Simian Mobile Disco: Interview


Great electronic-music duos don’t come along every day. But overachievers James Ford and Jas Shaw — more famously known as Simian Mobile Disco — are on the fast track to joining the likes of the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk in music history. Partnering after their band Simian broke up in 2005, the British pair quickly went on to DJ all over the world, remix tunes for the likes of the Go! Team, Air, and Björk, and create now-classic club bangers like “Hustler” and “It’s the Beat.” They’ve been showered by positive feedback for both their ever-evolving live show and debut album, Attack Decay Sustain Release, and Ford has produced successful albums for bands like Klaxons and Arctic Monkeys. And, oh, yeah, since “We Are Your Friends” was, in fact, a remix of Simian’s ”Never Be Alone,” they kinda had something to do with launching Justice’s career, too. 


When you started out working together as Simian Mobile Disco, did you have any clue that you’d be, arguably, more successful than Simian?

Jas Shaw: Not at all. It was proper part-time. We would just meet up occasionally. Deejaying was fun — you get to go to someone’s party for free and they buy you beers. It was just ‘cause we really loved doing it. We kind of had a background in doing electronic stuff, because we were sort of not miles away from what we’re doing now before Simian. When Simian split up, for us it was just carry on, making stuff for a laugh.


James Ford: It was almost like, “Oh, we can do what we want to do now.” 


How much time was there between Simian’s split and the time you started Simian Mobile Disco, or was there some crossover?

Ford: There was an overlap, but at the very beginning, as soon as we split up, everyone went their separate ways for a bit, and we kind of did the odd evening every once in awhile. Then we started to get better and more recognized as DJs, and that kind of fed back into the tunes we were making and sort of gathered its own momentum. 


Why do you think your working relationship is so successful?

Shaw: We just know each other pretty well. We’ve been making music together for a long time, and both of us know how to do both sides, in terms of playing keys and making sounds and this other more producer-y role. We slip between those two roles pretty easily.


Ford: I think it’s sort of having someone whose opinion you trust to either tell you you’re wrong or you’re right. I think that’s why a lot of DJ duos exist, because you can drive yourself crazy on your own, and the politics of being in a bigger group of people is actually quite difficult as well. For us, it just seemed like a pretty streamlined way of making music. It’s just good to have somebody else to feed off of, I suppose. I wouldn’t say we’re vastly different personalities or that we have vastly different roles. 


Do the two of you have similar musical tastes?

Ford: I think you can’t help having similar musical tastes when you DJ [together] and you share records. Even if your tastes were different to start with, they kind of merge. I think we’re generally pretty similar.


Shaw: We never get to that thing where one person’s going, “Let’s make this a really reggae tune!” and the other person’s going, “You must be fucking kidding me!” [laughs


Who are your biggest musical influences?

Shaw: Back in the day, Warp Records was really strong — you could pretty much tell when a Warp record came out, it was worth checking and you were gonna like it.


Ford: I think we kind of take stuff from everywhere, really. Talking about the last record, I suppose we were listening to a lot of old-school electro, Detroit and Chicago acid house and stuff like that. Some of the new dance music that was coming through at the time as well. And we’ve always kind of loved the sort of weird and wonderful early electronic pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Raymond Scott. It’s pretty disparate really. 


Do you have a favorite track off Attack Decay Sustain Release?

Ford: I’d probably go with “Sleep Deprivation,” because it’s actually the last track we wrote for the record.


Shaw: It’s kind of weird actually, because it didn’t exist two days before we were gonna mix. We were like, “We should probably do some edits. Fuck it, let’s just make a new tune.” And it ended up going on the album. 


Do you have an idea yet what the next record will sound like?

Shaw: We’ve done lots of playing around with stuff, but a little bit of playing around made us realize that what we enjoyed doing with the last record was a lot of experimenting with stuff and just seeing what stuck. Although we probably could knock out an album pretty quickly, I think there’s probably going to be a period of messing around and trying things out. For us, the recording part is the most important part, the most interesting thing — even more than that, the thing that is really exciting is when you don’t quite know where you are when you’re making music. Once you get into that sort of production-line thing of, “Okay, now we do this, now we do this," you might as well be making cakes. So, I think it’ll probably take longer than people want it to take, particularly management and label, but —

Ford: We’re gonna get the record done in 2008, but I’m not sure it’ll come out in 2008. I think early 2009.


Shaw: Often we would do tracks, totally finished and mixed, in two days. I think people have gotten used to the fact that we can write a tune in a day and —


Ford: Expect that it’s going to happen every time.


Shaw: Exactly. It’s important for us to just have a bit of a sniff around.


Ford: I think the only way we can do it as well is to make a lot of tunes and pick the best ones, as opposed to concentrating really hard on one tune for a few weeks. We don’t really work that way — it’s like, get it done while we’ve got the idea for the tune, then it’s there, and it either makes the grade or it doesn’t.


Shaw: There are literally hundreds from the last session. 


Will those songs ever be released?

Shaw: That’s the thing: I was looking through them the other day, thinking, “Maybe we’ll dig some of these out,” and it actually takes longer to dig through all that crap than to make a new one. We might as well just make new stuff. 


What kinds of things inspire you when you’re writing?

Ford: Quite sadly, it generally is equipment [laughs]. Like the other day, we got our hands on a new thing, and it was just an amazing bit of kit. It makes you approach stuff in a different way, because things are in different places and they do different things. So that initial period, where you’re actually like, “Oh, this is good,” is where you get a lot of good ideas. We ended up making the basis for two or three tunes just from this new bit of kit. It’s kind of weird to say that, but that’s definitely how it works. We’ll get a new delay pedal that will turn up in a box from eBay or something, and we’ll plug it in and be like, “Oh, I wonder what would happen if you put this drum beat through it and did this,” and then we’re excited about it and it gives us the momentum to make a tune. 


How has your live set been evolving?

Ford: We use machines as opposed to just computers, and that kind of makes it pretty much different every time. I suppose we’ve just got better at learning little tricks and things, little moments in the set where we can extend sections or stop sections, little things that kind of work for the crowd.


Shaw: Also things really change when stuff breaks or we get something new off eBay. 


Do you have a favorite track to play live?

Ford: We’ve got a few sections that are marked out as a free-for-all where we just sort of sort of improvise, and they’re my favorite bits. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s a bit hair-raising for us because it could go tits up at any point. 


Is it difficult to be away on tour so often?

Shaw: Yeah, it is. At the moment, we just want to get some time in the studio — we’ve just moved to this slightly bigger room and set it all up and it’s there, just not doing anything, and it’s like, “Fuck, I just wanna get back there and make some music.”


Ford: Touring does get boring after a while, no matter what anybody says. It definitely wears off.


Shaw: When you do like 14 dates in a row, you kind of remember the first few, and then it gets a bit blurry, then you remember the last few. I think your brain just stores it in the same place and overwrites whatever was there before. 


So it sounds like it will be a while before you tour again?

Ford: We say that, but then we always manage to get our arms twisted into going out again. We have a very persuasive manager.


Where do you see electronic music going in the next few years?

Ford: I think people are going to get — and I think already are — pretty sick of straight-up bangers that are just, like, on 11. We play quite a lot after DJs, and it’s like literally all the dials and everything are all on full, everything is cranked to its maximum, and all the tunes sort of sound the same. So I think there’ll definitely be a move away from that toward deeper stuff. There already is, with Hercules and Love Affair and those sorts of things. We still really like a lot of minimal stuff — not proper minimal but more one-off tunes. We’re probably seen as the opposite of that, but that’s what we end up playing out a lot of the time. I think the days of straight-up, grind-y, distortion-y things are a bit over. 


Do you think going back to the roots of house is starting to come back?

Shaw: There’s definitely a lot of that in the Hercules thing — definitely a classic vibe. 


Will you be delving more into that kind of thing on the new album?

Ford: Maybe. We’re starting off on a bit of a Vangelis tip [laughs]. I don’t know where we’ll end up.


Shaw: We’re getting capes made up. It’s gonna be pretty nice [laughs]


What’s next for you guys?

Ford: I’m gonna go do some stuff for the Klaxons. [Ford produced their debut album, Myths of the Near Future.] They’re doing the new record on acid, literally. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens.


Shaw: It’ll come out really straight! [laughs]


Ford: Yeah, Crosby, Stills & Nash! [laughs]


Are you working on any remixes?

Ford: We haven’t done any remixes in ages.


I’ve recently been hearing a lot of your remix of Inner City’s “Big Fun.” I thought it was a new tune, but then I heard it was actually done a while ago.

Ford: We did that mix about a year ago. I think it’s maybe only just been released or something. We were like, “What happened to that?”


Is there anything particularly shocking you’d like to share about Simian Mobile Disco?

Ford: That Jas has managed to procreate!


Shaw: That’s actually pretty shocking — it still shocks me!


Ford: Jas has got a baby and another one on the way.






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Jen is a lifelong NJ native, except for a brief stint in the UK as a disaffected youth in the late '80s and a recent stint in Mexico as a disaffected adult. She began writing at the age of seven (a series about a dog named Freddy), went on to interview Ralph Nader in high school, started interviewing bands like The Verve and Slowdive during college, and later profiled Orbital, Meat Beat Manifesto, Autechre, and more for the now defunct DAMn! magazine. Jen spends her free time interviewing bands for Prefix, traveling, taking pictures, seeing live music/DJs, DJ'ing, making plans, and generally being way too busy. Jen loves music, animals (most of all her cat, Teddy), movies, Lost, traveling, taking pictures, good food/drink, creative pursuits in general, and making lists. Jen hates bugs, meat, death, being sick, conservatives, boring people, narrow-minded people, rude people, stupid people, mean people, people who can't drive, and probably a lot of other kinds of people. Jen is a Scorpio. She has way too many magazine subscriptions and condiments. Jen would most like to interview Duran Duran, Richard D. James, Carlos D, and any other musicians who have a "D" featured prominently in their name. Last but not least, Jen hopes that this year she will finally write -- and finish -- that book she's been planning to write.