Track by track with Simian Mo­bile Disco

Future Music - - CLASSIC ALBUM -

Sleep De­pri­va­tion

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].”

I Be­lieve

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...

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...

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