We speak to Orlando Higginbottom ahead of his hotly anticipated performance at this year’s Sonar Festival. Fusing a fiercely considered musicality, with an intuitive understanding of club culture and an overtly theatrical sensibility: there is more to Higginbottom than dancing dinosaurs.
There are plenty of references to prehistoric creatures in modern music. Jonathan Richman famously sang “I’m A Little Dinosaur”, T-Rex were named after the quintessential carnivore and Dinosaur Jr. … are called Dinosaur Jr. Orlando Higginbottom, however, seems to have taken the lead in Triassic themed shenanigans; frequently playing live shows in a home-made dinosaur costume, compiling early releases on EPs named “Prehistory I” and “Prehistory II” and, of course, playing under the moniker of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
But there is more to Higginbottom than dancing dinosaurs.
The son of an Oxford Music Professor, he fuses a fiercely considered musicality (“it’s about understanding music and theory and the way it works”) with an intuitive understanding of club culture and an overtly theatrical sensibility (which he declares “will only get more ridiculous”). The chap knows how to get a dance floor going. His simmering renown – fuelled by a string of acclaimed original tracks and remixes – looks set to boil with the release of his debut album, “Trouble”, alongside his hotly anticipated performance at this year’s Sonar Festival.
"I always wanted to use costumes and try and put on a bit of a live show. I always thought there was space for a bit more fun there"
I understand you started out as DJ. What led the shift into creating your own music? Or was it something you have always done?
It was something I was always doing. I guess from an early age, when I was a kid, I liked the idea of composing and writing music. Then when I got into electronic music and started hearing electronic music that I liked, I started wanting to write that. Yeah, I’ve always really been a producer first.
The name you play under is unusual and seems to suggest a group rather than a solo artist; was this a conscious decision or not?
[Laughs] Bit of both!
Any expansion on that?
As well as creating your own music and DJing you do quite a lot of remixes, is that something you intend to continue with?
Yeah I definitely will be doing some. The last five of six months has really just been focusing on the album, so I haven’t taken on any remixes. But I will definitely be taking on some more. I really enjoy it. As for who I can’t really say, it’s not really fair to say. But there will be some more, for sure.
And is having your new work remixed by someone else something you’d be interested in pursuing?
Yeah, I’ve done it many, many, many times. Pretty much all the tracks I have released have been remixed. There’ll definitely be remixes of all the singles.
When can we expect from your debut album? Is it in a similar vein to your first EPs, or is it something completely different?
I’d probably say that the EPs are a good starting point for the kind of sounds that I’m working with and the style. A lot more of it is song based then I thought it would be. A lot more of it is me singing then I expected. Yeah it’s kind of a song, dance thing.
I know in the past you’ve used a lot of samples. Is that something we can expect?
No, there is only one sample on the album.
Your live shows have been very theatrical – dinosaur costumes, glitter cannons etc. – is that something we can expect to continue?
Yeah, yeah, yeah; it’s not going to stop. I think it will only get more ridiculous. Yeah, uh, that’s how it is.
Where did that come from? Was it a conscious decision or something that naturally started to occur at your concerts?
When I started the project I always wanted to use costumes and try and put on a bit of a live show. I was doing to a lot of DJ gigs and seeing a lot of electronic music, but I was never that impressed by the way it was being presented. I always thought there was space for a bit more fun there. So yeah, it was planned, but obviously things come up and things work and things don’t work. So I’ve tried lots of things out and I’m sure there’ll be more additions and ideas coming to it as well.
Do you make it all yourself or do you have a designer you collaborate with?
I have a designer that I collaborate with and a few other people as well.
Your live shows are clearly quite visually driven. Can you see yourself collaborating within other art-forms and mediums – films for example?
I’m not against the idea. If I’ve got time, I’ll do it.
What kind of atmosphere are you aiming to create within the audience?
It’s funny really. I think I would have used to have said that I wanted people to have fun and kind of let go a bit. But now it’s more just that I want to go up and play my music. I just see what happens really. If people like it, they like it. And if they have fun, they have fun. And if they don’t, I’m not going to get upset or angry with them.
Do you always receive a positive response to the theatrics of the live show, or have you come up against any resistance from within the electronic music community. Where shows can be more muted?
There are probably people who have ignored the project because of the name and the costumes and that is absolutely fine. But no one has sent me any hate mail or anything! It all seems to go down alright. The idea isn’t to please everybody. It’s just to do something.
I understand you went to the Congo in Africa recently, to work alongside some musicians on Oxfam’s “DRC” LP project. How did that come about? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Well there was a thing being put together by Damon Albarn, Oxfam and Warp records to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo and make an album for charity with local musicians; with all the proceeds of that album going to Oxfam’s work in the DRC. It sounded pretty exciting to me, I’d never been to Africa before so there were lots of firsts, it was really amazing. We worked with lots of local musicians and made an album in six days.
Who else was involved in the project?
It was Damon Albarn, Dan The Automator, Actress, Kwes, Jneiro Jarel, Richard Russell … there were a few more. It was a good crew, interesting people.
You grew up in Oxford – the scene seems dominated by guitar bands; people like Foals, Youth Movies, Jonquil. Did you feel part of that whole scene? Or completely separate?
In terms of the music I’ve been making, I don’t really make music like those guys. But I feel like an Oxford musician. We all grew up together, we are all friends, we all went to the same parties and danced to the same DJs. There isn’t a divide, like people like to think there is, between dance music and indie music. I don’t think there really ever has been. Everyone likes raving and everyone likes singing a song. There has always been just as much dance music in Oxford as there has guitar music. It’s just that the guitar bands have been what’s on trend … or what was on trend. In a broad sense, I would say I absolutely feel part of the scene in Oxford.
You seem to be influenced by quite a broad spectrum of music – particularly in regards to the samples that you use – what did you grow up listening to and what are you listening to now?
I grew up listening to classical music, that was my first love with music, I was pretty passionate. I still am, but when I was a kid I was collecting CDs and stuff. Then when I got to about 11, 12, I was listening to electronic stuff; I really fell in love with jungle music and then started DJing. I bought my first turntables when I was 13, although obviously I couldn’t play in any clubs then. I was really into jungle and drum and bass for a long time. That was sort of the main thing, but I was listening to loads of different things. I was never really listening to guitar music, that’s all I can say really. Anything that was hip-hop, r&b or electronic stuff I was listening to. But guitars: no. It’s always been a mixture of dance music, cheesy soul, r&b, boogie disco stuff and classical music. I think that sums it up!
Is it still the case now? Are there any particular contemporary artists you are influenced by?
No not really.
"Influences for me is encouragement. If I see something that inspires or influences me, it encourages me to go and write"
Would you say your influences are limited to the music world, or do things like visual arts and film come into it?
I think that ‘influences’ is quite a confused idea; influences for me is encouragement. If I see something that inspires or influences me, it encourages me to go and write. Like what has actually, directly changed the way I work and how I make my music: I don’t know, I couldn’t say. But the stuff I come across – life, art, waking up in the morning feeling shit, hearing good music and hearing bad music - that really can be measured on a scale of does it make me wanna go and write music or doesn’t it. Those are the most important things. The things that make me want to write music.
And what kind of things do ‘encourage’ you to write music?
Listening to good music, having a shit time, having a good time, listening to bad music. I mean a lot of things. It’s very hard to put your finger on.
I understand you were a music teacher in schools.
I started DJing after I left Uni. I went to University twice and I dropped out twice and in that time I had to fill some gaps and work out what I was going to do. Making music wasn’t really paying the bills at that point. So I helped people with their piano and taught steel pans at a primary school. It was good.
If you taught piano I assume you play piano as well; would you say the structures and theories translate into you work? Have they ‘encouraged’ you?
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s about understanding music and theory and the way it works. Why one chord sounds good and one sounds crap. That can only help you.
A slightly off topic question. Minutes ago I got a FB invitation to like a mysterious page called “ADAM&YOU”. When I looked at it, your picture was on the front page. It seems like a strange coincidence. What is it?
What is ADAM? I am not sure I’m allowed to tell you actually. That is weird though. And it’s my face on the front?
I’ll look [gets the page up on FB. Laughs]. Oh yeah, that’s weird. Well basically my latest video – for a track called “American Dream Part II” – was kind of made with this ADAM thing.
Is that as far as you can go on that one?
Yeah it is. It’s not that exciting, but I’d be ruining someone’s shit if I said anymore.
OK! Well fair enough! Finally, what next? I know you are playing in Barcelona this summer, are you planning to do a lot of the big festivals?
They are either booked or there not. Yeah, I am doing a lot of big festivals this summer, I’ve got three or four a week I think, Sonar in Barcelona included.