Popping Up: Clean Bandit

Robbie Daw | June 18, 2014 5:30 am

Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.

Without a doubt, Clean Bandit have stepped into the forefront of the current house music revival that’s coming out of Europe and infiltrating the American airwaves. But this British quartet has done so by adding a unique twist to the genre: they blend classical music with their beats. Those beautiful strings you hear on the band’s hits like “Rather Be” and “Extraordinary” — yeah, those are real.

Clean Bandit’s debut LP New Eyes was released this week by Big Beat/Atlantic Records (buy it here) and comes packed with enough dancefloor fodder and featured vocalists — many of them brand new talents — to give the group’s contemporaries like Rudimental and Disclosure some stiff competition. What gives the record an edge is the classical training of band members Grace Chatto (above photo, middle) and Neil Amin-Smith (far right) and their colleague Jack Patterson‘s (second from left) ability to mold their sound into something entirely club-ready.

To get a better understanding of the new musical force that is Clean Bandit, we rang up violinist Amin-Smith to get the story behind UK band and their album New Eyes.

MEMBERS: Jack Patterson, Luke Patterson, Grace Chatto, Milan Neil Amin-Smith.

HOW YOU KNOW THEM: Clean Bandit’s breakthrough smash “Rather Be,” featuring Jess Glynne (of Route 94’s “My Love”) on vocals, hit #1 all around the world earlier this year. It’s currently a Top 10 dance chart hit in the States.

Clean Bandit — “Rather Be”

WHERE THEY FORMED: England’s University Of Cambridge. Grace, who was dating Jack at the time, was in a string quartet that Neil was leading. Jack began recording and remixing Grace and Neil’s performances, laying the groundwork for the classical-meets-dance sound Clean Bandit is now known for.

ON JACK’S EARLY RECORDINGS: “He gave them to me and Grace and we really loved them,” says violinist Amin-Smith. “A few weeks later we played our first ever gig [as Clean Bandit]. Maybe about a year and a half later, Jack looped in his little brother Luke to play the drums.”

BUT WAIT…CLASSICAL MUSIC MIXED WITH DANCE MUSIC?!?: “I was already DJing quite a bit before Clean Bandit started and Grace had always been a big dance music fan,” Neil explains. “It was actually Grace and I who ended up running a night at university, which was kind of dubstep and future garage. So in a way, we were the ones in the band who were more into electronic dance music. Jack was more into jazz and Luke was into rock.”

NEIL’S EARLY INFLUENCES: “I listened to a lot of Radiohead [during] their move into electronic music. More recently, when I was at university, I was listening to people like Squarepusher and Boards Of Canada.”

CLEAN BANDIT’S FIRST BIG BREAK: After making a name for themselves by touring in their home country, the band’s aptly-titled single “Mozart’s House,” featuring their college friend Love Ssega on vocals, cracked the UK Top 20 in 2013.

Clean Bandit — “Mozart’s House”

THE VARIOUS VOCALISTS FEATURED ON DEBUT ALBUM NEW EYES: “They all came to us in a different way. Love Ssega, who is on ‘Mozart’s House’ and ‘Telephone Banking,’ he was a friend of ours at university, so we started making music with him quite early on. There have been other people, like Eliza Shaddad, who’s a UK folk singer — she was just busking on the street in Shoreditch, and Jack cycled past her and liked the sound of her voice. That was how we started working with her. There have been quite a few people, like Sharna Bass, who’s on ‘Extraordinary,’ and Nikki Cislyn, who’s on ‘Cologne,’ we met both of them through this community project, which our studio in Kilburn in North London is a part of. They were just involved in a lot of local music. Then Jess Glynne, who’s on ‘Rather Be,’ we met through our label.”

SURPRISE COLLABORATOR ON NEW EYES: London singer-songwriter MNEK co-wrote album track “Cologne.”

ON TEENAGER SHARNA BASS, WHO FEATURES ON “EXTRAORDINARY”: “We were working with this singer quite a lot, who actually recorded one of the early demos of ‘Rather Be’,” says Amin-Smith. “She had a singing school in North London and Sharna was one of her pupils. We had this song ‘Extraordinary’ and though maybe her voice would work on it, so we got in touch with her and tried it out. She was still studying at the performing arts college — she’s so young. But it just really worked.”

Clean Bandit — “Extraordinary”

STANDOUT ALBUM TRACKS: It’s not all about the singles, you know! Be sure to check out Ace Of Base-esque pop-reggae jam “Come Over” and uplifting synth ballad “Up Again,” featuring Rae Morris.

WHERE YOU CAN CATCH CLEAN BANDIT LIVE IN THE STATES: Following their first American gig last night (June 17) at Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre, the dance quartet will next hit up Brooklyn’s Music Hall Of Williamsburg on June 19. A full US tour will commence later this year.

Clean Bandit’s debut LP New Eyes was released this week. Grab it on iTunes here.