“Dance music is something which is lived”: Groove Armada go back to their roots
Andy Cato and Tom Findlay are Groove Armada, a musical duo who have delivered a consistently impressive array of tunes over the years. Of course, they’re better known for hits like At The River, Superstylin’ and I C U Baby, but during the course of their long-running careers they’ve kept up a high level of production and put together a highly impressive live band, touring the globe with their outstanding show.
In recent years they appeared to have gone a little quiet (in mainstream terms), but they’ve been hard at work putting their experience back into the roots of dance music – DJing and making more ‘underground’ sounds. Here’s my recent chat with Andy Cato, one half of the twosome.
What are you currently working on?
We’ve just landed in Ibiza for the second-to-last gig of the season over here. Pacha tonight. Normally we’re at Space, where we’ve been residents on the Terrace for close to ten years. In 2011 and 2012 we’ve returned to the warehouse sound where things all started, using the freedom from major label commitments to release a series of underground EPs on UK label Hypercolour. Before that, 2010 saw the release of Black Light, our seventh and best album, one that captured the GA live sound that has been refined over ten years of tours and festival stages. In fact, we’ve always been on the road since the beginning, never having missed a festival run with the live band or been far from a DJ booth.
What were you up to during that relatively quiet period before this “renaissance”?
It’s a fact of life when you change sound and vibe, as we have done across the albums, that it is not the best route to record breaking sales or magazine covers. But for us there has been no quiet period. The Black Light project followed straight off the back of our last album for Sony. We released Black Light on a small independent, and despite remaining a well-kept secret in places, it was Grammy-nominated and accompanied by an amazing run of gigs as we took the live band back from festival closing slots to the classic gig venues in Europe and the US. When we finished the tour and called a halt to the live band with a run of gigs at Brixton, it was our 24th sold out evening at the Academy and an electric night. The recording of this is finally about to surface.
So what’s inspired this new lease of life?
After that Brixton gig, there was a recognition that the ten years of playing dance music live had reached its peak. We couldn’t do it any better. So we stopped and decided to go to the other extreme. Warehouse style, DJ-based, back to the beginning.
How did your collaboration with Hypercolour come about?
When we made the move to focus on the GA house sound, we looked at the stuff we were playing and the people who had it going on. Both those lines crossed on Hypercolour. It’s been a pleasure to work with them and get back to a situation where you finish a tune Friday and it’s mastered and out there the week after. During the major years, things took a little longer.
Why have you returned to making more ‘underground’ music, when you could quite easily have stayed in the mainstream?
For some people GA has always meant I C U baby, Superstylin’ and At The River. But that was all a long time ago. What we have done since has never been mainstream. Not because we’re anti that but because the agenda has always and only been making music we’re into. Looking over the footage of the live stuff recently, there were so many times and places that were special. Bringing on Richie at Brixton or Candi Staton at Lovebox, the insane footage of the Glastonbury closing gig, or Centennial Park in Sydney where one hundred thousand people were in front of the stage, up to the Black Light US tour where we played all the legendary rock n’ roll venues to a whole new set of fans. So the return to the underground house sound is just another chapter in a pretty eccentric history.
How does it feel to have had such an all-round positive reception to your new sound?
The different eras have had different receptions from different people. All the massive festival stuff was pretty special, as was the period when the tunes were all over the radio. The new stuff fits more easily into some peoples’ preconceptions of what GA should be because it’s rooted more obviously in dance. As a result, it picks up a bit more frontline attention. But the reception from the people that have been there, checked out the music and come to the gigs has always been special, throughout the stylistic twists and turns of the last few years.
How easy or difficult has it been for you to produce the stuff you’re making now?
It’s been pretty easy. We’ve always DJ’d, always made house music. Just a lot of the time we were in the major label cycle, it never came out. The only people who played it was us. Compared to the tortured process of putting together the songs for Black Light or the previous albums, endlessly adapting and rewriting it for the live performance, making house tunes is a whole lot more relaxed. We still go through several versions to find that combination which makes a tune one with a GA stamp, but we sleep at night which wasn’t always the case.
Has DJing had an influence on your productions?
We’ve been DJing and playing live from the beginning and being in the frontline week in, week out has always been a big factor in the music we’ve made. You’re always searching for the moment, always thinking of the Saturday night.
How have you changed since you started Groove Armada?
The first album we released involved working out a running order which would work on vinyl and cassette. It was a different world. Since then we have taken a few wrong turns, tried a few things that didn’t work out. But there are two things we definitely got right. The first was setting up the live band in a way which created a team of people who became our best mates but who were also brilliant at what they did. All the crew boys who’ve worked for everyone under the sun are agreed that there never was an on-the-road spirit like the GA one. And it came across in the gigs. The live gigs were the culmination of thousands of collective hours of work but went off in a way I’ve never seen. When you’re pulling that off night after night with a group of mates the after-hours takes care of itself.
The second thing we got right was to do what we wanted to do and make the music we wanted to make. When people wanted us to write Superstylin’ 2, we were closing gigs with 12-minute live tribal versions of Going Back To My Roots with Richie Havens, or recording ambient tunes like Lazy Moon using a string quartet in a moonlit graveyard.
How important is DJing to you both?
Well now it’s more or less what we do. Since closing down the live band, we’ve brought some of the big stage experience into the DJ setup. So we have in-booth control of the lights, lasers, and real-time visuals. When we do that at the right place and right time it kicks right off, but in a way which is based on quality music. It’s not always easy, as this kind of DJ show often gets put on the main stages, and these days the main stages are pretty dominated by that Guetta/Swedes end of dance music, which has got as much in common with the house we love as panpipes.
With your success in the past, do you still feel as though you have to really graft?
We always seem to push it. Never satisfied. Maybe that’s why we’re still here. Over the last few years there have been moments when you’re aware you’re making music which is the best you’ve done. Or [you're] doing gigs, which are electric, but are not getting the exposure they should because of the endless and increasing search for the new amongst media and radio. But then you always get that moment, however big or small the crowd, when everyone in the room just gets it and it pushes you on. We’re also still pretty familiar faces at the after-party, but then we’ve always felt that dance music is something which is lived, where there used to be no division between the DJ in the corner and the dancefloor, and we’re always trying to get back to that.
What have you been up to recently, touring-wise?
A lot of Ibiza activity plus a full run of European festivals. Any free nights in the calendar have been filled by free parties. It involves a bit of chat with the local authorities, but it feels like dance music needs less glitter and more roots. So we’re trying to do our bit.
What would you say was your biggest achievement?
If there is one major achievement it’s that me and Tom and all the crew have universally spread a good vibe. From the Madonna and Elton John days to the festival closing slots, warehouse parties and everything in between, we’ve spread a lot of love and no bullshit. As a result we’ve got friends amongst most of the worlds’ nightlife. You get what you give.
What does the future hold for Groove Armada?
After we close Space on September 30th, for the first time in 15 years we’re taking a break.
Groove Armada’s new EP ‘No Ejector Seat’ is out now
For more information on the guys themselves go to their website HERE.Tagged in: Andy Cato, Groove Armada, Tom Findlay
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