Groove Armada's eleventh album, Red Light Trax Vol. 1, is out this week so Kate Hutchinson caught up with the London duo to chat about their edgy Shoreditch days and their future as a no-frills duo...
London's Groove Armada are a national treasure, with ten studio albums, ten compilations and seven hit singles under their belt in a 20 year (plus) career. This year, however, they’ve decided to ditch the live brass section and guest vocalists in favour of a 'warehouse feel within a stadium setting' for new project Red Light, an impressive audiovisual stage show. Kate Hutchinson speaks to Tom Findlay about it.
What’s the idea behind Red Light?
When we did the last album, Black Light, we felt that our live experience had reached its peak. The last show we did, in Brixton, was one of the best we’ve ever done but we’d run out of ideas as to where we could take it. We were getting up there and doing gigs with a full band and no-one seemed to care. So we've returned to our roots and created a warehouse feel within a stadium setting and put the emphasis on VJing.
The same warehouse roots of those early Groove Armada parties?
Groove Armada started as a club night and that’s how Andy and me got going – about 14 or 15 years ago. They were small parties that started out with us DJing together: I was disco in those days and Andy was playing house, and we found this musical space in between. The place that I remember most is in Shoreditch, The 333. When we started, it was a gay club called the London Apprentice. I definitely remember playing in the basement – we could get away with almost anything.
What new sounds have inspired this new record?
We both really like Get Physical – I really love Heidi’s The Jackathon album that came out. I love everything on Pokerflat, lots of stripped-back house-y stuff. Then, at the other end of the scale, we like Wolf + Lamb’s warehouse-y stuff and some of Tiga’s Turbo Recordings stuff. There’s a guy called Gesaffelstein and he’s amazing; that crisp, quite funky techno stuff really works for what we’re trying to do.
What’s the Red Light show like?
We’re on a Starship Enterprise vibe. Andy and I stand shoulder to shoulder and we have a clever lighting rig and lasers set up, and we control everything from our booth. We’ve got more control now than when it was just the two of us among the band: we can go for blackouts, cut the lighting, strobe when we wan to strobe. The music is totally live. We do a lot of edits and preparation beforehand, but playing it live is important to us. We’re also running these two kinetic cameras – like Xbox cameras that project digital images of me and Andy’s heads in real time. Everything’s happening in the moment.
You’ve been hosting the terrace at We Love Space in Ibiza for the whole summer with Red Light. How’s that been?
It’s been really good. They didn’t have the right set-up initially, but for the last couple of shows we’ve had it exactly how we wanted and it’s been brilliant. The last couple of shows have started to feel like we’re turning Space into a warehouse, which was always the plan.
What’s the key to Groove Armada’s longevity?
Living in separate countries helps! But, seriously, I’ve always felt like progress is a positive thing. I’ve never felt threatened by new stuff that comes through; I just get excited about it. It’s a big part of why I love being involved in Lovebox [the annual London festival that Groove Armada started] – you feel this enthusiasm for live music and get excited about the future of it. I find that fascinating: how we ever got institutionalised. But we did, at some point, and it's a fortunate place to be. It gets to the point where you realise that, as long as we don’t do anything completely stupid, we’re probably okay for a while.
You don’t strike me as the type to do many stupid things…
Well we’ve managed to really upset somebody called Redlight, which I feel bad about. He’s a great producer, and that’s one area I think we could have handled better. I’d never heard of him until we were so far down the road with our look and show of the same name that by the time I was aware, we’d already developed the software and it would have cost us a fortune to go back. I hate upsetting people, I’m normally desperate to be liked, but these things happen from time to time. Out of everyone, he’s the one I owe an apology to.
What’s next? Green Light?
I’m sure it will be. It’s been Black Light, then White Light and now it’s Red Light.
Watch out: the traffic police will be on your case
Groove Armada’s Red Light Trax Vol.1 is out this week on WORKit!
In other dance music news...
The Red Bull Music Academy World Tour stopped off in Paris on September 11 for Questlove’s Afro-Picks, a night dedicated to the impact of African funk and soul on modern music. Catch up with the RBMA crew this week as they hit Detroit from September 12-17 with Motor City Frequencies, a cavalcade of workshops, lectures and performances led by native electronic luminaries such as Carl Craig, Theo Parrish and Wayne Kramer. For more information, go here.