[Photo: John Gleeson]
October 10, 2013 - What's the formula for creating the next electronic-rock sensation? Of course there isn't one, but going into hibernation and experimenting seems to have worked for many a band, the latest being London's emerging electronic outfit, Duologue. For a winter, that's what songwriter Tim Digby-Bell and fellow musician and programming beats-head Toby Leeming did in an isolated barn in Suffolk, when they first began playing music together. From these experimental beginnings, the duo garnered enough intention and material to round out its membership to a five-piece. This past summer, the band landed spots playing the dance stages at the internationally-renowned Reading and Leeds music festivals, and that was only the beginning.
This week, Duologue traveled to the U.S. to promote the release of their debut album, Song & Dance (out this week via Killing Moon). The group is slated to headline tonight's Culture Collide Festival in Los Angeles, which showcases emerging international musicians at various local venues in the eclectic music enclave of Echo Park. The following week, the group will travel to New York to play at the CMJ Music Marathon.
Prior to their Culture Collide performance, Ones To Watch caught Duologue at a private showcase at the Bootleg Theater, where the London rockers unleashed an impressive set of rollicking techno beats and moody instrumental connections.
Before the show, we sat down with singer and instrumentalist Tim Digby-Bell, who'd just hopped off a plane the day after the rest of the group arrived. The reason? Digby-Bell is also a playwright (he's a big Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams fan) and was attending a reading for a play he'd written in London.
Ones To Watch: How did you all meet each other and form Duologue?
Digby-Bell: We were all up in University of Edinburgh. Toby and I - the blonde Toby [there are two in the group] - started jamming together and kind of had a real shared taste in music and wanted to experiment playing with electronics. Toby was playing Detroit techno, I was singing in a pub, then we got together and started messing around. We set up in a barn in Suffolk and just spent a few months freezing our asses off and trying to write music. It was a really slow process and we eventually got material together that we felt was good. Then we felt that what we'd written was too big of a sound for the two of us to play, so that's when we started thinking about getting other people on board. We got Seb and Ross and the other Toby slowly. We really wanted to take our time with it and make sure it was the best we could be.
Ones To Watch: You mentioned you and Toby had similar tastes, so what kind of sound were you going for?
Digby-Bell: Well I think the whole idea was we wanted to start with something without a drummer, Tobes is a massive techno head, and we're both really into electronic and dance music and we wanted to make something that had all those elements - we wanted the energy and the sound palette that you can change up, but then also at the heart of it we wanted to have songs and songwriting and the singer and lyrics and everything like that. We just wanted to combine the two a bit - the bits we love from dance music and the bits we love from traditional songwriting. There were a lot of misses, a lot of things we tried and didn't work, but it really opens up - you can explore any kind of genre, that's the most exciting bit about being in this band. You can go anywhere you want - you're not limited by the instruments you have on stage, you have an infinite choice of sounds and choice of vibe and atmospheres. The possibilities of electronic music are endless.
Ones To Watch: So how would you describe where you ended up with Song & Dance? How did that concept come together?
Digby-Bell: Well the album is the product of years of work, and some of which was done just before the album session. I demo-ed "Underworld" two weeks before we went in and thankfully we all pushed it through. And there are other songs that we wrote years before.
It's really snapshots from all kinds of bits of our lives. "Push It" is on there in the middle of the album, which is the first song we put together as a five-piece. We just put a four-four on loop and just jammed on that for literally weeks and then ended up with a seven minute song that sounded like it's being jammed live. Then we wanted the album to have different moods and different characters to it: to be really lonely at times and be really content at times, then have moments of tension and release in them. Moments that were sumptuous. We got a wonderful string quartet to come play with us.
I think the one thing we're keen on is to have a real variety and breadth on an album. We wanted an album that could have really small, intimate moments and sort of a much bigger electronic sound. So like any album, I think it's got to have its various moods and peaks and drops that makes it a work as a whole rather than just a collection of songs.
Ones To Watch: What's your aim with your live shows?
Particularly playing with electronics, it's hard for it to come across as particularly live sometimes. We've tried to make it as live and exciting as possible, and be kind of banding, do you know what I mean - and be more. Maybe on record it's more a half and half thing, but certainly live we want it to feel like there's a lot of synergy; we do a lot of live looping.
Ones To Watch: So a lot of live collaborating.
Digby-Bell: Yeah, and exploring bits of songs and taking it to different places you couldn't on a record, and blending it together kind of like a DJ.
Ones To Watch: Your voice has been compared to Thom Yorke's a lot, which is obviously a compliment, but do you fear being pinned to just, say, Radiohead?
Digby-Bell: We do get that a lot, and we can't deny we're fans… it's only a compliment I guess. I sing, and that's just the way I sing. So I can't really help if people draw that comparison. And in general I suppose it's not like we're an indie band that sounds like so many other indie bands. It's just our aim is trying to do something different if we can. I don't really think about it much, to be honest.
We're just very keen to take our time. I think we've gotten to a place now where we can write really quickly and we feel our live show's the best we've been. And I think it's good to let it brew and ruminate.
Ones To Watch: Are you excited for Culture Collide?
Digby-Bell: So excited, I need to get over my jetlag. Looking forward to it.
For more on Duologue, we’ll be covering them and other new artists at this weekend’s Culture Collide Festival. Follow us @Onestowatch for live coverage and photos!