What do you get if you cross Mozart with a drum machine? Why, Clean Bandit of course! As the band prepare to perform at Tate Britain’s Loud Tate this Saturday, we ask them where the boundaries are when it comes to art - and what Mozart would have to say about all this…
Hello Clean Bandit! Introduce yourselves, and the name
We are Jack, Grace, Luke and Neil. We used to live in Moscow and a Russian friend of ours once described my sister as a clean bandit. This is a direct translation from the Russian Чистая бандитка or chistaya banditka (and clean as in clean sweep), which we found funny, loosely meaning naughty rascal or utter bastard.
Describe your music
It is electronic with acoustic elements, such as violin, cello, voice. We often use phrases from string quartets and make beats around these. We work with a lot of different vocalists who always bring their own style and personality to the various tracks.
You all studied at Cambridge - was Clean Bandit always the plan? How did you get your break?
We started as a classical string quartet and built up a student following for this over about a couple of years, playing in places like King’s Chapel. Jack, who is our principal writer, was not actually playing in this quartet but was very involved and helped me [Grace] organise the concerts. He recorded all the performances, and one day we decided we wanted to collaborate together and he began writing electronic synth and bass lines and beats around samples of our live recordings. We organised a club night to perform at and it went really well! People outside of Cambridge began to notice us online when we put our first music video on YouTube.
Is there a sense of wanting to bring the likes of Mozart up to date for new generations? Or is it simply an appealing contrast?
I think it started from a musical idea rather than any plan, but certainly when we started the classical quartet, it was very rewarding that we were able to generate audiences of several hundred 20-year-olds who would not normally listen to Mozart. So maybe that was part of the inspiration when we began introducing the electronic element. And when we did so, of course it has brought the samples we use to Radio 1 listeners but I don’t actually know whether it has encouraged them to then go away and listen to Mozart. But we do get a lot of tweets about people taking up the violin or cello, which is cool! And Neil set up a late night concert series in Cambridge, where they play short (half-hour) classical programmes in the dark. These nights are always full of unlikely suspects and are still running.
What do you think Mozart would think? Do you get any disapproval?
I think he definitely had a sense of humour. So I think he would have liked it! Have not had any disapproval yet. In fact, we have had some nice praise from big classical dogs.
Who are your favourite visual artists?
Repin, Surikov, Caravaggio. We used to spend a lot of time in the Tretyakov Gallery when we lived in Moscow, and got into Repin and other Russian realist paintings then. Jack actually designed an exhibition at the Tretyakov, and at the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. It was a retrospective of Petr Konchalovsky’s work and he designed all the furniture and layout.
Could you make a visual version of your music? Which two works would you mix?
Maybe we should combine Rachel Whiteread with Michelangelo: fill the Sistine Chapel with concrete and then knock it down.
In art, appreciation for historical work and contemporary work is less divided than for classical and pop in music. Discuss!
I guess classical is a difficult word because we use it not only in the historical sense (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven), but to cover all European art music of all other periods (Baroque, Romantic, and everything in the twentieth century up to and including contemporary art music). This contemporary classical music is kept very separate in most people’s minds from pop music - but there is not a division in our minds.
Perhaps contemporary popular art is also divided from other contemporary art in some similar ways to how contemporary classical music is from pop music in people’s minds. But it does seem to be more of a big deal in music. I guess one big difference is that with music, pop music reigns commercially victorious, while the giants of the art world are not there because they’ve sold millions of pieces to a large percentage of the population, but rather can sell individual works for millions of pounds, which is a different kind if popularity.
Could you suggest some classical music for beginners to try?
Beethoven String Quartet Op. 132 and Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht. These are both extremely beautiful, massive pieces of music.
This year you’ve played Glastonbury and Notting Hill. How different do you think it will be to play in a gallery?
We once played in a kind of gallery, Hannah Barry’s Bold Tendencies on the roof of a Peckham car park in its opening year. But this will be very different and I expect it will feel even more special. We’ve definitely been in a lot of fields recently…
Tell us what you’ll be doing at Loud Tate?
We will be doing something we’ve actually never done before. We are going to open our set with an acoustic performance of the whole first movement of Mozart’s D minor String Quartet, and will then the drums will kick in and we’ll drop into our song Rihanna, which uses phrases from this Mozart piece. We will then play eight other songs. We will have live drums, keys, strings and electronic saxophone, as well as three different vocalists: Florence Rawlings, Eliza Shaddad and Ssegawa Kiwanuka.
Who do you each listen to? Give us some tips for cool new music
Recently discovered Swim Deep, which we love. We also like Hudson Mohawke, SBTRKT, James Blake, Drake, Beethoven…
What’s next for the band?
We have our first headline tour in October, ending at Brixton Electric on the 26th. Also, we’re supporting Bastille on their tour. And finishing off our album. Right now, we’re making our next must video.
BP Saturdays: Loud Tate - Pendulum is a free event at Tate Britain on Saturday 21 September, from midday to 5pm