By Guy Marcham, Deputy Music Editor
2019 has been a victorious year for Hot Chip. Their place as British alternative dance juggernauts has been cemented by a string of huge milestones. From the sci-fi tinged headline set at Blue Dot Festival, the crowning late-night slot at Glastonbury’s Park stage and more recently to their euphoric sold out Alexandra Palace show – Hot Chip are the biggest they’ve ever been.
An all-time high for a band who have honed their trademark dancefloor ready alternative pop over the course of an illustrious 15-year career. Epigram Music speak to the band away from the flickering epileptic strobe lights and paint splattered live costumes, instead tucked away in a cupboard sized office in the depths of Bristol’s 02 Academy.
As Joe Goddard, Hot Chip founder and key creative mind behind the band’s musical soundscapes, unassumingly walked into the interview room – another side to the band became instantly clear. Behind the jubilant live performances and artsy psychedelic press shots – the group embrace a more normal role outside of the band. Goddard, with his comfortable back stage jeans and hoodie on has even brought his two children along with him to the Bristol date. A scene far removed from album title ‘Bath Full of Ecstasy’ - with the drug fuelled abandon of rock ‘n’ rolls past traded for a sweet and comforting family essence.
Hot Chip have never really just been about getting bodies on the dancefloor for moments of mindless escapism however. Instead their brand of eccentric alternative dance incorporates poignant moments of reflection, thoughtful lyricism and nerdy attention to detail. An appeal that certainly helps the band to stand out above the rest.
7th album, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, released at the start of summer has seen Hot Chip indulge in their poppier side – unleashing a bold and unbelievably upbeat record. Possibly their most instantly danceable too. ‘It’s kind of big and epic sounding’ beams Goddard. Lead single ‘Melody of Love’, sees the band loosen their shoulders for a groovy and catchy poptastic tune – a song that began as a ‘speedy techno club thing’. ‘It felt like an exciting new thing for Hot Chip to do. A bit grander and a bit quicker than normal’.
The album’s inherent upbeat pop groove can even be described as somewhat escapist – a term that I put towards Goddard to gauge his reaction. ‘There are moments that are meant to be ecstatic. That ecstatic celebration you get in religion or in a gospel church. There is sure an element of escape in that’. Yet, painting the band and their dose of left field pop as exclusively escapist would be doing them an incredible disfavour. Goddard is quick to affirm Hot Chip’s identity as rooted in real world problems and discussion. The glistening Chvrhes esque synth drive of ‘Positive’ in which Taylor sings about a close friend and their struggle through a difficult patch in life, is evident of this. A well-crafted melancholic dance offering that oozes with a spellbinding sense of delicate beauty. ‘There are elements of escapism and elements where reality intrudes more’.
With impending Brexit disaster, the rise of far-right hatred, a possible second term in office for Trump and the ever-engulfing effects of climate catastrophe – one might wonder how the enthusiastic electronic off-kilter pop of Hot Chip stands in amongst 2019’s sea of dismal news. Yet, the joyous upbeat shine of ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ isn’t quite as apolitical and escapist as it initially seems.
‘There is still value in trying to unite people through music. I don’t think there is a moment where we should be mindlessly escapist and sometimes the way people use music, clubbing and drugs is a little too escapist. It’s about not facing the issues we all face. You can also have moments that are very valid – people coming together, uniting and then acting on political things.’
This sense of community and shared experience is key for Hot Chip, even if turning it into meaningful action in the real world may in fact be difficult. ‘You do hope that you’re kind of helping to form some sense of community, I don’t know if that’s just naive though’.
The band’s recent embrace of a more unashamedly pop aesthetic is best understood when hearing about A Bath Full of Ecstasy’s rather surprising origin story –involving none other than Katy Perry. The band were drafted in to lend their hand to song-writing on what was to become the popstar’s most recent release, Witness. Goddard described writing songs for mega star as ‘an early spur towards us starting the new record’. He speaks of the experience glowingly with great enthusiasm – still visibly giddy about his flirtation with the mainstream world of well-oiled polished pop hitmaking. ‘She was very very funny, quite disarming and pleasant to work with. Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip’s Frontman and lyricist) and I would work during the day between 11 am and 6 pm and then she would come in and working till 2 am or something’. A tiring schedule that has evidently left a mark on the band and their knack for infectious pop hooks.
Goddard is by no means fazed by his experience rubbing shoulders with pop’s elite and somehow still manages to retain his alternative cool edge. ‘Obviously we’re not mainstream pop at all. But we’re quite inspired by lots of groups who are weirder left field pop like Sparks or Kraftwerk’. Talk of the highly influential German electronic group, Kraftwerk, moves me nicely onto the band’s newfound festival headliner status. A status they shared with Kraftwerk at this year’s ‘massively nerdy’ science themed and electronic, Blue Dot Festival, set in the apt shadow of the Hubble Space Telescope. ‘We’ve been working towards this (headlining) for a very long period. This summer we felt very comfortable with it too.’
2019 may have been an incredibly busy year for Hot Chip but the band show no signs of slowing down. In fact, Goddard and Co. never seem to take a break whatsoever – following their boundless creativity into diverse side projects, impromptu DJ sets and even crucial roles in other unbelievably successful bands - with guitarist, Al Doyle, becoming a full-time member of the impeccable LCD Soundsystem around 10 years ago. ‘We’re all just very passionate about music making. Its something we really love and is not just a day job. When we stop touring we don’t just want to go live on a farm and do nothing for a year – we like to keep ourselves busy. There are lots of things we feel like we are still learning, we’re quite enthusiastic to take things on’.
The creative license of Hot Chip’s members outside the band only strengthen their musical output when together. ‘Everyone comes back with new instruments they’ve been using or new techniques for recording. Al comes back with new recording techniques he’s learnt from James Murphy which is amazing – he’s a great engineer and producer in his own right!’
Conversation hastily moves onto the band’s intriguing choice of cover song on their most recent UK tour. In stark contrast to band’s embrace of jubilant pop hooks and dancefloor fillers – as Taylor arcs is body down to scream into a set of pairs microphones – it’s clear something radically different is about to go down. The band then dart into a blistering cover of ‘Sabotage’ by Beastie Boys with a ruthless and seething punk rock energy. ‘We think to ourselves what cover choices are going to be exciting. Songs that we love that are from a different context to what we do in Hot Chip. We want moments that are going to be surprising’. Hot Chip sure delivered.
Yet this is just another cannon in their impressive arsenal of unique cover version. The synth laden and infectious cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ came before. When asked if the band would ever consider performing a Springsteen style 4-hour setlist – Goddard calmly jokes ‘if anyone wanted us to’. Yet with Hot Chip the biggest they’ve ever been at the moment – it shouldn’t be too long till a 4-hour gig enters the realm of possibility. You better get ‘Ready For the Floor’!
Featured Image: Ronald Dick