Breaking Time: Simian Mobile Disco

"I was a proper Ibiza doubter..."
Simian Mobile Disco

Famously kicked off as a side project, Simian Mobile Disco have become one of the most enduring properties in British dance music.

Perhaps that's due to the sheer honesty running through Jas Shaw and James Ford. The pair don't pretend to have some higher agenda, they simply want to make tracks which feel good, sound good and make people want to dance. Spending the summer on the road following the release of recent album 'Unpatterns' the band recently decided to take a breather. Gathering a number of tracks composed during the sessions for - but not used on - 'Unpatterns', Simian Mobile Disco surprised fans by unveiling an EP. 'A Form Of Change' is out now, and boasts four typically diverse cuts. Tracking down Jas Shaw, Clash grabbed 20 minutes on the phone with the ebullient producer to chat about production, life on the road and why DJs need to stop moaning about their lot in life.

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So you're just back from Ibiza, how did that go?

We do Space on Sundays. Not every week, but I think we do it three of four times. We’ve done that over the past three or four years and it’s good. I was a proper Ibiza doubter. I wasn’t cool enough to know about the proper Second Summer of Love and all that nonsense. To me, Ibiza is all fucking idiots and cheesy commercial music. When we went out there and Paul Woolford, Daphni and Carl Craig were playing it was like... alright. Alright, you win! They said that they’re struggling. There’s that Bushwire place which has more money than God and all that stuff. Plus people are skint and even like a few years ago it was fucking expensive. I mean, a round of drinks is insanely expensive in there. So you can see why. We play all over the place and it is unique – it’s a uniquely bizarre debauched thing which only happens for a few months a year and that’s it. It makes absolutely no sense. 90% of it is awful. But there are some wicked parties.

Why take the step of releasing this extra EP?

Yeah. So one of the tracks on there, ‘Breaking Time’ was more clubby, really, so it didn’t really fit on the album. But it still sonically fitted in with the other ones. A couple of the other tracks were solid, like: we’re happy with that on the record. Then they got knocked off really just by the sequencing of it. We spent.. it’s kind of stupid because most people just whack it on iTunes and play it alphabetically, don’t they? We did spend ages trying to make it a thing that you might want to listen to if you had the time and the inclination. I guess we’re old school like that. In the process of doing that like with all records you get to a point where you’re like – this track doesn’t fit in the sequence. But we really, really liked them so it felt central to do it as an EP because we already put out the occasional 12 which is like super low press, nothing, on the download, get it out there. Whereas with this we didn’t want to do it with two singles and be like “hey, these are singles!” because it’s not single-y material, do you know what I mean? So yeah. I guess an EP made sense. It fits the shape.

It's a curious format in itself, the EP...

It’s nice. It made me think of different formats for a band. The single is almost one of my least favourites. The album forces you to.. it’s like a body of work, which is considered and sums up a period of time whereas an EP is like a solid body of stuff that you like but it doesn’t have to be so pondered over. Also from a listening point of view it just doesn’t take as long!

What do you have against singles?

It’s completely pointless, because when the record comes out you’re download someting again because it's a single. Often I judge bands by their singles and then I realised from chatting to other people that they would judge us by our singles. Then I sort of realised that you can’t not say it to us and then for us to use it to you. Then you listen to odd tracks on the album and you’re like, actually I like this. There’s a thing with singles where you need to take less risks and be more obvious and generally be a worse musician than you might otherwise be and that’s not good for anyone.

You still release one off 12 inches, though.

Yeah but for different reasons. I don’t feel that people buy pop 12s. The 12s that I buy are 8 or 9 quid. 12s are an interesting format – particularly for electronic music – because it sounds really good. Whereas if you try and squeeze two or three techno tracks onto one side of vinyl it just doesn’t sound good and it’s a weird situation because you wouldn’t really play it out because it’s not a loud enough pressing. Plus you have to get up every ten minutes and turn it over. It doesn’t quite do either job. The most you can really do is two on one side – any more than that is nasty.

Increasingly with 12s there’s a whole scene of labels that just put out 12s and a lot of the best stuff is on there. I’m in a real quandary about it at the moment because I rip them and then burn a CD or stick it on a USB to take it DJing. I think, maybe I should take it out. Seeing a few people playing vinyl recently, it’s exactly how I remember it being when I gave it up. Virtually none of the house engineers know how to set decks up. The PA has not been thought about from that point of view so it actually sounds worse. So, is it a pose? Why would I do this? The other thing is, think about how many records I buy a week. If you translate that into pieces of black plastic.. I live in London, I don’t have that much space. My mum’s now saying “if you want to bring any into our house..” I mean, something’s got to leave. I’ve got nowhere to store stuff.

The German club scene remains devoted to vinyl.

There’s a load of good places. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three or four places where you’d go in there and the decks would be rock solid and you’d be fine. In the States I can’t even think of one – not even a single one, where you’d walk in and be like: “I’m happy to play here”. Probably there’s a couple of places in Japan – it’s bullshit. It’s that thing where either you’re going to go all in and take vinyl with you or you do that thing where you think, I’ll take five with me. I’ll definitely put ‘em on! Then at that point.. fucking why?

You've got a lengthy list of tour dates coming up, are you excited to get back out on the road?

Definitely, yeah. I mean, it’s so weird the live show, it’s something that.. You know, at the very start we planned on doing like ten shows. We’ll do like a dozen, maybe. Then we really enjoyed them and they went well, so we carried on doing it. We got booked on other tours and it just basically carried on. It’s a fucking absolutely colossal pain in the arse because it basically involves packing half of our studio into flight cases and shipping it effectively all over the world. It’s all modular synths.. it’s all that stuff. 

It is frustrating. But it’s good to have both sides of it, partly because doing the live show is really rewarding – partly because it teaches you how to play synth better if you have to do it on the spot night by night. Also it stops you from becoming a whiney DJ. Having been in a band, I mean I used to be a keyboard player with a Leslie speaker. When you hear people moaning about their CDs being heavy it’s like... fuck off. I mean, honestly! It’s nice to have both sides and I can’t deny it: the DJ thing is super fun and in actual fact it pays for the excesses of the live show. It’s nice to have both.

It's a hefty schedule, though.

It’s nice touring up until we hit the States. We do about three gigs a week max, and then in December it goes mental until I get home on Christmas Eve. While you’re out there it’s so expensive you’ve got to be doing a show more or less everyday otherwise you end up coming back with a colossal bill. You get a big bus to travel round on - so that’s fine - but unless you’re going to go out there and do a seven week tour, there are bits of it where you have to fly. Which is expensive, so you have to pay for it.

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'A Form Of Change' is out now.

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