Q&A: Night With Disclosure: Meet The Brothers Behind The Year’s Best Dance Record
The music video for Disclosure’s second single “You & Me” carries YouTube’s boldly stamped “Parental Advisory” disclaimer along with it. It’s unwarranted for the most part; the storyline plays out as a youthful, rebellion story wherein a gorgeous couple struggles to get by on what seems to be a roadtrip adventure. They dive into exotic blue waters, drive scooters around the sunlit roads of foreign cities, get drunk on flaming shots and their heady love. Set to the band’s modern take on classic garage and house sounds, the four-minute journey has all the visual makings of “We Found Love” without the explosive turmoil. By the end the lovers are shown at a Disclosure concert set in a warehouse while flashbacks of their time together cut into scenes of them dancing, kissing, and realizing that their time together is either just beginning or about to end. In their videos and music alike, Disclosure is about romanticizing the now.
It’s 2am on a Wednesday night and the duo, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, are beginning to sweat. We’re at Le Bain, the window-enclosed rooftop bar of swanky Meatpacking District hotel the Standard, and while it’s transitioning from between seasons outside, the temperature inside is tropical; the smoke machine’s poofs and body sweat from the mob of people inside fogs up the floor-to-ceiling glass that look out over the Hudson River. Tonight the brothers are squeezed behind a set of turntables for a DJ set; a rare stop-off after their back-to-back tours through Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Soon after they’d headline a night of Barcelona’s Primavera festival where an audience of over a thousand people would sing “Happy Birthday” to Howard for his 18th birthday.
The climb to the top has been slow and steady for the brothers; they’ve spent the last two years pairing their underground garage and house influences with UK-based singers for pop-driven dance that’s artfully and thankfully side-stepped dubstep cliches and EDM traps. Their remix of Jessie Ware’s “Running” flips the singer’s throaty croons into a house diva gold when paired with tightly wound cymbals and a synth-propelled, kick-drum bass, immediately bringing attention to the duo’s remix ingenuity. The duo’s breakthrough single “Latch,” featuring the sultry R&B hooks of Sam Smith, followed shortly after. And with their their first LP Settle released earlier this week, came an album featuring vocals from similarly minded underground crossover artists – Jamie Woon, Aluna George, Eliza Doolittle, and a new song from Jessie Ware included. While their UK peers are no newbies to innovative takes on garage – Burial goes for the slowly brooding, Blawan riffs on acid and guttural screams – Disclosure’s approach comes from the house end of things; where soulful hooks and dancefloor therapy is all part of the ultimate goal. They’ve got the soul of MJ Cole or Todd Edwards with the new-wave pop ambitions of fellow experimentalists like Jamie xx or Ramadanman.
“We don’t just make club music,” says Guy, the older of the two brothers at 21, as he explains Disclosure’s sound. “We try to do songs that have verses and choruses. “Latch,” for us, is something we had been trying to achieve for a while; a proper song that can also have club impact. We wanted the album to have half of those kind of songs and half club tracks that are full of samples and instrumental parts.” And so Settle becomes a showcase for their work. “White Noise,” featuring AlunaGeorge, uses melodic bass and swirling synths to revisit Detroit house. “Stimulation,” “Help Me Lose My Mind,” and “Grab Her” play with acid-house hi-hats and techno propelled bass, unfolding into scorching dancefloor workouts. (“Voices” fares similarly, but with Sasha Keable’s croons pulling lead.) With “January,” comes the clickity-clack snaps that massage Jamie Woon into “Night Air” levels of seduction. “When a Fire Starts to Burn” is pure catharsis; a house groove with deep organ punchlines bolstering the rich boom of a preacher’s sermon. In the video for the track, the preacher’s doctrine mentions spontaneous combustion leads his group of aged congregants to a moment of rapture. House clubs have often been considered a place of worship for dancers; Disclosure knows what they’re doing.
The idea of merging soulful hooks with slow-burning house epics is put to practice in their DJ sets too. Tonight, Guy plays a Julio Bashmore or Shadow Child banger endlessly teased with the vocal intro of “Latch,” for example. Later the hook of Noya’s “One Night Stand” lingers over Ray Hurley’s “Your Love.” They’ll admit that DJing is an easier feat than a live setup where the duo play synths, drum machines, and cue vocal effects live. Instead their job at a lounge like Le Bain is to puppeteer a sardine-packed club night through peaks while grounding them to a constant groove. (“Climaxes are overrated,” quips Howard. “There’s a lot of value in the music made getting to the highs.”) Tonight the sky-high bar’s hot tub – one that often holds bikini-clad and topless girls on warmer summer nights – is temporarily covered by twenty-somethings who cheer at the hint of any new track, most of whom tote wobbling cocktails in hand. The promoters brandish an iced bottle of vodka and gesture at the boys behind the booth – Guy simultaneously shakes his heads and gives a thumbs up on the next round while Howard is busy politely ignoring a girl whose iPhone camera’s flashes are more glaring than the club’s strobe lights.
The dynamic between Guy and Howard is part of their charm. “Our parents were in bands and got both of us into playing music,” says Howard on their working relationship. “They supported us playing music of any kind and we wanted to do it together. We didn’t have any set up for a long time. We basically had Logic on a Mac and would mix songs in Guy’s car. It’s really taken us until now to get a few synths and basic monitors. Nothing fancy, though, I think that would ruin it.” Working together has helped crush any sibling rivalry too. “We’re mostly mates,” says Howard earnestly. “I think we don’t have a normal relationship, we spend so much time together that we’re really good friends as well.” ”That’s not true, don’t believe it!” interjects Guy. “What really happens when we work together is that I tie Howard down and beat him relentlessly until he does what I tell him too.” His chuckles are drowned out by Howard’s hiccuping laugh. “That’s the jist of it. Don’t tell anyone that’s how our music is made.”
Despite their chummy relationship, their age difference shows. For one, Guy slides easily into the character of cool older brother. “I was into hip-hop all through my teenage years,” he says. “DJ Premier, Gangstarr, Busta Rhymes, even weirder stuff like Jedi Mind Tricks. I still listen to that stuff every day.” Howard mentions an early interest in yacht-rock vibes by way of Steely Dan and Hall & Oats records but credits his brother for their shared love of J. Dilla. (The duo even made a visit to their idol’s memorial in Detroit a few months ago while recording a their video for “White Noise,” a visual homage to the birthplace of techno.) But the pair’s dance roots come from clubbing as a teen, when Guy would go to see Joy Orbison, Oneman, Jackmaster, and dubstep innovators Benga and Mala. “I started getting into dance music through clubs. Then I would come home and show Howard what I had been listening to. We were really into Skream before he got big. And then once we started making music, we would try and send those guys our tracks.”
Needless to say, their rickety production technique has since paid off. In recent months the pair have shared a bill with their once inspiration and since-turned-brostep-king Skream, headlined a European, Australian, and U.S. tour, and have been in talks with fellow indie Brits, James Blake included, about possible future collaborations. “We heard that Todd Edwards was into our stuff and that felt like that was a huge achievement for us,” says Howard. “A DJ’s approval is high praise for us because they’re the ones who are playing these records out.” Feedback from their fans presents a different kind of appreciation altogether. “It’s especially crazy when we’re in America and people know your names and the words to your songs,” says Guy. When I ask them about being approached by female fans they laugh. “Groupies?!” exclaims Howard. “Yeah, we have been at shows where a fan will tell us something they know about our personal lives from an interview or something,” says Guy. “It’s definitely very weird. We’re not used to that.”
Their growing popularity seems to be a side note for them for now. With Settle finally finished, the boys have been focused on perfecting on their live show; one that emulates that warehouse show taped for “You & Me,” hoping that it gives an even more inviting experience to their concert-goers. “We run a back-track on Abelton, play live synths, bass guitar, a lot of drums, sample pads, and an MPC,” says Guy. “We want to make our music as visual as we can. A lot of time electronic music fans just see people on a stage pushing buttons and they don’t know what’s going on. If they see us playing a guitar, a keyboard, a drum, it’s more interactive and a better experience for us and them.” And whether it’s a DJ set or live show, the brothers have noticed a particular difference in the way American crowds respond to their music. “They all do this one thing,” explains Guy. “That thing you do at a hip-hop show; one hand in the air and kind of bouncing up and down? American crowds love to do that to house music. It’s so weird.” Adds Howard: “The headbands and things that glow too. Some part of what you’re wearing has to be glowing.”
What’s special about Disclosure is that their kinship radiates outwards; glowing teens and old-school house heads find mutual-ground comfort in their sounds. Guy and Howard’s music becomes about channeling a certain experience: Carefree love, dusty nostalgia, and whimsical, youthful memories play heavily, as do soulful, r&b vocalists and throw-your-hands-up arena-worthy zeal. And by chopping the grooves of garage, house, pop, and techno into a fresh, experimental take, the duo leaves interpretation to the dancers and sentimental daydreamers. “You know, we’re not setting out to make all these love songs. We’re not trying to be tribute either,” chuckles Howard. “We are trying to make songs that are emotive. Maybe you’re the one in love and hear that in the music. Maybe you’re sad and hear something else. That’s all you.”