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15th February 2013

Interview: Django Django

The NME Awards tour bill-toppers met Joe Goggins to talk Tarantino, Mercury nods and being the world’s unlikeliest headliners

“I don’t think anyone’s ever thought of us as a headlining band,” laughs drummer and producer David Maclean. We’re sitting on the Django Django tour bus outside the Academy, ahead of the NME Awards Tour’s traditional Friday night in Manchester, and the politely-paused Xbox game and tightly-clenched cup of tea hardly suggest that the Edinburgh outfit have chosen to embrace their newly-found bill-topping status in classic rock n’ roll, coke n’ strippers fashion. “You’ve got no choice but to step up and put on a proper show. It was a big boost to see the place packed out in Newcastle last night; with three other bands on, you can’t be sure everyone’s there to see you.”

Maclean seems incredibly self-effacing, but perhaps it’s a characteristic born of the band’s atypical origins as compared to the rest of tonight’s lineup. Miles Kane, Palma Violets and Peace have all started out at a pretty young age, but – while hardly dinosaurs – it took a little longer for Django Django to take shape. “We all met a while ago now, at art college in Edinburgh. It wasn’t until around 2005 or 2006 that we all ended up moving to London for different reasons. When we did meet up again and reconnected, we decided to finally do what we’d talked about as far back as 1998, and start a band. I guess we were a long time in the making.”

Not that they were the fully fleshed-out outfit that they are now right from the off; Maclean reveals that things originated as a straight collaboration between himself and singer-guitarist Vincent Neff. “In the beginning, it was just me producing Vinnie’s songs. Musically, the core of the band comes from he and I bonding over a lot of the same influences, really. We’ve both always been very much into 60s pop, and garage and psychedelia; it all comes down to the likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. We’ve both got our own influences too; personally, I’m into a lot of house and hip hop, and I think it was a combination of shared and individual influences that shaped the first songs we were recording.”

The disparity between the tightness of the Django Django live show – sonic sharpness married with crisp visuals and matching stage shirts – and their early releases couldn’t be more gaping, and translating bedroom recordings to a live environment was arguably the biggest challenge the band have faced to date. “It was really difficult,” says Maclean. “Everything was bare bones on those singles, because you’re in a tiny bedroom with no room to do anything; to make the songs viable live, you have to work backwards – it’s a very methodical process.  We’d like to have layers upon layers of sound onstage, but the only way to do that is to use laptops, which we definitely don’t want to resort to – things stop being live when you bring in computers. We just relied on stripping things back and making them as bombastic as possible – we’ve made the dancey bits really dancey and the rock n roll bits really frenzied, and it seems to work.”

Much has been made of the band’s admiration of spaghetti westerns – indeed, they named themselves after one such film, Django, which served as the inspiration for Tarantino’s latest effort – but Maclean divulges that the impact of the genre was accidental. “It just seemed to happen subconsciously. A lot of the songs we’d written acoustically just came out sounding like those tracks that Bob Dylan did, that were steeped in that spaghetti western sound. It was just coincidental that the music led us in a direction that myself and Vinnie were both really interested in.”

Initial underground success led to the opportunity to sign with a number of labels, with French imprint Because Music winning the race. “As a group, I think the thing that attracted us to Because was seeing our friends in Metronomy going there and doing well and enjoying a great relationship with them,” says Maclean, “but personally, I found it really exciting that they understood all the references I was making, especially in terms of dance music because they’ve worked with the likes of Daft Punk and Justice. They’re really laidback as well, so it was nice to know we could go into the studio with few constraints.”

2012 was unquestionably the band’s breakthrough year, with their self-titled debut meeting with rapturous acclaim critically, including a Mercury Prize nomination, and a surprising level of commercial success, especially for Maclean. “I was convinced this was going to be a totally underground record, maybe we’d make and sell two thousand copies. It was really weird, to be honest. When (lead single) ‘Default’ came out, things just seemed to go up a notch.” The support of the NME, the culmination of which is tonight’s headline slot, clearly played no small part, and my suggestion that they maybe just saw the endless opportunities for Django Unchained puns is heartily dismissed: “we can honestly say they’ve been there right from the start, they were talking about us right back when we were bringing out (debut single) ‘Storm/Love’s Dart’ in 2009. They’ve been great to us, so it wasn’t a surprise to us to be asked to be part of this tour; it was just a surprise to be asked to headline.”

The first act I ever saw play on an NME tour, to a very modest crowd at this same venue four years ago, now sells out arenas, headlines festivals and seems ubiquitous on the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic. Florence and the Machine are just one of a slew of artists who had their big break on this national jaunt, and Maclean casts a comically gloomy outlook on his own band’s prospects. “I was looking back at some of the old lineups, and it seems like it’s always the openers who go onto big things,” – Coldplay and Franz Ferdinand have also filled that slot in the past. “The headliners are the ones that nobody remembers,” he laughs, apparently  himself forgetting about The Killers, The Cribs and Two Door Cinema Club. “We’d never met any of the other acts before last night, but those guys in Palma Violets and Peace – you know they’re gonna be huge. The very fact they’re here tonight tells you that.”

Whatever comes next for Django Django, we’re not likely to hear it for a while yet. “We’ve got bits and bobs down already, but ultimately we’re miles off another record at this stage,” says Maclean. “We never considered trying to introduce anything new on this tour. Most of the crowds just won’t know us well enough. It’s just gonna be a sort-of festival set – we’ll give it an hour of our best, and hope that’s enough to win people over,” he says, with a sheepish grin that’s certainly endearing, if hardly becoming of a headliner of such a famous institution. “I guess we’ll see what happens.”

Django Django headline the NME Awards Tour until February 23. ‘Django Django’ is available now via Because Music

Joe Goggins

Joe Goggins

Music Editor.

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