We wouldn’t pass up the chance to talk to arguably the best teenage producers to come out of the UK in the past few years, and the perfect excuse for us to do so was to get them to party with us at our anniversary. While initially a product of what the UK scene would dub ‘bass music’, the duo – George Townsend and Adam Kaye – makes electronic tunes teeming with pop appeal – and at a BPM rate that’s significantly lower than the trendy 125+ to boot. Indebted to post-dubstep, vintage r’n’b, and future garage, tracks like ‘Gold’, ‘All I See’, and ‘Fire’ sound like what Dazed & Confused once described as “the aural equivalent of sipping an ice-cold Pimms on the balcony of your council estate flat.” Or in our less imaginative way of putting it – hey, we are no Dazed & Confused – creamy, summery music that has racked up over three million followers in the past three years or so. Over a few beers, JUICE talks to the amicable duo about becoming a wedding band, Yeezus, the vibe in Singapore, and eating the best chicken wings in Kuala Lumpur.
It has been almost three years since your first release as Bondax, but the one thing that has stuck all this way is the dreamy, smooth sound that has come to be your signature vibe. Was this something you consciously set out to do? How did it come about?
George It was a sound that we aimed to create, but at the same time we always say, production-wise at least, the mistakes are actually what give [the music] the identity – a lot of the sounds that I fell in love with tended to be just because I was messing around and experimenting. So it’s sort of half-and-half. We aimed to create this kind of summery, chilled out, dreamy music, but the actual sounds that make it what it is weren’t ever intended. If you’re doing everything by the book, then it’d sound like something else for the most part.
Sometime last year, we heard that you were working on a full-length release at the Red Bull Studios in London. What’s become of that?
Adam Oh no, we’re still working on it. We didn’t actually do it at Red Bull [iself]. We had the bottom room for three or four weeks, and we did a few sessions there. But we’ve made the album everywhere – some at Red Bull, some at home, traveling, across studios in London.
G It must be said that we actually lost half our album in Bulgaria. We were playing in a ski resort there, and we left the laptop in the hotel, and it was never seen again. So that actually hindered a lot of our music, which is why we haven’t actually released a full-length yet. That, and the label.
A We’ve made a lot of music, but it’s also knowing which ones to put out. We’ve also been touring a lot, so it’s hard to properly finish up tunes on the road.
G It’s not an excuse, but if we were actually in the studio all the time, we’d make more.
A And on this tour, we haven’t made that much music. It’s going to happen next year for sure. We’ve got a compilation album coming out this October. Which is like, a mixed album of six or seven new tunes from us and loads of cool tunes from our friends – it’s like a Bondax and friends thing. So, that’s between now and the new album.
Can you tell us anything about what it’s shaping up to be, in comparison to your usual releases?
G I’d say that it’s a lot more drawn from our initial sounds, tunes like ‘All I Want’, our early kind of style is more prominent in the release, and there’s more of a feel of relaxation about the music, and there’s a soulful aspect that I don’t think has come across much in our singles. I think the thing for us is that we’re on a major label, and our SoundCloud kinda shows a more poppy side of our sound, but what we really love is more obscure music, so you’ll find some slower stuff, and a couple of features from bigger artistes and other people that we’ve worked with previously. We’d tell you who’s on it, but we’ve made sixty tunes and we don’t even know which ones will be on the album yet. The guy who sang ‘Gold’ is on it though.
You’ve stated before that you were planning to do something less sample-based, specifically for your LP, and we’ve seen that in your recent releases. What caused the shift in direction?
G Nothing really, we’ve always wanted to do it. It’s just that we didn’t have enough money, and no one was interested in singing on our music. As time’s gone by, we always intended to do this from the very beginning. If you go back, and one of our tunes was ‘Only You Know’, so you could actually say that we’ve always do this – that was the second or third real tune that we made. Same with sampled stuff, really, we’ll go back to it.
A We’ve kind of gone a full circle, really, cause behind-the-scenes we’ve had a huge transition. First off, we made chill stuff, then we wanted to make some r’n’b, then some disco and funk and sh!t, and now we’ve come back to sampling. The hardest thing is making an album that’s varied in sound, but not all over the place, and having a running theme. We always never wanted to just stick to club music, or slow music, you’ve got to have a combination, or else it’s going to be all over the place. Like Yeezus or something, it’s a little bit of a headf*ck to listen to. We don’t want to do that. Maybe don’t print that, imagine if Kanye read that. He’d be like, “What the f*ck you saying about my music, your music is bullsh!t.”
We know that you’re inspired by a lot of soul and r’n’b – something that’s picking up again all across the world, especially in the UK. Who are you listening to nowadays as you write new music?
G I’d say, just like, right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Majid Jordan, Movement, which is kind of like, r’n’b indie. I’ve been obsessed with Alice Coltrane. There’s a spectrum.
A It’s different right now, cause we’re touring and I end up listening to proper chill tracks to try and sleep during the plane flights. I’ve been listening to Nils Frahm a lot. The perfect thing on a plane. Listening to Emily King, Mary Lou Williams, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Kindness as well.
G We kinda get into each other’s music. I was listening to Kindness before the tour, and I said to Adam, you’ll love this. And I’ll probably end up listening to Emily King or something in the next few weeks. We send it back and forth. But one thing that needs to be said is that we don’t really listen to that much house music especially when we’re travelling. Even when we’re back home, house music is our release when we’re at a club or something. We love house music obviously, but it’s got a time and place.
A And when we’re travelling, it’s chill sh!t all the way.
Are we going to see any crossovers from the both of you, deeper into those genres – perhaps a collaboration or two on the LP?
A We did get a big one.
G But we lost it with the laptop.
A For us it’s a weird one, cause we’re trying to help other artistes sort of become bigger with us. And bring in new ideas from new artistes. But at the same time, it’s always been a dream to work with certain people, if we can get them people involved.
G I’d say it’s a combination, cause mostly it’s with up-and-coming artistes we really like that we feel aren’t big enough, and there’s a couple of bigger people too.
You’ve stated before that your working dynamic while writing is that Adam focuses on the music, and George does the bulk of production. How did this working relationship come about – was it this way from the start?
G It’s kinda changed, because I’ve become a better musician, and Adam has become a better producer. It’s just because Adam was better, really, and I was better at production.
A That was when we started, it’s like I messed around on GarageBand but didn’t do anything serious. But I’d played drums since I was eight, and George had always produced from a young age, so it made sense.
G Now I could make anything that I want to, on my own, and Adam could do the same. But we’re just better together. So I guess the working dynamic changes from song to song. Sometimes we’ve got different people working with us who’ve got a bigger influence on the sound, the track, and the chords we use. And we’re completely open to that, because we see it, to create the best thing, the freshest thing – it’s not necessarily going to come from just our minds. We’re happy for people to influence the creative process, and we don’t have a set structure of doing it.
A It’s all about the final product. We’re always open to collaborations.
G But at the same time, as a producer, I always believe that if you have a sound that you want to become big fast, and have a certain identity, then you need a formula. And I understand, but I don’t to work like that as a matter of preference, and I believe that it’s not the right way to work. So, what we’re trying to do is to create something fresh, and exciting, and retains its sound, so you know it’s us when you hear it, but it doesn’t lose any impact because it has that sound.
We’re seeing a lot of younger musicians and producers in the scene nowadays – just like you guys, and you’ve been focusing on music ever since high school. What would you probably be up to nowadays, if Bondax didn’t turn out the way that it did?
A I think I’d probably be doing a music degree, probably slacking off. Probably trying to do this. I wasn’t terrible in school, but it’s hard to say cause all I really ever wanted to do was music. It’s the only thing I ever properly wanted to spend all my time doing. Probably be trying to do this and failing.
G For me, it’s different. The thing is, once I found production I was obsessed with it. I’d probably be trying to do it as well. I’d maybe be doing something to do with art, because I’m really into art as well. I was going towards doing architecture, but I don’t think I’d ever have done that because it’s too boring for me. But maybe I’d say that in a boring world where I listened to the people around me. But I wouldn’t ever listen to the people around me.
A If I listened to my parents, I’d probably be doing English or something like that. I wouldn’t mind the idea of being a journalist or something.
G But you’d probably be a music journalist. Yeah, you’d probably just be writing about music. Maybe we’ll still do that later though.
A Yeah, I still want to do that.
G Adam’s in a position to do that, maybe in like ten years, we’ll know a lot about music. And maybe it’ll be back to the art for me, I mean, I still do art when we’re travelling, and create what I can in all kinds of forms like graphics, or fine art. So maybe I’ll do some art projects later in my life.
A The best thing we’ve got is time.
Did you grow up in artistic environments though? What are your musical backgrounds?
G Musically, I played the trumpet till I was eleven, twelve maybe. Then I didn’t play anything. I focused all my time on sports, and just like, English and art. Then the production got me back into it. So in that sense, I’m not from a musical background as such, but we’ve got a piano in the house and everything, so it was there for me when I chose to go back into it. It was there for me to do so. And, my family are artists, so that’s why I have the interest in art. I guess I’m from a creative background, but not necessarily a musical background.
A For me it was more, like, I learnt the drums when I was seven or eight, then I got bored quickly. My dad’s a doctor, and my sister is a medical student but my mom used to sing and stuff, so I got into [music] through her. I learnt the drums and got bored of it quickly, cause you can’t create a song with just a drum beat. So, I learnt guitar, and then kinda learnt piano. It was my main hobby.
We know you do live sets, as well as DJ sets. Both have their attractions, but which one do you prefer doing?
A That’s hard.
G I think it’d probably be different for us. I think I’d say DJ and Adam would say live. I’d say it’s because I’m more on a digital side, and Adam’s more on the practical side. But as time goes by, I feel much more of a sense of achievement when a live set comes off really well. Cause I’ve had to learn things on the job, which has kind of been exciting to challenge yourself, to like, further your skills a little bit. But at the same time, there’s always a party when you DJ, and there’s something special about the way that you can change it to the crowd you’re interacting with. I think that is something you can never replicate in a live set. The moments when you capture the essence of what the people want in a room can be more special than you playing something really well. So yeah, there are different senses of each, but I’d go with DJ sets.
A It’s hard but I’d say the ideal would be, in like let’s say ten years, and say we’ve got four albums or something – a massive back catalogue – and then we could just go out and set a basic template. But then we could change, and we could be like, “Sh!t, we can do this song,” but we don’t have enough material to do that, cause we don’t even have a first album yet. So it’s like that for pretty much all artistes, unless you’re Prince and you’ve got so many albums. So maybe we’ll be able to capture that someday.
G Or if you’re a wedding band.
A Yeah, maybe we just need to do wedding music. But yeah, it’s hard for me, like George is saying, cause it’s two very different things. DJing is like over people’s music, and you’re literally just trying to have fun, whereas live it’s just all our own individual material, it’s different in that sense. So, it’s fun to do because we can play a lot of slower, chill sh!t that no one’s heard before. And we get to explore both sides of our sound, cause I think there are two distinct sides to our music – one’s chill, and one’s having a party. We can’t really play chill sh!t while DJing. I can’t really choose. But yeah, it’s two different feelings for sure.
What’s your production and live setup like?
G Production-wise, it’s quite similar to our live setup now. It’s purposeful. We’ve sort of tried to incorporate the sounds we wanted in our music to our live set. So we’ve got like a Nord Stage 2 now, cause we could never afford it until sort of a year ago, and then we were touring a lot so we never had the chance to get it in one place. And it must be said that we only actually moved out of our family homes earlier this year, so we’ve never had a proper studio until recently, and then we’ve been touring. But yeah, we’ve got a Nord, we’ve got a bunch of other minisynths, a load of Novations, we’ve got MS-20, we’re about to get the new Rolands, they’re f*cking sick. We were in the studio in Ibiza and we thought like, we have to get the new 808s and sh!t. But yeah, we run through Logic, and although I can use Ableton, I don’t find it too difficult using anything. I’ve got a preference for Logic because I’ve been using it for years now. But in terms of making beats, I think Ableton is better, but I’d rather use Logic because I know my way around it. I think for recording stuff straight to it, Logic is much better. I’d say obviously Pro Tools is the best for that, but we can’t be bothered, because we’re not a band. If you’re not a band, you shouldn’t be using Pro Tools, in my opinion.
A If you’re a band, and you’re not producing your own sh!t, like in a proper studio, and you have an engineer, Pro Tools is perfect, but it’s not for us.
G When we record vocals and stuff, we tend to sit down with someone who knows Pro Tools and put it into Logic, and work within Logic. But yeah, we’ve got a load of mics and stuff like that. We try to do everything like that at home. We try to incorporate a lot of real sounds into the music as we can. And we normally take a Tascam recorder around and try to record like…
A … this ambience!
G This actually would be really nice for the background of a tune, but we take what we can get. It seems to be that a lot of our background sounds are either rain or birdsong, because those are the two sounds that are around our house, so it was natural to use them sounds in our music. We wanted to create the feeling of where we were, but in a kind of idealistic way, so it takes you away to this space. Then I think in some of our new music we’ve recorded some real pianos and stuff, which has been really nice. We’ve sort of gotten into making everything on piano or guitar first when we can, but when we’re on the road it can be quite hard. We’re also pros at just using the Mac keyboard now. We just got a new mini-keyboard to take on the road.
A And we f*cking left it in Manchester.
G We just got one for this tour and then we left it. So typical.
A So typical. And we should also probably say thank you to Novation. You don’t have to publish that, but if you want to, they’ll love us. They’ll probably love you too and send you some stuff as well. And yeah, we won’t big up any more people though.
This is the first time you’re touring this part of the world; Southeast Asia as well as Australia. Is there anything in particular that you were looking forward to on your trip down here?
G This. Moments like this, because we never sit on the tenth floor of a hotel next to a pool in England. It just never happens. It sounds terrible, cause there are many of the mates and things to do, but like, stuff like this, and tomorrow…
A …tomorrow we’re doing this canopy walk thing. We’re actually really excited to be here because we were meant to do two shows, one in another country which got cancelled, so we’ve actually got four days here. We’ve done many, many tours and usually have one day off max. We’re going to go to caves and sh!t tomorrow.
G We love being here, because it’s completely alien cultures and stuff. And we love experiencing new cultures, and meeting new people. It’s just cool going places you’ve never been before.
A The food as well. I’d like to say it, because we eat a lot of food. Like, really a lot. So to just come here and eat different food, it sounds so basic, but it’s one of the greatest pleasures in life.
G There are loads of great food in Asia.
A Yeah, the food out here. We loved it in Seoul, and Singapore was alright, but it kind of didn’t really have anything of its own. The food was nice, but you don’t feel like you’re eating traditional soul food or anything. We’ve eaten some cool Malaysian sh!t.
G Yeah, and hopefully we’ll get to eat some more of that tonight. I didn’t get to experience last night, because I stayed up really late in Singapore to try and take it in so I just fell asleep last night. I’m just sorta taking it in for the first time today.
A It’s a beautiful city though, I really like it here. It’s like a real city whereas coming from Singapore – it’s like people live here, you know?
G We, maybe, felt like it was quite Western because of the Formula One as well, cause there were loads on Westerners. If we went next week or something, we’d probably have liked it a bit better.
A The people were really nice, and the hotel was fancy and sh!t too.
G We don’t really care about that much when we’re travelling, but it’s always nice. We like getting into the like, dirt of the city. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather choose this over any kind of sh!tty place but we want to experience the city for what it is.
A We went to a really cool place last night too [Wong Ah Wah on Jalan Alor] and there was coconut ice-cream and stuff.
G I’ve been told about that, and I can’t wait to try it as well tonight.
Sorry Singapore, we win.
Bondax played at Asahi Pres. JUICE 12th Anniversary (Supported by ADSC), which went down on Wednesday 24 September ‘14 at Capricorn KL.