In some ways, Hot Chip’s music is a strange dichotomy; its sound is an embodiment of both accessibility and experimentation – normally two mutually exclusive features in our world of Jedwards and JLSs. They’ve achieved that rare feat in music: as well as being unashamedly radio-friendly, the music is intelligent; the cerebral and visceral are in a state of equilibrium; listeners can bask in the beat-driven sounds, or they can analyse the hell out of the clever use of compression on the kick drum… Few bands do pop like Hot Chip.
I chatted to Joe Goddard, one half of the creative duo within the five-piece. He and lead vocalist Alexis Taylor have managed all creative responsibilities since the group’s inception eighteen years ago. After becoming friends in their first year at Elliot School, they’d hang out listening to Pavement and recording acoustic guitars on a four-track; the name Hot Chip was set in stone even back then. Joe tells me about the school which itself is an institution famed for its musical pedigree: its alumni include enigmatic dub step pioneer Burial, electonica wunderkind Four Tet and indie darlings The XX and The Maccabees. “It was a big liberal comprehensive that instilled the idea that you could do anything with your life.” He recalls how he and Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet) would “introduce each other to new records” and “go and see shows all around London.”
In fact it’s through this extant friendship that Hot Chip had its break; Hebden passed the group’s demos to London label Moshi Moshi who were quick to put the band on its roster. Despite the new contract, Hot Chip didn’t indulge in state-of-the-art studios and cutting edge producers. The first two albums, 2004’s Coming On Strong and 2006’s seminal The Warning, were both recorded on laptops in the band members’ bedrooms, using the unfashionable music program Steinberg Cubase (think GCSE music lessons). Joe admits, “it’s seen as pretty old” but uses it because “he doesn’t have to look anything up in the manual.” He expresses his disillusionment at musicians’ tendencies to hop between the latest music software “never being comfortable with any one thing” and producing poorer music as a result.
Like its predecessor Made in The Dark, the band’s soon to be released album One Life Stand was recorded in more conventional spaces. The band assembled its own studio in a disused London industrial estate, only for it to be burnt to a crisp by a freak fire in 2008. Fortunately, the studio was restored and equipped with a glut of vintage gear in time for the recording sessions that produced songs “inspired by lots of different kinds of soul music from different times and places.” The band wanted to make something “more concise than Made in The Dark” which was apparently too disparate: “it changes from pop to folk to crazy ravey…this time we wanted to make something more of-a-piece.” One Life Stand features more live instrumentation than its predecessors, perhaps offering an antidote to what Joe describes as “aggressive, processed, digital dance music.”
For the recording sessions which began in spring last year, the band decided once again to work without a producer, favouring instead the Goddard-Taylor unity: “The production’s my favourite part of the whole process…I’d be loath to give it up.” Goddard does suggest he might be tempted if they found someone who changed the way they work, rather than the work itself, but concedes, “It would be difficult to find someone we trust enough.” I wondered how, without an exterior presence, Hot Chip maintains a balance between accessibility and experimentalism, the union of which, to me, is a defining feature of its music. “Both aspects are important to us…we want something that works as a pop song but has some strangeness.” He tells me how the personalities within the duo complement each other, “if one of us is doing something that’s too experimental, the other will rein it in…so it gets to the point a bit quicker.”
The group has just started rehearsals for its imminent tour of Europe where the songs will undergo further transmogrifications, as they do in all of Hot Chip’s live shows. Joe sounds enthused when he talks of the “potential for experimentation in a live setting.” He recognises that gig-goers are willing to wait for the pay off in a song…it’s about building and releasing tension in a way that wouldn’t work on CD.” He finds it “dull when you go to a gig and the band essentially plays its record with no live elements.”
It’s evident from our chat that there’s something unique about the way Hot Chip thinks about music – a distinction that inevitably manifests itself in the sounds it produces. Joe has a jibe at the ordinary sounds that are becoming ubiquitous in the pop landscape due to the likes of X Factor: “it’s a nasty business. Terribly run-of-the-mill music made by pretty boys and girls with normal sounding voices,” yet I get the impression he doesn’t think about it much; all Hot Chip really cares about is making music – if a fire incinerating their studio doesn’t distract them, “pretty girls and boys” haven’t got a chance.