Stubborn Heart Make Sad Disco Music
Ben Fitzgerald and Luca Santucci are two very nice South Londoners making electronic music. I came across their track "Unearthly Powers" somewhere on the internet a few weeks ago, and for the first time in a while, I got that fuzzy feeling inside when you stumble across a track you REALLY love. Then I found they'd put out another track, "Need Someone", on a 12'' white label a year ago, which ended up in the hands of Rough Trade West. It was re-mastered, put out on Kaya Kaya Records and the guys are now gearing up for a debut album.
I kinda like Ben and Luca for printing just their email address on a white label and distributing around, rather than resorting to vain, self-indulgent promoting. So I called them up to delve into the academics and intricacies of the birth of electronic music (not really); actually we talked about how they rejected a single deal from Atlantic Records, dub-step and Luca's heartbreak.
Listen to their track "Starting Block" exclusively here on Noisey and read my chat with the guys below.
Luca Santucci, Ben Fitzgerald: Hello!
So, you finally have your debut coming out.
Luca: Yeah, finally.
OK, so let me ask you how it all began, then. Were you making music before you put stuff out there?
Luca: Yeah, we were in a band when we were teenagers, then we went our separate ways. Then we got together 10 years ago and started making music, just for fun, and then two years ago…
Ben: Well, two years ago we started hanging out a bit more. We'd just record and try out. Then suddenly we just kind of started writing – well started finishing songs actually! That's the major thing.
Luca: That's when we started committing to finishing. Then we played it to some friends and one friend said, "This is good shit, let's put it out on my label," and another friend said, "Put it out yourselves; put it on an old-school piece of vinyl" Then we put out "Need Someone" on a 12'' white label just over a year ago. Then we got a lot of attention.
So how did it happen with Kaya Kaya Records?
Luca: That was through Cherish Kaya. She was working in Rough Trade.
Ben: She emailed us, because we had an email stamp on the white label, that was our only contact call, because we didn't have enough space to put anything else in there – well we didn't really want to put anything else in there. It was just an experiment to see what would happen and…
And it worked?
Luca: Yeah, we got loads of people emailing us last summer. It was mainly the major labels, which we weren't really interested in.
Luca: Like Atlantic in New York. The head of Atlantic contacted us.
Ben: They were more interested in doing a single deal. And for us it was more about doing a long-term project – doing the album.
Luca: But more than that, the majors get quite intrusive. We went to meet some of the majors and they were all the same, saying things like, "How many YouTube hits have you got?" "Have you got anything that we can get on day-time radio?" It was putting us off really, whereas with Kaya Kaya, and some other smaller labels, they were like, "We love your music. What do you want to do?" And they gave us freedom.
Fair dos. What kind of instruments do you work with?
Ben: To be honest with you, it's all done in the computer. We just use all the plug-ins; the effects are done in the computer. We record the vocal to the microphone, which then goes into the computer. Basically when we started recording we didn't really have any money.
Luca: It's crazy, you see our set-up, it's literally just a Mac. The keyboard is the size of the Mac; and then a cheap microphone.
Ben: Yeah, a really cheap microphone. We create our ideas using what we have.
Luca: And our friends offered us synths and different sound banks, but it's quite nice to work with these limitations.
Ben: I've collected a lot of samples. I've been doing music for a long time, so we had our own library of sounds. We just used what we had and realised we don’t need to go to a studio, or spend thousands and buy new equipment. The only thing we did do was buy a new microphone. The cheap one – we actually used it on "Need Someone". You can't really tell between any of the vocals, really.
Luca: Thing is Ben has been engineering; he had his own little studio in Whitechapel, and he's just got a lot of experience with how to make the best out of what little he's got. He's very good at making the sound… polished is the right word, you don't want to sound polished but… it's kind of professional.
Ben: It's just about being able to hear everything. You know we got signed, and we had a bit more money, but we'd finished the album by then so that was it, we'd already done all of that on a small amount of equipment. If we were to do another album, we're still thinking maybe we'd just do the same thing again.
Luca: It's crazy, isn't it? Even in just the last five years the technology has changed so much.
And now teens can make dubstep using online softwares.
Ben: Yeah, you can have a computer and keep on recording; you can wipe something, or go back to it. But ten years ago you had to go to a studio. You only had a day of recording. But all these programmes, they come in easy to use. It's just about using your sense of music. It's also probably a bit of just reading the manual, and working it out, haha!
Luca: I think we're going to hear lots of exciting music in the next few years. More kids with no knowledge of what was going on before.
Ben: You're going to get experimentation – trying things out, and making mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes in the studio, we do it all the time, and suddenly we come up with an amazing drum pad. It's just a way music goes these days. Everybody still loves to have the analogue sound for some reason, but I think it's going to die out at some point.
I've been reading some reviews where people call you post-dubstep. And there's some bro-step references, too..
Ben: To be honest, to reference our music to bro-step, which is what they call dubstep out in America, is just… Obviously you haven't heard what we're about.
Luca: What is bro-step, Ben?
Ben: Bro-step is like, in America, it's like this...
Luca: Skream, Benga-type music?
Ben: It's like all blokes go to the club, and there are no girls, so they can be bros. I don't know, I really don't know.
Ben: Perhaps, it's just the usual thing of putting things into genres; I mean, others have said we're post-dubstep.
Yeah, what do you think of that one?
Luca: It's just a catch-all term, because everything you hear now mixes up all the styles, they call it post-dubstep. I think dub-step was the last identifiable, unique sound. But since the Streets, people have just been mixing up all the styles, you get garage and hip hop and reggae and pop everything in there. But I don't mind post-dubstep, it's quite a wide spectrum.
Ben: By all means, it's a genre.
Luca: Even dub-step is ten years old now.
Has it been ten years!? Yeah it has.
Luca: Yeah, the whole grime thing was around 2001-2002, and the instrumental stuff came on…
And you were living in South London at the time?
Luca: Yeah, Ben was living in Peckham and I was living in Balham. I remember always listening to pirate stations, to dub-step and grime, and it was really exciting and new at the time. But that was ten years ago. They were recording the instrumental grime stuff, when they didn't have the MCs all over it. They started calling it dub-step, it was 2003 when I first heard the name dub-step.
Did you use to go to any nights?
Luca: I never went to DMZ, which was always going on down the road in Brixton. I used to go to FWD at Plastic People, I used to go on my own. It was great. See, I got this theory that clubbing has gone downhill since the smoking ban. I can't find anything that interesting and exciting to go to. I associate it a lot to this ban – people always coming in and out of the rooms, going out to smoke, it's just so clean, the air… The whole scene had some kind of grubbiness, which was a big part of clubbing for me. When I went to FWD, all the guys in there were just leaning up against the walls and smoking and just nodding your head because it was incredible music. There hasn't been anything exciting for me since then. I also used to go Nag nag nag, and that was quite hedonistic and wild.
Yeah? How wild?
Luca: It was a gay club, so it was a real mixed club and you'd get a really good crowd. There was a lot drug taking still going on. And the music was a real mixture from Timbaland to Neptunes, to 80s synths, and really cutting edge house stuff, quite deep. And you just had everything in the course of the night. It was a really exciting place to be, it was a good time then, you had FWD, you had Nag Nag Nag. Ben and I weren't making that much music then. Ben had moved up to Manchester.
Are the girls in your "Need Someone" video like a representation of your ex-girlfriends?
Luca: Haha, kind of.
Really? They look a bit despaired.
Luca: They're all friends of ours. But there are no ex-girlfriends in there; that would be a bit too painful.
Are you heartbroken?
Luca: Yeah haha!
Luca: I am heartbroken. I don't think my ex-girlfriend's going to like it, but you can't help it. We write these songs very quickly, then I go back and try and change the words sometimes, but it doesn't sound really honest. But all these songs about my ex-girlfriend... Now I got to get up on stage and sing them as well!
Well, It's irreversible now. I really want to come to one of these shows, though. I can't wait for the album, either.
Ben: Make sure you get one Esra.
I will. Well, it's been lovely to talk to you.
Luca: Yeah! Sorry you didn't see us for that long but we're nothing to look at. [He refers to the awful Skype connection we had.]
Haha, well I wanted to see your face because it just really feels awkward after a while to stare at a computer screen and talk.
Ben: That's what we do when we write music.
Luca: Staring at screens...
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