In Conversation with…The Glitch Mob
Just days into their tenth tour, I had the rare privilege to catch up with US-based trio The Glitch Mob, ahead of the DolbyAtmosTM screening of their latest album “See Without Eyes” – newly completed with accompanying visuals provided by Strangeloop. Meeting them in their hotel room high above London’s bustling Shoreditch, we took to the balcony to discuss their brand new live-stage the Blade 2.0, as well as the new album, touring, and plenty more besides.
Listen to the Audio Transmission here
There’s quite a crew behind the Blade, do you take those crew touring with you as well…?
Josh – “Yeah, they’re on the road as well for the full Blade. It’s probably, like, ten or twelve people or so to really make the whole thing happen. Definitely couldn’t do it with just the three of us. They’re there the whole time, and they help us realise our vision and put on the best show that we can. We love performing the music, we want it to be very over the top and bombastic and stuff, so building this big ol’ set-piece just helps propel our music, and come across really how the music feels live.”
Justin – “It’s a big production. Out here in Europe, we don’t have the whole Blade at the moment. We call it a DJ-set because that’s the best way to understand it, but it’s really not a DJ-set: we’re playing live off of Ableton, with push controllers and stuff like this, but in the States we have the big stage production that we eventually are gonna bring out here, and that’s the goal. Because, really we wanna be able to play as live as humanly possible, and that’s the point of the whole thing. And because there is no way to do that without making something custom the way that we wanna: we use touchscreens so that we can design our own controllers, coz when you have something like an Akai MPD, it’s set – we do use Akai’s but the touchscreens allow us to design our own controllers and everything is powered off of Dell computers, and there’s a pretty crazy technical back-end network that makes everything happen. So we have multiple people that help with just the computer, then there’s the lighting and there’s front-of-house also, coz we mix the music like a band would. Typically – we were DJing last night at Village Underground – we’re playing off our computers: that’s just mastered music. But when we play in the States, all of the audio is separated out so we can really just maximize the potential for the audio.”
About that, I know that it’s a functional thing: you wanna perform your music live like a band because you’re a band! But where does it all come from with the idea of doing it this way? Why would you not go, say maybe like some people have, with an actual band?
Justin – “There was a point in time where we were DJ-ing, and the beginning of Glitch Mob was actually three of us, individual DJs (edIT, and Ooah, and Boreta), and we were touring around. This was the very early stages of laptop-music, at the time people were playing CDJs and vinyl, and then saw ‘Who the fuck are these guys with laptops? They’re cheating!’. Really, it has been more accepted to play off Ableton or off Traktor or whatever, so we’ve always been using technology to play music. It’s not about the technology for us, it’s more about what it will allow us to do. And then when we started collaborating, we thought ‘this is way more fun with three people: not only do we get to travel with our favourite people, we get to actually perform on stage, and there’s an energy that happens on stage with three people’. So that was where the band thing really came from: it was the idea of having that collaboration and having some sort of improvisation back-and-forth. So there was a progression, then we were DJ-ing with each other – and we would actually just beat-match back-and-forth: there was no connection, we just had three laptops, mixer, go! – and then technology improved, but we decided to start using thee touchscreens called the Jazzmutant Lemur, and we tilted them towards the crowd so that people could see what it is that we’re doing.”
Yeah, I noticed that when I checked the video out.
Justin – “Yeah, those things were expensive, and this was before an iPad – and this is gonna date us, we have been doing this for a while. Pre-iPad, you had to buy the thing that just did that, but it was great because it allowed us to design our own controller. We tilted it towards the crowd, and that was our show, that was it. It was just sitting on a keyboard stand from Guitar Center, Jazzmutant Lemur, and we would go to Office Depot and buy these laptops stands for $10 – so it was very DIY. The whole thing was a progression from there, and it’s funny coz if you look at the Blade now, it’s really just that but housed in this crazy ornate cyber-spaceship thing. But then we decided at one point, ‘wait, let’s add drums’, because drumming adds a kinetic nature to the performance: it’s fun, it’s crazy, and we were inspired by Japanese Taiko, and although none of us are Taiko drummers at all, we have talked about taking classes or adding a real Taiko at some point – Josh is a great drummer, but Ed and I are not drummers, so we’ve learned and practice – but really it was a progression of wanting to play our music. And there was a point in time where we did think, ‘wait a second, let’s try to be a band! Let’s see what happens.’ And we brought out guitars, we had a bass, we had a guitar, and we mixed everything in, and it didn’t work right.”
Ed – “Actually the very first time that we played Coachella, in the Sahara tent, we played with real instruments. We were the only band in there that actually played with real instruments, and we were sandwiched in between… Rusko went on right before us in the peak of the whole Dubstep thing, and then right after us was, like, Busy P’s Club 75 – it was, like, him and all the French dudes, like…”
Justin – “Kavinsky…”
Ed – Yeah! Home-boy from Daft Punk, home-boy from Justice, and then y’know like all the other guys on Ed Banger – and it was like us, in the middle of, like, both of them playing. It was the very first time that we ever played ‘Drink The Sea’ in its entirety. We’re like ‘Great idea: Coachella. Let’s get up on stage and play our brand new album that no-one has ever heard before!’, and we just got up there and people were just like ‘What… is… this?!’. Like, dumbfounded. It was hilarious. It was a fun learning experience.”
Justin – “And also, it was a really fun learning experience. It’s been a progression, y’know, for us, as part of our ethos, to just try new stuff, see what sticks, see what doesn’t. But the Blade that we’ve ended up with now has been a series of failures and restarts and trying new things. So now we know how we wanna play, we have the ergonomics down, we like the drums up top, and all of those things have been… there’s a lot of trial and error that has gone into doing this. When we were doing the lemur set-up, that was just us. We actually at one point, we built our own show, we went out to the hardware store, we designed our own lighting fixtures, we did the whole thing. And then we had Martin Phillips, who’s now the show designer, who came in, he saw what we were doing, and he said ‘Okay, we can take this to the next level”. This is what he does, his artform is the stage, so he helped us really flesh out the vision and get it to where it is now.”
So what’s changed between the first Blade and the second one?
Ed – “Obviously from, like, an aesthetic standpoint, there have been upgrades and tweaks. From a hardware standpoint, a lot has changed because all the hardware this time around is all Dell so we’re no longer using jail-broken iPads to create a meta-instrument: we’re using these beautiful, large, 27-inch Dell touchscreens called ‘the canvas’ – they’re actually made for graphic designers – they’re robust and very sensitive. All the computer hardware that’s powering the playback and all the screens and everything, it’s all Dell and Alienware… like, literally, the fastest laptop CPUs and chips that you can get right now.”
Josh – “It’s a different arrangement of a few things: there’s a new shell around the stuff, it’s gonna be like a whole new set of lighting design and we’re not doing any, like, LED wall-type stuff.”
Ed – “Yeah, we’ve committed to a non-LED wall show.”
Justin – “That’s the biggest change.”
Josh – “We’ve, like, infused LED lighting – not like a wall, but like throughout the instruments, built into it – so it’ll be more of a whole living breathing, organism.”
Ed – “But we decided not to participate in kinda like the, um…”
Justin – “The content wars! (laughs)”
Ed – “The EDM production arms race! We just kinda decided to keep the focus on performance.”
That is a very eloquent way of putting that: ‘The EDM Production wars’, brilliant. Good shout.
Justin – “I mean, to be fair, it’s pretty ridiculous. But we took off the video wall because what we realised, there was a sense of maximalism, where we have Taikos and we have these touchscreens, and then there’s a movie basically playing behind us in 16:9. So we’ve removed that, and we’re trying to put ourselves and the performance and the music much more front, and get out there and inject some humanity back into the whole thing.”
It’s very interesting because you’re essentially an EDM act/outfit, with a heavy base on the E, but less of the D and more of the M.
Ed – “Y’know what, it’s interesting because, at least for us, we just look at it as like we’re just making music, and we don’t necessarily consider ourselves EDM. We do, obviously, play a lot of the massive EDM raves – like Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra, those style raves – so I think the average EDM-festival-goer probably looks at us and is like ‘Yes, Glitch Mob is totally EDM’. But for us, we’ve always looked at it like we’re out there makin’ music, and the people out there will always try to genre-fy or put a tag on what it is, so that they can better understand or define what our music means to them, y’know what mean?”
Justin – “Part of our ethos is to ride the line between Dance music and listening music, right? Clearly there’s a core of Hip-Hop, there’s a core of experimental electronic music – Jungle, Drum & Bass, Dubstep is all part of there – but really the listening and the emotion is really at the core of it, and we don’t think ‘this is going to be a track that references UK Funky with a little bit of Dubstep influence’. The exercise goes away, and we’re talking about triumph, we’re talking about the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re dealing stuff in life: we have heartbreak, we have friends that have passed, we have our fans that really write heavy notes, and that’s sort of what we’re processing and working through – in our own dealings with life, that’s what comes through. And we also just like to perform and put on a fucking crazy show, so I think you can hear that in the music, and especially with our last album – with Love, Death and Immortality – we really wanted to make an album that just felt good live, and just had some really intense energy. In this one, we took a step back, and this one was much more effortless – just in the sense of, we wanted to see what was gonna come out. So the album has music that really isn’t for the live stage at all, and some that is. But it’s more of just an album in that sense: it’s a process, and it’s a full top-to-bottom listen. It’s not singles that are meant to be broken-off.”
That’s obviously nice to be in what is essentially the ‘EDM’ bunch, but to sort of take it out of that and be like ‘it’s more electronic music rather than Dance music’.
Josh – “EDM: Emotional Dance music.”
Justin – “Dancing is important, and the show is really where it all comes together. Even last night in Village Underground, we had a couple people come up to us after and say ‘I’ve been waiting so long to see you guys: I heard ‘Drink The Sea’, and I really connected with it.’ So we started to realise after we released ‘Drink The Sea’, that people connect with music, and it’s not just about making bangers. Because before that, we were just makin’ bangers. I mean, we all have always made emotional and more heady music before that – I have a project called Slidecamp, that’s like Ambient music, and Ed had released a record on Planet Mu that was really beautiful downtempo, and Josh the same thing. So we’ve all made music that is purely not Dance music, so coming together that part of us had always really been there but what we realised [with] ‘Drink The Sea’ was that people were writing us saying that ‘your song has helped us through a difficult time’, or ‘we got married to this’, and we thought ‘oh, this is actually really meaningful!’ And in the same way that music for us is so powerful and so meaningful – or, like, I’ve had a moment and referred to a band like Sigur Ros that’s helped me through really awful times in life – if we could even do a little bit of that for someone at some point in time, then great. That’s it.
Amazing. So who would you say your musical inspirations were, in terms of how you’ve gone through these three albums? – individually, and as a collective.
Ed – “I guess if you were just to look at it in ‘big-picture-mode’, I think one way that we’ve always described The Glitch Mob – and this is probably gonna be a somewhat accurate generalisation – if you took the Drum & Bass production sensibility, put it in a blender with underground Hip-Hop and Los Angeles Beat scene music, sprinkled in some Leftfield experimental IDM (like Warp Records, Planet Mu type stuff)…”
Justin – “Sprinkle some French on there!”
Ed – “Exactly! Kinda like Ed Banger, Justice-esque sensibility, give it the energy of an American Rock band, and put that all in a blender, what you would come out with would be The Glitch Mob.”
Josh – “(Well said.)”
Justin – “I think also, particularly with this last record, we’d gone and actually actively unfollowed a lot of people that are sort of similar to us and our peers, just simply to tune out what was going on, and really have it be a pure expression. So it’s funny when you ask that, coz I can’t even really tell you what was inspiring us as we were writing this album – coz it also took so long.
How long did it take you?
Justin – “It took about two years to write this.”
Is that from moment 1 or conception?
Ed – “Yeah, probably the first sessions out in Joshua Tree… maybe even a little more! Two years and change, two years a few months.”
Justin – “Yeah, that’s right. We go out to Joshua Tree desert to just reset and clear our palate, and we went out there for a couple of times – the first one was a week – just to get the vision and see what we wanna say; and the difference this time was that we wrote about twenty-five sketches – so we have these songs that were these little bits of ideas that we then boiled down – and previously, with ‘Drink The Sea’, we wrote ten or twelve songs, and then that was pretty much it – and the same thing with ‘Love, Death And Immortality’. So this time we wanted to have way more, and then be able to thread the needle and see what the best stuff was, coming out. So we had a bunch of leftovers. And with this one, it felt like we were really trying to get ourselves out of the way as much as possible, just to see what was gonna come out. It’s funny, we talk about this a lot: we don’t listen to the music of the people that really sound quite like us, right. In the past, we would be compared to… it’s hard to compare us to people – just coz we’re kind of our own thing – but let’s say, like, Nero, Ratatat, or sometimes deadmau5, or something like this; I hadn’t really been listening to anything like that, I’d been listening to experimental, ambient music, and German minimal Techno, and Jazz, and Dub, and Reggae, so really outside of the electronica. We love FourTet and…”
Ed – “Glitch Mob kinda exists on its own island, y’know. It’s like, the funny thing about it, we’re not necessarily part of any scene: we don’t belong to the Drum & Bass scene, or the Trap scene, or the Halftime scene, or whatever else – Minimal Techno scene, or anything like that. It’s like Glitch Mob really just exists on its own island. And there’s pros & cons to that. I think one of the pros over time is that there’s really just kinda been like no expiration date to our music as a result of it. Since we really only do what we do, no-one’s even really trying to emulate us or anything else. We’re just out there makin’ Glitch Mob music.”
Justin – “Yeah, that’s true. I would say – we haven’t discussed this before, but – we talk about Jon Hopkins a lot, and there’s something about the way that he bends music: there’s emotion there, but it’s really like there is no other Jon Hopkins. It’s a combination of Dance music and heart, and you could call it Techno, but it’s really just… he’s exploring it with his tools in a way that’s very vulnerable, so he’s been a huge influence.”
The whole landscape’s changed so much, I think it’s a lot to do with availability.
Josh – “Yeah, it’s just so accessible now.”
Yeah, you can find all kinds of weird random shit.
Josh – “And you can find all kinds of ways to make music now. You don’t have to necessarily be so creative to come up with your own thing. You can just dive in like ‘I’m good at Tech stuff, I can just research some shit, and know how to make it’. It may not come out necessarily, like, emotionally good or have a lotta depth to it, but you don’t need to be a musician, or a very creative person nowadays: everything’s accessible, you can just plug into that thing and be like, ‘I’m gonna do that now, because I can watch a million Youtube videos on how to make… Jon Hopkins-style music’, or whatever, Techno, or anything really.”
Justin – “The benefit is that people can get involved – even us to a certain degree. Yes, we are nerds, and none of us went to school for this, and I came into music through the very early days of Music Tech, with like Fruity Loops and stuff like that. We couldn’t do what we do specifically without Ableton, so we are products of Music Tech. However, there is something to be said right now, because of saturation, because there’s so much of the sameness, and because the algorithms also boil all of the same shit to the surface, the really good stuff comes through now, and now creativity is actually even more important. This is gonna sound like a cliché but, we talk about Radiohead all the time: as an act that has had a sound that was at that point in time (when they released Creep), it was a song that was the most popular thing and the most popular sound in the world, and they’ve been able to just be themselves, and weave and navigate and make more creative music that’s evergreen. So now if you hear someone that bursts outside of all that, and does something – even, we were just talking about Jon Hopkins, for instance – someone who mixes ‘what the hell is that’. We know the same things we’ve heard over and over again, and clearly, he’s not making that to chart on Spotify playlists, he’s just doing it. So I think that while there’s an over-saturation of copycat music, it will breed a lot of really, really creative stuff because you’re gonna have to do that to get past all of the algorithmic…”
Josh – “It makes the Jon Hopkins of the world really stand out. Being involved in making music for the last fifteen-twenty years, when we hear someone like Jon Hopkins we’re so excited because what he’s doing is so refreshing, it’s such a refreshing take on this gigantic mashup of every type of music possible. And he’s done it in such a brilliant way, so you hear that and you’re like, ‘yes, of course, this does jump above the rest’. You hear emotion and detail, and uniqueness, and a real, like, very Jon Hopkins sound.”
Justin – “This album is part of our reaction to that too, actually. With ‘Love Death and Immortality’, we really wanted to go out and specifically make an album to participate in the live world. With ‘Drink The Sea’ we didn’t at all. In fact, we never even thought about playing it for anybody, we didn’t think about how we were gonna play it live: we were all, sort of, going through heartbreak and other stuff, and we just put our hearts out there, and that was it. Then we figured out how to play it live, but we really didn’t think about how it was gonna perform or anything. There was zero fuckin’ market research involved in anything like that. It was the opposite of that. It was like, ‘no spreadsheets here!’ ’Love, Death, and Immortality’ we really were like ‘Okay, let’s take what we know about writing music that has heart’, and this one we sort of put that aside and thought that the music that’s evergreen is really just… it’s just music. It’s just getting out of the way, and writing, and not really trying to calculate anything too much. “
Ed – “Yeah, and also, going back to the whole conversation of an over-saturation of a lot of the same/similar kinds of music out there right now – due to Youtube and Music Technology, where’s it’s at, all that kinda stuff – not everyone’s goal is to make music, be creative, and have their own unique sound. Some people, they just want to make something that sounds like everything else out there, but just, I dunno, try to come up and rise through the ranks in that whole scene. And that’s totally okay, too. There’s a lotta musicians – especially in America, especially in the American EDM landscape, so to speak – where a lot of these young producers, they’re way more just young entrepreneurs than they are actual musicians. I think the music aspect of what they do is actually just a very tiny percentage… of what they’re doing.”
Justin – “It’s a small piece of their brand.”
Ed – “Yeah, exactly. It’s the brand as a whole, it’s about them as a personality on Instagram, how funny they are, the private jets they’re taking, and that entire thing that they’re curating – with music being like maybe 15% of it – that in itself is an art-form. And there’s nothing wrong with that! There’s nothing wrong with essentially saying ‘I’m just trying to… make some popular stuff that sounds the same as everyone else, but really what I’m trying to do is be like the most famous person in the world’. If that’s your M. O, that’s fine. That’s not what we do, but we’re not here to knock that.”
“Do your thing, man.”
Ed – “Yeah”
Justin – “That’s right”.
Cool. I gather (from the video) that you fund everything yourself: do you do anything on the side to try and maybe supplement that as well, or is just all, purely from day-zero, like ‘let’s start doing tunes’?
Justin – “It’d been completely DIY, up until this recent collaboration with Dell, because we also own our own label, so everything is completely funded by all of the money we’ve made. We’ve done licensing in the United States, and a lot touring, and all of that became the war-chest that we built Blade 1.0, and we thought ‘well, wait a second, we could take this money and do something else with it? Maybe we could just go play off of CDJs’, but we thought we were just gonna double-down, and do what we wanna do, and this is the same thing. So yeah, we’ve had some help from Dell, and there’s still a lot of our own funding that goes into it. We really believe in the power of the live show, and the imagination, so it’s a big gamble for us.”
Ed – “Yeah, so we’re like a lot of the younger American EDM cats. We always try to push the show to 11. That’s where all our money goes.” (laughs)
Josh – “That and coffee.”
Actually, it’s interesting you mention coffee because that brings me nicely into my last question: You do a lot of touring, you’ve been touring for, what is it, ten-fifteen years, right?
Ed – “Ah, yeah, man. We have been at this, like, over ten years now.”
So how that affected your lives, both individually/personally and in terms of, maybe, family lives?
Justin – “When we first started doing this, when we were individual DJs, and then as Glitch Mob more as a DJ collective, touring every weekend was like: we would fly out Friday night, play a show, fly somewhere else Saturday, come back, do something during the week, and we were always on tour, and then we were doing festivals, and that’s the DJ life – there’s no stop-and-start. So when we decided to write our first album, we wanted to do that for the music, but the benefit of that and taking a turn right there, we knew that if we did an album that sounded different, that we could then just continue making music that was however we wanted to make. And also the benefit of then moving into more of a band tour cycle: so we’re gonna be on for two years, then off for two years to go and do something else – which goes against what, I would say, the mainstream thought, or the way that the algorithms want you to keep putting out singles and music all the time. We just decided to write an album, not only because that’s just how we write our best music, but also we’ve been in Los Angeles for two years, recharging, being healthy people, and having a bit of a normal life. Right now we’re in the middle of a three-month tour, this is our fifth day in, and it can be difficult, and it can be stressful – and there’s a lot of sleep deprivation – but, really, the fact that we get to travel as part of what we do, I hesitate to even call it a job because it’s really such an honour. And also we don’t party a lot, and we do our best to stay healthy, and I think that is the reason why this whole thing and the machine keeps moving.”
Ed – “Yeah, we’re super-fortunate, and we’re super-grateful that every day we wake up and we make music, we’re out here in London, we get to play our music for people.”
Josh – “Yeah, it’s helped keep our mind right, and our hearts right, and y’know, stay on the path.”
Keeps you grounded.
Ed – “Absolutely”
Justin – “Yeah, and there’s a lotta talk recently about this whole thing – Rest In Peace, Avicii, he had crazy touring. I mean, it’s part of the conversation right now. There’s an artist we’ve collaborated with, named Elohim, who’s on our album right now, and she talks a lot about her struggle with anxiety, with mental health, and she’s sober, but she’s also touring a lot, and I think this is something that all of a sudden is popping out in this conversation of ‘wait a second, it looks like private jets, and champagne, and parties, and boats…’, and yeah that’s there but really… and it sounds ridiculously privileged to even fucking talk about this, but it’s true that if you don’t stay on it, it can completely drive you into the ground. And there are a lot of artists that tour incessantly, that end up having to stop because their adrenal glands are tapped, their connection to their family and their friends has sort of withered away, and also sleep deprivation is a very real thing for a lot of the travel when you mix alcohol…”
Josh – “Yeah, like, eating healthy food and… it’s not being talked about enough.”
Ed – “We’re fortunate that we’re staying in London, and there’s a lotta good food here.”
Yeah, you’re in the most health-conscious place in all of London, pretty much.
Josh – “But it’s not always like that, there’s a lot of lonely nights where there’s not that reminder that everything’s fine. And it takes each other, keeping each other up sometimes, and getting a good rest, and doing the things that keep you doing well as a human, not just an artist, y’know. And it can be exhausting!”
Justin – “It can be exhausting, but I think it’s funny, coz those moments where – again, it sounds so privileged to just talk about how it can be so difficult flying around and touring but really – last night, there’s a guy who came up to us and he said, ‘Hey, my name’s Omar, I’m from Afghanistan. I heard you guys play when I was twelve years old, and I said to myself, this is gonna be my first concert. And I’ve waited, I’ve never seen a concert until tonight!’, and… it was just so touching to me, that this guy was really… that sort of connection for us really sets everything straight and is the guiding light throughout this whole thing for us. We’ve found a calling, and that’s why we do this, so everything else kinda falls into place from there: those sorts of connections and stories.”
The breeze became brisk as the sun began to set on our meeting – the trio having to hurry to Soho, while I collected my things and headed out. In the hours between then and that evening, I found myself pondering over some of the insight the guys had given – both, into their manner of music-making as well as the perspective their career so far had allowed them. It was in the screening itself, however, that everything they had said came back around.
A glistening array of Electronica, ‘See Without Eyes’ is arguably The Glitch Mob’s most ‘intelligent’ body of work to date. Very much steering through more emotional territory than floor or tent-fillers, the musicality of the album floats high from the offset, providing an almost cinematic soundscape through which to tread… possibly introspectively? Available now in both physical and digital formats – including streaming [here] via Spotify – from TheGlitchMob.com, this is definitely one of this year’s most replayable best.
Buy The Glitch Mob ‘See Without Eyes’ here