For the best part of 15 years, Groove Armada have been a regular presence on the live circuit, where they’ve headlined the likes of UK mega-festival Glastonbury. But since 2007 the band, who came up alongside fellow big-beat favourites Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers before broadening into other dance genres, have failed to chart with their singles. It was, says Armada’s Tom Findlay, a little perturbing.
‘When we started we were always in sync: big beat was the big thing, then trance was big – there was always a sound that people were pursuing; you felt a sense of belonging,’ he explains. ‘But now
[the music scene has] exploded. You’ve got [grime artist] Tinchy Stryder rapping on house records, you’ve got dubstep; drum ’n’ bass is still ticking on; disco is having a resurgence. So we were there, looking at this landscape, asking where we fitted in.’
The answer, according to Tom and fellow Armada man Andy Cato, was just to do their own thing. The result was Black Light, released in March, which married their club-friendly music with live guitar instrumentation and ’80s-influenced pop vibes. It was released to generally positive reviews, but getting to that point was hard.
‘It was an intense experience,’ says Tom. ‘We’d just left [Sony BMG] and there was a lot of me and Andy sitting around thinking: What are we doing? It put a bit of a strain on us. Trying to capture live musicians on a record was something we’d never done before – we were concerned that everyone was going to hate it.
We were questioning ourselves and we rewrote the album, like, four times. I can look back with positivity now, but it was by some distance the hardest record we’ve had to make. It really divides people – they either love it or hate it – but it’s better to be like that than to be Katie Melua. So, you know, it’s all good.’
Perhaps understandably, the boys have decided to take the pressure off themselves for the rest of the year, reining in their spectacular live festival sets in favour of more club DJ sets, including a residency at Space in Ibiza. ‘It’s going to be a very exciting season,’ enthuses Tom. ‘The summer starts for us in Dubai.’
So what can we expect from their set at Chi next week? ‘All sorts, you know. Our roots are in house music, so we tend to play a lot of that – it’s different to when we play live so don’t expect to hear back-to-back Groove Armada records. We get people asking for ‘At the River’ halfway through a house set, which is a bit mental. We’re both into the quite techno-y stuff that comes from Berlin, and Afrobeat and two-step
DJs such as Crookers and Brodinski, that bouncy bass stuff, so it’s quite a cross-section.’
With the frustration and trauma of Black Light behind them, and with six months of DJ sets and Ibizan sun to look forward to, it’s no wonder Tom sounds happy. But does it bother him that Groove Armada’s days of
top-20 singles seem to be behind them? ‘No, that’s over now; there was a sense of panic for a month after Black Light came out, but then it was quite liberating. We’ve still got our reputation, we still do great gigs and we’re still really enjoying it. We had to go through it – we were clinging onto that past status too much. It’s been great to let it go and just be a band, you know, and not worry about trying to be players any more.’
Black Light is available now in stores.