How do you celebrate in a time of crisis? Are you allowed to rave when the world is on fire? We crossed a few of these existential questions before in the Electronic Empathy column which I first started in the high times of the first lockdown. Or was it the second? I tend to lose track of time these days. But considering the fact that there’s a war raging in Eastern Europe while we’re facing a sort-of final state of the pandemic (which definitely feels more like a break than the definite end) the level of uncertainty reaches new heights these days. There’s nothing you can rely on anymore, the future looks as dim as the news reports. Asked differently: There might actually not be a better moment to simply raise your hands to the sky, follow the beat, let euphoria overcome you and celebrate along with others that we’re all in this mess together as human beings. We need moments of joy and relief to remind us why it’s good to be alive – and it’s for exactly these moments a band like Confidence Man lives for. And their forthcoming sophomore LP TILT is the perfect soundtrack for the impending summer of uncertainty and contradictory celebration.
I’ve been following the path of Confidence Man for a few years now, mainly because I used to share an office with the group’s former video directors Schall & Schnabel here in Berlin who were responsible of some their earlier clips. I even played a small part in the their Don’t You Know I’m In A Band clip (in case you were wondering: you can see my legs and I’ve helped designing that fake magazine). I came for the funny clips and over-the-top party vibes but stayed for the great production and the realization that I and the band might have similar musical tastes when it comes to electronic dance music. Those Madchester vibes of their single Out The Window were really triggering something in me, I got to say. Confident Music For Confident People was an uplifting fun record, packed with references and delivered by a group that also partly felt like they are made-up cartoon characters. Leaders Janet Planet and Sugar Bones are the sexy and charismatic singers that never seem to break character which surely helps to keep the imagery alive. Well, and then there are Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild behind their machines. They never show their faces, they never speak but they are as crucial to the whole equation as the people in the front. Confidence Man is a great pop musical concept from start to finish and their first album already hinted at that. The follow-up, however, takes that entire idea to the next level. “Go big or go home” appears to be the credo on TILT and just like for the hot air balloon in the video for its lead single Holiday the only way for these folks appear to be up.
The first singles of the album have been stuck in my head for weeks and luckily the whole album can keep up with that quality level. These tracks and clips put a smile on my file, the infused me with tiny doses of euphoria in an otherwise quite grey second Covid winter. And on top of it these tracks are also heavily trigger my sweet spot for 90s club sounds, old-fashioned rave euphoria and the sounds I grew up with and originally made me fell in love with that culture. Needless to say, I needed to win Confidence Man over for an Electronic Empathy feature. Even more important I wanted to speak with the men behind the masks who I hold responsible for that specific sound. So, I’m happy that 50% of the folks behind the curtain – Mr. Reggie Goodchild – agreed to join me on this interview (via anonymous mail, of course) and also contributed truly wonderful bangers for the Spotify playlist. Gentle reminder that I want you all to hit that ‘play’ button while enjoying this exchange.
Thanks for joining me on this one, Reggie. it’s much appreciated, especially considering the fact that you’re not doing it that often.
Hola! It’s not often we’re asked anything, so it’s nice to have a chat.
So, while Janet and Sugar are the obvious visual and physical leaders in the band’s imagery you and Clarence prefer to remain in the background. Tell me a bit about your role in the ConMan construct…
Clarence and I are both very much behind the scenes figures – we man the production and play the instruments. If we’re lucky we might get to record a “Hey!” or a “Yeah!” in the studio, but it’s not too common.
There’s a little tradition of masked “men behind the machines” in electronic dance music… from Daft Punk to Deadmau5. I mean, Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys also strangely comes to my mind. What made you decide to head for that direction … and what inspired that distinctive look?
It kind of started as a bit of a joke, we thought if we were both faceless the attention would be totally focused on Sugar and Janet. After the first few shows it kind of stuck and became a bit of a trademark. It’s worked kind of well for us though because no one seems to know who we are. It’s a bit annoying though sometimes because no one knows who we are.
I’ve been following your music for quite some time. Confident Music For Confident People was a truly joyful debut album. How do you see the time this record in retrospect?
I’m still quite happy with the first record I think. There was a certain magic to a few of the songs from that era as we didn’t really know what we were doing, and the discovery created a bunch of odd party songs. We’d all just started getting into dance music and we’re trying to make it without really knowing any “rules” and it worked in our favour. After learning so much about how we write songs and production over the past few years I think we’d almost have a hard time trying to recreate something new with the vibe of the first album, because we almost know too much.
What did you learn the most during that time?
I think we came out of that record knowing what kind of direction we wanted to head in next – Out The Window was a stand out for us and we kind of pushed more in the melodic/ravey direction.
Well, luckily you picked that path! The singles you released in-between the albums already hinted towards a more ambitious sound and vision of the group – but I got to say when that Holiday clip dropped it really blew my mind… and Feels Like A Different Thing headed for the same direction. Was there a certain “Go big or go home” concept you were aiming for with TILT?
Yeah, it kind of was. We had simple ideas for both videos – Holiday was “hot air balloon” and Feels Like A Different Thing was “turbo in the desert”. We wanted to step everything up with TILT.
In terms of sound the album feels more defined and more cohesive to me. While the debut felt a bit like lots of different stories all combined into a record, TILT is more like a “flow”-thing, like each song working perfectly together and there’s an even straighter focus on the dancefloor this time. Everything appears to be screaming “euphoria” … well; maybe that’s just the thing after two years of pandemic. How did the state of the world (and maybe also the absence of clubs) affected the album?
In a strange way it kind of worked in our favour. We’d been touring really heavily for a few years and it gave us a chance to have some time to work on the record. We all moved in together in Melbourne and I had a studio in the backyard, we made the whole record there in a couple of months.
Groove is in the heart
So, it turned out the Confidence Man were able to create their own little party bubble while the dancefloors of the world were closed. The 12 tracks on TILT perfectly line-up, anthem by anthem, sometimes more for the tiny club, sometimes more for big arenas or outdoor venues. The 90s references are obvious on the album and they are not totally new to the band’s cosmos but this time they are quite consequent (man!). I assume it’s easier said than done to create such a sound that delivers its references with dignity and musical knowledge, so I was curious to find out how Reggie and the gang are doing it.
I even thought about Deee-Lite before you were putting them in our playlist. Break It Bought It really feels like a forgotten gem from that group with that slick bassline and the charming piano. it. Is it easy for you to actually recreate that magic?
I don’t think we’re never trying to re-create a certain sound. We definitely love and listen to a lot of 90s music, and the influences definitely carry over. Break It Bought It went few a couple of different iterations before it ended up where it did. The song was already in the finished folder before we added the final bassline. I’d picked up a minimoog clone and was tinkering around over the song and the new bassline emerged and we went back and replaced the old one.
Still – what does it take: Is it lots of studying of that sound? Does it need the right instruments or vibe?
We picked up a bit of vintage equipment combined with a bunch of modern stuff and it all saw quite a bit of use on the album. We work using Logic Pro, with a few synths and drum machines all hooked up.
We usually write in a room with all four of us talking over each other and usually whoever talks the loudest gets their idea heard first.
Ewan Pearson is a top quality producer who I’ve been following for almost 20 years now and it’s great to see him back on board again as mixing engineer. Tell me a bit how his contribution affects the ConMan sound?
We love Ewan. A lot of the time we send him a giant session with 60-90 tracks, often poorly labelled and poorly organised. He’s fantastic at interpreting it, and every time he sends something back it’s hugely improved on the demo. I don’t know how he does it; he brings a lot to the table.
Another interesting collaborator on TILT – according to the press release – is Gregg Alexander of New Radicals. While we all know the greatness of You Get What You Give I wouldn’t actually associate him with dance music. Tell me a bit about that joint venture and Gregg’s influence.
Gregg also wrote Murder On The Dancefloor which I think is a dance-pop song! We spent a few weeks together in Brighton in January 2020 where we did a bunch of writing together. The songs from those sessions haven’t been finished yet; we’re hoping to finish them this year. Seeing how he wrote in those sessions had a big impact on us. When he hears a groove he likes, he goes for high energy stream-of-consciousness vocal takes and we started doing that when we were making the record.
Facing the future with retro spirit
There’s actually more early 00s Gregg Alexander magic happening in the playlist Reggie compiled for us since it features the great Inner Smile by Texas. Well, technically not a dance track but one hell of a pop song. You know I’m always excited when I let other artists contribute songs to the Electronic Empathy playlist, simply because it gives me a better understanding of their vision and lets me discover plenty of new tunes as well. I was kind of excited in the case of Confidence Man and they surely didn’t disappoint at all. We’re getting a lot of 90s vibes from legends like The Orb, Underworld and Danny Tenaglia but there are also few more contemporary tunes in there and it’s great to see how well they fit along in line with the retro ones. Well, and the Deee-Lite frame was quite interesting so I needed to address that fist.
I already hinted at the Deee-Lite references … and that was before I noticed you opened and closed your playlist with tracks by the group. Why did you make that choice?
I love Deee-Lite. I was listening to their 1992 record Infinity Within quite a bit around the time when we were making the record. So many great little odd sounds and cool production, they’re so much more than just Groove Is In The Heart. I play both of those songs in DJ sets regularly.
I should definitely give this record a spin. As a fan of 90s-U2 and Achtung Baby I’m digging your pick of Mysterious Ways in this one. In which way did a song like this influence the sound of Confidence Man?
I heard this a couple of years back in an episode of The Sopranos and shazamed it. I love the baggy groove and bassline combined with the soaring classic U2 melody. Songs like this always leave a bit of an impact, the beats and percussion are so cool.
Your selection is a great one, as expected, and I love all the tunes I already discovered throughout it (that X-COAST track, daaaamn it). Is there a hidden gem in there you’d like to especially recommend our readers?
Yeah, the “Paradise Mix” of Oolong Trance by Alex Kassian. A month ago we saw some friends, Waxo Paradiso, DJing at a festival on an island in North Queensland late at night. Their set was great, and they played a wild selection, but I simply couldn’t shaman it because there was no phone reception. I recorded it on voice memos and sent it to him the following week and he told me what it was. Love the druggy trance-y synths combined with the 90’s house pianos.
I’m also absolutely not surprised to find a classic remix by the late great Andrew Weatherall in there who also remixed Confidence Man before he passed away in early 2020. I can only assume how this must have felt for you, right?
Yes, we’re massive Weatherall fans. Screamadelica was one of the first records we were listening to when we made our first album. His production style is unique, wild, groove-based. I actually just got the Andrew Weatherall remix compilations on vinyl, so much great stuff there. They are out now on Heavenly. Getting the remixes from him was huge for us!
Right now the world is a weird state, pandemic-wise. Parts of it are already open like before, others remain restricted. You managed to party in your Down Under bubble. How did you experience these moments of relief?
We lived in Melbourne and had long extended restrictions compared to the rest of Australia. The gaps we got were fantastic though, when everyone was back at festivals and clubs the energy was more intense than I remembered because everyone was so excited to be back at it.
It feels like a strange month to talk about partying and a record like TILT when there are images about war broadcasting on the television. I however find it extremely important to not ignore life’s pleasures during that time so that we know what we are “fighting for”. What do you think about parties as a form of protest?
I suppose that’s what the rave scene was kind of born out of in the UK in the late 80s and 90s. Is there a point in living unless you’re free to take a pill and dance until 6 a.m.?
Well, and I couldn’t have thought of better final words for that exchange. I can underline them along as many other things Reggie said during that brief exchange. It’s okay to have like-minded people out there in the world. Crises and conflicts have always been part of human nature. We simply feel a bit overwhelmed these days because digital communication tools bring the whole world together and make such a conflict look like it’s happening close to you … which party is true. It’s an individual choice for everybody whether to party in a time like this but if you are up for it, then TILT is the album you should turn to.
Well, and of course the mighty Electronic Empathy playlist. The first 26 tracks are picked by Confidence Man, starting and ending with Deee-Lite. The rest was picked by me, featuring plenty of current favourites that result in an almost ten-hour long selection of raving tunes to cope with the time. Please note that the Confidence Man selection will be only available for a limited amount of time before it will merge with the picks of a future update. So make sure to save your favourites as quickly as possible and discover the music of these lovely artists.
Having said that: This will actually be the final edition of Electronic Empathy for a bit. Following two years of a pandemic-driven desire to hit the dancefloors now might actually a good moment to simply go out and experience that strange feeling of euphoria by ourselves. I surely plan to do that throughout the summer. Because despite all the digital notion it’s the analogue experience that still excites me the most, maybe now more than ever and I invite everybody to join me during that ride. Hit me up on Instagram if you like to. Electronic Empathy might resurface in different form a bit further down the road here on NBHAP, so remain ready for that. Thanks for all the artists who joined me over the course of the past two years. Until we meet again: keep on dancing, keep on spreading the love. It’s much needed these days!