Django Django interview

2012 has been one hell of a year for this sci-fi pop foursome, as Jonny Ensall discovers

Baubles to the wall: (left to right) Tommy Grace, Vincent Neff, Dave Maclean and Jimmy Dixon Baubles to the wall: (left to right) Tommy Grace, Vincent Neff, Dave Maclean and Jimmy Dixon - Portrait by Muir Vidler

Jimmy Dixon, bassist with Django Django, is holding a Christmas tree in front of his crotch like it’s a big, green, bushy penis. The rest of the band are laughing. To be fair, it is pretty funny – just puerile and ridiculous enough to cheer us up as we stand in the bitter cold outside the Pines and Needles Christmas tree shop off Brick Lane. There’s time to kill before our photoshoot and the band chat away about ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Take Me Out’.

Dixon recounts being snubbed by Nick Grimshaw at a party the night before. ‘He sort of recognised me,’ he says in his thick Leeds accent.

The Radio 1 DJ’s faux pas is only partly excusable. Dixon doesn’t give off the vibe of trendsetting musician – his manner is more that of a Granada TV weatherman – but Django Django are currently one of the buzziest bands in Britain. Since the release of their self-titled debut album in January, word-of-mouth chatter has steadily drawn fans to the four-piece’s odd blend of Beach Boys harmonies, space-age reverberations and beats that canter along like horses in the desert – it even won them a nomination for this year’s Mercury Music Prize. At the start of the year they were gigging in dive bars. On Friday they’ll play a packed-out Shepherd’s Bush Academy show, and in February next year they’ll be back to headline the mighty Brixton Academy.

It’s easy to see why people like Django Django. They’re witty and well-read, yet also enjoyably daft. Moreover, their popularity marks the end of the post-Doherty era of bands downing drugs like Smarties and enjoying obnoxious levels of nihilism. These four kick back with lattes – they order a round of them when we sit down to chat in the nearby Big Chill Bar. On the subject of drugs the band’s drummer, producer and creative leader Dave Maclean is typically lucid. ‘In cinema [cult avant-garde director Alejandro] Jodorowsky would say that he wanted to make films where the film was the trip. The art was the catalyst for a psychedelic experience. And I think that’s what we’ve tried to do.’

Watch the video for 'Hail Bop'

Django Django met at Edinburgh College of Art in the early noughties. Maclean had grown up in Fife and was connected to the Scottish indie music scenes that had produced King Creosote and The Beta Band. His interests, however, were in dance and hip hop. It wasn’t until he and guitarist/singer Vincent Neff had moved down to east London that they began to experiment with rock ’n’ roll. They jammed in Maclean’s Dalston bedroom, which he describes as ‘horrible – like a sock shanty town’.

Neff agrees: ‘It was six people living in a three-storey house. It was pretty messy. Usually I’d be outside pressing the door bell for half an hour trying to wake Dave up. And when I got in there I’d have to do a bit of tidying. Dave would be in his robe. He made me get him a Cornetto one time, and then lay in bed with it, just watching me.’

Maclean would drum on empty wine bottles and old Yellow Pages while Neff recreated on his guitar the dry twangs of Ennio Morricone movie soundtracks. ‘There’s a lot of spaghetti western vibe,’ says Maclean. ‘Everything that Vinny came to me with sounded like it was made by some kind of cowboy.’

Maclean’s interest in dance music, particularly jungle, also fed into the album in a roundabout way. ‘If you saw our record collections you’d see there’s a linear path through jazz, funk, disco, acid house, breakbeat, jungle…’ he says. ‘There are links between all of these things. Jungle has relevance with a lot of Turkish rhythms that we’re now interested in. Those rhythms are timeless and borderless. That’s how we see music.’

I suggest to Maclean that, along with the Mercury Prize winners Alt-J, Django Django are spearheading a new trend for intelligent guitar music. He takes this as me calling them a bunch of boffins. ‘I think it’s easy to say a band are nerdy because of the way they look or speak,’ he retorts. ‘Or the glasses they wear,’ adds keyboard player Tommy Grace, who looks a bit like Brains from ‘Thunderbirds’. They don’t see themselves as geeking out on culture, even though, during the course of the interview, they enthuse passionately about German electronica, musique concrète, ’60s psychedelia and Vic & Bob. And, of course they listen to Radio 4. Their favourite show?

Maclean: ‘“Woman’s Hour”.’

Grace: ‘I do quite like “Woman’s Hour”.’

Neff: ‘Dustin Hoffman was good on “Desert Island Discs”.’

Dixon: ‘What did he choose?’

Maclean: ‘Industrial German gabba.’

And this is how things go on. The band banter constantly. They finish each others’ answers, put on silly voices, gently make fun of Grace (‘He looks like the girl from “The Goonies”,’ says Maclean at one point) and generally don’t take things too seriously – most of all the idea that they might be a band with opinions. ‘We don’t like to push things down people’s throats or come out with statements,’ Maclean says, inadvertently making a statement of sorts. ‘We want people to enjoy the music without too much of the bullshit that you can get around new bands.’ An absence of bullshit is something to celebrate as the British media winds up for a new year of hype – milky coffees all round!