How UK garage, rockabilly, and the need for change inspired their new album...

“It was the first day of demo sessions. That was the first thing that we did,” Vincent Neff tells Clash.

Out now is the much-anticipated third album from British four-piece Django Django, ‘Marble Skies’. The band’s Derry-born singer and guitarist is explaining with zeal the genesis of their title track before his Eurostar shoots into another tunnel. Within minutes of their initial demo sessions for the new material, while jamming with Metronomy’s Anna Prior, they were already onto something: “She’s an amazing drummer and that really comes through. Within the first ten minutes we already had this track with real drive and energy. It was a really exciting moment.”

Django Django’s third record marks an evolution of sorts for the Mercury-nominated band. After the “happy accident” of their critically-acclaimed eponymous first album, and recovering from the pressure of expectation resting on the second, Neff believes they’re now in the best place they’ve been since forming in 2009. “The first one caught us all a bit by surprise,” he says candidly. “And then the second one we had to kind of learn to work together.”

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It felt like a bit of a clean slate...

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While their debut was a collection of songs mostly written in Neff’s bedroom over a decade and produced by fellow Edinburgh College of Art grad, Dave Maclean, including the infectious ‘Default’, they went onto create 2015 follow-up ‘Born Under Saturn’ along with their Scottish keyboardist Tommy Grace and Yorkshire-raised bassist Jimmy Dixon in the swanky Angelic Studios.

For round three, they returned to some of the processes that went into their debut, allowing themselves the “time and space” to develop and self-produce the tracks in their home-from-home new studio in North London: “It felt like a bit of a clean slate. We were more relaxed and were able to have more fun with it,” Neff continues. A fact that is evident in the upbeat mood of the record: “It feels quite light and summery almost. The second album was darker, had heavier beats. I think the songwriting is stronger, personally.”

Ample time and space allowed the foursome to fully indulge in an organic, exploratory songwriting process, each contributing as and when, and weaving in samples, disparate genres and instruments as seemed fit: “We’re keen to just get the best songs we can get and we don’t really mind how it actually comes together,” says Neff. “We kinda understand that each track needs to have its own identity and its own world. So we know when to step out and leave space. Or at least we’re beginning to know that a little bit more.”

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From the trippy rockabilly-influenced elements of ‘Tic Tac Toe’ to the sample of Jan Hammer’s piano riff from The Seventh Day on ‘Sundials’, being uninhibited by a conventional compulsion to stick within in a particular genre gives the band a freedom few artists enjoy. “We have this sprawling record collection in the studio that’s 30 years of collecting for me,” Maclean later explains to me. “It started with the Beatles and then got into house and techno and jungle and hip-hop. I think we just draw our influences from everything really, everything that’s come before.”

In particular for the Scottish drummer and producer, the weirder and more experimental the better. Though he concedes: “It’s got be filtered through the songwriting and it’s got to stay faithful to that. We’re not just on a mission to cram a load of genres in. We let the songs guide us and if we need an electronic drum machine rather than live drums then that’s what we go. If they need a kind of shuffling dancehall groove from a Steely and Clevie record then we’ll sample it.”

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We have this sprawling record collection in the studio...

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In addition, collaborations such as with Prior have provided new layers and textures. As with ‘Marble Skies’, already-released single ‘Tic Tac Toe’ came from a jam between Neff and Prior, a “slightly garage-y” track made with their live set in mind, accompanied by a surreal seaside video made with Maclean’s brother John. ‘Surface To Air’ was borne out of Grace and Maclean’s love of dancehall, sampling Tony Kelly and Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor stepping in on vocals: “We’re quite into Massive Attack and a lot of Primal Scream stuff and they tend to have a feature vocal here and there. It freshens things up a little bit, brings a new element to the album. It kind of keeps it moving,” explains Neff.

‘Champagne’ is a “woozy, slightly drunken-influenced track”, inspired by a boozy boat trip down the Seine the band had while on the ‘Born Under Saturn’ tour. On ‘Further’, Nixon whistles over the chorus while Neff played a cello bow: “I wasn’t very good at playing it but they let me play it note by note. They were quite patient with me.”

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As such, rather than presenting a cohesive, contained sound, ‘Marble Skies’ reaches out in different directions, operating as something of an old skool mixtape, taking the listener on a journey: “We almost react against the last track that we did,” says Neff. “It does move in a lot of different places. We’re fans of mixtapes from back in the day where the whole idea was they were meant to take you through a journey, give you surprises. If you made one for somebody you might have a crazy electro thing go into a quite quiet acoustic, more gentle thing then move it back up into somewhere else. So that’s how we think about the album.”

Steering away from a traditional band set up, this fluid, magpie-like method of creating music is what keeps their sound fresh: “I think we’d go slightly mad if we were stuck in a corner doing the straight indie guitar sort of thing or purely synth-based stuff.”

And it seems to hold something relevant for a contemporary audience - the attention deficit, social media consuming generation who no longer discover music via the radio or identify with one specific genre, as Neff reflects: “We’re not in sub cultures anymore in the way we were in the 80s and 70s where people where people were into one dedicated thing.”

Though he notes there “is bit of glue somewhere that ties it”: “vocally or the kind of the things we write about or the kind of grooves. We always start something on a key groove and that helps us think about it, picture it in a live sense or get excited about it.”

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The music industry and the world of putting music out is evolving constantly...

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The band have noticed a change in the way music is created and put out, even since they released ‘Born Under Saturn’: “The music industry and the world of putting music out is evolving constantly, that’s something I’ve noticed,” says Maclean. “It’s a kind of mish mash where people get their music from - it’s Spotify playlists and it’s comments on Facebook posts and YouTube - everywhere. And it moves so fast. Now it’s less about there being an overt pacemaker, making or breaking albums.”

But for the producer, he sees that the new landscape offers opportunities as it does new challenges to navigate: ”It forces people to be a lot more prolific, especially in the world of dance music. You don’t have to wait for the turnaround of a dub plate or a white label. People go straight to download, so they’ve had to really up their keep up with this everflowing stream of music. Then bands like us have to try and keep up with that.”

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As with ‘Born Under Saturn’, ‘Marble Skies’ - a title inspired by the sight of a storm-brewing sky Maclean spotted while they were at Lollapalooza festival in Chicago - seems to function on a psychedelic, otherworldly level. Clash asks if for them, their music is ever a form of political statement: “We are all into politics but we are also all really into escaping from it all,” responds Maclean. “Our music veers toward escapism just because we get so pissed off with things so we feel a bit out of control.”

It’s a sense exacerbated by the pace and content of the news furore that is social media: “Already in 2018 I’ve had to do a big cull on Twitter so that I’m not having this endless barrage,” he continues. “Everything’s like Buzzfeed or ‘he said, she said’ tit for tat constantly.” Donald Trump’s sagas are just one example: “It’s just so negative, such a downer. And what can I do if he’s an arsehole? I can’t just let my blood boil every day.”

In particular, we're curious to know if they see that the scandals currently making their indelible mark on Hollywood are likely to take hold of the music industry in any tangible way. Grace jokes that as a band of four white males, there’s not much they can say. “Pale, male and stale,” Maclean adds with a laugh. But self-aware jokes aside, for Maclean the gender of an artist he’s into or a record he buys has always been irrelevant.

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We are all into politics but we are also all really into escaping from it all...

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And in fact as they were signed to their indie label by Jane Third, they’ve always had a woman calling the shots; they’ve “never been answering to a male.” Grace does acknowledge that it can’t be ignored that there is a visible lack of parity: “If you were to break down some of the festival line-ups that you see advertised just now I’m almost certain that you’d find a pretty big imbalance.”

Maclean believes the #metoo, #timesup movement is a Zeitgeist that goes beyond Hollywood: “You’re starting to see a shift generally now. It’s crazy that it’s taken such a long time. But I think it will continue to ripple throughout everything, all industries really.”

But also something that needs to happen from the bottom up: “It’s like in Hollywood people say ‘oh, there’s not enough female directors winning things at the Golden Globes’ or whatever, and others say it’s because there’s ‘not enough in the pool’. And it’s like - that’s the point, why isn’t there enough in the pool? It’s a grassroots thing, it’s a cultural thing from the beginning. You have to fix that to stop it being so male-dominated. But yeah I see it changing now.”

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Having been working on the material for some time now, the band are impatient for the release and to get out on their tour covering everything from in-store launch parties to festivals stages: “A lot of the tracks at the moment are sounding quite different as they do from the record,” Grace tells me. “We always do this but we’ve kind of reverse engineered the tracks to try to bring something new to the table for the live set.”

Rebecca Taylor will be playing some of the live dates, supporting then playing on ‘Surface To Air’ live, and as visuals form a crucial element of their artistic output - the trippy poster-world created for recently released synth-pop track ‘In Your Beat’ in collaboration with artist Brodie Kaman and animator Sophie Koko-Gate being a prime example - they’ve also developed new visuals and designs for the stage.

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They really take their partying seriously... It’s good way to kick the tour off.

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While they’ll be hitting the big UK cities, it’s some of the smaller spots they’re also looking forward to according to Neff: “Dundee and Aberdeen have always been really fun because they’re a really nutty crowd. They really take their partying seriously. It’s good way to kick the tour off.” Another significant date is their invite to Coachella festival, which Neff admits he didn’t realise the magnitude of at the time: “Then you look at the line-up and you’re like ‘holy shit’.” They also have plans to film the video for ‘Marble Skies’ out in the desert: “You could have worse locations than Palm Springs out in the Death Valley to make a video. So it should be really good fun.”

The group’s dynamic may have changed a bit, with Neff pointing out all the band now have kids, except for Maclean: “Dave turns up looking really fresh, we turn up looking like we’ve been in the jungle for three weeks…” but he feels strongly there’s plenty of legs left in Django Django yet, the method they developed and honed on this album a signal of what more could be to come: “We are looking for new challenges. It might be we do something completely different next time - an acoustic album or just everything through live takes. But it feels a really good template that we’ve got set up. It makes me excited about further records in a way.”

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'Marble Skies' is out now.

Words: Sarah Bradbury
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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