Hot Chip have emerged from their bedrooms studios onto the UK music scene to become one of the most interesting electropop band in Britain over the last four years, a status that has gradually developed from the band’s formation in 2000.
After years of experimenting with pop music and self-releasing records, schoolfriends Joe Goddard (lyricist/producer/keyboardist) and Alexis Taylor (vocalist/keyboardist) signed with the indie label Moshi Moshi in 2003 before releasing their laid-back debut Coming On Strong, a refreshing blend of warm electronic beats combined with the fragility of lead singer’s Taylor castrated tones.
After signing a deal with EMI and DFA Records, Felix Martin (geek/machine drummer/lemurian), Al Doyle (multi-instumentalist) and Owen Clarke (guitarist/keyboardist) joined the band to work on the release of Hot Chip 2006’s breakthrough album The Warning. This exciting record positioned neo-soul next to electro-funk-rock and effervescent folk-pop, and managed the difficult task of both satisfying their listeners’ cerebral demands and filling the dancefloor. The album was shortlisted for a Mercury Music Prize nomination, counted 100,000 UK sales, and infiltrated the mainstream with hit singles such as “Over and Over” and “Boy from School“.
In February 2008, the band released their third studio Album, Made in the Dark. The first proper single was “Ready for the floor“, which reached number 6 in the UK Singles Chart.
The band is also well-known for their live shows, as they often reinvent their songs on stage and create a completely different sound. The Lemur has found a place of choice in their set up, effortlessly programmed and skillfully played by member Felix Martin:
“So far we have only used the Lemur in a live environment”, Felix explains, “where it fulfills a rather functional and plain role as a master controller for clips, scenes and FX in Ableton Live. I also use the Lemur to control the Dave Smith Polyevolver and an Elektron Machinedrum that I use, with Midi Thru signals going through Ableton. I have built my own patches for controlling those instruments. Even though they both have their own perfectly decent user interfaces, I like the idea of being able to control everything from one screen. I suppose I have an ideal of one day simply standing with the Lemur as my only performance tool, with the things that it controls sitting quietly in the background.”
“I am looking forward to introducing the Lemur to the rest of my studio”, says Felix,“when I return there at the end of the year and commence work on the numerous mixing, production and writing projects that I’ll be taking on in 2009. 2009 will be a year spent mostly in the studio, in the same way that 2008 has been a year spent mostly on the road, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the Lemur a little more intimately before presenting it to the world again when we return to touring at a later date.”
“I heard about the controller when it first released several years ago”, Felix remembers “at the time it seemed like an impossible extravagance but I was very intrigued by the possibilities of interfacing with Max/MSP and other software that I was using at the time. The appeal of an entirely modular control unit is obvious to most performers of electronic music but I also thought that the thing looked very cool and would have a great and unique visual identity on stage.”
“I had my first look up close at the Lemur in October 2007. We were on tour in South American with Bjork and her band. As you may know, Bjork’s band under the stewardship of Mark Bell has cultivated a very particular interest in cutting edge performance tools, combined with traditional instruments like brass. I was impressed by the way that the Lemur gave the performers in the band the chance to really work with their hands in a very direct way. And I also thought that the units did, indeed, look very cool. When I saw Bjork and her band perform again at the Melt Festival this summer, they had trained cameras on the moving hands over the Lemurs, something which I have also noticed one of my favourite producers Stephan Bodzin doing.”
“There is something magical about the Lemur”, Felix continues,“and indeed about many of the synthetic musical instruments that we use to make music. Several years ago, a security officer at an airport in Iceland asked what we were carrying in our high profile orange flight cases. We told him that we were carrying ‘synthesizers’, and he replied by asking us if we were magicians, a nice slip of the tongue… Even now I sometimes think of myself more as a magician than a musician.”
“After years of touring, we are now an experienced outfit with many spare instruments and backups in case something goes wrong. That’s obviously not always been the case and the first years of touring were always rather nerve racking. I used to use an MPC2000 which would frequently malfunction, usually with just a few moments to go before we went on stage. I can remember unscrewing the back of the thing while the intro music started up, desperately reconnecting the internal zip drive, and running to the stage. We’ve had to work hard to get where we are and it’s nice to look back on such incidents and remind oneself of how far we’ve come.”
“We used to have only one road case containing the precious MPC2000. Other than that, we carried our equipment in our ruc-sacks, usually wrapped in towels for protection. Our first ever international tour was supporting Faithless in some vast venues in the Austria and Germany. We must have seemed like the most amateurish group in the world, turning up to play to thousands of people with our keyboards in plastic bags. But we got through it, never felt any fear and it makes performing today in front of big crowds a lot easier.”
“My only concern about the Lemur is the attraction it holds for small flying insects. At a recent gig in Madrid, the gently glowing lights of my Lemur were so attractive to the local insects that several of them descended on to it’s surface during the performance, wandering about and threatening to trigger off all kinds of unwanted events. Perhaps some kind of electronic fly-killing device similar to that found in butcher’s shops would be a good addition to future upgrades?”
More can be learned about how and why Felix uses Ableton Live in conjunction with the Lemur in this video interview granted to the Ableton Live team : .
Hot Chip at Le Trabendo, Paris, March 17th 2008: