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Bicep: In Conversation

Hailing from Belfast but now based in London, Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar aka Bicep have blossomed into one of the UK’s most crucial club acts. Having set up the Feel My Bicep blog in 2008 as a way of sharing their favourite hidden gems across House, Techno, Disco and Funk, the site gained serious traction in line with their DJ and production careers, eventually launching as a record label in September 2012.

Also appearing as a steady fixture on Will Saul’s Aus imprint since 2012, they’ve regularly topped the dance music charts, churning out widely acclaimed EPs such as ‘Stash’, ‘Circles’ and most recently – ‘Just’.  With remixes for the likes of Blondes, Disclosure and Blood Orange, as well as an impressive collaborative project with Simian Mobile Disco in ‘Sacrifice’ – the unmistakeable Bicep sound is still highly sought after.

They recently played a large role in their home town’s first AVA festival, as a way of promoting the burgeoning talent that Ireland has to offer, with the festival gearing up for a second instalment next year. With such a wide-reaching knowledge of all things Dance music, their next logical step has been to curate a breathtaking programme for their 13-week summer residency at XOYO, which includes the likes of Greg Wilson, The Black Madonna and Will Saul. We caught up with Andy and Matt to discuss the decisions behind their residency, the state of clubbing in London and why their home town crowd is so special.

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How did the decision to hold the residency at XOYO come about? Is there a mission statement of sorts?

We’ve seen the residencies in the past and really wanted to do it ourselves. Basing yourself in London and playing a great club with a self-curated line-up is ideal. Musically, we wanted it to be interesting across the whole series, to keep ourselves entertained as well as cater for lots of different crowds. So the idea of a night every Saturday of the summer, where we could be with our friends and listen to music we like, was a complete no brainer.

With your warm-up sets at the residency, are you finding you can explore your record collections in a way you may not be able to at a festival slot?

We both love the warm-up sections of the night, and exactly, we can explore the deeper sides of our record collection that don’t work particularly well for peak time festival sets. We tend to keep the first few hours a bit slower to help maintain the energy in the crowd right to the end. This is quite an important factor on nights we do extended sets as well.

How does it feel to go back and play the clubs in Belfast you grew up sneaking into? Do you see any of the same faces?

The same faces are generally running things now, not on the dance floor, so to speak. We have definitely seen a new wave of people getting into the same thing we grew into, the next wave of House and Techno heads. It’s an honour to go back and play these clubs. The Mandella – where Shine has been running since we were kids – is a special room with so much energy. We had one of our best gigs in years playing for Twitch there recently.

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The crowd at the Belfast Boiler Room was certainly something – is that what you’re likely to witness on any given weekend in the clubs?

100% true. People back home really live for the weekend. As soon as work is done, you are straight on it. Licensing is pretty backward which means most places stop selling alcohol at 1am and close around 2, so people get on it early. In clubs, warm-up DJs generally get a peak time slot as the dance floor is usually heaving by 10/10.30.

Are there any artists from Belfast you think people should know about?

There is a great new wave of producers coming through, and great labels that don’t get the international attention they warrant. People like Chris Hanna, Swoose, Cromby, Schmutz, Hammer, JMX, and Jc Williams are all making good music at the moment. The AVA line-ups are definitely about bringing all these artists together.

How important is AVA festival in Belfast to you?

I think with Boiler Room being involved last year it gave us a platform for some of these Irish artists to be heard across the world. AVA is essentially a celebration of Irish talent and a festival where all the different nights and crews come together. Last year was pretty special and we’re looking forward to seeing it grow.

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What sort of approach do you take with the blog at the moment? You still manage to keep up posts with a busy schedule…is it just a way to share music you think people should know about?

We put up a track a day, the only way we can manage to do this is to dedicate a day a month to it, and schedule 30 or so posts. It is still really important to us and helps us share music we like that people may not be able to hear from us in clubs.

You’ve said the aim for your recent work was to be more musical – ‘Just’ is certainly quite melodic. What are you backgrounds musically asides from DJing and production. Do either of you play instruments? Have you been exploring harmony more deeply?

We both take musical theory seriously and have learnt it ourselves from when we started producing. We’ve also been taking Jazz piano lessons for a while, which helps to give more freedom than the normal Classical ideas.

Can you shed light on any other new music you have in store. It seems you’ve been constantly in the studio over the last year.

Later this year we have two more FMB releases finished and ready to go. A slo-mo track for Gerd Janson’s ‘Music for Autobhans’ compilation, a heavy broken Italo-Techno track for 50 Weapons (which we’re really excited about) and a remix for the legendary 808 State. Also a remix of a 90s House classic by Dyone, another one for our friend Brassica and finally a charity release called ‘Craigie Knowes’ alongside some of our favourite artists, with all proceeds going to War Child.

We are also looking towards a full length album which is going to be exciting. Afraid we’re giving away absolutely no hints as to what’s going to be on it but we will certainly aim to take some risks and really push ourselves.

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You’ve played the roles of promoters, bloggers and label heads. How have you found juggling everything whilst producing and DJing? Can you find a healthy balance or do you feel one thing must take full priority?

You kinda have to be into all these roles as a DJ nowadays. We like to mix it up and enjoy all aspects so we actually like being involved in everything. At the moment we want to lean more into the production side as that is what we love doing and are passionate about.

What are your thoughts on clubbing in London at the moment? Have you noticed a change since you moved there?

Andy: I’ve been in London for nine years now so have seen a huge shift in clubbing scenes in that time, as well as musical shifts. I think the clubbing scene is really healthy at the moment and most nights are generally a lot busier than they were in the past. People are more into this music now I think, so more nights can take bigger risks with booking policy and don’t have to worry about the night bombing.

Matt: I agree, it’s really diverse and on any given night there are so many amazing line-ups and options. It’s really strong.

Matt, what was it like living in Dubai for music – clubs must have been quite different to those in Belfast. Was the blog a way of keeping in touch with everything you’d been listening to at home? It must have been different to what Andy was experiencing in London as well.

Yea, it wasn’t the best although I had a really fun residency at Trilogy playing with some friends on an open air rooftop. I got to jam out lots of Disco which was fun but the blog was definitely a way of focusing and staying in touch with what I loved. It did feel like a massive breath of fresh air moving to the UK which is so liberal and to experience club nights with real energy.

What would be your dream line-up of DJs that are sadly no longer with us?

We’d love to experience Larry Levan and Ron Hardy! That would be awesome.

Bicep host the 13 Week Bicep Workout at London’s XOYO until September 26. More info here.

Words: Hugo Laing/Josh Thomas