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Bicep talk their debut album, influences and growing up in Belfast

8 September 2017 | 11:02 am | Rosie Rae

Growing up, our fondest memories can often be linked with a classic soundtrack. One dance duo that were lucky to be exposed to vast and exciting sounds like underground dance music from a young age, were none other than Belfast duo, BICEP. Together as Bicep, Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson have been making music together for around 15 years and, in that time, have well and truly established themselves as influential characters in the dance scene. From early raves to some of world's biggest stages, Bicep owe a lot of their excellent taste to some of the classic club nights and events back home. Not only were they formative, they also helped to launch their lucrative career as successful touring artists.

More recently, they've focused their energy towards the studio scrupulously putting together their debut album. A self titled masterpiece, Bicep's album captures and marries the essence of various pieces of rave culture and history, whilst blurring the line of genre. To get to know them a whole lot better, we chatted with one half of the iconic duo, Andy Ferguson, to talk about putting together the album, and whether or not we can expect another stint down under.

What would you was your earliest exposure to dance music and how has that influenced Bicep?

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My earliest memories of music would probably have to be listening to a lot of techno. Oh, and a lot of disco. In terms of influence, I mean it’s everything we’ve picked up over the past 15 years. We’re pretty open minded, we’ve always just combined influences to come up with what we enjoyed making and enjoyed doing.

Do you guys bounce off one another in terms of the music you play out?

In terms of collecting music, we’ve been working together for years so we’ve kind of developed pretty similar taste, just digging in certain areas. In terms of DJing, it took us a couple of years to get to a point that really represented exactly what we like.

And in the studio we’ve been working for so long together that we get kind of the same ideas, and we have similar taste in terms of songs that we like, and equipment.

In what ways has growing up in Belfast influenced Bicep?

Belfast has always had a really strong dance music scene, that’s one of the things that really inspired us in the first place. There were some really big club nights running back when we were kids, that’d been around for like 20 years. It’s always moved up and down, but there were always a lot of good festivals and club nights. AVA festival has always been really popular.

You guys kinda got your start as taste makers through your blog, ‘Feel My Bicep'. In what ways do you think technology has changed people's quest when it comes to digging for music?

It’s definitely a different landscape now. Now, you can just find music through Youtube. I mean, back then we were ripping vinyl and going through our own collection, there wasn’t so much online. It’s a different way of discovering music and sharing music now I think. Stuff like Spotify make it so easy to find music and listen to albums. At the same time, it’s quite restricting because there’s still a lot of stuff that’s not on there.

When we started our blog, it was more about people sharing the rare music we’d find. It’s more about making music personal and sharing quite special things that we’d uncovered. It’s hard to say now though, because we were quite young and everything felt new to us. I think there’s just so much out there…

Did you find any Aussie music that you liked when you were last down under?

There’s actually lots of Aussie acts that we really like actually. Like Big Village Records, TORNADO WALLACE, FANTASTIC MAN, FRANCIS INFERNO ORCHESTRA, and most of the happy hard stuff. I think the Australian scene is amazing, it’s really really strong.

How do you think your Aussie fans differ to overseas?

Aussies are very similar to the Irish, it feels very much like Belfast whenever we come over. People have that same sort of lively energy, and they really get the idea of a big party. Not a lot of posing.

You recently signed to Ninja Tune, how’d that come about? Was it a natural fit?

When we’d nearly finished the album, we started sending it out to labels. Ninja sort of knew straight away what they liked about it and gave us confidence to go forward. It ended up being a natural fit, but probably not a sort of obvious one for Bicep.

The album has a real sort of storyline feel to it, was it put together with the intention of people listening to it beginning to end?

We always knew we had to have a sort of flow. When we made the tracks we didn’t really think about it when we were writing them. We made 60 different tracks and then we cut them down to around 15-20 that we really liked and from that we picked 12. From there we just shuffled them around constantly until we felt that the flow was good. We knew the tempos would never match up. We tried to get the key, which was the feeling, even if it meant a fast track was followed by a slow track. It was always more about the actual feeling. It was kind of like putting together a mixtape, but with a lot less to work with.

In terms of technology, what kind of stuff did you guys play with, and what was exciting while putting together the album?

In our studio, we have a bunch of synths and a lot of old made up hardware. We’ve got quite a selection, from the 70's right up until stuff that was made last year. We didn’t really restrict ourselves in terms of not using any particular instruments or sounds. We kind of used everything across the whole album. In terms of tech, it’s just a pile of stuff that we’ve been collecting over the years.

The whole album has quite a moody, nostalgic feel. How do you think that it reflects your taste/style?

We always start our tracks from a steady base, using piano and then building chord progressions. Music theory is actually really important.

It's funny, we actually made loads of dark techno when we were making the album, but some of it just didn’t fit. So the album doesn’t necessarily reflect everything we were making/feeling at that time. I think we just created what we thought was a coherent album. Our tastes are pretty broad - it’s impossible to get it into one record. With our next album we’ll definitely look switch it up. It’ll be a lot more futuristic.

What’s the response been like to the album so far?

It’s all been really positive. I think there’s such a mix on the album. Of all of my friends that I’ve played it for, everyone’s got a different favourite. It’s nothing we could really predict. ‘Glue’ is a song that sort of a lot of people pick out, in terms of other tracks that people pick out I think it’s been a really good, well rounded mix.

What golden piece of advice would you pass on to upcoming DJs and aspiring producers?

Learn piano. But seriously, learn about music . It’s one thing that so many people forget but it’s so important. It’s so easy to pick up a synth or a drum machine but if you don’t really know why you’re doing the stuff you’re doing, then you’re going to hit a brick wall pretty quickly. It’s what a lot of people do. We’ve been there before, we started producing when we were young, it’s just important to not lose sight of why you’re making music.

Spend a couple of hundred quid and buy a synth, there are so many good ones, and it's just so different to be able to put your hands on stuff and actually play it as opposed to clicking around on a screen. You know you’re going to be feeling it, playing it.

Can we expect a tour to support the new album?

Hopefully we’ll be back in early 2018, we’re definitely working on it...

Photograph by: Ben Price

Words by Rosie Rae