Northern Irish duo Bicep are one of the hottest properties in dance music now and rightly so. Their deep knowledge of the dance music spectrum and ability to move the dancefloor is equalled by few, and their constant musical evolution keeps them ahead of the pack. Residents on the Terrace at Space, Ibiza this summer at We Love... they've also mixed this month's wicked covermount CD. We caught up with the duo to talk about the White Isle, their residency, label, Rinse FM show, and more...
Bicep boys Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson are childhood friends from Belfast. They went to the same school through their teenage years before taking the leap to different universities; Andy went to Manchester, Matt to Newcastle. Back then it was nights like Optimo in Glasgow — a regular destination to meet up with friends — that planted seeds of influential greatness in their eager ears. “You’d hear Dolly Parton and then five minutes later hard techno and then a weird Italo track,” Matt remembers.
It was in part an inspiration for their blog, a popular hotspot from which they have shared all sorts of musical eccentricities to the world from across the globe, from Polish folk music to Turkish disco, “lots of little weird things, lots of Italo disco, lots of camp weird stuff”, Andy goes on to say.
In the beginning they had other jobs and a little more time on their hands, nowadays it’s a whole other story, as they devote themselves full time to producing, working on the blog and their uber fresh label Feel My Bicep. And then there’s their talent for melding and morphing a deep techno set on the dancefloor into a disco-kissed, hands-in-the-air showdown.
Which goes some way to explaining why they have been cherry-picked by We Love… to play the Terrace at Space, Ibiza this summer, and have mixed this month's We Love... covermount CD (out now) — a ludicrously lush dispatch touching on aquatic house, raw tech, freaky two-step and loads more...
Your name and your logo is quite camp, was that intentional?
Matt: “Yeah, it was meant to be, it was one of those things. I’d don’t know if we could go back in time, if we ever thought we’d be DJing under this name, whether we would have picked it. Originally it was very much meant to be, 'Let’s come up with something that sounds so ridiculous that anyone that goes on the website would instantly arrive with an open mind because the name’s so outlandish'.
It’s almost like, slowly over time, it made more sense to get the name on and we were like, ‘Oh flip we’re releasing records under Bicep’. But people have always liked it because it’s so different and there is an element of fun that’s maybe missing with modern dance music. People get very serious and deliberately go out of their way to sound cool. Although sometimes people expect two hench guys with moustaches to turn up!”
What have been your favourite places to play this year so far?
Andy: “One of our favourite places is definitely Panorama Bar. We love clubs in Belfast as well.”
M: “It sounds clichéd but it’s so amazing. We’ve gone there for years as punters and then we had the chance to play there last year, and it was just such an amazing experience, and it’s so perfectly set up, you can just relax and you feel like you’re playing in a living room, even though you’re playing in a really big club, and the crowd are so fantastic, everyone’s so open-minded. And for us it’s great to play places that we can throw curve balls and know that they’re going to go down well. And really get across our personalities in sets. Playing Space over the last few years has been amazing as well. This is our first year playing the Terrace and we’re really excited about it. I think it’s going to be amazing.”
What were your first experiences of Ibiza?
A: “I went there like a typical 18-year-old. I went there with a friend, went to the West End, spent all my student loan before I was even a student, did the typical Brits abroad thing. Stayed in San Antonio. To be honest, after I did that I thought I’d never go back to Ibiza. But as I got older, and actually, if you stay in Ibiza Town and plan your trip based around one or two club nights, you know, maybe just go on a Sunday and do Space and then DC10, it’s great. I think the first time I went, I went out seven nights in a row. It was just too intense. But now I actually look forward to it, because it’s quite relaxed. We’d do Sunday night and then the rest of the time we’d have nice food and go to the beaches with lots of friends over there.”
What have you learnt from doing it previous years that you won’t be doing this year?
M: “This is the first time that we’re playing the Terrace, and I’ve seen people really fail at it and I’ve seen people really destroy it, so I’m going to take the experience I’ve had of watching other people and hopefully try to incorporate it into what we do. I think it should be fine, because it’s a nice open crowd.”
A: “I think it’s similar, when you’re playing a room of that size to playing festivals for us. It’s that same sort of big, main room vibe. And it took a while, especially from playing lots of noodly weird stuff and disco on our first couple of experiences, playing to 5,000 people plus. You do have to play certain elements and you need breakdowns and drops, and you do need moments of pure energy followed by moments of release. That’s something that we’ve slowly got good at and we’ve certainly improved on ourselves with time. We’ve seen people play up there with 45 minutes of stripped-back deep house and it just doesn’t really work. You need those huge big blasts of energy. And for us it’s fantastic to be able to play different music for different scenarios.”
Will you be doing any other gigs in Ibiza?
M: “In general we’ve certainly turned down a lot of other gigs in Ibiza this year. Space is our main goal. And we’re really good friends with all the guys that run We Love… they’re really old friends of ours, so for us it’s less about it being the biggest night, but more about being with all the people that you really get on with, making it as good a party as possible. For us, we’ve no real goal for going anywhere else, apart from We Love…”
A: “It’s a family there, really. They’ve got lots of residents that have been there for years and we just like to hang out with them and party with them.”
What about your label, what’s happening with that?
A: “We’ve got a couple of tracks coming up, we’ve got to clear a few samples, and hopefully we’ll get them out as soon as possible, we want to try to finish off the tracks.”
M: “We’ve had the music pretty much made, well it was finished for last year. We originally thought about doing a release towards the end of the year, because obviously last year was quite intense and there was a burst of press around the end of last year. So we just wanted to let the dust settle and kind of let this year start slowly and build momentum around the summer, and then really get the flow going with releases towards the end of the year. Each year is different, our sound will be slightly different this year, so we’ve got an EP that came out yesterday and we’ve got remixes dropping every month. We’ve just done a big pop remix that we can’t talk about, but should be out around the same time as the CD. We’re really happy with that. And we have some great remixes for our own tracks that will come out hopefully on our label. There’s a lot of stuff that will be coming out about July.”
Your music seems to be evolving all the time..
“The collaboration we did with Simian Mobile Disco is one of the hardest releases we’ve ever put out, but it’s definitely of our favourites as well. It’s good, because we’ve played it out and it’s gone down really well, but nobody knows it’s by us."
"It’ll be a proper exclusive for the CD as well.”
Would you do an album?
M: “It’s one of those things where we’re slowly building up a studio. We’ve bought analogue synths and stuff and we’re just getting used to finding a really good work flow with that. I think with house music these days, albums aren’t really that important. I don’t think there’s any point with putting out an album with just house tracks. So for us, we want to really establish ourselves as much as possible with dancefloor-related material and then maybe next year work towards an album that’s geared to home listening. But it’s quite easy to get pigeonholed with albums.”
A: “And I think we need to find a couple of vocalists. We know in our heads what we want, but we can’t really describe it.”
It does sound like you’re really conscious about what you’re doing and are questioning and checking yourselves out…
“It’s not very fun if an artist rests on their laurels. I know when I listen to people, if a year later it feels like the same track they put out two years before, it’s just rehashed, then for me it’s not very exciting. It would definitely be a gamble to change vibes, and certainly you know that sometimes you’ll lose people who were into that specific style, and there’ll be other people that will be in. But for us it’s the fans, well not even the fans, but the relief to build up a following that actually really get you. You have to be able to try different things out to see what works. It’s a slow career over a long time. It’s a gentle chiseling process for us, it’s never when anyone’s sitting in one place for too long.”
What about your Rinse show?
A: “That’s a monthly. We do that on a Monday night now. That’s another thing that’s been really good for us. The first one, we played really disco, but since then, it’s been really stripped-back house and techno-y stuff, and it’s been a great chance for us to fully play anything we’re feeling that week. And not have to worry about it being sort of like in the mixtape area where people dwell on it a bit more, it’s just a chance for us to try stuff out. We really love doing it.”
What else are you looking forward to in the summer?
A: “I’m looking forward to Croatia actually. Garden Festival is going to be amazing. Melt festival looks amazing. There’s a couple of festivals I’ve wanted to play for years.”
M: “There’s a lot of European festivals that are going to be such good fun.”
A: “Shambhala in Canada looks amazing. And I’m looking forward to LA, we’ve got some friends there that we’re going to hang out with. And Glastonbury as well. If we were to read out the whole list, I’m excited to play every single one!”