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INTERVIEW: Bicep
Eden Tizard , June 10th, 2016 07:26

We talk to the production and DJ duo before they headline the Resident Advisor stage at Field Day tomorrow night

"The idea of going back to clicking on a laptop seems very prehistoric to us," say long-time Belfast friends Andy Ferguson and Matthew McBriar. The pair, better known as Bicep, are reflecting on how far they've come since they began making music. The pair's initial focus, though, was not on creating music, but on discussing and sharing it. In 2008, they began their Feel My Bicep blog, which both catalogued the diverse range of electronic and dance music the pair were interested in and operated as a way to continue their friendship while living apart, McBriar having moved to Dubai and Ferguson to London.

It was at this point that they began making music, sending files to each other online, a process which, while they describe as faltering – "you need to find a kind of organic feeling where you bounce off one another and create something. Looking back, working from a laptop felt very designed and contrived for us personally" – has since been well honed. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on last year's single, 'Just', assimilating classic-sounding breakbeats and hooky synth lines into a track primed for packed festival tents.

Before they play Field Day tomorrow, we talked to the duo about curation, both of a website and a DJ set, evolving their music and why dance music will overcome the wave of club closures.

You've spoken about how going to clubs such as Shine to see Underground Resistance exposed you to a great deal of music. When creating the Feel My Bicep blog was it an attempt to try and create something similar to this?

Not at all, the blog was a chance for us to share much weirder, more left field and obscure tastes to what we discovered at clubs like Shine. The blog, especially in its early days, was always more about synth music, Italo disco, ambient soundscapes, '80s electronica, re-edits, soul, funk and older, hard-to-find house. Shine was fairly big-name hard techno, which was still at the time very underground for Belfast, but it was a great introduction in club culture.

Many internet blogs have a fairly narrow field of interest, while your blog covers an eclectic array of dance music. Is this part of an attempt to push people out of their comfort zones?

Our blog has never been about other people. I suppose when DJing you have to take the crowd into account, but when we aren't worrying about keeping people interested we can go down our own path, and if they choose to read and listen they can, but we'd never really set out to school or push people; it was really more a personal thing, a way of archiving what we were listening to and enjoying online. It's still a great resource for us to dip back into.

You're in a unique position in that you both create and blog about music. Do you find it difficult balancing the two? Have the two roles informed each other?

To be honest, we don't really think about that at all – it's not really different curating a record label or line-ups or choose what tracks you release and don't. Curation should come naturally to anyone that can DJ and pick their own records.

What kind of contemporary forms of dance music do you draw inspiration from? Are there any non-dance music influences you look to?

Jon Hopkins and John Beltran are both great, Aphex Twin is unreal, Laraaji makes amazing ambient music, Steve Reich and Philip Glass are heroes.

When you initially began making music together you were working at a distance. Do you think that this had an impact on your music? Does being able to create music together in person alter the outcome?

Yes, the music wasn't organic – it was produced digitally and generally had no feeling at all. We regard that period as a steep learning curve. Really up until we could afford to move into a proper studio and buy some instruments, I would say our musical outcomes really suffered. Our approach now is to play as much stuff as live as possible and use our hands and try and get feeling into it. The idea of going back to clicking on a laptop seems very prehistoric to us now, but that's not to rule out people who can make amazing music with just a computer, but when there is two of you, you need to find a kind of organic feeling where you bounce off one another and create something. Looking back, working from a laptop felt very designed and contrived for us personally.

How did each of your experiences moving to Dubai and London respectively shape your music? Were you aware of much music being made in Dubai at the time Matt and, if so, did this have an impact on your approach to making music?

There was almost no good music that I was aware of being made in Dubai whilst I was there; if anything, living there only pushed me harder to try and make a music career in Europe work as I didn't want to be somewhere like there anymore. I met many great people but there just wasn't a proper underground dance scene. I do hear things are really changing though!

London has been a massive, massive influence for us, there are so many healthy scenes and sub scenes here, way beyond 'dance music' that inspire us and for us it's the best city we could be living in at the moment. It's just a total nightmare getting to the airport!

Do you still follow the music scene in Ireland? How has it altered since you were growing up?

Yes, we're actively involved in AVA Festival, which is run by Matt's sister and mainly focuses on championing local Irish talent. We play and give talks each year and help with the design side of the festival. We regularly play in Belfast and Dublin and do everything we can to support the fantastic scenes there. It really is one of our favourite places to play and, if anything, the scene has only gotten better and better since we moved away.

Given the amount of club closures in recent years, particularly within London, has it become increasingly difficult to be a part of dance culture?

I think, bar a few really small but good ones like Plastic People and Dance Tunnel, it's probably not been a massive impact – dance music spreads way beyond nightclubs now anyway. More and more festivals are happening in the UK than ever before and events like WHP are doing record numbers. I just think people are moving to different settings and not just the same club every week. With dance music exploding again recently in the UK we feel the scene is the healthiest it's been in quite a long time.

Bicep play Field Day in Victoria Park, London tomorrow; for full details and tickets, head here

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