Following the success of their debut livestream back in October, electronic duo Bicep are broadcasting a second live performance on 26th February, captured in high quality at London’s Saatchi Gallery.
Matt McBriar and Andy Fergusun AKA Bicep have become two of the most trusted curators of electronic music in the past decade. Their eponymous 2017 album spanned many genres, scenes and eras, from house to disco to jungle, and yet it was absolutely focussed in the way it channelled those influences. Simple, heady melodies and journeying structures deftly knit the patchwork styles together, always with a masterful hand on listeners’ emotions.
It was the sonic spaces that the music was housed in, though, that defined the Bicep sound on that album; cavernous reverberations that seemed to bounce off the hills and back imbued the euphoria with an intriguing eeriness; warm but cold, happy but sad. This debut, with its lead singles ‘Glue’ and ‘Aura’, won the Belfast duo massive acclaim, and sell-out shows around the world – including Manchester’s Warehouse Project.
On 22 January 2021, the duo’s second album, Isles (Ninja Tune), was released – to a different world. With clubs having been closed for a year now, the dancefloor bombs that filled their debut album couldn’t really land in the same way. Hence Bicep have opted for a more introverted and immersive sophomore album, while promising “much, much harder” versions of the tunes when performed live.
Having said that, lead singles ‘Apricots’ and ‘Atlas’ are still bangers, and if they don’t surge the adrenaline in quite the same way as early tracks like ‘Glue’, then they at least get close. ‘Apricots’ is particularly intoxicating, pitting crunchy breakbeat rhythms and icy lead synths against warm, deep house stabs and soulful samples of traditional Malawian singers. Further back in the mix, a Bulgarian choir gives extra warmth to the midrange frequencies.
These kinds of globe-trotting samples occur throughout the album; the product of the duo absorbing the multicultural sounds of London (they moved there a decade ago). In the album press release, they cite “the joy of discovering Hindi vocals overheard from distant rooftops, snatches of Bulgarian choirs drifting from passing cars, hitting Shazam in a kebab house in the vain hopes of identifying a Turkish pop song”.
Closer to home, on two of Isles’s more wistful tracks, they borrow the vocals of UK-based producer Clara La San. On ‘Saku’, La San’s honey-sweet voice and Bicep’s two-step polyrhythms feint toward UK Garage before diving, chest-first, into cosmic synths. It’s like 90’s RnB channelled through peak John Carpenter. ‘Cazenove’, meanwhile, pairs pitch-shifted choral elements with moody pizzicato strings and rave synths; a retro-futurist soundscape that’s Studio Ghibli one moment, Studio 54 the next.
Holding Bicep to the promise that these songs are getting a heavy makeover when performed live, we’re pretty intrigued to hear them anew on 26th February. Comprising an extended live performance, with additional support act to be announced, the show will be filmed in the beautiful – and unusual – surroundings of London’s Saatchi Gallery, and will (like the first livestream) feature visuals from close Bicep live collaborator Black Box Echo.
Tickets are priced at £10 and are available via DICE.