We grew up playing only vinyl for 10 years, so whilst we embrace modern technology, the mentality we had before has stuck with us. We think it's a bigger issue for newer DJs who've only ever seen a laptop.
You know, it’s a rare thing in 2012 when you find people who are flickering in the spotlight as a result of patience and passion without calling in any favors. About four years ago, two 20-something-year-old Irish guys with no ulterior motives other than sharing exciting dance music from the past and present started a blog called Feel My Bicep. Little did they know, a few years later, that the blog would become a name for their own music project and a platform that literally sends them out to enthrall sweaty dance floors around the world. From attending elementary school together to sneaking into Belfast’s nightclubs with fake IDs, Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar had already been successful partners in crime long before their fortuitous rising success as soldiers of authentic house music in a modern era. When the two briefly parted ways for University,they found themselves spending more time sending each other tracks over Skype than studying, which eventually lead to Matt moving to London to join Andy in perusing their full transformation from trusted taste-makers to legitimate producers. And soon enough their hardworking hobby started to get real, considering their recent 12’’ single “$tripper”was limited to only 500 copies but scored over 65,000 plays on SoundCloud. The days of jamming for hours on the bedroom turntables are a distant memory for them at this point,but Andy and Matt are still enthusiastic about it as ever. I mean who wouldn’t be; getting to travel the globe, eat great food, play the finest of parties, and work in the most exclusive studios…it’s a lifestyle that many imagine impossible. But the humble power of Bicep hasn’t even hit the top yet; they’re still flexing their muscles, hungry for many more pounds. Luckily for me though, I had a chance to catch up with the duo and chat about their beginnings, thoughts about the industry, and everything in between…
Starting from the beginning in your hometown of Belfast, Ireland, what were you guys doing musically prior to the creation of the Feel My Bicep blog? Were you two even DJing yet? At what point did you decide to create the website?
Before the blog we were DJing and making music in our respective parts of the world since we were in our early teens. Our blog was never about anyone else but our friends and ourselves. It’s great that it’s doing well, but it’s really just a personal thing. When we all went to university in different parts of the world we all got into different types ofmusic, but our crew had a firm mutual love of techno. From that we started sharing music over Skype and Facebook, and the blog just started as a place to host all the music. We started ripping rare vinyl-only stuff and things started to get a lot of outside attention. So from then it just kind of spiraled.
By the time you two were about 15 you were going out with fake IDs seeing some of the finest DJs blow your minds. But did you have any idea what was going on across Europe and even the USA at the time with dance music?
Not at all. We also had no idea messing around with loops on a demo version of Ableton when we were 17 would eventually lead to playing any sorts of gigs, never mind touring internationally. Essentially, the fundamental sounds we heard in those early years gave usa solid foundation and are core to what we do now.
So when you both went separate ways for University, what were you studying and where? Did either of you know that you’d eventually be taking on music full-time afterward?
Andy studied chemical engineering in Manchester and Matt studied Graphic Design in Newcastle. After university Andy moved to London and Matt to Dubai. We both worked together via Skype from other sides of the world but kind of had the same musical vision in terms of what we wanted to make, so it worked. Once things got more popular it came to the point were we had to decide if we wanted this as a career. And so we both quit our jobs and Matt moved to London.
The blog’s name itself gathers enough attention, which is a cheeky little thing; much like the 80s and 90s influence that sinks into a lot of your work. What would you say is most responsible for this vintage presence? What are some of the things/records you grew up on that may have shaped some taste?
The name came about when we were at our friend’s flat in East London just chatting about random ideas and what sort of vibe we wanted to go for… the name Bicep just came up! It was really meant to be quite like you said; tongue-in-cheek and silly. We like mostly 80s and early 90s music and didn’t take ourselves too seriously; the name just fit that whole vibe! My mum (Matt) really loved weird and wonderful analog music and I grew up hearing Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno from a very young age. That certainly helped shape an early taste. I think generally growing up in the late 80s and early 90s was our big influence. This music is like “good ol’ home cooking” for us, reminds us of being young and excited.
Do you think that maintaining some of the greater elements of the past is an important thing to carry on in the current generation? What do you feel are some of the strongest feelings or messages from the 80s and 90s that producers of today might be forgetting?
Mmm… I would say time. A producer in the 80s and 90s would make music that was much more respected for the fact it took a lot longer to make a track. Instead of firing up Ableton and blasting out a track in 10 minutes, they had to carefully program every piece of equipment and record it all pretty much signally. This leads to hearing it so many times and often they understand it a little bit more. We deliberately listen to a track for at least 4/5 months before thinking of releasing it. Some stuff we release like “$tripper”and “You” were well over a year old by the time they got released.
Which release seemed to kick Bicep off and made you realize things were getting real? Things seemed to move pretty fast after your first Beats In Space inclusion…
“Darwin” was probably our first ‘noticed’ release. Like you said, it was picked up by Tim Sweeney and played on Beats In Space as a demo. That track was lying untouched on our hard-drive for about a year before we let anyone hear it. We didn’t really know what to do with it. When he played it, we got an influx of requests for it, and in our eyes it was all pretty crazy how it changed so quickly. “$tripper” was obviously our first actual ‘big’release without any hype. That was crazy and very unexpected. You can never judge your own tracks.
And at that point your music finally became available to the public… but only to those who truly appreciated it since the releases were limited to vinyl. You guys grew up spinning wax exclusively so you obviously feel it, but what about it makes it so special to you? Why is it much more than a simple novelty?
Initially it wasn’t exclusive releases on wax, that is a more recent thing with our releases on Love Fever, Tusk Wax and our own label. We just think some things are better on vinyl than others.
I think vinyl-only is important as, firstly, it makes music a little more special again. On a point we made earlier, the last 10 years have seen a lot of music become very ‘throwaway'(rushed house tracks knocked out on a demo of Ableton). We’re not saying there wasn’t that shit in the eighties, there was plenty of shit back then, but the whole Beatport thing got kind of ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong, we think Serato and that stuff are great tools, we use them sometimes; they come in very handy when playing places like China where you suddenly might require an entire new library of music if they ain’t feeling house. We think vinyl also brings about a sense of fun and when you’re spending £8 on something, you really think about it, not like downloading 30 GB torrents and then just playing any old track out.
We grew up playing only vinyl for 10 years, so whilst we embrace modern technology, the mentality we had before has stuck with us. We think it’s a bigger issue for newer DJs who’ve only ever seen a laptop.
Agreed. Quality should always be placed above convenience. I guess it’s safe to assume you follow the same formula in the studio. What’s the process is like for Bicep when it comes to producing and what kind of gear do you prefer to use?
We like stuff that sounds and feels older. Clean computerized hi hats and flat snares literally make us feel sick. We use a mixture of sampling, hardware, and the odd little VST, which we’re careful about. We’re open to anything as long as it produces a result we’re happy with. Currently we’re keeping it relatively simple in terms of synths; we got a Yamaha DX21, a Korg M1, a Juno 106, and the biggest collection of found samples and noises/recordings you could imagine.
Like we’ve discussed, making tracks easier and quicker isn’t always a good thing,contrary to what’s happening today. How do you think all this new technology is affecting the market? What’s your biggest advice to aspiring producers right now?
Take your time. One good song is worth fifty average ones and an infinite number of shit ones. Slow down and really just make sure what you’re doing has some kind of spark,some kind of emotional content, or something that sets it apart from everything else. We aim to try and create a strong ‘vibe’ in every track, tease out some emotional or happy memory.
Would you agree that there’s value in simplicity as far as structure?
Yes, you only have to appreciate the likes of Dan Bell, Carl Craig, or Basic Channel to understand that all you need is good structure and the right sounds. Most of our favorite all time tracks are literally only 4/5 elements throughout. Less is truly more with us.
If you could own any piece of equipment for your personal studio, what would you pick and why? What could you possibly not live without?
CS-80 would be an obvious synth we would love in the studio but understand that it’s probably never gonna happen [laughs]. The M1 and 106 are pretty much our go-to pieces of equipment and without them our lives would be much much harder.
Andy, your studio skills were upped a notch when you spent some time in New York last summer with the Throne Of Blood guys. How was that whole experience and who do you have to thank?
It was only a short stint in NYC in the studio with Max Pask. I spoke about it previously, like before then I was fiddling with synths, saving up for anything I could afford and selling them weeks later because I couldn’t get them to work as I wanted. All in all it was a good insight to semi-modular synthesis and analogue programming.
Lately Bicep has been focusing more on original tracks rather than edits. What would you say is the most time-consuming part of making new music from scratch?And what about collaborations?
Erm, for us “remixing” is by far the most time consuming; you’ve way more restrictions and you need to almost get inside someone else’s head and then try and make it your own. We aim to 180 flip all our remixes and truly make them sound like a Bicep track.Collaborations are tough work, something we’re not going to do too often as getting two people to often compromise on personal ideas is hard enough. Whilst it’s good and often a little more unique, it’s not currently something we want to focus on.
Looking toward the future, would the main focus of Bicep be your own label? Tell us a little bit about the launch of Feel My Bicep Records. Will it be exclusively Bicep material or will other artists eventually be involved?
Our new label is taking up most of our time; we’ve a few remixes to finish that were taken on months ago and another release for AUS. But yeah, the label is what we’refocusing on developing in terms of sounds and vibe. A common place to put everything we do. It’ll be 100% our own music. We’re not A&R guys and would probably get really hacked off with turning down demos etc. Much easier to just do our own stuff.
What do you think is the most important thing to remind yourselves while starting/running a label? Have you noticed any common mistakes among others?
The golden rule of all music: don’t rush and don’t worry about anyone else but yourself.When you compromise either of these you end up with something that’s not truly you and it often won’t stand the test of time. We will make a track (almost finish it) within hours sometimes, but it’s those next 3/4 months of sitting on it, making the tiniest of tweaks and still feeling it after some time apart. That’s what’s important to us.
What’s the most challenging aspect of starting a label in such a digital era? Do you think it really makes a difference at the end of the day, since there’s still a growing number of heads that are willing to pick up the wax?
We sold a lot of vinyl for our first release and it was proof to us that if done properly,vinyl still sells. I have no worries or issues with running a vinyl only label, just gotta do it proper.
And speaking of the present time, who are some current producers and/or labels that we should be listening to? Anyone new you guys have been supporting?
The “My Love Is Underground” crew is awesome. DJ Steaw (actually a lot of good stuff coming from France), Montel, and lots of the smaller labels like Rose, Wolf Music, Crue, Saft, and Tusk.
Before we wrap this up, are there any happenings or upcoming things you’d like to plug? What’s up for you guys in the near future apart from the label?
We’ve some tours coming up in Australia and Asia, lots of U.S. shows this and next year, and some big parties in London and Europe! Keep your eyes peeled and check our SoundCloud.
Bicep workout plan?
8 eggs per day (whites only), whole roast chicken for lunch, some fish and brown rice for dinner. Run a good 3 miles and hit a solid hour of weights. Helps you recover from a long weekend!
Final words of wisdom?
No muscle, no hustle!