With their UK tour selling out in less than an hour and their No. 1 hit synthony, Rather Be, getting streamed some 40 million times – making it the most Shazamed song since the music recognition app existed – "Extraordinary" seems a fitting title for Clean Bandit’s latest release...
Clean Bandit – a literal translation of the Russian for "utter bastard" – consists of Grace on cello and synth, violinist Neil, polymath bassist-come-saxophonist on decks Jack, and Luke on drums. It’s a convergence of instruments, but I guess those are the tools you need when the genre of your debut album is classical-electro with a mélange of garage, house, dancehall, hip hop et al. And still, there’s more to this multitalented quartet than meets the ear. Clean Bandit established their own film production company, Clean Film, as an outlet for making music videos. But what started as a necessity has become "an integral part of what Clean Bandit do," says Grace, and to great effect. The Disclosure duo have come knocking on two occasions, prospecting for Jack’s cinematic skills.
Success for Clean Bandit has been of the slow-burning sort. The band formed back in 2008 while three of them were studying at Cambridge. Grace and Neil led a string quartet and during a performance at King’s College Chapel, Jack made an illicit recording which he then mixed with an original beat he’d written, and so their style organically grew. Together they started their own club night, National Rail Disco, and a fortnight before its debut, with a venue booked and flyers distributed, there was only one thing missing: a set list. So began what they describe as "the most productive two weeks of the band’s career." Only the lucky revelers who attended have ever heard the material they produced at that time, as "only a few rough recordings exist," laments Grace. Three became four when Jack persuaded his brother – despite initial fears of him being "too cool" – to join as their drummer. Now, time has afforded Clean Bandit a jubilant onstage presence that only the experience of live performance can offer.
As one might assume from the fluid rotation of vocalists they work with, Clean Bandit’s music-making process is "very collaborative; many of the singers pen their own lyrics and bring their own personality to the compositions." So how do these collaborations come to be? Eliza Shaddad, who features on the band’s earlier work UK Shanty, caught Jack’s attention when he heard her busking in Shoreditch, the outcome of which was, "let’s make some music!" A majority of the band’s first album was written at South Kilburn Studios, their creative base of three years, and a community project that trades space for taking on trainees from the local area, which, incidentally was co-designed by the band’s friends Paloma Gormley and Lettice Drake of Practice Architecture. Some of the trainees "turned out to be amazing singer-songwriters, three of whom have contributed to the album, which is really exciting as we get to work with great young artists that no one has heard before."
Extraordinary, which premiered last week, took Clean Bandit to the lush mogotes of the Viñales valley, and vibrant streets of Havana, Cuba. The track inaugurates the dulcet vocals of 16-year-old Sharna Bass, or as Jack has dubbed her, "the Rihanna of North London." The video captures "the euphoric feeling of music in the sunshine," with a bevy of dancing locals, some scantily clad flyguying atop a beached piano and… a piglet.
So what’s next for the eclectic quartet? Clean Bandit’s debut album New Eyes is released on 2nd June – with some body percussion thrown into the mix courtesy of Jack and collaborator Mark Ralph – and they plan to produce a video for each track. Eight down, five to go. Oh, and if you’re reading this Britney, Grace and co wouldn’t say no to producing your next video while they’re at it!