Video Credit: Clean Bandit Official YouTube Channel
There’s really no other way to explain it. They are just the complete opposite from what you would expect from a classically trained quartet that creates innovative and thoughtful music for a living.
Get to know the lady and gents of Clean Bandit via social media or their hugely popular music videos and you would think they were a bit outrageous, artsy, chic and prone to show a little skin. You wouldn’t be totally wrong, but in person, Grace Chatto, Neil Amin-and Luke and Jack Patterson are quiet, humble and, seemingly, a little shy.
The four of them came together while at Cambridge University in England. Grace and Neil had known each other before school, from when they were kids playing in orchestras — she plays the cello and he, the violin.
Once at school, the two began performing in a string quartet that played and toured in the area. It was through this endeavor that they met Jack.
“Then we all decided we wanted to do something together. And [Jack] was kind of inspired by the recordings he had made, to add beats and bass lines to that music,” Grace says. “So that was when we decided to try it out, and we booked a club night and performed that stuff that he was experimenting with.”
That gig was electric. Remembered by the whole band as loads of fun and energetic, the group decided to put on more and play at festivals. Soon there was talk of a music video.
“The video was filmed in Moscow, during this intense heat wave that made a kind of smog around the whole city. The vocalist on the song had just come out on holiday to visit Jack, who was working there at the time,” Grace explains. “They wanted to do some gigs together, but all the promoters had left the city because it was this intense smog, so they decided to make this video instead, just as a bit of fun.”
The music video for “Mozart’s House” was published to the band’s YouTube channel in October 2010, and the band says it was the launchpad of their whole career as professional musicians.
In no time, U.K. radio stations were playing the song, which they had just ripped off of YouTube, on air. The group considers themselves lucky that the DJs took to the song so quickly, but can’t put their finger on the “thing” that made it really take off. Jack jokes that the video may have had something to do with the intrigue, saying “there’s this one scene where Grace is almost naked, she just has a violin across her chest. I think that’s probably the ‘thing.’”
Arguably, though, the “thing” is the music itself. An example of some sort of “fusion” music, Clean Bandit combines classical compositions with electric and deep house elements. Once the beat and melody are created, they invite vocalists to sing over the song for a unique track-by-track listen for their audience.
However, the video did help. The buzz caught the attention of higher-ups at Atlantic Records, who approached the group about signing with the label.
Grace recalls the phone calls as coming from “out of the blue,” and signing with a label hadn’t been something that any of them were considering doing at the time.
But once the option was offered, it was a no-brainer for the U.K. crew, and they signed on the dotted line.
Signing with Atlantic allows them to focus on music without any distractions.
The creative process for the group is pretty different from most bands that are with any major label. They record most of the classical elements in a rudimentary studio that Jack built.
They take a pretty DIY approach to their music; the recording space and the way they construct their sound all has a personal, homemade vibe.
“We have to layer up the strings … When it sounds like lots of string players, its just Neil over and over again. And then it’s just all composited,” Jack says. “Some of it is in more kind of acoustic environments like, for ‘A&E,’ we recorded all the strings for that in a church.”
Grace chimes in, “Because we’re an instrumental band, we feature different singers on every song. We tend to finish the instrumental track before we start thinking about the top line, and the vocals.”
“Often, we know who the singer is going to be before starting on the song,” she says. “But we don’t know the subject matter of the lyrics, and we kind of let that be dictated by the music rather than the other way around.”
It’s a process that all the members of the band really enjoy, because they really don’t know what they are going to end up with at the start of recording.
It is that sort of freedom that lets them look at their second studio album as a chance to work with all their dream artists, a list they are currently compiling. The running list includes Bjork, Thom York, Beyonce, Shakira, Drake, , Grimes and Vybz Kartel. Some of these are more attainable than others, either because of running tours or serving jail time, but the band remains hopeful.
Many of their dreams have already come true. Already this year, the group has released their fourth studio single, “Rather Be,” which reached the top U.K. Singles Chart. They also appeared on the BBC show Later … with Jools Holland. Later this year, they will come to the United States for their first headlining tour in the states.
The group had never been to America before they came for a few days earlier this summer. They spent a few days in Los Angeles and traveled to Brooklyn for what they were thought would be “a real stormer of a gig,” Neil says. He says they were hopeful it would fan the flames of interest for the band, and the consensus from the show’s reviews is that it succeeded.
As for everything else, Neil jokingly says he’d like to learn to dance, to which Jack laughs and replies, “Yeah, these guys need to learn to dance.”
In terms of what the future has in store for the group, Grace says, “We’d like to create an incredible live show where it starts with pure classical music, like maybe play a whole sting quartet, and then gradually bring in drums and synths after that and turn it into a dance event. And do that in a big place like the Albert Hall, some kind of unusual venue for dance music.”
Clearly, being classically trained does not mean that they like to do things traditionally.
**A version of this story was published by Naked Magazine in August 2014