Still rocking clubs and festivals across the world, Groove Armada are a familiar sight in Brighton, wowing crowds at Big Beach Boutique and Shakedown. Now Valentine’s Day sees them return, offering up an enthralling evening of house music magic at Coalition.
Drawing influence from reggae, disco, and soul, through to classic house and hip-hop, their studio output is packed with enthusiastic nods to great music. Achieving chart success with the likes of ‘At The River’, ‘Song 4 Mutya’ and ‘Superstylin’, they’ve become a household name. Now there’s a new underground edge in their music. A new era is underway for Groove Armada.
Although no longer actively pursuing chart success, there’s little chance they’re looking to hang up the drum machines. The pair have had life-changing commercial success, so are now blessed with the chance to pursue whatever takes their fancy. “You’re only as good as the last thing you did,” Tom Findlay, one half of the Grammy winning pair, tells me. “It’s nice to have this legacy, but it’s not enough anymore. We’re doing stuff off the back of the work with all these small labels, rather than just doing nostalgia shows. You can never really stand still.” Recent years have seen the duo move away from creating frothy house anthems, shifting focus to producing records with deeper and more innovative sounds.
Undeniably it’s easier to write a five minute underground club banger than interact with a group of tour musicians, or score for a whole orchestra. “It’s hugely time-consuming. When you get yourself out of that loop, you can focus on producing and DJing what you want, when you want.” It’s a moment of panic for me when I realise the world might not witness the incredible Groove Armada live band performance again, especially after the success of their last three night stint at Brixton Academy. “I never thought they could be our last shows. They were so good and we were so tight, I listen to them back and I’m amazed at how good it is.” A band performing at this level is only capable of doing so through incessant rehearsing. You can tell he’s wary of the ensuing frustration should they not be able to reclaim this level of perfection. Yet Findlay refuses to draw a line under the band’s live shows. “For the moment I want to say ‘no’. But next year will be 20 years for us, so the anniversary is always tempting.”
It could be a simple reflection of the scene in general. While there’ll always be the candy-coated tones of commercial electronic dance music, many people have become more sophisticated. “Dance music’s become so fragmented now, there always used to be a sound everyone was gravitating towards, so we’d always play that. Now there’s no obligation to play anything other than what we love.”
With eight studio albums, 13 compilations and boat-load of club-smashing singles in the last 19 years, British electronic duo Groove Armada have indelibly stamped their mark on dance culture. For an act so prolific it’s no surprise another album is coming this year. “We’re fired up. It started off as a mix thing, but has developed into a whole new album. It’s quite full on.” Released on Moda Black, the label run by Jaymo and Andy George, it should hit the streets before the summer. On what’s growing into an epic undertaking, one half of it showcases the house sound they’ve been recently developing, while the other offers plunders and remixes their back catalogue. “I didn’t expect it to develop as much as it did, but I’m going with the flow now.”
The flurry of production activity over the last few years hasn’t been dampened by the pair working remotely. Andy Cato has been developing his aspirations to become a farmer in France. “He’s quite committed to that. I’m just trying get a few tunes in-between him sowing his wheat,” Findlay jokes. Obviously much of their work is now facilitated by the internet, high speed broadband transferring a whole evening’s work with ease. Cato’s barn-housed studio features two massive speakers bought from a Paris nightclub, so anything played in there sounds as it would in a club.
So for now they are producing an almost overwhelming amount of content, and playing only two or three DJ gigs a month. There’s method in the modest schedule though. “I’m always quite excited by what’s in the record box, I never felt like I’m getting tired by it.” Now a Valentine’s all night session sees Groove Armada joined by Danse Club Records bosses, Brodanse, for a showcase. “We really like the music they’re playing and releasing, so it makes sense to be part of that.” The event sees them hosting a list of influential dance music acts brought to Brighton by local promoters, Inspired. Holding parties locally for around a year, performances from Gilles Peterson, Derrick Carter, Steve Lawler, Dennis Ferrer and Yousef have all contributed to Inspired’s impeccable club pedigree.
You can expect Groove Armada DJ sets to be liberally sprinkled with fresh tracks and cheeky re-edits. Their sound might have evolved, and paradoxically almost returned to its roots, but the dance scene still manages to fire real passion in the pair. “Despite all the trials and tribulations, there’s still a genuine excitement about going out with your mates, having a laugh and playing some house records. That never goes away.”
Groove Armada play at Inspired presents Danse Club: Sweat party at Coalition, on Sat 14 Feb, 2015.