Disclosure are an act whose huge success comes from their sheer unpredictability. Andrew Drever talks to half of the duo to get the story behind their new album.
In the long lead-up to Disclosure’s latest album, Energy, the UK dance music duo have been releasing standalone singles and EPs that are experimental, sample-heavy and strongly influenced by African musical styles.
Their 2018 single, ‘Ultimatum’ (featuring Malian singer Fatouma Diawara) along with tracks from this year’s Ecstasy EP like the Afro-disco ‘Tondo’ and the percussive ‘Etran’ seemed to hint that their new LP would be heavily weighted towards African club bangers.
But, as Energy shows, those tracks turned out to be a red herring. When I admit to Guy Lawrence – one half of Disclosure alongside younger brother Howard – that I fooled myself into believing I knew what they were going to do on this album, he laughs.
“Howard and I were listening to a lot of music from places like Nigeria and Mali,” he explains. “We’re fans, and we were doing the research on the history as well. I listened to a lot of 70s disco from Lagos and I’m a big fan of Fela Kuti. You can’t really stop those influences seeping into your music because it all absorbs itself in your subconscious.”
Across their 10 years (their debut single, ‘Offline Dexterity’, was released in 2010), Disclosure has skillfully straddled the line between mainstream success and dance music credibility. Their sound and productions are rooted in the underground house, two-step, garage and dubstep they grew up on, but their ambition is to write songs that will resonate beyond the clubs.
The pair’s first two albums (2013’s Settle and 2015’s Caracal) both went to number one on the UK charts. They’ve been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, as well as Brit and Grammy Awards. They’ve also successfully established a mean live reputation despite much of their music being augmented with guest vocalists.
Energy, released last week, is another gleaming, immaculately-produced selection of dance-pop gems, showcasing their usual UK garage and house, but also Afropop, rap, downtempo, bass, hip-house and more. The album has a smart mix of guest vocalists: from the established (Kelis, Syd from The Internet, Common), to the currently white-hot (Channel Tres, Kehlani, Fatouma Diawara) to up-and-comers like Blick Bassy and Mick Jenkins.
“Everyone we always choose to work with, we’re just fans,” says Lawrence with a shrug. “Anyone who’s anyone, we just listen to these people a lot in our spare time on Spotify. It’s never a label hook-up or a publishing hook-up, or anything like that. It always comes from us initially just liking their music.”
Having completed the album in November last year, the brothers have been waiting for nearly a year to release Energy. In March, Guy tested positive for Covid-19 in the US and he spent three months recovering in LA with his American-based girlfriend.
Now back in the UK, the brothers have lately been giving back to their fans by running online engineering and production workshops on their Twitch channel.
“Things changed a lot, because our plan with Disclosure was to be on tour all year,” says Lawrence. “It’s a shame we can’t play the album live to people in real life, but that’s (only) half of our industry. Once I felt better, I just kind of channeled all my energy into being creative, and we’ve been doing a lot of teaching online. We’ve been making new songs in front of people, trying to share the process. That’s been cool, and none of that would have happened if it wasn’t for Covid.”
For Energy, Disclosure worked up almost 200 tracks, finally whittling those down to a concise 11 tracks over 39 minutes. Most of the album was written and recorded quickly in the warmth of the L.A. sunshine.
The album’s opener, ‘Watch Your Step’, featuring Kelis, has a twitchy house groove and an earworm melody from the versatile US musician.
“’Acapella’ was obviously a huge like crossover house hit,” says Lawrence. “She knows her shit about house music; that’s a hell of a banger. For me, ‘Millionaire’ with Andre 3000 is probably my all-time Kelis favorite. It made sense for us to make a two-step tune, with her, especially as she’d lived in London for ten years, so she knows a lot about UK garage. We didn’t have to explain anything, she knew what to do.”
The swaggering ‘Lavender’ features the baritone flow of Compton rapper-producer, Channel Tres, who’s been a revelation since his hit ‘Controller’ in 2018. Despite revealing that Channel Tres was on acid during their studio session, Lawrence has nothing but praise for his musical skills.
“I’m such a big fan,” he says. “I literally love everything he does, I’m not just fanboying. He’s a sick dancer and he’s got these dope guys on stage with him, I respect how he makes like most of his own beats. He’s got the voice of… I don’t know what voice that is. It’s like 10 octaves below the usual. I can only do it in the morning! He’s got morning voice all of the time!”
This is actually the first time Disclosure have had featured rappers on their music. As well as Channel Tres, the likes of Common, slowthai and Anime all make cameos. Lawrence says working with rappers was a new discipline for the duo.
“It was something we’ve been waiting to do this whole time,” he says. “Being from fucking Reigate in Surrey, there ain’t many rappers! There just aren’t, so that’s honestly why we ended up making songs like ‘When a Fire Starts to Burn’. We were sampling motivational speakers, or people talking, or spoken word that sounded a bit like rap, because we didn’t know any rappers and no one was taking our calls back then.
“Now they are, we’ve unlocked rappers and we couldn’t wait to get in the room with people like that.”
Energy is out now.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.