyled over some instrumentals and messed around. I put it to one side until Jas got back in the studio and we chopped it up and took bits we liked. Suddenly that idea of someone improvising over what we’d been working on, and then us chopping it up and manipulating it, appealed to us. Hustler was one of the first ones we hit on that with. After that we went looking for more of those types of vocalists.”
Tits & Acid
James: “This title came from a random mixtape I picked up in record shop or something in New York – Just a tape of silly old-school electro.”
Jas: “We borrowed a 303 at one point. We had it in the studio and were just going, ‘This is fucking amazing.’ It’s one of those charmed boxes. Anything you put into it comes out ten times more amazing.”
James: “This was one of the first times we really recognised that something being a bit confusing and chaotic was a good thing. We tried to get stuff out of the 303 and didn’t know how to use it. It’s so weird the way you program it. You have an
intention of what you want the machine to do and it does something totally different. I think we learned to embrace that, and it pretty much became our ethos for the rest of our careers – Get a system that is heinously complicated, try and get it to do something, then stop when it sounds good, or we get hungry [laughs].”
Jas: “The chords on this are the most boring chords you can have in the world.”
James: “It was a bit of an olive branch to Simon [Lord, vocalist in Simian] because we’d fallen out with him a little bit. He was, and still is, a great songwriter. He always comes up with great melodies and ideas.
“In a way I’m a little sad that Simian didn’t carry on a bit longer, because we could have done some interesting things.”
Jas: “He was also one of the few singers we knew at that point [laughs]. He wrote a really great song on this. It still sounds good to me, that song. It was the first time we tried to do something slower, and less clubby. It was our attempt at a ballad.”
James: “Ninja from The Go! Team again. We were taking it back to that Malcolm McLaren, Buffalo Girls type of sound – that nursery rhyme style. We were trying to do something like that. Ninja brought that playground rhyme and we chopped it up and used it. We were just trying to have some fun with it. We weren’t too serious.”
Jas: “We were also shooting for an Italio disco type of sound, too. You know what I mean? Kinda campy. We missed though, as it landed somewhere else [laughs].”
Jas: “Bit 808 Statey there. We really wear our influences on our sleeves!”
James: “It was great working with 808 State and Graham Massey in Manchester. I toured with them for a while, playing drums. He was a big influence on me, and then Jas, via that.
“The odd chords that don’t really work together on Wooden and the parallel chords that move around in quite an unnatural way were inspired by him.”
Jas: “This track stayed in the live set for quite a while. We reworked them a bit down the line, but they managed to fit in with the more dancey/ravey direction that we went in later. This track was an early signpost to that type of direction.”
James: “This was from one of the weird production sessions where I asked people to do stuff for me. I remember doing something with Clor who were, and are, a brilliant band – proggy pop. Kind of underrated, but bonkers. Their singer, Barry Dobbin, is a genius, and we got him on here.”
Jas: “Quite often we’d have these sketches of stuff we’d made, and the only way it could make sense for a vocalist was if you’d loop a little bit up for them, or choose a simple bit, and let them do something over the top of it. Then once they’d finished doing stuff over the top of it you’d pick a tiny bit and edit it together, and then make the entire track around the vocal. His vocals on this had such a strong drag in a direction.”
James: “We went down the vocalist/song route a lot more on the second album. On the first album it was whatever stuck or was easy. And with Barry we just looped his vocals around in a simple way.”
James: “Again, wearing our influences on our sleeves. This was our tribute to Raymond Scott, who was an early synth pioneer guy. He made loads of strange, oddball, advert music, but really outer-space.”
Jas: “He pretty much invented the sequencer; he was way ahead of his time. We tried to play his stuff out and were really influenced by him. We tried to do our own version of his style to end the album off – that more melodic, esoteric, synth prog sound.”
We went back to what we knew – making what we thought was dance music
“Jas bought an Analogue Systems Modular synth off Nick McCabe from The Verve. At the time his girlfriend, who became his wife, drove us down there to pick this thing up, all the while going, ‘You know this is three months’ rent?’ He was going, ‘It’s great. it’s great. It’s gonna change everything.’ And when we got back and plugged it in she went, ‘You’ve seriously spent all that money on a machine that goes ‘blooop'?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah! But listen to how many ways it does it!’ [laughs].”
In the studio these days, SMD enjoy running instruments and vocals through loads of synths, extracting MIDI from the performances, as well as processing sounds through modular bits like Clouds and all of those “weird Eurorack boxes”. They’ve also been using an H3000 and some kooky old delays. “We’re just fucking around with stuff again," says James Ford.