Disclosure Settle for the Black Box
By Ebhan Loughlin
FROM EXPERIMENTING with laptops and software in their music technology class at school to a critically and commercially acclaimed chart-topping debut album and a Mercury Prize nomination, Disclosure have come a long way in short space of time.
Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, aged just 22 and 19 respectively, have taken electronic music by the scruff of the neck. After the enormous success of their debut album Settle, released in May, and a busy schedule of appearances at major music festivals at home and abroad, Disclosure are fast becoming one of the most talked about electronic acts in the world at the moment.
Born and raised in the area of Reigate, just a tube ride away from the vibrant London music scene, the brothers have a rich musical background to draw from. Their family are all music oriented, while Reigate itself was the birthplace of Norman Cook (aka FatBoy Slim). So no pressure there then.
Speaking from Britain, Howard Lawrence is relaxed and upbeat ahead of Disclosure’s much-anticipated visit to the Black Box in Galway next month. It would not be surprising for the younger Lawrence to feel a little burned out at the moment; the duo are currently in the middle of a gruelling schedule packed with major festival appearances, club nights, and more than a few media interviews wedged in between. Despite the busy schedule, Howard and his brother have taken the whole experience in their stride with energy, enthusiasm, and a professionalism beyond their years.
“Honestly, making the kind of music we make we never expected to get a number one album or to be nominated for a Mercury Music prize so that was all very much a surprise,” said Howard frankly. “In terms of doing shows though, we have been doing this for almost four and a half years so it has built up gradually and in that sense we are used to it.”
Disclosure provide a very different approach to dance and electronic music. For one thing, the Lawrence brothers play instruments live on stage, in contrast to the more conventional image of the producer or DJ. While there are the obligatory light shows and the psychedelic imagery, according to Howard they are thoroughly focused on their musical output rather than big flashy epilepsy warnings.
“There are a lot of live acts, or what claim to be live dance acts, who just turn up with a laptop and press play. We don’t do that,” he says. “We try to play as much of it as we can, we make the show mainly about what we are doing on stage, and there is a lot going on. We do have a light show, but not one that distracts from what we are doing, it complements our music.”
This focus on instrumentally-focused music is rooted in the home. From a very young age, Guy and Howard’s parents had a very strong influence over their tastes and their proficiency with musical implements. Guy started his love affair with drums and percussion at the age of three, while Howard began playing bass guitar aged seven, followed by synth and keyboards.
“Our parents introduced us to listening to music and playing instruments from a very very young age,” Howard confirms with a hint of pride. “They always presented music as something that was fun, they never forced us to do it. They quite cleverly made us want to do it.”
The duo have expanded their musical palette to encompass many different genres and styles. However, it was not until more recent times that they warmed to electronic and dance music, the area in which they now dominate.
“We didn’t listen to any dance music growing up at all,” says Howard resolutely. “I guess it was the dubstep movement in the UK in 2006 and 2007, with guys like Skream, Benga, and Mala (of Digital Mystikz), that changed our minds but we were never specifically interested in producing dubstep though.”
Attending club nights and becoming engrossed in the electronic scene sparked their interest in producing. However it was the influence of fellow electronic music producers like James Blake and Joy Orbison in particular that appealed to their specific backgrounds and tastes.
“They had more experimental and very musical-sounding stuff. James Blake is very musically trained and we could tell that straight away because we grew up playing instruments. We got on our laptops, loaded some software, and just tried to imitate some of the noises they make and that’s what got us into producing.”
Amid the constant travelling, Disclosure have had the pleasure of playing a variety of festivals throughout the world, plying their trade in front of a diverse medley of crowds. Among the many events Disclosure have played this year, the stand-out names that feature include Coachella in California, the familiar Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds festivals in Britain, Roskilde in Denmark, and Listen Out, the touring music festival in Australia which they headlined.
For Howard, the iconic Coachella festival was one of the more memorable gigs:
“We had been to America before but we had never played to such a large crowd over there. It was upwards of 15,000 people all singing along to our songs. It was just a surreal moment of realisation seeing that happen so far away from home.”
Back to Galway and Howard remains coy when asked whether there will be any surprise appearances from guest vocalists at the gig. On Settle, the production duo have had the opportunity to work with some amazing up and coming voices like Sam Smith on lead single ‘Latch’, Eliza Doolittle on ‘You & Me’, Jessie Ware on ‘Confess to Me’, and AlunaGeorge on the much lauded ‘White Noise’.
Another unwitting collaborator on the album is Eric Thomas, better known online as the ‘Hip Hop Preacher’, a business strategy preacher from Detroit, Michigan. Upon scrolling through the internet for samples one day, Howard came across him and was inspired by his impassioned message of life improvement and his Detroit accent, which reminded the brothers of one of their favourite rappers, J Dilla. They loved his style so much that they sampled his preachings for the thumping album-opener ‘When a Fire Starts to Burn’.
One vocalist who Howard can confirm is the familiar Disclosure “scribble face”, the symbol which has been attached to the band ever since its use as the artwork on their first ever single release, ‘Offline Dexterity’, which the duo have taken to pasting over their faces in promotional photos and in their videos. “It has become this kind of logo and we embraced that; it was very much a happy accident.”
Disclosure play Galway’s Black Box on Thursday November 15 as part of the Heineken Live Project.