From on-trend bloggers to trend-setting DJs, the Bicep duo are about as iconic as it gets in underground music. That bold muscular stamp has been slapped everywhere, from record sleeves and T-shirts to fire hydrants on Old Street. Now it sits proudly on the billboard mantel of XOYO's latest 13-week residency, and their nomination came as no surprise.
Following in the footsteps of Eats Everything, Jackmaster and Skream, the Belfast-born duo are the next in line to flex their muscles — as it were — by enticing a long list of peers, plucked from the halls of dance music heritage as well as the ranks of today's most solid house, techno and disco talent. Jeremy Underground, Space Dimension Controller, Derrick May, Paul Woolford and Omar Souleyman all featured during July alone, while Nick Hoppner, Zenker Brothers, Late Nite Tuff Guy and Andrew Weatherall are involved this month, plus the boys go b2b with Midland on 29th August.
Those nmonikers might read like a shortlist of who's-hot-right-now names, but Bicep's role as arbiters of good taste requires more than just name-dropping and talent-spotting via their Feel My Bicep blog these days. Recent EPs on Aus ('LykLyk' and 'Just') saw them twisting the formula with breaks slowed down to 125bpm, while elements of prog house and psy-trance also get a re-rub. There's an album in the making too — plus plenty more. If anybody is going to try something different and make it sound super cool, it's Bicep...
Tell us about the XOYO series. Any highlights you’re particularly looking forward to?
Matt: “We’re running 13 weeks-worth of events at the club. We’ve been putting the line-ups together over the course of a year and we’re really excited to get things kicked off.
“It would be hard to pick any out in particular as they all have something to get excited about, although some of our favourite overseas artists like Black Madonna and Late Nite Tuff Guy will be very special — and of course Omar Souleyman live is going to be insane.
Andy: “It’s been an amazing opportunity to put together an actual series of line-ups which we feel really reflect all the different aspects of our taste.”
What angle have you taken with the booking policy? Who have you booked and why?
Andy: “No real policy but we have really tried to vary the line-ups and make them feel fresh each week, and bring some artists together that don’t always play in London so often.
“We’ve tried to create contrast each week between the two rooms — that was very important to us. It was also a really big thing for us to place emphasis on both rooms, and not leave one as an after-thought.
Matt: “We’ve tried to have a real coherence in the line-ups for each event, pairing together artists that will really compliment each other and also work at particular parts of the evening. For example, having Horse Meat Disco and then The Black Madonna — both have huge disco influences in their sets, with The Black Madonna sometimes bringing a slightly tougher edge so we’ll have her on directly after the boys.”
What can we expect from your sets? Is there a challenge involved with playing weekly?
Matt: “Each week we will tailor our sets to how we feel suits the guests we have asked to come down and join us. That’s going to be really fun, to do the warm-up (which really is one of our favourite slots) and then close the room as well.
“It means we get to play lots of music we have saved over the years, that may be more inclined to a warm-up than a full 2,000-person festival gig. Instead of feeling challenged, this is exciting and a real chance to delve deep into our collections and make it personal each week.”
How closely aligned is the series to the original ethos of the Feel My Bicep and label blog?
Andy: “The original ethos of the blog was also very simple… to put up music we like, so in that sense it’s a direct reflection.”
Matt: “We absolutely love every single artist we’ve booked and the variation across the line-ups really aligns well with our blog.”
Bicep have come along way from the early days. Tell us about the journey and how you've evolved over the years?
Andy: “I mean, for us, we have and we haven’t. As producers we do feel we’ve improved and definitely grown in confidence a lot. But musically, things are exactly the same as they always were. I think it’s more people now understand us on a wider scale. In 2008 when the blog started, we posted hard techno, Turkish disco, Italo, '90s house, breaks, slowed down trance… you name it, if we liked it, we’d post it. Our inspiration has always been aligned with the likes of the untouchable Optimo, who are very eclectic.”
Matt: “We’re pretty much doing the exact same now and varying up our mixes in exactly the same way. I think it’s just when we became better known as producers we were quickly pigeon-holed for the first few tracks that 'broke through' and therefore people just assumed that’s all we did.
“Things definitely feel more relaxed now because there isn’t that same pressure to play in any specific way due to people understanding our broad tastes a bit more — now we’re more established. Whenever we or the crowd are in a particular mood and wanna hear hard techno… we’ll do it. It might be slo-mo Italo for the next gig.”
Originally you made your name as DJs but have grown to become prolific producers. How did you find that transition?
Andy: “Actually, I’d say originally we made our name as bloggers and it kinda went from there. The transition has been really fun, and for us the amazing thing about having a few areas you really enjoy is that in certain points in the year or even your career you may focus on one area more, and it can be really revitalising to rediscover it.”
Matt: “Like from January to April of this year, we didn’t do many gigs and really focused on the studio, and it was amazing to really get under the skin of things and have a clear head. Now we’re into summer, it’s more festivals and non-stop gigging which is great because we’re focusing all our time on digging up new music and our DJing. It’s a nice cycle that seems to always keep moving.”
What's planned for 2015/2016? Do you have an album planned? If so, any collabs? What label?
Matt: “Later this year we have two more FMB releases finished and ready to go, a slo-mo track for Gerd Janson's 'Music For Autobhans' compilation, a heavy broken Italo-techno track for 50 Weapons (which we’re really excited about), a remix for the legendary 808 State — one of a '90s house classic by Dyone; another one for our friend Brassica, and finally a charity release called 'Craigie Knowes' alongside some of our favourite artists, with all proceeds going to War Child.”
Andy: “Right now we’re looking towards a full-length album, which is going to be exciting. I’m afraid we’re giving away absolutely no hints as to what’s going to be on it but we will certainly aim to take some risks and really push ourselves.”
'LykLyk' and 'Just' saw you incorporate slo-breaks in your tracks. What made you decide to do so?
Matt: “Three years ago when we were much younger and probably lacked confidence as producers, we would have maybe had a particular style in our head when we wanted to make a track. Now it’s totally different.
“We’ve spent the last few years building a big studio and really working on a fluid workflow so that both of us can get stuck in without having to speak to each other — it’s about feeling.”
Andy: “Everything is hooked up together and we can jam on 15/20 different machines for a few hours until inspiration comes. It’s much more organic, with almost no preconceived ideas ever. Anything we’ve made recently has usually had about 10 reincarnations, where the track may have started as acid house and ended up a broken ambient tune (like 'Celeste').
Matt: “The reason those tracks or any recent tracks have a particular element is just down to us feeling that’s what we liked the sound of at the time. Another beauty of moving to totally analogue equipment and recording live audio is that you don’t really get a chance to ‘design’ it. It has to be a particular take or recording that you have to totally re-do if you want to change it, and it will rarely sound the same. Whilst this may seem restrictive, it’s actually very liberating and forces you to accept what you did at a certain time and not over-think things. All our most successful studio days have been when 'happy accidents' occurred or we’d felt stuck for ages and suddenly something just made sense.”
Andy: “We’re not concerned with genres, nor any scene or grouping. We just make whatever we like that day, and I think when it comes to the album we’ll really get a chance to cement this.”
The 'Just EP' also had some trance in there. Do you have history with the genre?
Andy: “We grew up in Ireland, so I suppose the answer is yes (laughs). To be honest, the beauty of trance is that certainly with the best of the old stuff, it was very musical. Lots of chords, strings and emotion… slow down some of the more simple late '90s trance tunes to -20 and you’ve a Weatherall-esque bomb!”