Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are as close as the British dance music scene has to royalty. Since meeting as students in Manchester just as legendary club The Hacienda was hotting up, they flourished through rave, big beat and Britpop, looped the world many times over, and created enduringly awesome songs that have soundtracked countless hazy, hedonistic nights.
For their latest album, Further, released last June, they stripped things back, using no guest vocalists, and amped things up. Time Out caught up with the pair in advance of their appearance at the Chemical Music Festival – the first time the Rio-based event, whose titular similarity with the band is purely coincidental, is taking place in Greater São Paulo.
Further is a very synthy, euphoric album. Does this reflect your state of mind?
Tom: From my end, I think so. It’s quite difficult to make joyous music; it’s quite easy to make ‘I’m going-to- end-it-all’ music.
And you’re singing about love...
Tom: Yeah! I don’t quite know how it came to be, but I think the music does communicate a kind of abandon. There’s this Arthur Russell song called ‘Love Is Overtaking Me’ and I love that idea. I wanted the music to engulf me. That’s what I want from my musical experience: to be consumed.
How did the idea for this audio- visual album come about?
Ed: Tom’s studio is in the country, and I’ll drive down and he’ll play me something he’s been working on. Whatever mood I’ve been in during the journey, when that music is coming at me really loud, I’m transported. Part of the idea was to play the record to people before it came out and was analysed, to give people that experience of how transformative music can be. Particularly when shared with a lot of other people in a room.
Tom: Adam [Smith] was away in Wales making Doctor Who; he’d just go running every morning with the new tracks we’d sent him and let his imagination do the rest. Hopefully at the London show we created the environment in which we want it to be heard at least once. Then it can go off and do whatever it does, which is the exciting thing about music: it goes off and becomes part of someone’s life in a way you never imagined.
You’ve been together for nearly two decades now...
Ed: It’s definitely my longest relationship!
How do you make it work?
Ed: Recognising each other’s needs [laughs]. No, it’s because we’ve had a lot of fun together. I think that’s the main thing.
You’ve lived through a Conservative government in the UK, then New Labour, and now there’s a coalition in power. Do you think the government has any effect on the UK music scene?
Tom: Well, it depends if that YouTube clip of [Conservative leader] David Cameron at a rave is real!
Ed: There’s a YouTube clip of a rave in 1988 and there’s this guy who looks like David Cameron. I don’t really want to get into it, but it’s more that our music has ridden so many waves of feelings in the UK. And it only reaches people if it reflects how people are feeling on a grand scale. I dunno, I’m not a great one for that kind of thing. We put out one of our albums right after September 11 and it felt really out of step.
Tom: I’m still just hooked on whether David Cameron is a raver or not.
Were you ever close to burnout?
Ed: We DJ in clubs and we like dipping into that environment, but when you’re DJing and playing live, particularly in the ’90s when there was a big drug culture, it changes your perception. You’re doing your work and if everyone you speak to is out of it, it alters your sense of reality.
Tom: You start to communicate with everyone as if they’re in that state! We used to DJ every week for years. If we were still doing it now, it would be a disaster because we’d resent it. What’s your biggest non-musical inspiration?
Ed: I’m quite big on being in London – I grew up there. That would probably be my biggest influence. It’s fed me a lot of stuff. London people – I like the variety.
The Chemical Music Festival is on 30 April 2011 at Arena Maeda, Itu, an hour from the city.