Lock N Load’s Jeff Gray chats to Groove Armada ahead of their set at Clapham Common’s SW4 music festival…
As one of the biggest electronic artists in the 90’s what do you miss most about that era?
Well probably being 21 for a start [laughs]. No the thing that I miss is the free parties, which was the first half of the ’90s, up until about ‘94-’95. The pre-mobile phone, pull into the service station and get directions; those kind of free parties. That really was when house music was alive. They were amazing, amazing weekends. You know pre-communications freedom is what we’ll never get back again; alongside all of the classic tunes that was a pretty unique moment in time.
It definitely sounds it. Earlier this year you played a sold-out show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground, you were also asked to write this season’s international music summit anthem. How does it feel to know that you’re still such respected artists in both the mainstream and the underground?
That bit of it is nice. I think we’ve managed to kind of tread that line, without anything planned; we never really started off with a big PR campaign or a press angle, we just sort of did what we wanted to do, and as a result it’s got a nice, sort of family feel. We ran our own festival, we ran our own label, we knew the dance scene from all angles so we just did things the way we thought was right. We spent a lot of time on dance floors so when it came to doing big gigs we knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the fence too. It’s left us in this period now where we’ve got rid of the live band and we’re just DJ-ing again, we’ve gone back to the kind of free party house music where it all started. It’s left us in a great place where we can do the old big stage now and again, we can do the little underground gigs and club, we can do whatever we want really, it’s a nice situation to be in.
Excellent, how does the DJ-ing side of things influence your production, so say you’re producing a track, will you produce it bearing in mind that you want to play it out or does it not work like that?
All the music that we’re making for Hypercolour, Defected or whatever other labels we’re going to work with this year, it’s house, so that’s completely designed by all those years’ experience of DJ-ing. You start making the kind of tunes that you want to have ready for a Sunday on the terrace or wherever the next gig is so it’s a closed circle yeah. Before it wasn’t like that when we were doing albums that were all tripped out, weird and just albums for an albums sake, that was more removed from the DJ-ing side, but now there’s a thorough link.
What sort of process do you go through as a pair to produce together?
It’s changed over the years; we’ve made a lot of albums. For the first one, I don’t really know why, but we went to some little cottage in the Lake District with a little sampler and a lot of Boddingtons [laughs]. Then things got a bit bigger and we were doing sessions in Abbey Road with orchestras. But we’ve always done all the engineering, producing, mixing everything ourselves so a lot of it has just been hours in bedrooms or in basements. For the last 6 years I haven’t lived in the UK so we’ve been a bit more remote as in emailing ideas backwards and forwards and stuff.
Because you’ve worked together for so long, how do you overcome disagreements if you ever have them?
We don’t really have them, sometimes the temperature will slightly raise but long before we get to the disagreement point. I know what he thinks, he knows what I think so we don’t even have to say anything we just each back down a notch and it’s fine. We’ve had one argument in the last however long it is, 17 years, and given that most of that time we’ve been sleep deprived and a bit mental it’s pretty amazing.
Yeah that’s pretty good going. So you’re no longer a part of Lovebox, how does that feel because that was obviously a big part of your lives for a quite while wasn’t it?
It was yeah, it was a massive deal. It just started as a Groove Armada gig on Clapham Common and then we decided to get some extra DJ’s in. We were putting fences up, putting loo roll in the toilets you know, we were doing everything… We had some had seminal Groove Armada gigs there and then the time came when it was like, we just spent a bit too much time not agreeing with people involved about how things should be done. It came to the point where we were like ‘you know what…? It’s been brilliant, let’s go out with a great gig, get Candi Staton down… then just leave’ which is exactly what we did.
Yeah I guess sometimes it comes to the point where you have to just cut your losses and end on a high really doesn’t it?
Yeah we had to leave it on a high and that gig with Candi Staton was amazing, absolutely amazing, we couldn’t have finished in a better way really; it was a great gig, it was amicable and it was cool. Now we’ve got a lot more hours in the week to do stuff.
Does that mean we’ll be getting some more music from you guys this year?
Well the music’s out there. We’ve been putting out quite a few EP’s but it’s all quite underground especially stuff on the label Hypercolour and various white labels; it’s a lot of the more traditional Groove Armada so people might not even be aware that it’s out. I mixed them all together recently, the tunes that we play since we stopped the live band and started the house mix. It’s a double album worth of Groove so we’ve definitely not been idle the last couple of years.
What’s given you the nudge to go back in towards the underground and almost shy away from promotion and the like?
Well we’ve always done it. Alongside all the big live tours, Glastonbury closing slots and everything else, we were still playing Sankeys’ opening on the terrace. The DJ thing has always been a constant but when the live band was on the road and we were doing that full on, that’s got to be the thing that sticks out a bit more and takes a lot of your time. Once that finished it’s just allowed us to make DJ-ing our focus. Not to try and get back up on the main stage, we don’t want to do that, we decided that we did that with the band and that’s how we thought dance music should be on big stages: with a live band. With the DJ bit, we’ll still do the arena’s and stuff but more of a mixture of that and the basement is where we’re out now.
Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you about the rework that you did of that Rockers Revenge track (Walking on Sunshine). It’s a very old track so I wondered what inspired you to do it now rather than years ago?
We do these gigs every year for teenage cancer trust and one of them every year is in Ibiza. We played it while we were DJ-ing, and Arthur Baker, the legendary producer who wrote that tune, was there and said ‘I’ve got the files on tape do you want to have a go at it?’ and we said absolutely and that was that.
Ah amazing. How’s it going to feel playing at a London festival (SW4) this year that’s not Lovebox?
Oh it’s going to be quite weird, that last gig at Lovebox was a massive deal for us because it was like the closing of a whole era, a whole chapter of our history, so we sort of went through that then. Now we’re ready for the next chapter; it’s kind of appropriate that we’re ending up in exactly the same place (Clapham Common) where the whole thing started however many years ago.
Have you heard much about SW4 before?
Yeah, lots of things, we’ve never played for obvious reasons but it’s definitely got a high reputation. We’ve got a few exclusives lined up to give it a festival edge. It’s our only London festival appearance so we’ve got to up the ante a little bit.
Excellent, well finally what’s in store for GA for the rest of the year?
Well for the moment we’re just kind of in the festivals and Ibiza run around which is cool, especially when the suns out in the UK like today, that takes us up until the end of September and then we’re going to do what we did last year and just stop for a bit. Just disappear for a while and then kind of resurface, probably in Australia in January 2014. We can do that now because no-one can tell us what to do anymore.
Aw, well you guys sound like you’re in a really good place…
Yeah well it’s a long time coming but we got there in the end.
Yeah, well congratulations, thank you so much for your time.
No worries, catch you at the festival!
Groove Armada is playing at Southwest Four on Sunday 25 August. Tickets: £50. http://www.southwestfour.com