Django Django: "On our previous two albums we were so bogged down, we got lost."
Not always but often, there comes a time in a band's lifespan where it goes a bit stale, and making their 'experimental album' becomes the standard remedy to reinvigorate a flailing interest in music making. But where does a band who've made a career out of experimenting go next?
It'd be an inaccurate assessment calling Django Django shapeshifting, as their albums have never entirely taken one form, and their 4th studio album Glowing In The Dark is as inter-dimensional as ever. A typically hallucinatory listen, the album effortlessly bounds from trippy psychedelia, odd-ball pop music, anthemic indie, even blending in elements of 90s acid rave music - it's an explorative tonic to our present confined and cramped existences.
It seems like injecting fun back into their process was the main aim of Glowing In The Dark. Each single differs from the next but all exist within the band's stratosphere, with kaleidoscopic contemporaries MGMT and Hot Chip even mucking in for a couple of remixes in the run up to release day.
Ahead of the Glowing In The Dark's release, we spoke with Django's bassist Jimmy Dixon from his home in Margate about the new album, being creative within restrictions, and chancing it with Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The main theme I picked up on from Glowing In The Dark was detachment, or wanting to disconnect. Is that coincidental or had the pandemic played a part in the making of the album?
I think it was coincidental to be honest. But it's funny, looking back at the lyrics they're definitely poignant considering what's going on. Writing the album, we'd pretty much finished by the time the pandemic hit the UK so we'd been sat on it for a number of months, nearly a year. Certainly I guess a lot of songs from the album were written during what felt like a really unstable, unpredictable period to be on planet Earth. With America, and Europe, climate change. It pushes you to try and disconnect from those issues, but you can't help but try and address them, so it bubbles up in your lyrics.
Were you able to write and record the album together?
We were just finishing off a few tracks by this time last year, and planned to release the album by October/November last year but when it was looking like we were going into a lockdown and things snowballed, dates were put on hold. Me personally, when we went into lockdown, I took the opportunity to keep writing. Our studio is in London, but we were all at home (I'm in Margate) and it gave us some breathing space from working on the record but we all continued to write, yeah.
The video for 'Glowing In The Dark' [the single] was filmed on an iPhone, using a green screen. Did you just try and have fun with the restrictions and obstacles of promoting this album?
Totally. We've always approached recording music like that - on the first record we were really limited with our knowledge of recording and equipment, so it just forces you to be more creative. I think it's the same thing with our videos, you start with the restrictions and work backwards. It's having an idea and working out how it'll be affected. We've always enjoyed using animation and stop-framing in our videos, so we felt comfortable working within these restrictions.
It's weird having a record coming out, where usually we'd be gearing up for a tour having spent the last six months in the studio. The main thing for me is not knowing when we'll be touring. It's a strange one, but you just have to be creative.
You've been called "indie alchemists" in the past, that's true on Glowing in the Dark too as it leans into psychedelia, pop, even 90s rave music. Is that desire to experiment and invent as strong as ever?
Certainly Dave [Maclean, the band's drummer] as a producer has accepted each idea and track as a standalone entity. He's always run with ideas if he likes it, and that's why we end up with albums that have polar opposite sounds. Having him produce our records helps to merge these ideas, and his production makes them Django records. We've never sat down and discussed what kind of album we want to make, it just takes shape.
On the first record we had the artwork as a template, a reference point. Having that visual to pin the tracks to, having that sense of illustration holds the tracks together. The main change on Glowing In The Dark was just to be more playful with our writing process. Our previous two albums we were so bogged down with structure, we got lost. We were conscious of making the process quicker.
A lot of the conversation that's stuck to Django Django is how to define your music. More importantly, and specifically with this album, what do you want to convey?
On a very basic level, we just wanted to convey some positivity. Musical influences aside, it's difficult to pinpoint as they change from week to week, track to track. But certainly with this record we wanted to boil it down to playfulness and positivity. Given the past few years it'd be easy to focus on social and political issues, but we've always used music to escape that.
That playful element definitely stands out. One lyric in particular “So we’re pulling up the ladder, ‘cause we’re never coming down” [from 'Free From Gravity'] suggested to me that you guys are still grateful to be musicians despite the apparent pitfalls. Is that a fair assumption?
There are obvious pressures that come with making records and making music when it becomes a career, but we're still incredibly grateful to be earning a living from it. And be given the time to make a record. A lot of bands at present having live income taken away, are stuck. There's no way of earning money. We're lucky enough to be able to play shows and festivals that pay for us to make another record. It's getting more and more difficult for artists, and we're lucky.
In lieu of 'normal' gigs, livestreams have become the foremost way for artists to perform new material. I think they have real value, if you consider them a new space between live performance and a music video. Is that something you guys are keen to experiment with?
Everyone's just trying to feel their way around at the moment, and we've been approached to play online gigs. For us, it has to be worthwhile. We've put so much effort into making the live show work, so it'd have to feel like an event. We did something a few years ago, called Blackbox Sessions down in Camden. We basically had a space, loads of projections and videos whilst we played live. It became more of a live music video rather than a gig, so we'd definitely go down that route. But it's expensive, so to make serious revenue from it would be unrealistic.
Did you see Vanishing Twin's recent livestream show? It felt more like you were watching Un Chien Andalou than a typical gig, so there's space to be inventive.
I'm pretty sure they live in Margate too you know [haha]. I guess it's another restriction that you'd try to overcome and be creative with. We've done a few remote recordings of the album - right now we'd be playing instores and launch shows, so the next thing we'll think of is how to perform the album in a live setting, for sure.
How did the Charlotte Gainsbourg feature come about?
She's on our label [Because Music], the French branch. We'd written 'Waking Up', me and Vinny [Vincent, the band's singer and guitarist], and we both felt it should be a duet. Both me and Vinny knew we weren't gonna pull that off [haha].
We've been massive fans of Charlotte's for years, so sent an email to the head of our label, and yeah, she was into the track so sang our lines. Vinny went over to Paris and met her, spent the day in the studio. That must've been pretty close to the first lockdown, so we've not actually got to meet her properly as a band yet. Hopefully she'll be able to sing on some remote recordings we've got coming up. But yeah, we just chanced it, and she was up for it.
To nod back to engaging with your fans, you've recently released your stems for a remix competition. Can you shed some more light on that?
We'd talked about doing it for a while, but now, it makes sense. Dave does a lot of remixes for us and other bands, so as a kid or a young producer it's a great opportunity to have a crack at remixing. We'd usually approach artists to remix, but throwing the stems out there and having absolutely no idea of what's going to come back feels super exciting.
This year will mark a decade since Waveforms came out. Do you think you'd still have the same ambition to be a musician if you started the band nowadays?
Yeah, I think so. I spent the ages of 14/15 always playing in bands, and when I was at art school everyone was forming bands to play exhibitions openings or warehouse parties. It was always transient. That's the great thing about being in a band, that it doesn't have to be a career and doesn't have to be wildly successful as long as you're creating something and collaborating. Any band wouldn't be that band if it wasn't for that four or five people, whoever brings those ideas. That's always appealed to me about making music. I think the excitement of creating something new is a great feeling.
Do you think the advent of streaming and democratising how people listen to music has changed the goalposts of what success means as a musician?
It's made it more difficult for musicians to carve out a career, definitely. From a listener's perspective, they're not as engaged in artists, even as much as they were when we released our first album. That's probably why kids make music in their bedrooms now as it's immediate, and makes more sense. It's just a much faster world now.
I find it hard to relate - getting lost in an album for months on end, till you've played it to death is the world I'm from. I rarely buy new music, I just delve back into my record collection.
Finally, when do you think we’ll experience full capacity shows again?
It's difficult isn't it [sigh]. You get these glimmers of hope, then you're back to square one. If anything it's just nice to have something to look forward to. Rescheduling a gig, even if we think it's going ahead of not, it's still a sign of normality in the future.
We're used to that routine of putting all of our energy into our an album and then head out to play our songs. For now we'll have to sit tight, but I just really can't wait to go out and play music again.
Glowing In The Dark is out tomorrow (12th February) via Because Music.