Unmodern Man Interview: Dave Maclean, Django Django

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It’s been eight years since Django Django dramatically announced their arrival into the British music scene with their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album. Three wonderfully eclectic LPs later and critics are still struggling to pigeonhole the band; attempts have ranged from art-rock to psychedelia with electronica and prog also featuring heavily. Regardless of archaic notions of genre, their sound can best be described as joyous; Django Django are a band who don’t give much of a fuck for convention as long as the end result leaves everyone smiling.

The four-piece formed in 2009 having met while studying at Edinburgh College of Art and are made up of the jocular sounding two Scotsmen (producer/drummer Dave Maclean and synth player Tommy), an Englishman (bassist Jimmy) and a Northern Irishman (singer/lead guitarist Vince).

The surprise success of their debut, however, was no joke. The album arrived with little in the way of fanfare, the band had hoped it might sell a few hundred copies, but they were catapulted from experimenting with Lynx deodorant sound effects in Maclean’s bedroom to playing in front of 60,000 fans at the Fuji Rock festival, within the space of a few months. Infectious tracks like Default and Hail Bop quickly entered the zeitgeist, featuring on everything from FIFA 13 to Ford adverts. Ultimately the record went on to sell over 100,000 copies worldwide and earned the quartet a Mercury Prize nomination.

Two years of intensive touring followed as the band triumphantly rode the wave of success across the globe culminating with a headline set at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.

Sophomore release Born Under Saturn followed in 2015; the band finding time to write and record it between the hectic gigging schedule and becoming fathers and husbands. The tracks are more expansive, their polished sound indicative of their move from bedroom to high-tech recording studio recently vacated by Robbie Williams. The album is an immersive journey full of brooding rave interludes and full-on psychedelic wig outs, with enough variety in the mix to keep even the most dedicated musical completists busy trying to pin down the influences.

Fans hopeful that the third LP would follow hot on the heels of Born Under Saturn were to have those hopes dashed by the consistently confounding Djangos: Marble Skies finally emerged in 2018. But, by fuck, was it worth the wait.

Bursting out of the blocks with the exuberant title track, the pace barely relents over the 40-minute running time. There’s an obvious return to the cut and paste production values of the first record with the emphasis on layered electronic loops and harmonies. But everything just feels sharper and more immediate; this is the sound of a band ready to take their pop sensibilities seriously. The result is a compelling record that is driven along by a techno vibe. Not only is it their most accessible album to date but, in my opinion, it’s one of the finest indie-dance records of the decade. If you can listen to the tracks like Surface to Air and In Your Beat without your pulse quickening, you might want to check that it still exists.

Amid the buzz of recording new music during the lockdown, drummer Dave Maclean (who also just so happens to be a Dons fan) took some time out to answer questions about the band, future plans and a bit of Aberdeen FC.

The band formed in 2009 when you guys met while studying at Edinburgh College of Art. What were the common musical influences that brought you together?

I think the thing that brought us together musically was our eclectic tastes. We were into everything from jazz, disco, house, techno, reggae, everything really. When I had a flat with Tommy, I’d be DJing a few times a week and buying a lot of records so music was a big part of our lives.

How much did the success of your debut album catch you off guard?

Well, I was just making music in my bedroom without actually knowing what I was doing so it was a bit of a shock when it was received so well. I thought it was going to be a little bedroom project but it really snowballed fast. I think playing live was the thing that most stressful because we were thrown in at the deep end and had to learn to swim pretty quick!

That must have been a fairly mental period in your lives. Any particular stories from around then that stand out?

It’s all a bit of a blur now and is starting to feel like quite a while ago, it’s about ten years since we started doing it full time. I suppose South by Southwest was a pretty mad one. That and flying to Japan and Australia for the first time stand out.

You were nominated for the 2012 Mercury Prize for your self-titled debut album. Do you think winning it would have put the band on a different trajectory?

I’m not sure really, people always say it’s a mixed blessing to win when you’re a new band but being nominated felt like winning, so it didn’t matter much to us!

Your music is famously hard to categorise. Is this sound something you consciously worked to cultivate or did it come naturally?

It came naturally, like I said we had an eclectic taste and I have a bit of attention deficit, so we jump from one sound to another all the time! It’s a mixed blessing really.

2018 album Marble Skies saw the band move to more pop/dance sound which personally I really enjoyed. it likely you’ll keep on this path? Any chance of exploring the dance sound further?

I’ve got hard drives full of house and techno I’ve made, and I’ve made even more in lockdown so yeah, that definitely comes into play. We’ve made a couple of dance tracks recently that people can hear pretty soon.

You’ve toured the US extensively in the past few years. How do you find the reception over there?

Really good. It varies city to city when it comes to venue size so you go from huge music halls to the back room of a bar and that’s what we love about touring there, it’s a total adventure.

We often hear of bands who are inexplicably massive in Cambodia or some other random place. Are there any surprising pockets of Django fandom?

We do quite well in Mexico but I think they love UK bands there. Our highest chart position was in Belgium though.

What are some of the most memorable live shows you’ve had to date?

Africa Express in London was great last year. Damon (Albarn) joined me on drums and that was pretty fun. I guess that Glasto Park Stage and Field Day were huge shows and quite surreal moments. Brixton Academy on the NME Tour was great too.

What are you listening to at the moment? Are there any Scottish artists who you’re excited about just now?

Man of Moon are a great Scottish band. I’m listening to a lot of private press LP’ from the 60’s to 80’s because I’m just still getting deeper into record collecting all the time and really want stuff that you can’t find online.

Moving away from music, growing up in Tayport how did you end being a Dons fan?

Well my dad’s best pal was Don Addison who designed the Aberdeen badge so me and my brother had a few posters and t-shirts and that was it really. I was pretty much the only Aberdeen fan at school and I quite liked that!

Who were your footballing heroes growing up?

I suppose I liked Eoin Jess in the early 90’s and for some reason I loved the Netherlands team at Italia 90 and really liked Ruud Gullit. In fact, I still have a little drawing of him here my pal did.

If you had to make up a 5 a-side team from the Dons players you’ve seen over the years who would make the cut?

Dave's Dons 5-aside

When you’re not touring or coming up with new music, what else do you do with your creative time? Any side projects on the go at the moment?

Well, the band takes all that up because we do a lot of our own artwork and videos etc. I have a little label called Kick and Clap and I’m going to be releasing something on that this summer.

Your brother John (ex-Beta Band) has moved into the film industry in the past decade and his 2015 feature with Michael Fassbender won a prize at Sundance. Is there any chance of you following in his footsteps?

Ha, I don’t really see myself making films in that way. I’d probably make much more surreal, arty films, he’s really good with characters and scripts and things I’d never have the patience for.

You’ve spoken out in favour of Scottish independence in the past. Is this something that you still feel strongly about?

Yes, I still support that. Even more now after Brexit. The world’s changing very fast right now though so we’ll have to see what happens after the COVID thing is over and we can start to think about all that stuff again.

And finally, I have to ask, when can we expect album number 4?

Pretty soon is all I can say!