Downstairs in Stereo’s empty basement area, The Beta Band blasts out of the speakers. “I noticed they were playing it on the way in,” said Django Django drummer/producer Dave McLean – the brother of Beta DJ/sampler John – who along with affable synth-man Tommy Grace, and the other duo, chat away in a grotesquely narrow dressing room.
Perhaps it’s easy for music hacks to narrow down the quartet as ‘Beta Band Mk II.’ But it hasn’t diminished their impact on the music scene. In fact, they’re a refreshing band who have achieved so much in a matter of months.
In 2009 they met in Edinburgh art school and relocated to London - Ulsterman Vincent Neff (vocals/guitar) and Leeds-based Jimmy Dixon (bass) make up the other duo.
It has taken going on three years to release their self-titled LP – unleashed this January on French label Because – but the reaction has been overwhelming. “I think we thought [the album] would go under the radar, and no-one would really notice it, and we would get away with just keeping our heads down and doing the next album,” a modest McLean told The Journal.
That certainly hasn’t been the case. The album was showered with critical praise for its eclectic and kaleidoscopic landscape of sounds. McLean rolls with these similarities though.
“I think people will get bored writing about it, writing about The Beta Band and, you know, to me I haven't listened to them in a long time, so it's hard for me to say too much, if we’re similar. People like to make comparisons.”
The Beta Band may not grace his speakers, though according to McLean not much else has in the last couple of years either. “It's hard to make music and listen to music. You want a break so I’ve been listening to Radio 4 and stuff like that to get away”. The exciting prospect of sampling The Archers in the next album crops up.
They’re that "uncategorisable category" joked Grace – who hails from Edinburgh. But McLean reckons their sound developed naturally, rather than copying other similarly eclectic acts. “Because we grew up listening to the same records I don’t think that many other bands have grown up the same way as me and John. It’s hard to not be yourself, basically.”
That do-it-yourself ethic is also embedded in the visuals, though Grace considers Django Django as more of a band than an art collective. Nevertheless, he thinks it’s still relevant to the band. “It would be weird for us not to be doing the visual stuff because if we gave it over for someone else to do it, they'd do it in their own way. It seems natural to do it ourselves.”
McLean produced this album, giving him the status of helmsman. “I think I’ve been tagged leader but I’m not. I think we're more and more becoming a band, as a unit of four people and I'd like to keep doing production. But it's up to the band to come up with the goods.”
Those goods are definitely sprinkled on the album. It’s hard not to be absorbed in the jerky art pop of Default, the bluesy Firewater and fiery WOR. Every tune is a potential pop single. But would staying in somewhere like Edinburgh – whose cultural scene is going through a difficult phase with the closure of several major clubs – affect the Django Django sound as we hear it today?
McLean doesn’t think so.
“It's difficult in a place the size of Edinburgh because you do a gig and then you have to go away for a while. In London you can do gigs all week if you want in different areas because it’s so big. So I guess being there logistically makes life easy. But it wouldn’t have mattered so much if I was staying in Edinburgh.”
By the time you read this, they will have played New York and South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. In Europe, the quartet recently appeared on French TV show Taratata. Nagui Fam, a typically suave and eccentric Frenchman interviewed them in a large Perspex box, reminiscent of popular ITV show The Cube: “He was a very weird interviewer, that guy,” admitted Grace, prompting Neff to recall a strange encounter with fitness legend Mr Motivator at a Northumbrian festival.
“I think we were on before this kind of flat-cap Yorkshire band doing ‘ee-by-gum’ and the crowd absolutely loved it. Then this guy turned up in full Lycra gear and totally whooped the crowd into an absolute frenzy doing all these gymnastic moves.”
The interview itself takes a surreal turn, as a hooded figure sticks his head from the dressing room door, prompting a burst of laughter from Grace. The hooded man is a member of The Phantom Band’s side project Omnivore Demon, the support act for the evening. Shortly afterwards, weird, prog-rock noises emerge from the stage outside.
Will Django Django make similarly experimental, prog-infested stoner rock in their second album, however? McLean seems reluctant to go that way. “You can go mad or have giant glockenspiels and stupid stuff, but it’s about songs. It’s about production, rather than focusing on daft experiments and going overboard so I think we’ll stick to a few bits and bobs,” he added.
As Django Django take stage, band comparisons, ‘daft’ experiments and production values are thrown out the window. Stereo has grown full of sweaty, eager fans with funky patterned t-shirts. The thundering album opener rumbles through the walls, followed by the incredibly catchy Hail Bop.
With electrifying guitar riffs and pulsing synths, it leaves goose bumps on the back of listeners' necks. Waveforms plays with a confident swagger, while the demented surf-pop of WOR sends the crowd wild. The addictive Default and Middle Eastern acid trip Skies Over Cairo further enhances the band’s colourful setlist.
They may be described as an experimental, kaleidoscopic, eclectic, Be ta Band-esque quartet of art-rockers. However, Django Django are, for all intents and purposes, simply a brilliant pop band.