Django Django have made a career of being ‘difficult’. On their new record Glowing In The Dark, their soundworld takes on a new level of daring and playfulness.
There’s a theory in certain quarters — and by certain quarters I mean in my head — that Django Django are so named because they are two bands in one. Or maybe the same band repeated but distorted.
The properly British group that is populated like the opening to an old joke (given they consist of two Scots, a Brit and one chap from Northern Ireland) can veer from electronica to trippy rock to jaunty folk to a hazy duet with Charlotte Gainsbourg and a Caribbean-flavoured bit of R&B.
And that’s just the first five tracks on their new album, Glowing In The Dark. I haven’t mentioned the album’s late run of five tracks that go from a ‘70s kommische atmosphere to some art rock, then ruminative acoustic picking leading us into a song deeply immersed in some bucket hat/fresh Es in the pocket/Stone Roses on the turntable world, all of which culminates in an off-campus rave.
“What we do is quite esoteric, or quite odd in some ways. And we kind of revel in that oddness,” says singer/guitarist Vinny Neff, the Derry, Northern Ireland, rep in the group. “Often as not there is a lot of industry people who kinda get freaked out by that oddness.”
Even after scoring a Mercury Prize nomination for their self-titled debut in 2012 and landing in the UK top 20 for their next two albums, one thing that stops them being a comfortable, easy to predict musical entity is that there has never been a single Django Django style.
Well, unless you count the ability to be three styles across three different songs, or three styles in the one song. That’s what gets you a reputation for being ‘difficult’ and gets questions like ‘why can’t you sound the way you did last album, or the last song?’.
Well, it was never the plan. Right down to, as Neff admits, keeping track of words and phrases already used on previous records and making sure they aren’t repeated.
“I realised that when Dave [Maclean, drummer/producer/co-founder and co-writer, from Dundee, Scotland] and I met,” says Neff. “We wrote [northern England-style space rock] Storm first, then we did [the glam spin on dance] Firewater, and then [the almost folktronica] Love’s Dart and I was like, ‘what is going on?’, this is weird, they don’t sound like the same band in some ways, but they do. I just went with it.”
Yes, he admits, they probably could have made their lives easier, “but we just get kind of bored”, the we eventually including Scottish keyboardist Tommy Grace and Yorkshire bassist Jimmy Dixon.
“I suppose it’s keeping ourselves interested and we always kind react against the last track we did,” Neff says, with a laugh that has maybe a hint of the slightest touch of the tiniest bit of embarrassment at saying this. “It’s almost like we do anything we can do to do the opposite of what we just worked on over the last few days.”
It’s worth noting here that many artists will tell you that they react against the last album they made by taking a completely new direction; there’s hardly any whose reaction time is literally the distance between one track and another on the same album.
“I know,”, he says now with a full a laugh. “Our concentration was probably better pre-internet. When we were like teenagers, we could probably listen to something the whole way through. The more it goes on you realise how flighty you are in terms of the way you can change anything at the drop of a hat.”
However, is this a crack in the façade? A change in the plan to always change?
“We have started writing the next one and I think we want to put something out there that’s one pallet of instruments, and one kind of vibe. Just to mix it up a little bit and see if we can actually do it.”
Django Django sell out! Or is this the perversity of not being perverse? Frankly though, it can be a pointless argument because Django Django sound like Django Django, and that hasn’t done them any harm at all and if they make, for example, a wholly electronic record next time, it’ll probably still sound like Django Django, just a Django Django that is testing themselves by restriction rather than a variety.
“Often when artists start out and they’ve got the most crappy, simple kit, and they haven’t got the whole arsenal, they’ve got a crappy synth and a little crappy couple of pieces of kit, they can get a lot out of that. And that’s what makes you, you, that kind of limitation,” says Neff.
“Going back to the other thing, I remember being a kid in Derry and there were these grungy kids, and then there were raver kids, there were metal heads. I was picking and choosing: I would go to an underage rave one night, then the next night there would be grunge club or whatever — me and Dave I suppose are quite magpie in that sense — and then another night we’d be listening to a lot of ‘60s stuff, either from our parents’ records collection or things we were finding ourselves. We were never scared to jump between genres.”
Perhaps unintentionally, this penchant for being peripatetic has enabled them to surf a couple of waves in the past decade, rather than crest one and be dumped by the next, and appeal in a few more corners of the world. A new song like Night Of The Buffalo, for example, would blow up in Perth (WA, not Scotland) where they think they invented psychedelic dance music — though the last 30 seconds would blow their minds.
Before letting him go, I remind Neff of something Maclean said ten years ago, that “you should never be afraid to make a fool of yourself for art.” It was in the context of the unlikely outfits and amusingly silly and provocative moves at the time like the use of coconut halves for percussion, but to me spoke to something more about the band.
Here was a group declaring they were willing to do what people tell you that you shouldn’t, risking the chance of making fools of themselves, for the chance to make art. Does that still hold true for them all?
“Yeah, I think so. It’s something within all of us. I suppose going to art college, you are taught to kick against the norm. You’ll get crucified if you go in and give them a version of somebody else’s work, or if you played very safe,” he says. “I did architecture and I made a model that looked really nice and really, safe, you might say, and my tutor just took my model and turned it upside down, and said that’s better. And Dave would have spent ages on a painting and the guy would have just completely demolished it and said, ‘it’s too safe, what are you doing?’ I think that comes through when we are making music or visuals: you have to kind of put yourself out there.”
Some lessons stuck then?
“Obviously we’re older, but I think we’ve stuck with the same principles we started with.”
With better clothes?
“Yes, with slightly better clothes.”
Django Django’s Glowing In The Dark is out February 12.