When electro-pop band Hot Chip played their final gig of 2010, they didn’t expect their performance to be cut short by a gang of armed policemen snatching their equipment off the stage.
“We were playing at a festival in Russia, getting towards the end of our set, when suddenly armed policemen appeared at the front of the stage and started pulling leads out of our keyboards,” says Felix Martin, keyboard player and “knob twiddler” in the six-strong line-up.
“It all got a bit frantic. It turned out that we were playing half an hour past the local curfew in St Petersburg so the armed police muscled in to shut the whole thing down. It was a weird way to finish off a year of touring.”
That dramatic gig was the last in a string of performances dedicated to promoting the release of the band’s fourth studio album ‘One Life Stand’ that came out last year on EMI.
“Different places in the world, you get different reactions to songs,” says Felix. “In South America, ‘Feel Better’ was massively popular. ‘One Life Stand’ is pretty popular over here and in Europe and in the US, they love those too, as well as the oldies such as ‘Over And Over’.”
Anyone who’s seen Hot Chip play live will know that the band — that started off as the duo of Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor in 2000 — play a continuous stream of music that incorporates their songs, new and old. Hot Chip’s musical influences include Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, Timbaland, Brian Eno and Aphex Twin. Listen closely to their songs and you can hear traces of all these artists woven into a sound that is deliciously hard to pin down and distinctly their own.
There’s a strong improvisational element to their live show. And, according to Felix, they never play the same version of a song twice.
“Although our songs are very ‘beginning, middle and end’ when we play live we extend different bits of the song, remix songs while we’re playing them and make them blend into one another, so it works as a continuous stream,” says Felix. “There are elements of the live show that involve drum machines but we try and make the arrangement as flexible as we can, using lots of real instruments, so that we can retain that live energy and not just be a bunch of dudes twiddling with knobs, which is obviously not particularly interesting as a spectacle.”
More interesting, as anyone who managed to catch one of Hot Chip’s live shows last year, was the sight of Al Doyle (also the guitarist with LCD Soundsystem) playing live steelpan on stage during ‘I Feel Better’ and ‘One Life Stand’.
“The steel pan that features on the album was played by this 50-year-old musician that we worked with,” Felix explains. “Al’s pretty amazing. He’s a multi-instrumentalist. He learned to play steelpan just so we could include it in the live show.”
Hot Chip first played live in 2003; which is when original members Joe and Alexis recruited the rest of the current line-up. Their first live shows, says Felix, were “pretty embarrassing”.
“We used to take about five minutes between each song, to load the different keyboard presets and remember what we were trying to play. It’s definitely got better.”
Their early live shows were part of the promotional process for ‘Coming On Strong’, the first album they released on Moshi Moshi Records. The next album, ‘Made In the Dark’, was a restless romp through genres that they also promoted with an extensive live tour. What emerged after that experience was the poppier, crossover album ‘One Life Stand’.
“For the last album we used a smaller palate of instruments and I think that made it easier on the ear,” says Felix. “I don’t know if we’ll continue going down that route for the next album. I guess we’ll find out during the next few months in the studio.”
All six of the Hot Chippers are DJs as well as musicians. For the past three summers Felix and Al have held up the Hot Chip residency at We Love at Space, playing “house, techno and minimal”.
“Being DJs helps our live show,” says Felix. “We understand the concept of building tension within a live set; creating peaks and maintaining a constant flow. Without a DJ sensibility I don’t think we’d be able to do that.”
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