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Features

20 Questions: Bicep

Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson talk cookery books, production, and their debut album.

Bicep—the Belfast-born, London-based duo of Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson—recently announced their self-titled debut LP. The record, according to Ninja Tune, the label, "encapsulates the pair’s history distillation of their passion for music and club culture since their first release in 2010.”

It all started with the Feelmybicep blog, initially an outlet for—and now a contributing factor to—their intense record collecting habit. Founded in 2008, its runaway success— it now sees over 100,000 visitors a month—spawned a record label of the same name, a club night, and took the duo out of the UK and embedded them on the international stage via highly sought after DJ sets that reflected the eclecticism celebrated on their blog via a well curated blend of upfront tracks and exclusive edits mixed with deep-dug house and disco cuts.

From there, the duo began production—initially with releases on Throne Of Blood, Traveller Records, Mystery Meat, and Love Fever, before Will Saul then snapped them up for a string of releases on his Aus Music imprint. Included within was the duo’s 2015 Just EP, a three-tracker with the dazzling title track that became the undisputed club track of the year earned the duo various awards.

The upcoming LP will be the duo’s Ninja Tune debut and is described as “the perfect summation of the duo’s career to date.” Matt and Andy, the label continues, " have pulled off the rarest of feats, to make a singularly unique electronic record founded on the blueprint of classic house, techno, electro and Italo disco, but flipped and morphed into a fresh design bearing the unique Bicep sonic signature.”

Interested in learning more, XLR8R tapped up the duo in their London studio.

Bicep will be performing at this year's Atlas Electronic Music & Arts Festival alongside Fatima YamahaMidland, Awesome Tapes From Africa,  and more. This year's edition takes place from August 24 to 27 in Morocco, with more information available here.

01. Describe your surroundings right now.

We're just settling into our new studio in London. We're totally rebuilding it from scratch at the moment which will be fun.

02. What’s the most fun thing you’ve done lately?

Without a doubt playing live at Glastonbury and the weekend as a whole. It's probably our favourite festival and matched with amazing weather and a live show that went smooth with lots of the new album tracks. It was amazing.

03. What’s your earliest memory of music?

Matt: Probably my parents constantly playing Van Morrison and Mary Black. My Dad was an engineer for the BBC and he actually custom built our home sound/speakers. Was pretty much music always playing from when I was born.

Andy: The first time I remember actively getting into music was when I was about seven or eight, and recording songs I liked off the radio onto tape decks.

04. What was the reasoning for setting up the Feelmybicep blog—and how did you find music for it?

It was a place where we could share music with a close group of friends we grew up with, who at that stage lived in different cities across the UK. It was a mix of older music we had and then also new stuff we found through digging. We would rip lots of our own personal record collections and often focus on B-sides and stuff you couldn't get easily online.

05. Did you ever anticipate success on this scale?

Not at all, but it's been very slow and gradual, not a sudden thing, so it's all kinda moved along naturally.

06. How would you describe your debut album in six words?

An insight into our varied tastes.

07. How does it compare to your previous material?

It's certainly more restrained or gentle, but also a lot more dynamic we feel. We've spent a lot more time on the little details. It's very much home listening or for listening on the train, not a club album. Some tracks, of course, will work in clubs and we've been toughening everything up for the live shows.

08. How long did it take to record—and where did you record it?

It took from start to finish about 16 months (this includes fully mixing it ourselves).
We did around 60 demos and then finished 20 in full and from that picked the final 12 that worked the best. It was recorded at Fortress Studios in London. There's a lot of tracks we really loved that were a lot more clubby but we wanted to do something different for an artist album. Lots of them will appear as B-sides or in the live show though!

09. What is your studio setup like?

It's all hardware. A lot of drum machines, analog and digital synths, pedals, effects, samplers, Eurorack modular stuff, a lovely Wurlitzer and even a theremin.

10. How does it work in the studio, given that there are two of you?

Very well, but that's taken years and years to get to. Both in size and efficiency. We've got it now that you basically hit the space bar on our computer and that kick starts the entire room perfectly synced together and all running through a big desk. It was a long long process to finally get to that stage.

11. How have your processes changed over time?

It's grown very slowly over the past eight years. From fiddling with samples and editing on a laptop to a fully working hardware studio. We just slowly added bits on, sold bits, got bigger versions of existing things like our desk which started as 8 channels and is now 24. Although, it's been pretty much something similar to its current state for the past four years.

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12. In there one particular track of yours that you are most proud of?

There's some on the album that we really love, although they're much less club focused. I think probably "JUST" was one of those tracks that really changed a lot of things for us and how people viewed us and it's probably been the most important one in terms of our career so far.

13. What’s the best piece of advice you have been given in regards to your music?

Learn piano and learn at least some actual music theory, for us it's the centre of everything now.

14. Your success snowballed very quickly. Looking back, is there one moment when you realized you were going to succeed in music?

Weirdly it kinda feels like it hasn't for us. We've been working at this for almost every day for the past 8-10 years.

15. Aside from music, what’s your favourite hobby and why?

Matt: Probably cooking, but sadly with travelling so much time I don't get anywhere near enough time as I'd like. It's always great to have a weekend off and spend an entire Sunday working on a meal.

Andy: I play football a couple of times a week, it's good to have a runout and feel fresh after what feels like never ending heavy weekends.

16. Do you have any pre or post gig rituals or superstitions?

Pre: Down a few strong drinks.
Post: Down a few strong drinks.

17. What was the last full-length album you listened to?

Andy: Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds Trance Frendz

Matt: µ-Ziq ‎Lunatic Harness

18. If you had to listen to one record for the rest of your life what would it be?

Matt and Andy (both agree): Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works II

19. What books are you reading right now?

Matt: This week: Ivan Orkin "Ivan Ramen." It's a cookery book. I collect them but rarely follow any recipes, more I just read them back to back and get an idea/feel for them and then do my own versions.

Andy: Reading both Angela Neagle's "Kill all Normies" and Jon Ronson "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" at the same time. I am only half way through each but both pretty apt to today's online climate.

20. What’s the first thing you'll do after answering these questions?

Eat!

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