Highly-strung sounds of success for Clean Bandit
- Credit: Archant
‘Baroque pop’. It has a nice ring to it – the sort of phrase that rolls off the tongue and straight into the notebooks of A&R reps looking for an easy sell.
Because that’s what they’ll be doing. Probably around these parts of London too if they had any sense. In recent times, Rudimental have waved the flag for Hackney, ushering in the return of a genuine UK dance scene, and now their label mates Clean Bandit have brought the revolution northwest and even given it its own subgenre.
To hell with singers, we’ve got cellos! That’s the manifesto that saw this electronic four-piece enter at the very top of the UK singles charts last Sunday. In the process, Clean Bandit’s Rather Be not only knocked Pharrell William’s Happy off number one, but also became the fastest selling January UK single since Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman in 1996.
When I speak to Grace Chatto, the band’s Crouch End-based cellist, it’s a few days before the big news, but they’re feeling confident having already topped the midweek charts after appearing on the Vodafone Big Top 40 show with Marvin Humes.
Watching their reaction, you suspect they already had an inkling.
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“Well we had been watching the views on the YouTube video and the preorders on iTunes go up, so we sort of had an idea,” the 28-year-old admits. “Though it was only in the last 10 weeks or so that we suddenly thought, ‘Oh my god, this could really be in the charts.’”
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While the success of Rather Be has been predictable over the last few weeks, Clean Bandit’s entry into the world of pop was anything but. They officially formed in 2008 while studying at Cambridge University, yet the band’s unique sound was forged nearly two decades ago in the Haringey Youth Orchestra.
It was there that Coleridge Primary School student Chatto met violinist Milan Neil Amin-Smith, 24, who went to Tetherdown, and the pair continued to play together through their days at Cambridge. During one performance of their string quartet in King’s College Chapel, her boyfriend and future-bandmate Jack Patterson, 27, decided to record the session.
“It was Jack, who does most of the writing in the band, who first thought of using the strings. He got quite involved in the string quartet that me and Neil were in and started messing about with them on the computer. We thought the sound was really cool so started to play live together.”
Chatto continues: “We organised a clubnight in Cambridge, but it was only two weeks away so we had to write about 10 songs in two weeks. It went well so we continued them for a bit – James Blake, who I went to school with (at Latymer), came and performed at one actually.”
As Cambridge students, the workload understandably came first. With Amin-Smith studying architecture, Patterson doing history and Chatto studying foreign languages, the band was initially sidelined and it wasn’t until graduation that they began to take their music more seriously.
Post-university, Chatto and Patterson lived over in Russia for a spell to pursue their careers, but the band remained firmly in their thoughts. Completed by Patterson’s brother, Luke, on drums, it was there that they stumbled upon the name Clean Bandit – a derivation of a Russian phrase which was yelled at one of the group and roughly translates as ‘utter bastard’.
Despite their enthusiasm, exposure initially proved a challenge. It wasn’t until they began to explore the medium of film that their music subsequently took off.
“I guess we just love making films,” Chatto admits, “and we see ourselves as producers of music videos, not just music. Mozart’s House was the first video we’d made. We stuck it online and suddenly it was getting thousands of hits on YouTube.
“Years before, when we first put that song on the internet, it must have got about 10 hits on MySpace. That’s the power of film, the visual plays a massive part as well.”
The videos have since become a key part of Clean Bandit’s promotional strategy and ideas for them often form around the same time as the songs themselves. Showcasing their love of art, with references like Henry Raeburn’s painting of a skating padre, and their impressive contacts book – UK Shanty sees model Lily Cole play a mermaid – the band ambitiously plan to release one for every track on their upcoming debut album.
While the success of the Mozart’s House video contributed to the song reaching number 17 in the UK charts last April, Rather Be saw the band up the stakes further by travelling to Japan. The trip has evidently paid off.
“It’s supposed to be about a chef who’s a fan of the band and starts hallucinating, seeing members of Clean Bandit floating around in her daily life. It was amazing – we were quite scared in a way because we were filming so far away, we’d never done it outside London before.
“Our thinking was that we really wanted to film the fishmarket there, it’s just incredibly photogenic. Jack and I actually went on holiday to Tokyo about five years ago and since then wanted to go back just to film that specific place.”
So what now for the pop innovators? Having already supported fellow dance act Disclosure on tour and seen their tracks remixed by Mercury Prize winners Alt-J, Friendly Fires and Russ Chimes, Clean Bandit have already embraced the industry buzz around them.
When the celebrations subside, they may just find that their Baroque Pop – as Patterson calls it – has a lot more room at the top.