"There's an old skool trip-hop feel to Maribou State, but also with a modern, bang-on-the-money dubstep fidget!" Liam Ivory is recounting some of the more amusing ways they've been identified. "It's cool for people to call us what they want, that was a good one though." Such is the problem, when your music is the kind of tag-defying crop of electronic production that, like SBTRKT, Gold Panda and label mates ODESZA, has had critics and bloggers scratching their heads since day.
Chris Davids and himself are in Berlin when we call, scoring hat-tricks of Berghain rejections, and exploring the abandoned fairground Spreepark, during a month designed to get their heads down and write new music. But it's not been "as productive as we originally predicted – we got pretty wrapped up in the night life," admits Liam. "We've been to a few jazz nights, seen some live classical performances and also some bands play; it's a wonderfully diverse city."
Their migration to techno's mecca in order to write is perhaps unusual when you consider that new album 'Portraits' moves away from some of the more beat-centric stuff of their past. Having graced Fat! Records and Norman Cook's Southern Fried previously, the duo's soulful 'Scarlett Groove' got swiftly picked up by Pete Tong for airplay. Quickly gaining notoriety in the underground dance world, the prolific remixers have since showcased a propensity for dark basslines, while their DJ sets are typically high energy. A handful of highly acclaimed EPs later, and the duo were ready to present their ten-tracked portfolio, via Ninja Tune sub-label Counter Records.
'Portraits' finds the duo stripping things back, pulling themselves away from the laptop as much as possible, with songcraft at the heart of their process. "We've also looked to older records for inspiration on the actual recording process, trying to achieve a feeling on the LP that it was perhaps recorded on tape, or at least that it was not just made on a laptop," Liam states. The LP certainly exudes an organic nature, boasting a warm, textural intricacy that begs for multiple replays, with new sounds to be discovered at each hit. Recording door slams and chair thuds over live instruments, every sound has a subtle yet vast sense of depth, with vinyl crackles and fret noise that serves as percussion.
They're big on field recording, and the original idea was to have each track themed around a different stop on their global tour. This didn't work out exactly as planned, but whispers of different cities they've visited still feature throughout 'Portraits'. "'Varkala' was shaped around a recording of a band in Kerala, India, covering a Hendrix track on sitar" he explains. "It's pretty buried in the mix now but that's one of the great things about samples and field recordings – they can act as a stencil that the rest of the song can be built around. They're a massive source of inspiration to us." They also wandered round a busy flea market in Lyon recording French people – which Liam now (laughingly) explains make up some of the hi-hat rhythms on 'Home'.
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…we got pretty wrapped up in the night life…
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Boys from The Shire – Hertford to be exact, Liam and Chris didn't quite see eye-to-eye while at school. There are stories of a stolen skateboard and a ramp getting burnt – then over a house party keg they managed to set aside their differences, and the two rock and punk aficionados ended up playing in a band together. High school allowed them to hone their music production skills at GCSE – while their band gradually began to introduce laptops and keyboards to the previously guitar-only setup. Then in 2011 they would come together to form Maribou State.
Rather than a shiny inner city studio, it's their garden shed ("The Shack in the Back") where the magic happens. The self-built workspace was created "pretty much overnight, as we had a last minute recording session with one of our friends (Sinead Harnett) arranged for the following day," Liam explains. "It started off as a tiny room that couldn't really fit more than two of us in, along with a keyboard and our monitors. We've expanded it a fair bit since then in terms of its size and all the equipment that's in it."
And it pays to be friends with the two beatmakers, as their method of choosing vocalists is essentially who they'd most like to go to the pub with. They got to know London-based singer Holly Walker after collaborating on track 'Tongue', and she now crops up on 'Steal' and 'Midas' on the album. "We all work really well together in the studio so we definitely wanted to get her involved with the album from the start. The same goes for Jack (Pedestrian), we've been really good friends for a while now and he always adds something special to tracks – both vocally and production." The only one they've not come face to face with (yet) is Jono McCleery, who offered up his chords to the dusty, percussion-led 'Say More'.
Liam & Chris might be sad to leave Berlin behind, but Maribou State is set to lead them on a whirlwind tour over the summer. They play the Clash x Soundcrash stage at Lovebox next month, where they're gonna "bring our live band with us, so it's going to be our friend Jonny playing drums, Chris and I with a variety of synths, guitar, bass guitar, samplers… and Holly Walker on vocals. We're also going to be bringing along Jack (Pedestrian) to sing with us. There are plans to get a string quartet involved, but we still need to find one!"
A string quartet might sound ambitious, but the duo have already evolved their live show dramatically – and there's only potential for expansion. "I think if we had an endless budget we'd end up having have a 20-piece band, with strings, brass, percussion, backing singers. But we'd keep Holly and Jack on vocals for sure. Get Jono (McCleery) along too. Also I feel like we could do with another band member to play some of the parts Chris and I play, so we wouldn't have to keep switching instruments during our songs."
You heard it here first. And if you're hoping to listen to some 'bang-on-the-money dubstep fidget' this summer, you can track them down at London's Lovebox festival.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photo Credit: William Cooper Mitchell
'Portraits' is out on Counter Records now. Snap it up here.