Clean Bandit: 'We're the cleverest and most stupid band in pop'

The No 1 classical-dance crossover act on angering Shostakovich fans, getting their riders from Marks & Sparks, and almost electrocuting Lily Cole

Hi, Clean Bandit: classical and dance music sounds like a recipe for disaster but you've taken it to No 1 with Rather Be.

Jack Patterson: Both types of music take people on a journey, with highs and lows: for example, Op 132, the Beethoven string quartet, has the biggest drop on any song I've ever heard. The band actually began as Grace's string quartet, and I started adding sampling and beats.

Grace Chatto: He mixed some Shostakovich with a beat he'd written, and then he did some Dvorák but in a reggae style.

I can't lie, that sounds terrible.

Grace: It was really cool, actually! But whenever we try and describe our music to people we always get that reaction you just made, but for some reason the way Jack mixes stuff seems to come off.

How has the classical world reacted to your music?

Grace: In general, they've been positive. We were invited to collaborate with the OAE (1) who are topnotch string players. We've also been asked to perform at the Lewes Chamber Music festival - they want us to form a quartet and gradually bring drums in to make it a dance thing.

Jack: I did meet a guy at a party who was really angry with us for using Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8. He said: "What you're doing is wrong!" I think he thought it was demeaning the artistic message. But he had no idea what he was talking about. He couldn't even hum the tune!

Is that how you resolved it? A humming contest?

Jack: Yeah. He didn't even know the main passage. Although that was probably quite a childish way of getting out of it.

You're made up of two brothers [Jack, plus brother Luke] and two old school friends [Grace and Neil Amin-Smith], and two of you are a couple [Jack and Grace]. How bad are the arguments?

Jack: There are definitely rows. Mostly they're about what goes on the rider. Which, at the moment, is mainly Marks & Spencer mozzarella salads.

That is the least rock'n'roll rider ever.

Jack: Well, Luke argues because he wants Doritos. (2)

You make all your own videos and most seem to have involved near-death experiences. What's the closest you've come to killing someone?

Jack: We nearly electrocuted Lily Cole in our video for UK Shanty. We wanted to use our friend's swimming pool because it had algae and looked like sea water, but it was winter and really cold. So, to heat the pool a friend of ours called Henry Stringer (3), who is a sculptor and insane genius, came up with this idea to weld four radiators together and pump water through them using a pond fountain pump. It became dangerous because someone unplugged the pump and if the boiling water had got inside it the whole pool could have gone live ... and we had Lily Cole in there.

And you're saying this guy is a genius?!

Jack: OK, there are some gaps in his knowledge. Actually, it's his car Grace and Neil are surfing on in the video for Telephone Banking … they could have died in that, too. Henry built this platform but we had nothing to strap them on to it so we ended up using one of my belts. It was a really crap belt, too.

Grace:
There was also the time he put me and Neil on top of this slippery rock in the middle of the sea. We had to climb up with our instruments and they left us on it and drove off in a motorboat. It was getting dark and we got scared that if we put a foot wrong we'd slip into the raging sea.

Do you think he's trying to tell you something?

Grace: (Laughs) He puts himself in worse situations. In that video he got into a canoe with a hole in it and started sinking.

You all went to Cambridge: are you the cleverest band in pop?

Jack: (Laughs) The cleverest and the most stupid. I do think there's a misconception that everyone from Cambridge is really clever. I met so many morons there! Some people are ignorant, some are thick, some are just terrible people.

Who is the cleverest member of the band?

Jack: Neil got the best grades but I don't think he's the cleverest. I think I'm the cleverest.

Grace: I think the other two might have something to say about that. Neil took a masters in economics and got the highest mark in his year.

Why is he messing around with a pop band? Shouldn't he be running the IMF or something?

Grace:
He started playing violin when he was two so I think he's always wanted to do this.

Who is the poshest band member?

Jack:
Grace and Neil are really posh! Luke and I are from the Wirral but we're getting much more posh the more we hang out with them. The more mozzarella balls and quinoa salads they put on our riders, the posher we get.

Grace: I didn't know we'd been tagged as posh. I went to a state school in London, so maybe people think I have a posh voice and that's where it comes from? Jack and Luke are from Birkenhead, which they say is the worst place in the UK.

Your song Dust Clears is about someone dreaming of leaving their factory job. Surely that's something you've never had to experience?

Jack: I've had a job as a trolley man for Morrisons. Is that the right word for the guy who reins in the trolleys? Let's say a trolley technician. It was tough because the carpark was basically on the River Dee directly by the beach, so this huge expanse of sand and wind would come into the carpark, which you had to deal with. Although one of my friends had a job in a chicken factory where he had to remove the lungs from chickens after they'd been fed through an automatic chicken-killing machine … so things could have been worse!

Footnotes

(1) The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) are a British period-instrument orchestra.

(2) Not exactly three bottles of Jack Daniel's and some local strippers, is it, mate?

(3) When not nearly murdering models, Stringer's other projects include the Velocoaster, a "hybrid of a rollercoaster and velodrome constructed out of hundreds of secondhand scaffold planks, 8,000 screws, paint and 50m of festoon lighting".

Contributor

Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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