Becca Frankland caught up with Bicep to talk about the allure of marathon sets, developing a brand and British Fantazia raves.
Date published: 13th Jan 2016
It was through the Feel My Bicep blog that Belfast lads Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar found their feet with dance music. Their friendship began when they were just four years old and continued throughout high school before creating the blog when they went their separate ways for university.
With one in London and one in Dubai the pair struggled to complete tracks, but after a move back to the UK for McBriar they were able to focus their attention on the music. The respect and attention towards the blog gathered momentum as they spotlighted italo, disco and house tracks, the requests for DJ gigs were rolling in and they were beginning to churn out quality techno tracks themselves.
From this point Bicep's popularity snowballed. Along with releases on their own imprint (also titled Feel My Bicep) including 'Vision Of Love', the duo have pushed out numerous tracks on Will Saul's Aus imprint over the years, most recently their Just EP. They were also responsible for delivering one of the final tracks on the illustrious 50WEAPONS label 'Closing Sequence' late last year.
They took over XOYO in the summer of 2015 for 12 week residency stint that welcomed the likes of The Black Madonna, Daniele Baldelli and Greg Wilson to the London club as they showcased their favourite artists both established and up-and-coming.
All the while they've been personally developing the brand with designs that stretch from their club displays to the vinyl sleeves for their releases. Despite the hectic schedules, their dedication to well-rounded mixes and sets that reflect their musical ethos hasn't let up, and the blog is still continuously active.
Arguably at the top of their game, the pair have recently completed tours of Asia and Australia, proving that their appeal stretches so much further than their loyal and involved following in the UK. We caught up with Bicep to talk about playing all night long, their enduring brand and tattoos of the logo.
What were your formative clubbing experiences when you were growing up? When it comes to an event like Chibuku in Liverpool that you visited during your time at uni, but have played there a few times since, is it weird going back?
Our introduction to dance was Shine in Belfast where we spent a lot of our time when we were in our late teens. Then there was the likes of old Sankeys and Chibuku.
There was quite a big gap from when we left uni to when we actually started playing those places so it didn't really feel that weird. They've all changed quite a lot. Playing Shine is always a real honour as that's where it really began for us.
You play your fair share of all night long sets and there's a real focus on these marathon stints within clubland, so much so that they often become a major selling point for an event. Why do you think that audiences and promoters alike are so keen on extended sets and what do you two enjoy the most about them?
It's a chance to take the audience on a proper journey, from start to end. The artist can control the flow of the night exactly how they want it, and when those sets are done well, they are amazing experiences.
Our music tastes vary a lot and for people who've been fans of the blog and the vast range of stuff on there, it's the perfect chance to see us play all the music we wouldn't necessarily get to in a two or three hour set.
Our favourite part of the extended sets is always the warm up, as it's what we do least regularly. Watching a room slowly brew and then gradually building the intensity of the music is really rewarding. It was one of the highlights of our XOYO residency too, warming up.
As a whole you guys seem pretty comfortable with curating things. Whether it's the brand's designs, the whole series for your XOYO residency or even your blog. What are your thoughts on the role of the DJ as curator with this level of involvement? Is it something you two are often drawn towards as artists?
For us it makes perfect sense. As a 'DJ' your main role is to curate well, and then hopefully mix well. You need to be confident in your own decisions to be a good DJ and that tumbles into lots of other things too.
We curate line ups like we'd pick music for an all night set. Each part of the night has to have a particular feel and energy and it's the same usually with DJs we book, or with the photos we put on the blog.
When I see someone out in a club in a Bicep tee, they always get a pat on the back or a thumbs up. I've seen on your Instagram that some people have gone as far as tattoos of the logo though. Where else have you spotted the designs that's surprised you, freaked you out or just made you laugh?
It was pretty funny when we were DJing in Italy a few years ago and a group turned up all with bootleg Bicep t-shirts. They were the same as the current teez that had recently sold out but they'd printed them A4 instead of A3, so it was a tiny little mini-print in middle of t-shirt. It made us smile!
Do they get free guestlist for life if they're inked up?
We've always sorted out anyone who has got a Bicep tattoo haha, that still blows our mind.
DJ Hell's Deejay Gigolos label runs with the same sort of body builder artwork, with Schwarzenegger making an appearance. Was it something that influenced you guys or was it a coincidence? Are you fans of label?
Nope, not in slightest. We were interested in italo disco and a lot of seventies sleaze at the time we did the logo, which was originally for the blog, not a DJ act and stuff kinda just grew from there. Think Skatt Bros 'Walk The Night' etc. That was the kinda vibe we were listening to and playing out a lot.
Your edit of 'Gotta Let You Go' was definitely one of our favourite tracks of 2015. How do you decide on what deserves an edit? Is it purely because you need a different version of it that's suitable for a club?
We never intended 'Gotta Let You Go' to be anything, it was done off hand quickly to play in our sets. We edit a lot of tracks all the time just to make them work for us and our sets.
Sometimes it's a very simple re-edit, other times we'll add a lot of new stuff and drums etc. We don't think about it too much and never plan to release any of them, they're really just to give us something different to play out from everyone else.
You guys are hosting a Hot Tub Jamz pool party at Bugged Out Weekender. How does it feel to be bringing the sleazy aqua vibes to life? What do you think could potentially unfold in Butlins' water?
It's gonna be mid January in Bognor Regis, so I don't think it's gonna feel like a party in Miami circa 1987 hahaha. Let's hope no Kevin & Perry water scenes anyway!
Your music is big on eighties and nineties sounds. But if we had a time machine and you could go back and be part of any party, whether it be the disco movement in New York or in the middle of a field next to the M25 chewing your face off, what would you type in as a destination?
Probably some of the old British Fantazia 'Sunrise Energy' raves in 1989. We really love British dance culture and would be amazing to see where it all began.
Feel My Bicep has recently celebrated its 7th birthday. How have you seen the brand and your music develop from the very beginning up until now?
To be honest, it all moves in circles, we have periods we're more disco focused, then techno focused then ambient focused and so on. The blog and our mixes have always changed up a lot and that will continue hopefully until we stop.
And what does 2016 look like? Should we be expecting your album within the next year?
Yea, we're in the middle of trying to begin an album now. We're just playing it by ear and jamming loads every day, no real pressure, we're just enjoying making music and seeing what comes out.