Artist of the Month: Gorgon City

As they prepare to unleash their fourth studio album, Harry Levin chats with the mighty UK dance music duo Gorgon City about the magic behind their outstanding production dynamic.

16 min
Gorgon City AOTM
Jul 11, 2023
Harry Levin

Gorgon City is a dance music supergroup.

Roughly 11 years ago, two well-known, UK-based electronic talents under the monikers of Foamo and RackNRuin came together for a collaboration.

Their original intention was to release the shared tracks under both of their names. They each had a love of basslines, an early interest in drum and bass, and their respective sounds honed in on the dark and grimy side of UK dance music. Working on music as a duo was a natural fit.

But the result of their time in the studio together was something entirely new for both of them. A sound that honed in on an element neither had explored in their extensive separate careers—vocals—and the launch of a project that would raise their profile as artists to the next level.

“For us it was an experiment making vocal tracks. Bringing songwriting into it. The sound that we did together was quite unlike either of our solo projects,” says Kye “Foamo” Gibbon.

“That’s why we came up with a new name for [the project]. Quite quickly, it became its own thing. We were suddenly working with singers quite a lot. It had its own identity,” Matt “RackNRuin” Robson-Scott adds. “When we made the first album, we didn’t really know how we did it. It just happened so quickly, and that’s why we stuck at it. Me and Kye coming together to do it was quite fun because we didn’t really know what we were doing. It was an experiment.”

Both Gibbon and Robson-Scott are speaking to Beatportal via Zoom from the island of Ibiza, getting to ready to helm another night of their Monday residency at Amnesia in a few hours, and a few weeks from now they will release their fourth full-length studio album as Gorgon City: Salvation.

Since they first connected, the duo’s albums have topped the UK dance charts and received Gold certification, they’ve produced a live show with a full band that’s toured the world, and they’re now running REALM Records, their own label and event series.

At the core of this massive success comes that same intention that first brought them together: experimentation.

“For us, it’s about always experimenting, always learning. Learning new production techniques, new styles, new ways of arranging tracks, it’s important to keep the passion after doing it for this long,” says Gibbon.

Check out Gorgon City’s ‘Artist of the Month’ chart on Beatport.
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Experimentation permeates every aspect of the project. For example, the live show. From the years of 2015-2019, the duo traveled the globe presenting a performance akin to a rock concert, complete with a live drummer and backing vocalists.

And while they have nothing but fond memories of that time, in discussing their potential return to the live show, their minds gravitate towards what they haven’t done before, ideating a new concept that will likely be more synth-based and electronic to the core.

In making the new album, they tried out different environments for songwriting, crafting the bones of the album in places like Los Angeles rather than their shared London studio, where the bulk of Gorgon City’s catalog came to life.

But experimentation is most prominent in their production process, and this level of experimentation is built on an awareness of their own taste and preferences, of which a key factor is their shared love of basslines that brought them together in the first place.

Having built their reputation outside of house music, it was melodic basslines that turned their tastes towards house. Basslines that weren’t just throbbing extensions of the drums—basslines that presented their own idea within the context of the track.

“For the music that we make the bassline is the basis of the groove and the track. What you really connect with on the dancefloor. That’s what’s always made us excited especially listening on big sound systems. You feel it. You feel the bass in your body, and it makes you move,” says Robson-Scott.

“The physical aspect of it,” Gibbon continues. “I obsess over the tone of a bass sound for days and days. Weeks even on just one track.”

This obsession happens both while they are listening and while the duo are in the studio. The bass is often they’re starting point for making a new track, and when producing basslines, they revel in the opportunities for synthetic exploration, spending the most amount of time finding that balance of simplicity, efficacy, and originality.

“There’s so much you can do with it,” says Robson-Scott. “Although it sounds simple to a lot of people because the notes might be quite basic, to get it right can be very technical.”

Even when the duo is working with a vocalist, the bass production remains their own endeavor, keeping that process separate from elements like melody and lyrics.

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Another core element of the experimentation behind Gorgon City is trust. Trusting collaborators to bring their unique style into a track without too much oversight or direction.

Generally, for album tracks with prominent songwriting and vocal contributions, the two of them are in the studio with the vocalist, building the track from scratch rather than putting out calls for toplines.

However, once there is a foundation built on a chord progression, then they create separation, trusting the vocalist to create on their own while they get to work on the electronic elements like the bassline.

This separation gives both parties more room to express their own ideas. To create without restrictions that could be found in concrete building blocks of a track.

“If the bassline’s simple, they might write a really simple hook that goes with the bassline,” says Robson-Scott. “We try to make them make something really interesting and unique, and then we make a catchy bassline to emphasize that. It means that they don’t get stuck into a groove or a rigid pattern, which I think sometimes you hear when someone’s top-lining over a beat that’s premade.”

This organic process has led to premier vocal contributions from numerous revered artists, including Jennifer Hudson, Sofi Tukker, and MNEK, the last of whom was featured on the Platinum certified and #2 charting single in the UK, “Ready For Your Love.”

“When we made ‘Ready For Your Love’ we had this amazing verse and chorus, but there was no bassline. Then once we put the bassline melody in, that became another hook for the song. It created this monster of a hit because it had so many big elements in it, and I think that song probably would have been completely different if we had played that bassline first and then showed that beat to MNEK. He probably wouldn’t have written that song,” says Robson-Scott.

This same sense of trust that the duo brings to their collaborators is one they bring into their internal production process as well.

Just like when they first came together and they didn’t plan to make songwriting-driven vocal tracks, Gorgon City has never sat down and planned the sonic nature of their albums. They always trust one another to deliver based on their influences and their shared intention to continue pushing the project forward, an intention that has now delivered four albums distinct in their approach to dance music.

But it was their third album, Olympia, where this sense of trust was tested due to COVID.

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Prior to the pandemic, Gibbon relocated from London to Chicago after marrying his wife (the prominent house and techno artist Azzecca), and so when lockdown restrictions set in around the world, making international travel globally inviable, the duo was barred from building tracks together in the studio.

They were also separated by time zones. Working over video chat was possible at short windows throughout the day, and this is when they would handle songwriting, but for the most part, they were working on their music individually, trading production sleep shifts, as it were.

But similar to the unhindered experimentation vocalists would enjoy during studio sessions with Gorgon City, both Gibbon and Robson-Scott would find themselves bringing a sense of freedom and pure creativity to the music with this new separate schedule.

“Some of [the tracks] got to a new point separately. Kye would send it back, and I’d be like, ‘That’s sick what you’ve done. You’ve added that breakbeat, or you’ve added those drums that I wouldn’t have expected,’” says Robson-Scott.

When restrictions were lifted, the duo hit the ground running with 2022 being the busiest year of touring in the history of Gorgon City, and this packed schedule caused this separate process to carry over into Salvation.

The tracks were still ideated in the studio, but they were often finished on the road. Each of the members would be working on different songs on plane rides to their next destination, applying experiences they had taken in after festival weekends seeing artists like The Blessed Madonna or Bicep or KiNK performing.

“All those crazy things that happened to you when you’re on the road influence what you’re making on your laptop when you’re flying around,” says Robson-Scott.

In the Olympia era of this process, the separation in production allowed each member’s preferences to manifest in the music in a new way, organically taking them away from the more pop-structured style they crafted on early albums and back towards their individual roots in the club (hence why they phased out the live show and started diving into DJing again).

“We were experimenting with structures more and drawing the tracks out a bit more as well and not keeping it to a three-minute pop song. We were letting the grooves do their thing,” Gibbon says of producing Olympia.

Then after re-entering that separate production dynamic with Salvation, the duo found themselves combining this individual approach with the joy they felt being on the road once again playing music to people around the world.

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Like most major touring artists, the pandemic was the longest break Gorgon City had taken since they started their careers. So when restrictions around live music were lifted worldwide, there was a revived sense of excitement, a sense of excitement that they hadn’t felt since those early years, and that sense of excitement in turn brought them back to the sound of their early years, the sounds of Foamo and RackNRuin.

“[Salvation] is a darker UK sound, and that’s what our solo stuff was. It was heavily influenced by dark garage and breakbeats. We haven’t really got into that for a long time. It was cool bringing it back,” says Gibbon.

“We haven’t done that in ages, so maybe that’s why we did that subconsciously because we wanted to get back into that,” says Robson-Scott.

From Salvation, “Pose,” featuring vocals from NEZ, captures the ripping yet minimalistic bass that Gibbon employed as Foamo on “Release Me,” his slicing single with Lotti.

Then “A Lot Like Heaven” takes the same swift, grinding breakbeat feel Robson-Scott worked with on “Midnight Loving” as RackNRuin, and places it beneath the vocals of Jessie Ware.

Another track from the album, “Voodoo,” also received a drum & bass edit in its single release, which goes back even further than their solo projects to when they were teenagers making beats in their bedrooms.

“We were contemplating putting one drum & bass tune on the album, but we didn’t end up doing it,” Robson-Scott says with a laugh. “It’s just fun to experiment again. Bringing back that energy from when we first started. I feel like we’ve done that quite a lot on this new album.”

“It’s important for us to do that. It’s important for us to experiment and go back to old styles that we’re into, being influenced by the new stuff that we’re playing out and the new stuff that excites us. We never want to stand still for too long,” says Gibbon.

Gorgon City’s fourth studio album Salvation drops on July 21st via EMI. Buy it on Beatport.

Harry Levin is a freelance journalist living in Denver. Find him on Twitter.

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