The Upbeats are a DnB duo with all the speedy breakbeats you’d expect of the genre, alongside echoing synths that wash in and out like choppy waves on the tide.
But their new album is also full of mysterious noises that sound like someone grinding a car to pieces and maybe a plane falling out of the sky, things that sound like technology failing and being destroyed. Then in comes tribal percussion and a swarm of giant dinosaur insects, replacing those planes and cars, as if you’re hearing the past taking over from a collapsing future.
The album’s called Primitive Technique, and that clash of crisp electronic beats with rougher textures is what it’s all about. “We’ve always thought our sound was pretty raw and primal,” says Dylan Jones, half of The Upbeats. “We’ve always liked that aesthetic.”
For the album’s artwork the New Zealand duo hired WETA Digital, famous for doing special effects on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, to create fantasy-themed props and costumes. The video for single ‘Alone’ features a horned shaman dressed in furs conducting an esoteric ritual involving runes and standing stones. It’s a far cry from the spacey or urban visuals you usually get with dance music.
“It feels like with drum & bass it gets in a bit of a rut with design and the angles that people push, that anonymous sci-fi thing,” says Jones. “Fantasy’s not too far off that but we thought it was a cool angle to push. Sometimes it helps when we’ve got an aesthetic like that, it helps us get an idea of the music. We can fit an album around that vibe.”
A clashing vibe is also part of their working relationship. Jeremy Glenn is the rhythm guy, more likely to be crafting beats, while Jones is the melody guy, who composes a lot of his ideas by playing around on a guitar before bringing them in, sometimes recorded straight onto his phone, for Glenn to hear.
“Quite a few of the more melodic things like ‘Alone’ started off with a guitar riff or just a chord sequence. ‘Falling Into Place’ is another one on the album that was just another little chord sequence that eventually developed into a tune. There’s quite a few that Jeremy doesn’t like the sound of, we sort of have quite differing musical tastes sometimes with what we listen to, so it’s good to have him really get into something.”
Jones listens to indie rock and guitar bands, while Glenn is into hip hop, soul and funk. Jones sums up their differences as “strengths and weaknesses” that compliment each other, and another of the strengths of a duo is the ability to be in two places at once. “Since the album’s been in the works it feels like we’ve been touring pretty much non-stop,” he says. “Because there are two of us we can split up; Jeremy’s been over in the States – at the start of the year he did a little tour over there – and we’ve both been in Europe for about a month each. We sort of do a tag-team thing over there.”
Over here though, in New Zealand and Australia, we get to enjoy the full Upbeats experience. “We try not to split up in some places, especially around home. People kind of expect us to be together. When we play in Oz too we like to play together. I think really when people see The Upbeats they want to see the two of us. But in the States and the UK and Europe people don’t really seem to care,” he says with a laugh.
BY JODY MACGREGOR
Album launch at Manning Bar with Kobra Kai and K+LAB on Friday May 31. Primitive Technique out now on Vision Recordings/EMI.