ALBUM: New Eyes
ARTIST: Clean Bandit
Clean Bandit: an oxymoron, a stealthy theft, or a smooth criminal? The UK band's name comes from a translation of a Russian phrase that group members Grace Chatto and Jack Patterson came across while living in Russia. Similar to the English for "complete bastard,” the phrase is a lighthearted jolt, much like Clean Bandit’s album New Eyes. The album’s sound is emphatic, but not weighed down, it’s a wake up call residing in your brain’s pleasure center. Clean Bandit sounds different because their use of strings is intended to showcase the instrument in the foreground; the violin and cello are not to be mistaken for a diminished accompaniment.
The group of four met at Cambridge University. Upon happenstance, boyfriend Patterson layered recordings of Neil Amin Smith and girlfriend Chatto’s string quartet with his own beats in 2009, loving the sound that resulted. Patterson pulled his brother Luke into the mix, literally, and the four relocated to Moscow to begin their promotion as Clean Bandit. “The videos are definitely as important as the music,” says Chatto. The classic tool of stop motion, like a classical instrument, was dusted off and put to work for their first Internet sensation “Mozart’s House.” Representing an eclectic sound in the digital age, their videos serve to illuminate, or eradicate, many of the theories and questions presented in the lyrics.
The oxymoron of a group highlights classical strings in tandem with punchy lyrics and inventive electro beats. Their wisest choice yet? Each track on New Eyes features a selected vocalist from any and all backgrounds and ages. None of them sound the same, and yet they are all part of the sound that is so uniquely Clean Bandit. The track’s individual genres range, some featuring rap, while others an extensive cello and violin duet. Though they don’t pull it off for every song, a trio of lyrical depth, vocal quality, and instrumental electronic sounds emerge as the signature for the Clean Bandit style. The inclusion of over 10 different featured vocalists saves the album from sounding too similar, too tired, or too monotonous, though they taunt in the albums first track “Mozart’s House” that electronic music is repetitive. That’s what makes it unique. Settled in their niche genera of pop powerhouse/electro meets-classical music, Clean Bandit uses collaborations to blend hip-hop, jazz, and island vibes into their densely populated album.
"A lot of people seem to think we have an agenda regarding mixing classical music with dance music," sighs Grace Chatto, the cellist and music video star. “But, really it was because Jack and I were very close personally and the reason we started playing together was more because we wanted to do some kind of project together. I had this string quartet and Jack was very involved in it,” she told Gigwise.
Clean Bandit literally crosses a bridge between the classical genera and the new influential genre of techno. The mainstream pop fans combined with the electronic music crowd garners Clean Bandit a plethora of listeners from the disparate genres of pop, classical, hip-hop, and electro dance music. Their tongue-in-cheek sass, found in the music video for “Dust Clears,” adds a layer of personality and humor to the UK group, messing around with different degrees of seriousness in each song. The mash up of classical music remastered for electro dance music is nothing new, its use can be traced back to the likes of the orchestral stabs of Derrick May's hugely influential Strings of Life in 1987, through to more recent examples like Dutch DJ Tiesto's mix of Barber's Adagio for Strings, originally written in 1936.
At risk losing a sounds of their own, Clean Bandit presents every track on their debut album in new style and scene. Their energy and personality are mocked by some; in interviews, they’ve been asked to justify why one would care about a “joke band.” But, the strength behind their instrumental talent and lyrical quality is too much to ignore.
Their hits like "Rather Be", "Dust Clears", and "Mozart’s House" have gained millions of views online, but, they joke, listeners only mistook the video for a tour of the composer’s home. Though they kid, Clean Bandit’s album touches upon topics of labeling, perspective, and relationships. Their most intriguing intellectual material arises from “Dust Clears,” because they point blank ask the listener to forget what you thought you knew, stating that our worlds are only figment of imagination. "Birch", later in the album, is composed of lyrics so poetic they could easily be taken as a work of art on their own. Surprise inclusions like this keep the New Eyes album sounding fresh, utterly unique, and fun, with a depth that can be continuously explored.
“So you think electronic music is boring?/ You think... it's stupid?/ You think it's repetitive?/ Well, it is re-repetitive.”