Tense up those arms. Give your arms a good flex and curl. Now you’re ready to embrace the two brains behind Belfast’s premier house and techno duo Bicep, Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar.
Bicep gained notoriety on the internet with their Feel My blog, as it serves as hotspot for quality selections of all that is house and techno. The site was born out of passion for music, a passion which for Ferguson and McBriar, eventually lead to taking on music full time. Five years down the track, the duo are now cult figures, touring the globe and releasing music under the Feel My Bicep imprint.
Ahead of their tour down under through Australia and New Zealand, we shot some questions off to the boys to talk about their label, their origins and their plans for the future.
S: For a while, you two were producing tracks based in different cities, with one of you in London and one in Dubai. Considering how hard it was due to the distance, what was the driving force that kept you wanting to collaborate, especially at the time when music was considered a hobby by you guys?
B: I suppose we were already linked together for a long time due to the blog, we’d both worked every day on that (also in different cities whilst at university). It was a natural progression from starting to mess around and make tracks together. To be honest, in our opinion, it didn’t work very well. One of us would spend a week working on something and then send it across and then a week later it would sound totally different. It’s really not something we enjoyed although i suppose it was a good time for learning to be diplomatic about creative difference via email haha. We definitely both had a sense of relief when we were in same city and could cover 2 weeks worth of changes in maybe 3 hours. At the same time, it was also good to begin on our own essentially, working stuff out for ourselves before joining up.
Now that we’re totally hardware based and the way we make our music (the product of big long jams across our entire studio) it would just be impossible to work like this ever again, although we have definitely found a common ground, especially with how we mix stuff down, that’s been what we’ve focused on a lot recently, really getting into good mix-downs and levelling everything as best we can.
S: When did you both start playing around with sounds/making edits or full tracks?
B: I would say 2010 or so, maybe 2009 but that would really only be re-editing little disco tracks etc. It was actually great to begin with editing disco and you’re dealing with fantastic source material, I think that’s what has given us such a love of the more “analogue” sound. Playing around with lots of electro-boogie basslines etc. you then want to equipment to remake those sounds. We’ve actually come back to editing a lot. Since we found using vinyl pretty much impossible in a lot of clubs, we’ve had to move across to CDJs. We decided to try and make the most of the decision and concentrate on trying to make our sets different and re-edit a large percentage of our tracks. It’s also meant we can play a lot of unreleased music, months before it’s out which is another positive of the move.
S: For me, one of Bicep’s most impressionable tracks is your collaboration with Simian Mobile Disco with Sacrifice. How did this collab come about and what does the track mean to you guys?
B: We actually share the same management and had supported the SMD guys quite a few times at gigs. We all seemed to be continually on the same page with regards to music tastes and got on very well. It was a very daunting experience but probably one of our most important ones of the past few years. At that time we were using only a tiny little bit of hardware and mostly produced on our laptops with a modest studio setup. When we went to the SMD studio it was like a treasure trove of everything we’d ever dreamed of haha. We were definitely a bit nervous to begin with but actually, within a few hours of jamming we were all into a nice flow and it really didn’t take long to pick up using the drum machines and synths. We basically jammed for an entire day and a very basic version of Sacrifice was formed. The following day we went through all our recordings and slowly stitched the track together before running the whole thing through tape. The different the tape gave was insane, everything was just way fatter and rich. Basically we’ve bought some kind of piece of gear every month since then, it’s become a real addiction but has really breathed life into making music, we could never go back.
S: Starting a record label is something that crosses the mind of most producers. How did you know that it was the right time to begin the imprint and what was the concept for the label that you had in mind?
B: I mean, I think starting to A&R other artists and everything it entails is a much bigger task than just creating an outlet just for ourselves, so it seemed pretty natural once we were confident enough in our own music to start to do it. We’ve always liked to do stuff ourselves, right from the beginning with the blog. The concept was a label that we controlled, artwork which we do all ourselves, and at the moment, only releasing our music. We’re able to totally oversee the promo, turnaround times etc. and it just really quite fun. Simon our manager helps out a lot with logistics and making sure everything runs smooth so it’s a good team operation! It is also really important for us to work with other labels and get other people perspective and choices on things too.
S: The Feel My Bicep imprint has been around for 3 years now. What’s something you’ve learnt from running and imprint and what’s changed about the label since your first release in 2012?
B: Labels are time consuming and especially when you’ve spent a lot of time working on the music, to then start the whole process of putting it out, it is a lot of continued contact. It’s nice with other labels to sometimes just finish the tracks and be done with them and move on. That said, you give up some of the control on how they’re viewed. We love organising our promo videos and really creating some kind of context for the music and the importance of that has become really important to us. The biggest change in the label is the fact we’ve now launched digital as well as vinyl. In the beginning we were only playing vinyl so it only made sense to release like this, but as we’ve said before, it’s actually really hard to find turntables setups that are really up to scratch 2/3 times a week at different clubs and vinyl became very difficult to play reliably.
We decided to branch out and do both and it’s worked really well. We’re still shifting enough vinyl to make it worthwhile and everyone that doesn’t own decks can buy our music. I think there was also a sense of snobbery around “vinyl only” that developed and for us we wanted to distance ourselves from that as for us, music is music.
S: What’s next for the label? Do you have new music to grace our ear with soon? What attracts you to sounds the feel older, not clean and computerised?
B: At the moment we’re working (slowly) on an album so that’s the next big thing. We’ve a handful of remixes coming out soon and a track for 50 Weapons, which we’re over the moon about. We’ve also done quite a lot of tracks for other labels this year which has been fun, to do singular standalone experiments like our track for Gard Jansen called Carmine which is 105bpm!
With regards to sound, I think maybe listening to a lot of italo, disco and 80s music certainly gave us a real ear for older synths and drums. They are big, bold and brash and it’s something we love, that fuller sound. Whilst our music isn’t similar or in the same league, we both listened to a lot of Aphex Twin when we were younger and his very raw hardware sound was also a big influence, production wise. That said, plenty of people make nice music on computers, it’s really just our natural preference.
S: Bicep are heading down under for a run of 6 shows plus 2 in New Zealand. What are your thoughts in the lead up to coming down to visit the colonies?
B: We were blown away the first time we came across. Sometimes when we travel to the other side of the globe it can be difficult to connect with crowds in the same way as Europe and styles are different but the last few times we’ve played Australia (This will be our first New Zealand trip) we’ve had amazing responses and the crowd are always amazing. So many good memories like playing in the pouring rain two years ago at Let Them Eat Cake and the crowd totally going off, everyone really going for it. It actually often feels quite similar to Ireland in-fact, maybe it’s the big drinking culture and people loving to let loose. We definitely feel at home there!
S: To follow on, what’s your thoughts coming into that great bush doof that is Strawberry Fields? Is “doofing” something you guys have experience before?
B: Haha well in Belfast people sometimes refer to dance music as a “Bitta doof”, so yea, we know the term haha! Definitely can’t wait to get over!
S: You will be playing in Melbourne for the smalltown crew alongside Ben Klock and Nina Kraviz at Caulfield racecourse, which must certainly be up there as one of the more interesting venues you’ve played at! To date, what are some of the more ‘out there’ venues you’ve performed at?
B: We’ve played lots of cool gigs in weird forests, old country houses, clubs in rural Italian countryside etc. The UK has a lot of festivals in interesting places, infect Europe does! We’ve played on top of a Medieval Castle before and an old moat in Croatia! Hard to think off the top of my head I’m sure there’s something really crazy I’ve forgotten.
S: How many bicep curls do you two tend to pump out over the duration of a set?
Check out this comprehensive list of event where you can catch Bicep this summer:
Friday 13th November: Brisbane, The TBC Club
Saturday 14th November: Perth, Geisha Bar
Sunday 15th November: Melbourne, smalltown at Caulfield Race Course (with Nina Kraviz and Ben Klock)
Thursday 19th November: Wellington, NZ, Matterhorn
Friday 20th November: Auckland, NZ, Neck of the Woods
Saturday 21st November: Sydney, Harbourlife
Saturday 21st November. Sydney, Motorik at Oxford Art Factory
Sunday 22nd November: VIC, Strawberry Fields Festival
By Fergus Sweetland