2 Billion Beats Interview: Timeless Disco

We discuss the enduring appeal of disco, live instrumentation in club music, and balancing the contemporary with the nostaligic ahead of the Manchester duo's appearance at Alfresco in May.

Mike Warburton

Date published: 18th Jan 2017

Photo: 2 Billion Beats

The sounds and styles of dance music are often at the mercy of time - what's hot one year can quickly become outdated as the club scene evolves at a breakneck pace. There are however a few exceptions, of which disco is a prime example.

Its feel good, cross pollinated, floor-focused sound has been filling club spaces across the globe since its rise to power back in the early seventies - its positive, soul-drenched mindset has weathered the test of time in formidable fashion.

One outfit that has been successfully exploring the classic sounds of disco whilst offsetting it with the freshest clubland tropes is Manchester based double team 2 Billion Beats

Since forming in 2011, Tom Lonsborough and Col Hamilton have found widespread praise for navigating the territory between ultra modern house and disco’s golden age. Their live performances incorporating guitar, keys and saxophone have gone down a treat at festivals like Sounds From The Other City, Alfresco and Moovin, and in the club setting, revered DJs Ralph Myerz, Aeroplane, Tensnake, Horse Meat Disco and Eric Duncan are often heard championing their latest records.

After a number of well received releases on Paper Records, including their debut album ‘Be Nice to Each Other’, their latest EP sees them join the ranks of Josimar’s fledgling label Method Music (above), which has previously put out releases from Rumor and the label boss himself, covering the complete spectrum of club-ready house music. 

‘Do it Like a Roman’ has all the hallmarks of two producers fully realising a clear vision - swathes of strings meet chopped up vocals, sax stabs and glorious, funked up basslines throughout the two tracker, fresh as you like with the spirit of disco oozing out of its pores.

Ahead of their return to Alfresco Festival in Tunbridge Wells at the end of May, we caught up with Tom and Col to quiz them about the new EP, how they manage to balance the nostalgic with the contemporary, and why disco, over 40 years on, continues to have such a strong appeal.

'Do It Like a Roman' dropped for Method Music just a few weeks back, what can you tell us about the EP? 

It consists of two tracks designed to provide good, clean, positive dancing vibes. After going quite dark on parts of our recent album ‘Be Nice To Each Other’, we wanted to go funky and disco. Both title tracks cryptically reference the lovely samples we used in them. 

There’s elements of modern house and deep house alongside plenty of nods to the past, something you’ve been doing with great success for a long time now, how do you go about getting the balance right between the nostalgic and the contemporary? 

It’s not something we really set out to achieve, it’s more of an honest reflection of our musical tastes. We love the 80s movie inspired synth sound and old recordings, and we love musical innovation equally. 

There’s the refreshing use of real instruments too, something often missing in modern club music, how important is it for you to have this live element in your productions, and in your live sets?

It's essential for us as it gives us the desired textures and sounds that satisfy us, and I guess it’s the only thing that we can really distinguish between ourselves and other dance music producers. We have incredibly eclectic tastes and we love to collaborate so a range of real instruments can’t help but feature. 

That kind of harks back to the heady days of disco where in many cases full string sections were recorded alongside huge bands, would you say that’s an important part of what gives music from that era an almost timeless appeal? 

Yeah, it gives recordings from 70s and 80s disco era substance, warmth and atmosphere that is timeless and very difficult to achieve these days with limited budget. We enjoy trying to go someway to cheating that old sound on our skimpy pocket money. We believe that the social change and conditions that inspired much of the best disco music gave it a special rebellious groove as well and maybe that it’s time for bit more of that right now with what’s going on in UK and US. 

How did you two meet and when was the idea formed to write music together? 

We met at University in Manchester mainly going to or throwing the same parties, sharing music and DJing. We both attended the Manchester Music School in Salford, learnt the skills necessary and it went from there. 

How would you say your producing has evolved over the years? 

Tom has a lovely studio in Manchester these days and has fantastic technical know-how and skills. He can do pretty much anything that you ask of him technically and this goes from dance music right through to guitar band recording and mixing. Col has mainly just got bloody good at writing musical arrangements using Ableton Live. 

How would you describe your creative process, as a double team how does it work in the studio? 

It’s usually quick and very harmonious. Obviously it changes track to track but usually one of us with comes up with an idea that we’ve bashed out on Ableton, then we’ll email it to the other to develop or give feedback, a thumbs up or a thumbs down. We meet up every few months to then put our ideas down, add live recordings or analogue hardware elements and then Tom will do the final mixing. 

How do you deal with the inevitable disagreements that come from collaboration? 

We honestly never have any disagreements! We’re old friends and have a really good creative chemistry and our skills very much compliment each other. We are lucky that we are each other’s favourite producer!

What are some of your biggest disco loves? 

Gino Soccio’s Try It Out’ is a big one for us. We actually did a cover of it with Marietta Smith on vocals, who also features on ‘Do it like a Roman’. We’re also loving Nigeria Soul Fever on Soul Jazz records at the moment. It’s got some wicked afro disco that will be inspiring future releases no doubt. 

What names would you recommend newcomers get acquainted with?

The Paper Recordings back catalogue for sure is an essential education in underground music. Greg Wilson all day long and probably Lindstrom and Todd Terje’s Norwegian style. 

Which producers are currently doing it for you?

Lindstrom and Todd Terje as mentioned. We’re really liking the Belabouche edits, Kraak and Smaak always hit it smooth and DJ Steevo has done some cool remixes for us and Chris Massey’s awesome Sprechen label. 

What else have you guys got lined up for the 2017 on the gig and release front? 

We’re hopefully going to link up with Fingerman’s Hot Digits music for a release soon, and we’ve got some very exciting tracks in the making for the dance floor. We’ll be starting on our second studio album shortly with a view to air new live tracks in the festival season, starting with Alfresco in Tunbridge Wells where we’ll play alongside some really big hitters at the end of May.

Buy Do It Like A Roman here. Head here for tickets to Alfresco.

More like this? Read 2016 Review with Alfresco Festival's Mark Davis.

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