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MUSICAL MUSCLE MEMORY

Bicep on their production process and much more

Since starting their infamous blog, Feel My Bicep, Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, aka Bicep, have become dancefloor heavyweights known for their impressive record collections and impeccable taste. 

The Belfast-born duo known as Bicep have been shaping up musical tastes via their famed Feel My Bicep blog since 2008. Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, who now have a nearly non-stop international touring schedule, a record label and celebrated releases (such as “Vision of Love” and “$tripper”), never intended for the blog to blow up into what it has - they were merely trying to provide a platform where deeper cuts could see the light of day.

Not realizing the extent of their own musical muscle though, Feel My Bicep proved that they were ahead of the cosmic curve, possessing excellent tastes and crates of sought after records. It soon gained notoriety for its consistent quality, and categorized them in a class as true tastemakers.

“Our second ever record signing began when James Friedman from Throne of Blood contacted us about a track of his we'd posted,” says Matt when quizzed on the roots of their own success. “From that grew a five year friendship and many releases.

Before anyone had even heard of it, we put Ejeca's music on the blog, and he was signed the very next day to Tusk Wax. We've had a lot of good relationships with labels like Wolf Music, Dissident records, Tusk Wax, House of Disco and many small labels, who have all been great in giving us exclusive material, which was something we really prided ourselves on in the beginning.”

Although they admit to not following any other music blogs at the moment, mostly on account of being so busy, they acknowledge that there are definitely other great ones out there, and mention XXJFG (20 Jazz Funk Greats) and Raketa4000 as being favorites of theirs when they were first starting out.

So where does this duo do their digging? “We are blessed to have Kristina Records in Dalston, a great new record store, right on our doorstep,” reveals Matt on the East London institution. “They have loads of small labels and limited pressing stuff, which is what we usually tend to buy when getting vinyl. We never leave that place without a couple of records. Phonica is great, and we also buy a ton off Discogs. The Thing and A1 in New York are great for random oldies and house, and Redlight Records in Amsterdam is cool for weirdo electronica and ambient stuff.”

With touring and recording taking up more and more of their time, the blog has taken a bit of a backseat these days. Rather, their Rinse FM show has taken the lead as the premiere place for Feel My Bicep followers to get their fix. Andy tells us, “We've increasingly found it hard to keep the blog as updated as it used to be, due to our very heavy schedule. We suppose our Rinse show is now the most current and up-to-date outlet for everything we're playing. That's really become an extension of the blog, with us playing two hours of new, often unreleased, music a month.”

With broad tastes, their music draws heavily and equally from house, techno, disco and garage, what the duo describe emphatically as “HOT TUB SLAMZ.” Matt explains, “Everything interests us,” and that “it would be quite boring to only work at one style. That said, often the true greats pick something and really perfect it. 

We like to think of ourselves as still in the very early stages of production and music as a long-term career. We've enjoyed jumping around a bit and trying new things. Often, you can be a little more creative when you don't quite know what you're doing, so it's good to keep venturing into stuff that feels fresh. Some of it will work, some won't, but that's part of the fun.”

Their production process can take a considerable amount of time, as they often stew on tracks for months on end before considering them complete. “We're in this weird stage where we don't know whether taking a more 'instant' approach would be better,” admits Andy. “We're sitting on 50 or 60 track ideas at the moment. You always want to be working on new stuff, and so many ideas get lost for a long time. It's great to really take your time on stuff, but with increasingly less studio time now, we've started trying to start and finish a track in a day, get a full four-minute take done. It does then have to sit for a while for us to let it breathe. You do need distance to know whether you've added too much to something, or too little. It's easy to get caught up in the moment when you're all excited for the first time and overcook it.”

Having always owned at least a couple pieces of analog equipment, most notably the Ensoniq DP4, an outboard effects unit employed heavily by Daft Punk in the '90s, Matt and Andy have found themselves addicted to adding to their growing collection of gear, purchasing a new piece every few weeks - to the point that they've had to triple the size of their studio.

They describe the evolution of their process, “In the beginning, we used soft synths and Ableton built-in sampler, sampling the hardware we did have, but heavily relying on the computer for everything,” Andy explains. “Now, we really just use Ableton as a base to record stuff into. We're playing everything live together, using sequencers and drum machines. It's much more free, fluid and intuitive. We can jam away for hours and just hit record when we think something is working, and just move the arrangement around a little once its recorded in. Looking back, it's hard to believe we ever worked any other way.”

We asked them about the “throwaway” culture of club music they've mentioned in other interviews, and whether they think it's bound to get better. “In our opinions, a lot of the rushed, badly leveled, digital-sounding 'Ableton demo' music that's all over Beatport is only growing in number,” reckons Matt, “but there's also a lot of great labels putting out high quality records at the same time. [There are] way too many to name them all, although one thing we do feel from our own personal experience is that dance music has become so popular, especially in Europe, that many of the best artists are too busy with touring to have the time to really make mistakes and truly get under the skin of proper, long studio sessions. Sometimes our best ideas come after a week of failed ones, and when you only have, say, eight days scattered in a month to be in the studio, it's super difficult.”

Anyone that stands out to them as far as making tracks that are sure to stand the test of time? “Space Dimension Controller is probably one of the most consistently good producers of the past handful of years,” Andy offers. “His releases on Clone Royal Oak are mind blowing for us!”

Having just played Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit when we speak, the pair goes on to describe the experience. “It's a cliché to say, but Detroit was really special, we felt it from the beginning,” says Matt. “There was a relaxed sense of ease about everything. No hype, just good music and people dancing. We started our set at 115bpm and the crowd seemed to get it straight away. We didn't feel pressure to maintain people's interest. It was really effortless in Detroit, which is great for an outdoor music festival where the intimacy is obviously lost a lot.”

Between the blog, launching their label and touring the globe, it's an understatement to say the Bicep boys are busy. With no intentions to slow their stride, the rest of 2014 will see, “Lots more releases on the Feel My Bicep label, lots more Feel My Bicep parties, topped off with loads of festivals, touring and maybe a little sleep.”

Given their ever growing popularity, that sounds like a big maybe.

Words: Reisa Shanaman

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