Following the 20-year cycle of cultural revival, it's not just '90s fashions and sample libraries that have come back around onto dancefloors. Buoyed by America’s repackaging of dance music as EDM and pop’s perpetual shapeshifting, house music is finally back at the top of the charts.
Major labels, sniffing a whiff of the glory days of Miami excess and padded expense accounts, are opening their cheque books to the prospect of actually signing a Number One, vinyl sales are on the up and ‘deep house’ is youth culture’s newest point of entry to electronic music.
The time is ripe for a group to emerge to define a generation, and that group is surely Hot Natured. “Lee and I were working on an album as Hot Natured, just the two of us, two winters ago,” explains ever amiable Welshman Jamie Jones, joint boss of Hot Creations and Hot Natured founder alongside best friend Lee Foss, the Chicago-born DJ he met while working in Ibiza over a decade ago.
The pair are joined by fellow band mates Ali Love and Luca C, aka Crosstown Rebels duo Infinity Ink, in a photo studio in East London, the area that fostered much of the group’s ambition and is still home when they’re not on the road.
“We did probably sixty percent of an album which was quite underground, not what Hot Natured is now, more raw dancefloor tracks. Then as Ali got more and more involved, we thought, ‘You know what, let’s go to the next level with it’.”
Go to the next level they have, becoming a four man live act, signing their debut album ‘Different Sides of the Sun’ (out on the 5th of August) to Pete Tong’s resurrected and Warner-backed FFRR label, and selling out their two debut live dates at Brixton Academy in April. What’s more, unlike Daft Punk’s patchy curveball, which swung wide when it came to public reaction, ‘Different Sides of the Sun’ screams its crossover credentials, sewing songs on everything from astrology and ancient Egypt to pop music's most enduring interest, sex, into an electronic tapestry woven out of funk, cosmic disco and house music's warmest, most accessible moments.
It might suggest a far cry from the origins of the production name originally adopted by Jamie and Lee to unleash their now much-copied brand of darkly funky dancefloor groove, like the bass wonk of 2010's 'Equilibrium'. But as 2011's club hit 'Forward Motion' hinted, the collaboration with Ali that first shifted the creative tiller, and UK Top 40 hit 'Benediction' proved, the track which introduced keys player Luca C to the band, a taste for proper songs is what ties all four members together and brings the Hot Natured story back to its roots.
“2009 was the first time that we’d thrown the party,” says Lee when we ask about the origins of the band’s name, which coincided with his and Jamie’s debut Hot Creations party at WMC, a move borne out of wanting to play live-sounding dance music — disco, freestyle, funk and even r&b — as a reaction to an entire week of house. “The name came about because we’d started working on music the summer before and through the fall [autumn]. Just before that Miami we’d decided to use that name in Los Angeles before we went, actually in the house that we just finished the album in, so it’s kind of come full circle.” “Lee had been living in LA and I’d been spending quite a lot of time over there during the winter,” picks up Jamie.
“Our friends, who now own Culprit Records over in LA, who we did the first release on as Hot Natured, they had a big party house — good vibes, good place for meeting people, DJs coming and going, and Lee had a studio in there. That’s where we first started producing together.”
GENESIS OF THE BAND
While this could easily have led to the aforementioned standard DJ album, albeit one helmed by two of the world’s busiest, best travelled and most popular names in the sphere of underground house and techno, Hot Natured’s genesis always suggested that their destiny was going to be more imaginative and uncharted.
“We tried to finish that album with a vocal song,” continues Lee, “then all of a sudden we were like, ‘Woah, let’s do more vocal songs’. We can do a whole vocal album and have a concept. Before you know it, more and more people are getting involved, but the thing was much more delineated by Ali and Luca coming and putting in the time with us.”
Meeting them together as a single unit, it’s easy to see the similarities between the two pairs of friends and understand why their chemistry works so well. Ali and Luca also met around the turn of the millennium at a jam session at Catch 22 when Old Street was still rough and undiscovered. Having moved there from Norfolk and Italy respectively, London clubs such as Nag Nag Nag with its electroclash soundtrack provided a backdrop of synthesisers and drum machines mixing with guitars. Ali was briefly in Luca’s band the Cazals who signed to Kitsuné (“He got caught falling asleep while playing but still keeping time,” laughs Luca on why Ali was fired after only two weeks), while Luca played keys on Ali’s 2010 album ‘Love Harder’.
It was living with Drew McConnell of Babyshambles recording parts of this, Ali living off the proceeds of his Chemical Brothers collaboration ‘Do It Again’, that the pair began collecting bits of gear to use in earnest, and wrote ‘Diminishing Returns’, the catalyst for Jamie and Lee asking Ali to provide the vocals to ‘Forward Motion’, a love song that fitted collective unconsciousness and the duality of human existence into its first verse.
“We began talking about a band,” says Ali on the self-fulfilling nature of the track’s title. “I was kind of um-ing and ah-ing as I wasn't sure about joining any bands, or anything like that, but it naturally progressed. Once Luca came in, it felt so right between the four of us. You know, the songs just got better. The way the record has gone, some of it is really timeless. I always aspire to something timeless more than anything else.”
This spirit manifests both musically and lyrically. ‘Isis’ nods to Hot Natured’s shared loved of disco with a looped sample of The Jones Girls' ‘Nights Over Egypt’, and borrows imagery from Egyptian history and mythology, ‘Different Sides’ evokes sub-atomic particles, alchemy and interplanetary distance to tell a tale of love separation over bump and grind beats, and ‘Physical Control’ rides out with the cosmic rising and falling of an arpeggio.
LA vocalist Anabel Englund, meanwhile, an extended member of the Hot Creations crew, reprises her role on current single ‘Reverse Skydiving’ with the emotive ‘Mercury Rising’, possibly an even better track, though one less suited for club play. In person, Ali is every bit what a front man should be, good looking, funny and with a disarming honesty.
But it’s his ability to breathe fresh life into well-worn themes and paint his pictures with timely references that makes him precisely the singer to match Lee, Jamie and Luca’s near faultless studio production. “Songwriting never stops,” he says on this ability to knock out compelling imagery.
“It's constantly going in my head. One person says one word to me and I'm like, ‘bang’. That track ‘Diminishing Returns’, that came about because I stayed awake for six days in Ibiza once, and I met Maxi Jazz from Faithless in Rock Bar. I went to him, 'It's just not working anymore, I’m just straight now'. And he said, ‘Yeah, well, that's diminishing returns’. I said, ‘What does that mean?’ and suddenly, pfff! It took all of that to get to that song.
Things crystallise in these moments when someone says the right word. “Lyrics for me have to be rooted in some kind of reality or personal experience,” he adds. “I don't just make stuff up.” “Except when we talk about Egyptians and stuff like that,” interrupts Luca. “That's because I kind of fly there. When we did that track [‘Isis’], I was so high I actually saw the roof of the studio open up and there were those dudes with those heads looking down and prodding us. I was fucking there!”
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY
Hot Natured’s studio chemistry isn’t always just a metaphor, but breaking down the normal walls of perception often coalesces their shared magic — “A lot of these tracks are made at six in the morning after a mad session and they come together in a weird way,” says Ali — and as Lee points out with a truth that nobody could contest,
“We may have a reputation for enjoying the party but I think we work harder than most people could”. The taking of hallucinatory drugs though, and more specifically the South American medicine of Ahayuasca, whose active ingredient DMT is currently adding new luminosity to everything from art to fashion, is certainly an aspect of the ongoing return amongst many to the beliefs and customs of ancient indigenous cultures, a reaction to the current state of alienation felt with modern capitalist culture and politics.
It's a wave that Hot Natured are riding, as demonstrated in their long-running attendance of Nevada’s free-spirited Burning Man festival. “I think we feel that’s what the 2013 thing was,” says Lee. “It’s not the end of the world, but the bringing of the light of a new consciousness and an age where people will be introspective. Not just introspective to themselves, but also to the culture and to what else is out there in this universe.”
“What's happening in the world right now, and has been happening for the past four or five years, is that people are finally realising that there's a need to go back to certain things, nature, spirituality and stuff like that,” agrees Luca. “It's not so much the psychedelic drugs, it's spirituality and going back to the true essence of being a human being, where we come from, our heritage. I don't see Ayahuasca and DMT as drugs, there's a healing side to it.”
Whether you believe in this rhetoric or just consider it new age bullshit, there's no doubting that Hot Natured exude a can-do confidence and are surrounded by a sense of destiny that now is their time. It’s this that partly informs the concept of the album, though Jamie insists there’s a more personal element that relates to how he first met Lee, then joined forces with the others.
As with his own 2009 debut album ‘Don’t You Remember the Future’, a love of the aesthetic of science fiction films is never far away either. “When Stargate first came out, I loved it,” he enthuses. “I’ve probably seen it 20 times. It’s not the best movie in the world, but I just love the element of sci-fi mixed in with Egyptians.”
What’s for sure is that ‘Different Sides of the Sun’ is shaping up for a life beyond the shelves of club goers, its songwriting and hook-laden electronics capable of blowing up into a debut of Mylo-like proportions, the reason that the group ultimately opted for major label backing. “I think it's perfectly good to be on a label like Warner because you want the most people to hear it,” says Lee proudly.
“It could really reach a lot of people and do something really important.” There's a danger of course, as there has been since Hot Natured began defining the sound of modern house and techno, that some will see this step up in visibility as some kind of betrayal of their underground credentials, but Jamie is keen to put the live act in its context.
“I’ll be the first person to put my hands up, it’s not what I want to listen to at 3am on the dancefloor of a sweaty club,” he says, pointing out that this is the remit of Hot Creations or its sister label Hot Trax. “It doesn’t work with what I DJ at peak-time. I’m more of a jacking house, techno DJ. This is melodic electronic music. For festivals, the end of the night, after-hours, it’s perfect.”
Lee, meanwhile, is even less concerned about remaining true to some kind of imagined ideal. “We set out a few years ago to do something new and interesting and it reached a point of no return where we had a lot of vocals on things.
“I want to make music that makes people happy,” he goes on. “If you want to do that, you're going to get some blowback. There ain't no half stepping, like Big Daddy Kane said. You can't do it and step back because a few people said something.”
The summer sees their live show rolling out for the festival season, including Manchester’s Park Life, Sonar, Glastonbury, Terminal 5 in New York, Chicago’s Wavefront Festival, Eastern Electrics and Bestival, and Jamie’s ever-increasing number of bookings at big-name US festivals means their sights are set high.
“My dream is to see a show the size of a Swedish House Mafia show, lights-wise and production-wise, but with cool music,” he says, encouraged by the scale of EDM as a spectacle if nothing else. In the meantime, they’re free again to dedicate time to their own personal projects. Lee has more material coming from his partnership with MK and Anabel, while as well as Infinity Ink, Luca is finishing off an album with studio partner Brigante.
“I think one of the reasons I became a big solo artist was because I consistently had big techno/house records, especially in Ibiza,” says Jamie on his plans. “I kind of put that side of me on hold to finish this album. Now it's come to writing my second album, I'm going to be writing some club bangers.” “You heard it here first!” yells Lee with a grin. “Some Jamie Jones club bangers coming soon…”