When London's influential XFM radio DJ John Kennedy received an innocuous-looking disc in the mail in December 2006, he liked it so much, he immediately played it on the air. The song on the disc — a scathing spoken-word indictment on government, relationships and contemporary music over a hard, electro beat — immediately hit a nerve among listeners. Within a week, “Thou Shalt Always Kill,” by then-unknown Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, became the most requested song in the show's history. From there, the song virtually exploded on the UK music scene, spreading to the States via word-of-mouth and a wickedly funny self-produced video.
Baby birds Dan Le Sac (right) and Scroobius Pip await fuel so they can finally finish the album.
Photo: Courtesy Bleemusic Inc.
“People seem to know who we are [in America], which is strange as we've never been here and never released anything over here,” Pip says before hopping on a flight to L.A. for more gigs. “A lot of people initially will be coming along to hear [“Thou Shalt Always Kill”], but by the end of [the set], we tend to have won people around, and they're aware we've got a lot more.”
As the song — whose music took a brisk three-and-a-half hours to create from start to finish — achieved ubiquitous status, it was only inevitable that labels would start swarming. “Thou Shalt Always Kill” ended up being released as a single on Lex Records in 2007. But in the age of decreasing label reliance, the duo decided to forego all initial offers and make their upcoming full-length debut on their own. (As of press time, they had yet to sign with a label at home or abroad.)
“We didn't want to just cash in on a quick buzz, and then everything goes down the pan,” Pip says. “We're not here to have one track and then go back to our day jobs.”
The duo, which hails from the tiny town of Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, originally met while working at the same record store, but it wasn't until years later — when then-promoter Dan booked bourgeoning spoken-word artist Pip for a show — that the two really connected. Both men had been in bands separately, but neither wanted the hassles of depending on other people. “I wanted to do something that all I need to rely on is me,” Pip says. “If I can get to a venue, I can do that gig.” But after listening to a remix by Dan of one of his tracks, “We realized people were more interested in what we were doing together than what we were doing on our own,” Dan says.
So if they work so well together, why is it one “versus” the other?
“We work separately,” Pip says. “It allows us to work really comfortably together and keep our own identities.” Over the course of six months, Dan and Pip would continually e-mail each other music and vocals, building on demos to the point that when they finally entered the studio to record their debut album, the songs were virtually finished.
On tracks like “Beat That My Heart Skipped,” Pip's spoken-word-meets-MC style deftly mixes with Dan's dirty, electronic beats. Dan admits, however, that getting that grimy effect didn't come automatically: “I chopped up this folder full of drum breaks I'd amassed over the years until I got this nice groove, but it didn't have the meat or the dirt. I ended up recording it through this really dirty little valve DI box onto reel-to-reel tape and then back off again. It added a bit of warmth to it, but just loads of dirt, as well. The main bass line is just nice little bass-y stabs on the Korg MS-20, and the main keys riff is Operator in Ableton, with me tweaking the arpeggiator rate so you get these faster runs that sound a bit like getting Power Ups from [Nintendo's] Super Mario Bros.” It's that grime that permeates most of the album, creating a raw yet dance-y vibe.
In the studio, Dan's setup is nearly identical to the group's live show. Using both a MacBook Pro and PowerBook G4 with Ableton Live 6 (“I haven't received my free copy of 7 yet…still waiting,” he says), the album is a synth-heavy product, with Alphakanal Automat, Korg MS-20 and Korg Polysix all in the mix. “I use the MS-20 the most,” he explains, “because of its modular nature. It's quite controllable to make simple bass lines, but you can really pull out this self-modulation. There's a ring modulator in there as well, so it gives it a real dirty bottom with interesting sounds without sounding overly soundscape-y or complex.”
With a planned tour backing up Mark Ronson and a highly anticipated full-length (as of press time, the album has yet to be titled) dropping this spring, the group has already begun to allay any fears of being a one-hit wonder. “It's quite nice to see that at our third single [“Letter From God to Man”], people are like, ‘Oh, hang on, they're still here! What's going on?!’” Dan says. “We're gonna be around for a little while.”