Artist of the Month: Gorgon City
Artist of the Month: Gorgon CityJuly 12, 2021
Gorgon City have been the top-selling artist on Beatport for the past three months and just dropped their epic third album, Olympia. The powerhouse UK duo talks to writer Ana Monroy Yglesias about their drum & bass influences, how they’ve been able to stay true to the underground, and taking their time on the new LP.
Ten years ago, UK DJ/producers Kye Gibbon and Matt Robson-Scott met at a club and decided to get together in the studio. It was only supposed to be a one-off collab, but they had instant synergy together, and swift success with “Real” in 2013, the title track off their second Gorgon City EP. Luckily, the dynamic duo stuck together for the wild ride, gaining widespread attention for their euphoric, pop vocal-tinged club bangers, all while staying rooted in the underground.
“We found we worked really well with each other because, at that point, we were both going through a bit of a creative block. And we sat down with each other and we got out about four tracks in two studio sessions. We were like, ‘Wow, this is crazy actually being creative for the first time in a long time,'” Gibbon reflected recently over Zoom.
“And then, the first track that we did with Yasmin, ‘Real,’ which was our second release, that was when things really took off in a way that we didn’t expect at all. And it was something we’d never had before. I think that was the big catalyst for us to concentrate on doing this as our sole focus.”
“They played it on daytime radio in the UK,” Robson-Scott added. “With our solo projects, we were making more underground stuff. And [as Gorgon City] we got recognized by the Breakfast Show on [BBC] Radio 1. That was unheard of for us. So, it was like, ‘Whoa, we should pursue this.’ And then we started doing loads of work with vocalists and collaborating more, and before we knew it, we had a full album made. That was kind of it. And we haven’t stopped making music since then—we’ve released a lot of music since then.”
If “Real” was the song that etched Gorgon City into marble, “Ready For Your Love” was the one that catapulted them to main stage status and landed them a major label record deal. An anthemic, sparkling bop featuring British vocalist/producer/remixer MNEK, it topped the dance and pop charts in the UK and Belgium and the Billboard dance chart in the U.S. After a few months of it setting things off in their DJ sets, they officially released it in January 2014, a year after their first hit. It led to their debut album Sirens, which came about 10 months later and would also hit the Top 10 in the UK. Just as their creativity expanded when they paired up in the studio, something magical happened when they linked up with MNEK, and they knew they had a massive banger on their hands.
“[The success of] ‘Real’ really blew us away and surprised us. And then we made ‘Ready For Your Love’ and we knew it sounded like it would be big. It felt like the right thing at the right time,” Gibbon explained. “It was the one time where we’ve actually thought to ourselves, ‘Yeah, this track sounds big.’ Normally we don’t think like that, because we’re British, we think of the worst,” he added, laughing.
Since then, the flights to Gorgon City have been nonstop and in high demand. And, like many big-name touring DJs, 2020 was really the first time they slowed down, offering them a chance to reflect on all of the beautiful madness it’s come with.
“We were saying to each other recently that this whole nine years or whatever has just been a complete blur. And the crazy moments we’ve had, I think if we told ourselves before we’d started what we’d be doing, we’d lose our shit and just be like, ‘Wow, that is crazy.’ But when you’re in the moment, because you’re so busy trying to make it happen and make it go smoothly, you sort of don’t have time to appreciate what you’re doing,” Gibbon said.
Despite the blur of DJ life, some of those crazy moments were too big not to be wowed by in the moment, and remain highlights for them. “For me, it’s definitely Burning Man , playing after Carl Cox at his camp, Playground, the one where the whole stage is surrounded by flames,” Robson-Scott reflected, beaming.
“Everyone was wearing white, and it was just absolutely the most insane views as a DJ from the booth. Because it’s the playa, it never ends when you look out. There were people everywhere and it was at night, when everyone has crazy neon lights. I’ll never forget that. I remember saying to Carl Cox, ‘This is insane.’ And he was just like, ‘Yeah, man. Are you enjoying yourself?’ There’s been a few moments. Glastonbury is always a moment like that, when you play a good set there.”
Gibbon added: “For me, it’s playing Red Rocks. That was insane, definitely one of my favorite shows we’ve ever done. And all the Ibiza seasons are definitely highlights, getting to spent half our summer there is always amazing.”
Collabs are a big part of their sound, and they’ve been intentional about bringing rising acts with them on the bullet train to Gorgon City. And when they get in the studio with their collaborators, they treat it like a sacred, playful space for ideas, lyrics and beats to be born. Robson-Scott explained the organic process:
“When it comes to writing the music, we love starting from scratch with the artist, in the studio on the day. That’s where we find we’ve had some of our most interesting and successful sessions, when we’re all there together, starting with just some basic chords, going from there and creating something crazy on the day.”
“We’ve always looked out for new, up-and-coming artists that are kind of unknown,” he added. “In the beginning, we met them through being out and about in London and being in the scene. At the time, there was a big explosion of new artists—that we were friends with—people like MNEK and Sinéad Harnett and Anne-Marie and all these artists that now are all big pop stars. With the most recent album, we went back to looking for really interesting up-and-coming, unknown acts that are fresh and who sound unique… It’s mad how many people we’ve worked with over the years, it’s a bit of a mind fuck. And we’re really excited about the people we worked with on this record, there’s loads of really cool people on it.”
Their latest project is the epic third Gorgon City album, Olympia — a lively 18-track LP that the duo dropped on June 25 via Positiva / Astralwerks. Like many pandemic-era projects, it was originally going to come out earlier, and while they were luckily done with most of the collaborative songwriting before the shutdown, they suddenly had much more time than expected to produce and sit with the album.
Some of the emotions and themes of 2020 come through on the album, most obviously on their collaboration with SOFI TUKKER, “House Arrest,” a song that pair debuted during their quarantine Twitch streams. Some of the instrumentals and non-collab tracks were born during that isolating time, melancholic deep house tracks that evoke longing for human touch and being back on the dance floor, like “Waiting For The Right Time,” “When You’re Gone” and “Thoughts Of You.”
“We had more time to experiment and play around because we weren’t on a deadline. And we were feeling a bit more reflective and going through some things emotionally, so I think those [tracks created during the pandemic] are a bit darker, a bit more emotionally reflective. And they’re a bit more experimental as well. So yeah, in a way, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, the album would sound very different. And be a lot shorter,” Gibbon explained, chuckling.
“There was more time, more space to get things done and we did it in a more intricate and slower process,” Robson-Scott added. “I feel more emotionally attached to this album than I did with the last.”
“The tracks ‘Thoughts Of You’ and ‘Tell Me It’s True‘ are sort of big and energetic, but they still have a bit of melancholy and sadness,” Gibbon said. “They’re sort of about being in that state of mind missing being around people, missing playing shows, and also we produced them in a way that we couldn’t wait to be able to play the tracks in a club. They sort of have this big room club / festival sound even though there are bits of sadness. They’re a mixture of anticipation for touring again, and, you know, missing stuff, just feeling nostalgic for the good times.”
And they will be returning to the dancefloor soon—with those tunes ready to hit the feels—in a big way with the Olympia tour, playing beloved dance venues like the Magic Stick in Detroit and The Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles, wrapping up at one of their favorite spots, Printworks in London.
Once a DJ has major name recognition, gets booked for massive commercial events, and a discography featuring pop stars, it can be difficult to really keep their toes and sound in the underground. Yet Gorgon City have been able to appeal to a more mainstream audience without losing their house-head fans. What’s been their secret for keeping their sound rooted in the underground yet accessible and inviting to less seasoned ears?
“We’ve never turned up to a set and played music we didn’t want to play. I think we’ve done that from the beginning, even when we were first getting booked to do more commercial festivals or clubs. We’d always still play bangers that we love in between the tunes that we were booked for,” Robson-Scott explained.
“And because we’ve always done that, I don’t think we’ve ever lost that underground music vibe. It’s where we come from, what we did from when we were kids, where we get our influences from British underground music, really. Now, we get influences from all over but it’s still very much rooted in the underground. And we’re really lucky to be able to play a techno club in Berlin, then go and play an outdoor stage of Coachella, and the next week play in Vegas.”
And it’s not just what they play in their DJ sets, it’s also how they approach beat making. Since the beginning, drum & bass production techniques have underpinned their sound, even on poppier tracks. This approach has clearly served them and their sound, pairing engrossing, banging rhythms with memorable lyrics.
“Even our album music, the production style and technique comes from what we’ve drawn from the underground world and the music we’ve been into over the years, and what we like to play in our more underground sets. That’s kind of how we approach the production of the tracks, and we just write a song over it. And I think we’ve especially done that for Olympia,” Gibbon said.
And with their REALM imprint—which they launched in fall 2017—and parties, they’ve been actively promoting that underground ethos and sound, strictly with the club in mind. “We started it because we’ve always loved making clubbier stuff, underground, less song-focused tracks… Then we started signing up-and-coming producers that were playing in our DJ sets,” Gibbon reflected. “We’re really proud of it and we’ve loved doing the parties and stages at festivals and stuff. And that’s definitely something that we’ve wanted to get back into, after this Olympia tour.”
When asked about their biggest influences, Gibbon explained how drum & bass first drew them into the underground as teens and has remained a major source of influence and inspiration in the studio:
“We both were really into drum & bass when were younger teenagers. I discovered Dillinja when I was 14 or 13. I’d never heard noises like that before; his basslines were just insane. I mean, they still sound fresh now, but imagine being a teenager, and it’s 1997 or 1998 and you’ve never heard the modern dance music that’s around today. That music was made on machines rather than computers. It sounded out of this world.
We still love using sort of late ’90s drum & bass basses and sounds on our tracks. That’s a big influence. And even the way we mix tracks is heavily focused on sub bass; the sub bass comes from the bassline rather than the kick drum. We don’t really approach it like a normal house producer, where it’s just all about the kick drum and creating grooves over the top of it.”
“Yeah, that’s a drum & bass technique, basically,” Robson-Scott added. “I think it’s the fascination of how they made those sounds back in the day that definitely gave us the inspiration to be able to try and make them ourselves… We’ll never stop making music that’s based around that. That’s what gets us excited in the studio, when you make a bassline that sounds right with the drums, that’s the main aim of the studio session.”
“I think, in general, you never grow out of the music you were listening to during your adolescence or teen years,” Gibbon concluded. “That kind of the music that you listened to then will always define you, even if you don’t listen to it anymore. That’s still your vibe as a music fan, or even as a producer, so I think that’s definitely ingrained in everything we do. Whether we’re writing pop music or house or techno, it’s always got that mindset that we learned when we were teenagers.”
Ana Monroy Yglesias is a Staff Writer for GRAMMY.com and a freelance music journalist based out of Los Angeles. Find her on Twitter.