For a while it seemed like the chain-of-command in Britain’s dance establishment was forever set in stone. The Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx and Fatboy Slim would headline festivals from now until the end of days. The only way a new UK dance act could reach millions of people was to get a song on Masterchef.
But in less than a year, Disclosure have turned all that on its head. The most successful British dance act in a generation, they’ve not only soared to the top of the charts and sold out venues across the world – they've also changed the nature of British pop, opening the door for underground dance acts to flood the mainstream. All this from a couple of brothers that only just finished school. The eldest, Guy, is 21. The youngest, Howard, is just 18.
Despite this early success, they've never compromised on their sound. At a time when chart dance music was dominated by millionaire producers making factory-line EDM for bottle service nightclubs, they showed that innovative British artists still has a place in the mainstream. “We’d never dumb down our sound, we've always made music with the same intention from the first track we ever put on Myspace,” says Howard. “So if people are connected to that, it's good news for us." Without ever meaning to, they’ve become the exemplar of how underground music can find success without concessions to the supposed rules of pop.
More impressive still, is how quickly they've accomplished so much. This time last year, they’d just put out their third single Tenderly / Flow: a patchwork of synth thrusts and torrid vocal loops. Like any decent dance record it got plenty of club spins and some night-time radio play, but it didn’t seem like they’d be heading to the top of the charts. The Face EP followed on Greco-Roman in June and featured both ’Boiling’ and ‘Control’ which succeeded in spreading the word about this young duo even further. At a similar time, they remixed Jessie Ware’s ‘Running’ which went on to soundtrack the whole summer. Then in October they released Latch, a soul-garage smoothie vocaled by Sam Smith which reached number 11 and sold over 200,000 copies in the UK alone. That was followed at the start of 2013 by White Noise, the collaboration with Aluna George which, through word-of-mouth and sheer bloody brilliance, reached number two. New single ‘You & Me’, featuring Eliza Doolittle, sees Disclosure bringing the deep, 2-step underbelly of UK Garage to the charts for the first time. It racked up half a million plays on soundcloud and a quarter of a million views of the video in just over a week and entered to UK Top 10 as the highest new entry on release.
Now they’re gearing up for the release of Settle, their debut record. It’s got a stellar cast – as well as the aforementioned singles there’s brand new vocals from Mercury and Brit nominated diva Jessie Ware, Friendly Fires lead singer and outlandish dancer Ed McFarlane and silky top-line heartbreaker Jamie Woon. But more than a collection of spectacular songs, it’s also a chance for Disclosure to demonstrate their depth. “We could have just kept releasing 12' singles for years, but there's a glass ceiling to that,” says Howard. “You get stuck in clubs, we always wanted to do something where people can get to know us and our sound.”
So they set about making a record that was distinctly Disclosure and ended up with a classic. Settle is a clever, expansive electronic record that's sure to be added to the pantheon of seminal dance albums like Dig Your Own Hole and Discovery.
Disclosure grew up in Surrey, England in a family where everyone was playing music. Their mother made radio jingles, their father played in bands, their grandparents were in orchestras. Both Howard and Guy studied music production at college. But, surprisingly, until they started writing music together, neither of them had any interest in dance. Older brother Guy grew up playing the drums in bands and listening to hip-hop. "We didn't know the back catalogue of electronic music until we started making it," he says as he sets up a labyrinth of samplers, synthesisers and wires that look like they were collected over decades not months.
Things changed when Guy turned 18 in 2009 and started going to clubs. For the first time, he was hearing DJs like Joy Orbison, Floating Points and Lone. "I started to realise dance music didn't have to be huge wobbling basslines. It could be actually quite, you know, nice." Back home he presented Howard, 15 at the time, with his new discoveries and they tried their best to recreate it, releasing the outcomes as free EP. "When we started we were just trying to copy what was going on at the time. Just to learn how to produce. The first songs we released were the first songs we ever made. We had to learn on the job."
Within a few weeks of putting their experiments online, Disclosure had an influx of emails for managers, lawyers and labels. “When we met up with people they couldn’t believe how little experience we’d had. We knew nothing about sampling, I was asking how you get vocals from other peoples’ tracks. At our first meeting with our managers, they gave us a few vocal accapellas and said - 'make something out of that'." They were setting us a task to make sure it wasn't just a fluke! Alongside Julio Bashmore and Jessie Ware they were signed to PMR Recordings, Britain's most forward-thinking UK label. At the same time they started delving into the dance music annals, they discovered house, techno and re-affirmed an early love of UK garage. Their music moved from the more twisted salacity of Tenderly to the brighter hues of Latch.
Almost immediately, some of the biggest artists in the world started knocking on their door, asking for productions and remixes. “It’s very flattering, but we feel it's stupid to be producing for other people when we haven't established our own sound. We want to be careful that we’re making the charts coming to us rather than the other way round because we think most of the dance music in the charts is awful.”
In just 12 months, Disclosure have created huge tremors in British music, creating a gestalt shift in the possibilities of pop and opening the door for a new generation of intelligent producers. That’s just off the back of three singles and an EP. By the time Settle comes out on June 3rd, the world will be there’s for the taking.
The Bass Music Awards in association with Skiddle.com
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