Chiptunes: An Interview With Felix Martin Of Hot Chip

Electro-pop maestros Hot Chip are no strangers to fame. Breaking into mainstream recognition with their singles “Over and Over” and “Boy From School” from their sophomore album The Warning, the band has since been nominated for several prestigious awards, including the 2006 Nationwide Mercury Prize and the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. Hot Chip has also performed in several renowned music festivals such as Glastonbury, Electric Picnic, Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Big Day Out just to name a few.

Their fifth album In Our Heads was released on 6 June to worldwide considerable acclaim, with BBC calling it “A record for all occasions, an album that balances sentiment and soul” and Prefix Mag declaring how the band have “…become the best thinking man’s party band on Earth”.

Singaporean fans rejoice! For Hot Chip is coming to Avalon on the 26th of June. We spoke to Felix Martin over the phone (synthesizer, drum machine, programming) and talked about their new record, electronic music and playing a gig for seven people in Holland.

Let’s talk about your new album, In Our Heads!

Yeah! So this is our fifth album, and I suppose our best album. Which is quite unusual, because usually people don’t really make their best album when it’s album number five!

Tell us a little about it.

There are a few dance songs, some love songs, ballads, and some disco songs. It’s really eclectic. We like to try and fit a lot of different ideas into our albums and play around with different sounds and make it as varied as possible.

How is In Our Heads different from your older material?

I think that it’s better! Haha. They’re better songs because the songwriting is always improving. It’s a craft; if you work really hard and the more you do it, the better you become at it. Production-wise is excellent, and we’ve worked really really hard on this record - on the sound of the record and all the instruments and arrangements. We’ve been listening to it a lot to make the sound as good as possible, making them the best songs.

Have you experimented with new sounds, instruments and equipments in your new record?

Nothing really new, we used the Caribbean steel pans on the last record and we used them again on this one. We also used some slide guitar and different kind of synthesizers and drum machines that we haven’t used. Nothing that radical really, we didn’t have horn sections or anything like that.

Maybe one day you will!

Haha, we can’t afford it!

The video for 'I Feel Better' is hilarious! What’s the story behind it?

Haha! Have you seen the video for “Night and Day”? It’s by the same guy. He’s a friend of ours, Peter Serafinowicz, a comedian, director and writer. He’s just a really strange person, and he has very strange ideas - he’s a bit of a weirdo really. But we really love him and we just let him dream up his ideas and make his strange videos.

You guys revived the popularity of the whole electro/pop scene with "Over and Over" in 2006 – since then we’ve seen the likes of La Roux, Metronomy, Cut Copy, Passion Pit (who’re coming in August). What do you think has changed since then?

I think that… that’s a hard question for me haha. We’re just musicians doing our own thing, living in our own world. I’m not that involved in the scene or anything like that. Being a DJ, I’m more involved in house music. I think that there seem to be a lot more bands now that are experimental with synthesizers and combining them with guitars and drums, so that must be a good thing. It’s not to everyone’s taste but I think its good to have open-minded musicians who are young and who’re willing to experiment and do things differently.

You guys are indeed pretty well known for being DJs outside of Hot Chip. Tell us more about your work as a DJ.

It’s just something that we’ve done since we were teenagers really, it’s a real passion of ours. I love house and techno music! I play regularly in Ibiza and London and I just really really enjoy it. It’s completely different to playing live music but it can create some really special moments. About being a DJ… I think that if you’re willing to take a few risks, make a bit of eccentric choices, the rewards will be worth everything.

What made you get into electronic music in the first place?

I was really inspired by artists like Aphex Twin when I was a teenager and I just got interested in electronic sounds. It’s the music that we grew up listening to so naturally we wanted to emulate those sounds and try to make our own version of that music I guess.

Do you guys experiment with new music technology?

Yeah, I’m using an iPad on stage, using the screen as a controller and some new synthesizer stuff on the computer. Currently I’m using the Lemur app on the iPad, the latest version is really good.

What’s one instrument you can’t live without?

My synthesizer, the Dave Smith Poly Evolver. It’s the best, I love it very much. I’ve had it for many years and I can still find new sounds on it and I’m always messing around with it. I really like it, so that’ll be my one instrument.

What do you think of the digital revolution of instruments?

I think people should just use what instruments they have with them and make the best of it. I mean if you’ve got the real analog synthesizer then you might as well use it because it’s gonna sound amazing. If you don’t have the money, you can find some pretty good emulators on the computer and still make some brilliant music. There’s no point in being snobbish about anything; in a lot of our earlier music, we made use of stuff like old casio keyboards or any other cheap keyboards we could find. Just trying to make them sound good, it’s not that hard really. 

Are you doing any collaborations with other artists right now?

Not really right now, but me and Al Doyle (Hot Chip guitarist, backing vocals, synths, bass and percussions) have a different band called New Build, and we released an album a few months ago so we’ve been touring ever since. For now we’re just concentrating on our own music at the moment and we’re not really working with anyone else.

That’s cool. Do you prefer playing in big festivals or smaller gigs?

I think festivals are really fun, they can be challenging and sometimes it’s hard to achieve good sound. It’s much easier to create a good atmosphere in a small club, and it’s kind of easier to play. Big shows can be exciting – I mean wow it’s an amazing experience to be on stage but it’s a bit more nerve-wrecking I guess.

What’s the best and worst experience you’ve had on tour?

Haha, the best experience was probably earlier on in our career when we went to Iceland. It’s a really beautiful country and the people there are really cool and we just had an amazing time there. They really accepted our music and were really enthusiastic about us. That was a really good experience.

The bad experience would be when we once did a gig somewhere in Holland, and it was a really sunny day. So everyone went to the beach instead of coming inside to see us play - in the end we had to play a gig for only seven people. Actually it was quite funny so it wasn’t really that bad.

Have you considered touring in other Asian countries?

Yeah, we’d love to! If I could choose, I would just do the tour in that part of the world for like, six months but unfortunately... haha. Yeah, I’d like to come there to deejay as well and play a little bit longer.

What differentiates your live performances from your studio albums?

They’re a bit more geared towards the dance floor I suppose. They’re kinda candid and a bit more direct, to get people dancing. There’s a lot more heavy phase drums and stuff like that.

Seeing that you're a heavily electronic band, do you guys actually improvise songs on set? 

Haha, yeah a little bit! Especially in rehearsal when we’re just figuring things out and often we would just improvise and find that kind of groove. But usually by the time we actually get on the stage we kinda know what we’re gonna play and don’t really improvise that much. That’s just the way it goes.

What can Singapore expect from your gig?

Expect a good time, a good party. We’ll be playing some old songs, some new songs and yeah I think it’ll be a really really fun gig!

Alright, that’s all the questions we have for you Felix, we’ll catch up with you in Singapore!

Thanks very much for the interview, I have to go do another one right now! See you!

Hot Chip Live in Singapore
26th June 2012
Avalon @ Marina Bay Sands

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