Engaging With The Eclectic: Django Django Interviewed

Dave Maclean on collaboration, their new album, and why AI can't be tamed...

Across both their 14-year career and four albums to date, Django Django have been uncowed by the concept of categorisation, creating music and textures from recognised genres including house, art-rock, and everything in between. But with forthcoming album ‘Off Planet’, the four-piece are readying their most ambitious offering yet. All human life is indeed here, from 1990s trance-pop (‘Complete Me’, their collaboration with Self-Esteem) to tribal, Afrikan war marches (‘Black Cadillac’). Initially designed (and subsequently released) as four EPs, their eclecticism and musical diversity is displayed across its 21 tracks.

“Initially I wanted to make a bunch of EPs that were throwaway dance tracks,” explains Dave Maclean, one of the group’s founding members. “A lot of the stuff I listen to is dubs of house records where there’s not a lot going on, the whole thing of the track is just about what the snare sounds like. I listen to a lot of minimal, stripped-back music and I wanted to do stuff like that (but) inevitably, they became more like Django Django songs and took on a life of their own.”

What became the fifth album started during the pandemic, which found Maclean re-adapting a previously abandoned song writing process: “The first Django Django album was me in the flat and on the next three albums I was facilitating other people’s songs a bit more and didn’t really have time to go and start songs myself. I guess the lockdown gave me time to go back and do that. On the first four albums, we were more concerned about what they sounded like as a whole; when you listen to them start to finish, how the textures were, etc. For this album, we were more concerned…about seeing how it stands up on its own, not worrying about the length of the track or the album.”

“During the lockdowns we were all doing on our thing,” Maclean explains, “I was just at home, in a sort of garden shed/studio, making music on my own. When the world opened back up, we came together and figured out what we’d all been doing. What we do on own separately is quite different – Jim (Dixon, bassist)’s stuff is miles away from what I was doing – I went back to making house and techno stuff. That was the thought behind ‘Off Planet’: just doing something with all that stuff. A lot of the time the stuff I do on my own ends up on hard drives, sitting round in the studio because people aren’t that sure what to do with it. But I made an effort to run with it this time.”

“We just had a shareable folder online which we were just chucking stuff in, and every so often I’d go through it and separate the tracks, putting notes on them. There was a Django-shaped hole in the whole thing where we realised, we hadn’t got together and made music, it was all being done remotely. So, we went up to Scotland for a week and bashed out another five tracks in the same room, and they filled a gap and brought a new texture.”

“I would just go in the studio and see what happens,” he continues. “I might have a record on with a sticker on, to sample or sometimes try and imagine Vinny (Neff, guitarist, and lead vocalist) singing on it and it being Django Django. Other times, I would send things to Rebecca (Lucy Taylor, better known to her subjects as Self-Esteem).”

“I tend not to worry too much about what will happen to the track and just let it breathe and take on its own identity, then worry about it later. There was tonnes and tonnes of music and some of it ended up on ‘Off Planet’, or Rebecca was able to use it, or Vinny or Jim. They sidestepped the different stuff and tried to latch onto something they could work with! That’s how the Features thing came about.”

While Django Django have sprinkled all their work with guest appearances, ‘Off Planet’ logically includes their largest number of collaborations to date. Isabelle Woodhouse, Stealing Sheep and Bernado all pop up, as does Woman Of The Moment Self Esteem who, having previously appeared on the band’s third appears once again, as Maclean explains: “I produced her first EP and released it on a little label. She toured with us and it’s been interesting to see her go from that first meeting over a coffee, still in Slow Club, talking about what she wanted to do, to her career now which has skyrocketed. She just knew exactly what she wanted to do and be as an artist and did it. I sent her the instrumental of ‘Complete Me’ and the idea was to be something that was like Bizarre Inc. or one of these crossover dance/pop records. She got it straight away and delivered on it. It was very easy.”

Indeed, Maclean found all contributors were willing to participate: “I’d always wanted to do a track with Jack Penate because I like his voice, then I emailed his cousin who said he’d be up for doing something. Things just kind of fall into place. We’ve done an Afrika Express thing with Toyah. Everyone’s a friend of a friend or someone we’ve toured with so it’s easy to approach them. We’re not Gorillaz so we can’t demand big names and stuff! Obviously if we had a shopping list of other artists to work with that would be cool, but it’s nice to work with your mates or work with people where you don’t have to go through managers, and you don’t speak to and it’s all about money. It was quite organic.”

The four EPs representing four different planets and relevant soundscapes is the general idea for ‘Off Planet’, although it’s a vague concept with which Maclean broadly still agrees: “That was the initial idea. When it was talked about it was just something to latch on to. The title came later: Off Planet is a ufology term, and it’s also a euphemism for going away from what you were doing before, or what you know. It was just this idea that we were doing something different, but as the artwork developed this idea of the four planets came. Initially it was going to an ambient one, a dubby one, a dancefloor one and when we did that, we were like, ‘this doesn’t work as well.’”

“What is good about Django Django is that weird juxtaposition and texture clashes, so we went back to making the EPs fit. They have all got their own flavour – especially the fourth one which is more organic and what people will recognise as us – but we ended up just making each EP stand up on its own. It was difficult because the label wanted a single off each EP, but if one EP was just ambient noise so we had to play the game a little bit, in that respect. But overall, it’s a good representation of what we set out to do.”

With the album in the can and due for release in the summer, Django Django’s focus has turned to recreating it on the stage. “We’re just picking the ones we can play live,” Maclean says. “It’s always been like that; we had a single with Rebecca on it but Vinny had to sing it. We’ve had singles that are just sampled drums… we’re not a band like, say, Arctic Monkeys, who get really good at a song and record it, so they’re up and running. That would be amazing and I’d love to do a record like that! We tend to reverse engineer everything, but I’ve really stopped worrying about it. I don’t want the tail to wag the dog, in that respect; having to make music that you can play live.”

Although the remainder of 2023 is taking shape (“There’s so many cities in the UK that we haven’t played for so long so it will be great to get out and do that”), the year seems to have already been defined (in music terms at least) by the rise of AI and the effect it will have on recording artists. Dave Maclean, however, is philosophical about the impact it may have on creatives.

“I guess we’ve painted ourselves into a corner. The most played and streamed tracks aren’t avant-garde tracks, so why does it matter? We’re being fed what we want to consume. If you want a robot 808 track beat, a baby can do it on an iPad. Maybe it will be a good thing and people will want to listen to very human, organic music and we’ll get more of that as a kick against it.”

“I don’t think young people will care who made it, they might just embrace it and do cool things with it. One of the things I worry about is mix engineers, or front of house. Is all that going to be done by computers and algorithms?”

“It’s another one of these things where the genie is out of the bottle and you moan or kick against it but it’s not going anywhere. It’s only going to get more and more used, so how do you use it or work with it instead of against it? It’s funny, people worried about AI taking factory jobs for years and then it just came for the creative industry! So yeah, it’s coming for the music industry soon.”

“It is what it is, and if AI turns out a banger, I won’t mind it!”

‘Off Planet’ will be released in full on June 16th. Django Django will play a launch party at Paper Dress Vintage, London on June 17th.

Words: Richard Bowes
Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff

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