View more photos in Timothy Norris' “Simian Mobile Disco @ Mayan Theatre” slideshow.
Simian Mobile Disco plays tonight at the Mayan and last week WCS caught up with James Ford, one half of the UK DJ duo.
Ford and his mate Jas Shaw hooked up as electronic music bedroom experimentalists at Manchester University, but were eventually drafted as the rhythm section for indie also-runs Simian. In spite of a still memorable album cover featuring a dog-sheep, Simian's sales were middling in terms of their major-label deal, and the band broke up during a US tour. The band's demise allowed Ford and Shaw to devote more time to their side-gig as clever-but-still-accessible DJs and remixers (you could even call their sound “the thinking person's Fat Boy Slim”), an act they jokingly dubbed “Simian Mobile Disco.”
After Justice revamped Simian's “Never Be Alone” into a monster club hit, SMD scored their own massive anthem with 2006's “Hustler” and earned many props for their debut album Attack Decay Sustain Release. Now they're back with the long-in-the-works followup Temporary Pleasure, featuring the cool single (and video) “Audacity of Huge,” and guest vocals from a cavalcade of indie stars like Beth Ditto, head Super Furry Gruff Rhys, and Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor.
Ford spoke to us last week from his London base, before a series of Scottish gigs and the beginning of their American tour. “We're DJing in San Diego the night before [last night], but the LA gig is the first actual show,” he told us. “I have played the Mayan before, as a drummer with The Last Shadow Puppets, with a big orchestra. It was one of our better gigs and I really like the venue.” (The Last Shadow Puppets are a Scott-Walkeresque orchestral pop side-project with the Arctic Monkey's Alex Turner and The Rascals' Mike Kate, for which Ford serves as producer and drummer.)
The Mayan will provide a fit setting for what is sure to be a visually imaginative set-up. If you've seen any of SMD's distinctive videos and artwork (going all the way back to the Simian days), you'd probably guess this is not going to be the typical boring, for-your-ears-only DJ act. “We're always pretty visual,” says Ford “[Stage designer] Dave, who's been with us since the beginning is always adapting, changing the show. It's pretty intense and a full experience.” Collaboration and trust are key to SMD's visual style. “We try and choose people who are very good,” he adds, “but when it comes down to it we leave the execution to the person.”
As happened with the gray-area Justice/Simian hit, musical collaborations these days can also be out of the band's control, as attested by the endless list of mixes and mashups of their “Hustler.” Ford, who makes a good living as a successful producer for Arctic Monkeys, Peaches and several other acts on the hipper end of mainstream indie and electropop, takes it in stride. “I'm definitely not worried about remixes. Especially with technology the way it is today, it's just fair. Lots of remixes around, some I would love and some I would hate.”
Part of SMD's distinctive standing in the intersection of dance, pop, and rock comes from their formational years and their righteous early influences. “Jaz and I learned to play music when we were very young,” Ford says, “and we played different kinds, and for a while we focused on rock music. But then through Warp records, Aphex Twin, Autechre, things like that, we [started paying attention to dance music]. And we really enjoyed messing around with synthesizers.”
The search for new sounds and inspirations is ongoing. One would think that between doing SMD, producing big acts, DJing and remixing, Ford would be a little burnt out to check out other musicians. “No,” he replies, “I'm always interested in new music. I'm listening a lot to a new guy, [Georgia's] Washed Out, who does these discoey, super dreamy things.”
Some more answers from Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford:
VINYL, CD, or MP3?
People download a lot of music. You have to move with the times. I love vinyl, vinyl changes the way you appreciate music, just getting up, having to change sides. But we have to move with the times. For DJing CDs are much more practical. A lot of people use Serato. It seems too much hassle, taking your computer to the club, plugging it in. CDs are more practical.
WILL ANY OF YOUR GUEST VOCALISTS JOIN YOU AT THE MAYAN?
We don't normally tour with the guest vocalists. The live set is pretty flexible and spontaneous, so we can't rehearse properly with the vocalists, who all have their bands. But you won't miss it! The show is pretty full as it is.
IS IT TRUE YOU'RE DJING IN T.J. NEXT?
We've actually DJd in Tijuana before. There's this amazing, kind of burned down theatre, and the people were great. They asked us to come back and we said we might as well drive down there and do the gig.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN LA?
We've been in LA a few times, but only for brief periods. I would love to come down there and spend a couple of weeks just enjoying the place. Our tour manager lives in Silver Lake and she's going to take us around all the good places. You don't really get good Mexican food in Europe at all. We always come down, drink margaritas and eat tacos.
Simian Mobile Disco, Tonight 11/25 @ Mayan Theater, 1038 S. Hill St.