It's been a couple of years since North London duo Gorgon City took Ready For Your Love into the UK Top Five, but Matt Robson-Scott is still struggling to come to terms with just how far their distinctly British house/garage-hybrid has taken them.
"If you'd told me in 2012 - the year we started Gorgon City - that we'd be touring the US with Rudimental and playing shows in Central Park, I would have laughed you out of the studio," he says, shaking his head in disbelief. Along with fellow Gorgon, Kye Gibbon, Robson-Scott is enjoying a mid-morning coffee in a downtown New York deli at the start of the aforementioned US tour.
"We had no plans," adds Robson-Scott, who's taken over interview duties for the day. "Kye was working as Foamo, I was working as RackNRuin; we were both fans of each other's music and just decided to make a couple of tracks together."
Black Butter Records had already issued a few RackNRuin tunes - including Soundclash, the Jessie Ware collaboration - and almost immediately signed a deal with the newly named Gorgon City. The next two years were a bit of blur; collaborations with Katy B, Maverick Sabre, Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne, hit singles and a Top Ten debut album, Sirens. As Robson-Scott says… "It's been a mad journey!"
Following the success of Disclosure, America has really embraced that British house/garage sound. Ironic, considering that both house and garage came from the US.
Matt Robson-Scott: "I know; it's a bit weird to be in a city like New York or Chicago - the birthplace of this music - and to hear people talking about a British sound. But I think that's one of the strengths of the British music scene: we can take something and look at it in a completely different way. We'll put things together when they're not meant to be together; we'll start chopping up breaks and taking the groove off into uncharted territory.
"It's almost as if British producers aren't satisfied with anything that's… normal. We want to take it out of the box, take it apart and put it back together with all the parts in the 'wrong' place. I'm pretty sure that's how jungle and drum 'n' bass started; let's break the rules and see what happens."
You've both acknowledged the influence of jungle/drum 'n' bass on your sound…
"A massive influence on both of us. That's what we grew up with… Goldie, Adam F, labels like Virus and RAM, Ed Rush and Optical. I was just about old enough to start going to clubs when jungle was morphing into drum 'n' bass… what you would call the start of modern drum 'n' bass. But once I was hooked on that, I decided to start delving into the past and finding out where all the music was coming from.
"It was a fantastic time to be discovering music. I grew up in North London and you heard it everywhere… pirate stations like Kool FM, Mission FM and Y2K for garage. In your car, in your bedroom, in the clubs; the soundtrack to my generation.
"And it was drum 'n' bass that made me want to make music for myself. I didn't know Kye at the time - he grew up just outside London - but he started messing around with computers right back in the early days. My path went via DJing: I wanted to explore all the music that was out there. The sounds that you heard in drum 'n' bass were so far removed from anything else I'd ever heard, and I couldn't stop wondering how people made music that sounded so strange."
Where did you start looking? Software or hardware?
"My mum had a laptop at home, and I somehow managed to find out about a program called FruityLoops; this was back in the days of illegal downloads. I put it on my mum's computer and started messing around, trying to find out how synths worked.
"Without computers, I don't think I'd have ended up making music at all. You think about it… before it all went inside the box, making music was way outside the price range of most people. How many teenagers could have gone out and bought a mixing desk, a sampler, a couple of synths and a bunch of effects? Computers gave thousands and thousands of kids the chance to make music. And there's no doubt that I wouldn't be doing what I do today if I hadn't been able to illegally download that program on to my
"Some people argue that there's maybe too many people making music; too much music out there. Yeah, I can understand what they're saying. It takes you a lot longer to find the quality stuff because you have to wade through so much rubbish, but a good song is a good song and it will always find its way to the top.
"And the more people you've got making music, the more ideas there are out there. It's all those people in their bedrooms and their little studios who are making music so exciting; they're the ones who are continually pushing it and pushing it. Electronic music has to keep moving."
Talking of good songs, Gorgon City have notched up a few hit singles. Is a successful tune simply a case of the cream rising to the top, or are there others factors at work… luck, timing?
"Timing is definitely an issue; put out a summer song at Christmas and it ain't gonna work. Our album came out just when the world was picking up on that so-called British sound, and that got us noticed. But even with all the luck and perfect timing, you're still going to struggle unless you've written a decent tune. You have to think of it like that… you can't just say, 'People are listening to garage right now, so I'll release a garage single and have a hit'. Your single will still have to stand out to have a chance of being picked up by people."
How much difference does having a Top Five hit make?
"It changes the way the entire industry looks at you. Promoters will want you at their festivals, your fees go up because they know you can sell tickets, radio will start supporting you and, for us, it also became a fantastic calling card for the album. We didn't just want to put the album out with no hit singles because that didn't feel right; in the old days, you used to be able to buy an album and there'd be three or four hit singles on it.
"Singles don't make as much money from sales as they used to in the past, but the big difference is that people know who you are."
"The studio was still in my old bedroom at my parents' house at the time. It certainly didn't feel like we were putting together something that was going to play such an important part in our lives."
When you first started working with Kye, did you have an idea of what you wanted to sound like, or did you just start from scratch?
"We pretty much started right at the beginning. It wasn't like I was bringing in a bunch of my ideas and Kye bringing in his… we put down a few completely new beats and tried to work out where they were taking us. The studio was still in my old bedroom at my parents' house at the time. It certainly didn't feel like we were putting together something that was going to play such an important part in our lives.
"The one thing we were great at was finishing a tune quickly. We'd both been pretty good at that as solo artists, and together, we just seemed to be twice as quick. You had two heads working together, understanding what the song needed and getting the job done."
Please tell us you're still on your illegal copy of FruityLoops!
"Haha! When I went to sixth form college, everybody was using Logic, so that's what I moved onto. It was great to be surrounded by people who knew that system, cos it made the shift so much easier. I had a play around with Ableton, but at the time I met Kye, I was still on Logic. He was proper into Ableton, though, and the more I learned about it, the more I realised how great it is for making electronic music.
"The thing is, we still use Logic for recording the vocals. I don't know why, but Logic just feels like it can handle audio better than Ableton. Using two systems together is no longer an issue, so that's what we do… we can make use of the best bits of Logic and Ableton. And you get the benefits of two sets of onboard instruments and effects. Logic's Space Designer is still one of the best reverbs out there, and Ableton's got some fantastic filter delay effects.
"If you want to get that warm sparkle on a track, you need to get both the reverb and the delays working in harmony. Get your delays set up, then add some reverb and you can create all sorts of crazy, silvery, spin-offs.
"What I really like to do is get an EQ and boost the tops of the ends of the sends; just the tops of the delay and the reverb to give them a little bit extra."
Where do all those graceful garage basslines come from?
"We have got Trilian, but a lot of it comes from Massive; maybe three or four Massive sounds stacked on top of one another. A separate sub layer, of course, but then making sure you've got some solid harmonics in there.
"Bass sounds are generally what I use to measure whether or not I'm going to like a synth. There are so many synths out there and it's inevitable that some are going to sound similar to other stuff that's on the market, but if you can find a bassline that feels different, that's the synth you want in your studio.
"Let's face it, the science of synthesis and the art of programming a synth is what it is. If you know how to make a bass from scratch on this synth, chances are you can make a bass from scratch on another synth. But if the second synth has better filters and allows you route the oscillators in a certain way, you might be lucky enough to end up with a bass that nobody else has found.
"Like I said before, it's so easy for anyone to make music and it's so easy to sound like everybody else because we're all using the same tools. Surely, what we're all striving for is something that's different.
"The bassline is probably the thing we spend the most time on in the studio… along with how that bassline works with the kick drum."
Not that your drum tracks are minimal, but there's certainly a sense of space… lots of room for the rest of the song. Do you try to hold back when it comes to the drums; making sure you don't overload the song?
"I know it sounds a bit obvious, but, yeah, if you don't want your drums to overpower the rest of the song, don't put so much in there! At the same time, though, you have to look at your EQs. Certain low frequencies will have to disappear, and certain high frequencies, too. That might mean searching for a very precise sound that will fill a particular hole: the exact hat or clap.
"There has to be space and dynamics in a house or garage beat because that's where you get all the groove. Turn your drum track into a wall of sound and you'll lose all the subtlety; you'll stop the drums from breathing."
Does a Gorgon City song always start with drums?
"Instrumentals start with drums; vocal tracks will start with chords and a basic kick drum. After we've sorted out the lyrics, we start putting the rest of the song around that."
Are all the vocals recorded at your place in north London?
"Most of the first album was done there. Obviously, if it's an American name we're working with, there are a few things that get sent over the internet, but we prefer to do the vocal recording in our little booth. If you're actually there in the room when it's being recorded, it all seems to come together a lot quicker, and there's less work required in terms of processing, chopping it up and getting it to sound right."
Is there a secret to getting a good vocal?
"If you're working in the US, you'll definitely need Melodyne! That was a real surprise to us when we were first working over here; all the singers use Auto-Tune on their voice as they're recording. Not because they can't sing, but because that's how most of them work… it helps them get their ideas across.
"In the UK, most singers we've worked with feel that their voice sounds weird with Auto-Tune on all the time. And, let's be honest here… if you're working with singers of the calibre of Maverick Sabre or Katy B, those guys don't need Auto-Tune.
"What you're looking for is emotion; something that feels real and genuine. You can fake a lot of stuff in the studio, but you can't fake a vocal."
"Maybe the biggest mistake you can make with vocals is trying to overthink them. Generally, if you come in on day one and bang down a solid vocal, that will be the one. After that, you start analysing every little bit and the singer's doing endless takes; you start to lose sight of what the vocal needs. We've even been in situations where we've come back for a second day and the vocalist has come in to fix all the things we thought were wrong with the vocal and then, when it comes to putting the track together, we go right back to that first vocal… the one we called the 'demo'.
"These days, you can do so much to a vocal that you don't have to worry about making sure everything is technically perfect. What you're looking for is emotion; something that feels real and genuine. You can fake a lot of stuff in the studio, but you can't fake a vocal."