Friendly Fires: “As instant as possible.”

07.12.09 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

The noughties was when we all finally realised pop music wasn’t a dirty word. Suddenly everything was pop, or wanted to be. Those of us old enough to remember (or canny enough to raid the online back catalogue), however, grieved for the danger that used to lurk in pop music: the dancefloor abandon of early Madonna and Prince, who both took the defiant celebration of the gay and black communities from the clubs to the top of the charts. While underground pop has never lost its connection to the dancefloor, much of the mainstream has fallen into the marketing trap of being hyper-choreographed, sexless and sweat-free. Well, mostly. Thank god for FRIENDLY FIRES. Three clubbers from St Albans who know that dreams are made and broken on dancefloors every weekend around the world – and have been for a lot longer than in any TV studio.

Pairing classic pop music subject matter – first love, broken hearts and big dreams – with the lusty rhythms of dark and furtive nightclubs, FRIENDLY FIRES brought the dancefloor back to our living rooms with their late 2008 self-titled debut. It had a whiff of fresh, salty sweat, a breathless spontaneity and something bubbling under, ready to boil over. You can hear it in the carnival rhythms of Jump In The Pool and Kiss Of Life, the clipped funk of In The Hospital, the acid lines of On Board, the electro breakdown of Lovesick, the unbridled schaffel strut of White Diamonds and The Field sampling disco bliss of Paris.

So it makes complete and utter sense that they’re rounding off a year that included a much-deserved Mercury Prize nomination and a fistful of ridiculously good remixes – yes, including that phenomenal Aeroplane one – with a massive party at the Coronet this Friday. DJs will include Michael Mayer, Shit Robot and Holy Ghost!, the latter who FRIENDLY FIRES excitingly reveal they’re in the process of recording a split 7” with, on which the two bands will cover one another. Photographer Mikael and I meet up with them at their Shoreditch studio, bright and early on a chilly Friday morning. They’re super polite, almost nervously friendly and clearly happy to working on new material in the break before they head back out on the road for their late November/early December US tour. Wrapped up in trench coats, we head out to a nearby pub. Only for tea and coffee, mind. There’s work to be done later.

I kind of wanted to mainly talk about dance music because listening to your music it feels like you’ve had a big clubbing background.

Ed Macfarlane: What’s the first club you ever went to Jack?

Jack Savidge: Er, I dunno. Probably Warp and Rephlex things…

Edd Gibson: Electrowerkz…

Ed: Yeah Electrowerkz. Seeing Plaid, Jamie Lidell back in his non-soul days and er, who else? Aphex, Luke Vibert DJing in the other room. All that kind of Warp Records stuff was the first kind of electronic dance music that I got into. There was a guy called Chris Clark from St Albans who was the first Warp artist I heard purely because he was from St Albans. He was a local music hero. That was the time when Warp was really at it’s coolest point as well. I just remember going in [to Electowerkz] and seeing loads of people with dreadlocks being total geeks just standing around. Loads of people not even dancing as well. Actually, people were dancing but I don’t know how the hell they were doing it. (Laughs.)

Jack: Dancing in, like, 13, 15 time signatures.

Edd: It was when we old enough to be able to get the train up to London and stay out all night, and actually get into these clubs in the first place.

Each track on the album has a different type of dance music influence. There are acid lines, techno, electro, disco…

Edd: I dunno, when we did White Diamonds, we kind of wanted to do something…

That’s kind of glam rock-y…

Ed: Yeah, you’re thinking of whatisname, paedophile. Gary Glitter.

Jack: There was this schaffel compilation on Kompakt…

Ed: The galloping Gary Glitter sort of thing…

Jack: We wanted to rip that off, and so rip that off we did.

Ed: And you can’t mix a schaffel song into a straight 4/4, you can but it totally fucks up the whole groove. It’s a really characterful rhythm I think.

Edd: It’s so jaunty. When we play White Diamonds live you can tell everyone gets way more boisterous. I don’t know what it is.

Ed: It’s almost like a pirate sea shanty.

There’s a 90s house revival coming through at the moment – is your next album is going to be more underground?

Ed: I think dance music is a form of music that is very much inbuilt in our sound. I think every track on our album has a dance rhythm to it of some sort and that’s going to be in our music. But we’re not going to write like 8 minute, 12” versions of tracks and put them on the album because it’s not something we want to do as a band. We’ve always wanted to write much more concise, simplistic pop music in a way. It’s funny when we get compared to acts like LCD Soundsystem because I can hear that, maybe, instrumentation-wise, there’s might be something in common. But it’s not our goal to make repetitious, 8 minute-long developing grooves. When we write music we get bored really easily, so we just try to make things as instant as possible.

Jack: I think live we like to extend songs a bit, so it is a bit more dancefloor. But yeah, on record we like to keep it short, very intense.

What’s been your favourite remix of your music this year?

Ed: For me, it’s got to be the Wild Geese one [listen above]. I like that a lot. It’s just more up my street, lush piano lines and the groove is really good. I think the vocal sits really well with the groove they’ve done.

Jack: It’s really simple. I like the Thin White Duke one as well. That works really well.

Ed: That’s on a Ministry Of Sound compilation…(laughS)

See, could you get any more 90s?

Jack: It does kind of does sound like, really, from the golden age of chart dance, you know when…

Ed: Do you think it has a bit of a sausage house vibe about it?

Jack: No, not sausage, more like kind of…

Sausage house?

Ed: You know, cheesy dance music where you have girls dancing about in the video.

Oh yeah. The kind they play in every gym in the world.

All three: Yeah, exactly.

Jack: I think it’s more like, what’s it called, Music Sounds Better With You.

Jack: Or that Supermen Lovers track that was massive. I don’t know. I reckon it could be a chart smash.

Ed: Well, it wasn’t. [Laughs.] We’ve never had a chart smash.

Edd: 38, right in at 38.

Jack: I thought it was number 30?

Edd: Oh really?

Ed: I was talking to Jack from Foals and he was like, “it’s really strange that you’ve never had…I mean, Cassius got to number 15 in the charts.” I was like, really? Jesus. They don’t even like that song! Well, they’re not massive fans of that track so they were just confused because we very much try to be a pop band, we’re trying to write really great pop songs but we’ve never had a top ten single.

I read that nearly 40,000 people tried to buy tickets for your Roundhouse gig.

Ed: Yeah, it was bizarre.

Jack: I think for the most part we were on tour so we didn’t really, you know, there are moments when you realise, oh right it’s got to this stage has it. Doing the Forum and doing Glastonbury.

Ed: It’s not like we step outside our front door and more people were noticing us on the street. I mean I rarely get noticed which is probably a good thing in a lot of ways. Do you get noticed?

Jack: Yeah, in Top Shop.

Ed: Ha, really? Why were you there?

Edd: Trying to be noticed.

Ed: There for a whole day and one person is like…hello.

When you were saying earlier about people not dancing at the Warp nights, what I really like about your music and videos is that you actually dance.

Ed: Yeah, yeah definitely. Why we have a lot of people dancing at our shows, a great deal of that is because we’re dancing so much. If the band’s not being self-conscious then the crowd give less of a shit as well. It’s kind of nice, looking out at the audience and seeing people freak out. If that was me watching a band, I would never do that because I’m far too self-conscious when I’m not dancing on stage, if that makes any sort of sense.

Not completely.

Ed: We were having a conversation yesterday about when people go to clubs and dance now…

Jack: It’s barely a dance.

Ed: People bobbing along…

Edd: It’s like videos you see of old raves, acid house, warehouse things, and people are going fucking crazy. Ravey davey gravy kind of thing.

Ed: Going to disco nights especially in London, no one dances at those at all.

Edd: I don’t know, when we went to Horse Meat Disco….

Ed: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah definitely.

Edd: That was good because it felt like people weren’t even really there for the music, or because it was cool, but just to be on the scene and strut in front of other people. Which I guess is what dancing used to be about.

Jack: It’s just really vibey isn’t it. Far more so than lots of other places. I was moved to take my shirt off.

Who did you see at Horse Meat?

Ed: It was Tim Sweeney and Daniele Baldelli.

Jack: I think the last time I went out was at Plastic People. It was alright but it was a bit underwhelming.

Ed: That’s what I mean. I feel there are a lot of these nights, lots of beardos standing around, comparing records. Where’s the fun in that?

Jack: It’s really like that. I often feel like the youngest person in the club, even though I’m 25.

Edd: The last time I was at Plastic People it was like back to the Warp era of someone with dreadlocks trying to hug everyone. It’s a small place to hide as well.

Ed: There is one dark corner you can really cower in at Plastic People.

Edd: In a foetal position.

Is that why you wanted to put on your night, to do a rave that you could actually go mental at?

Edd: Well, we won’t be able to go that mental because we’re playing at 1 or 2 in the morning.

Ed: I think one of the main reasons for me is that I’ll be able to watch all these people I want to watch. If someone says, we’ll pay for anyone who wants to come and DJ at your night, that’s just absolutely amazing.

Edd: Guaranteed to get in as well. (Laughs)

You won’t have to queue, there might be some drinks tokens…

Ed: It’s a total privilege to be able to do it. When you become a successful band you realise you might not be making any money, but there’s stuff like that that makes it really worthwhile.

So you’ve got Wild Geese playing, Kompakt DJs…

Ed: Michael Mayer. And Holy Ghost have just confirmed too, so the line-up is pretty shit hot.

And the new album…the one I’m assuming is coming out next year?

Ed: Yeah, I think we’re telling people it will be done by May.

Jack: But it wouldn’t be coming out till later…people think that done by May means in the shops. Just making that crystal clear.

Ed: We’ve done about five instrumentals, one of them has lyrics to it already and we’ve only been back off the road for two and a half weeks, it’s great to be swimming straight back into the creative mode. When you’re on the road, it’s kind of really bizarre, you can’t be creative, you can’t really take anything in, but you’re not really doing much at the same time. You turn up at venues, sit around back stage, eat a ham sandwich, soundcheck and then just get pissed and wait for the gig. You do that everyday.

What have you been listening to? What have you really rated this year?

Jack: I’ve been listening to Andrew Weatherall a lot. It’s a bit hard to get into because his singing voice is a bit annoying but it’s really good. It took me two or three listens.

Ed: What is it like?

Jack: It’s kind of steam punky, lots of piston noises and stuff. It’s quite guitary, not a lot of techno stuff going on. The lyrics are very good. Maybe I just like it because I like him a lot.

Ed: I’ve been listening to a lot of Motor City Drum Ensemble who’s playing our party. I really like his stuff. It’s really melodic and retro-ist but not retro-ist. He’s got his own take on that sound. I’m really excited to see what he plays. He’s so young, 2 years younger than me. I mean, there are loads of young musicians about but I always find when you hear someone you really like and find out they’re younger than you, it’s like what have I been doing?

I love your cover of Frankie Knuckles Your Love, that’s one of my favourite house tracks of all time. I think that’s what I was getting at earlier, wondering if you were going to go in that direction.

Ed: We’ve got one track that we’ve been working on at the moment that we’ve really, just the way we’ve recorded it, the recording techniques are really house-y. We’ve recorded the drums with some music playing out of the speakers, and then chopped theses loops up, so it kind of sounds like a disco loop on a house track. But it still sounds really live, like a band playing it. That’s the kind of element of house I really like, that really loopy kind of vibe.

Jack: It’s kind of so weird with dance music, because it keeps rumbling on, much like the music itself. You know, every year is an OK year for house.

Friendly Fires play The Coronet this Friday 11 December. Full line up and ticket links on our blog.

Friendly Fires’ website

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