You’ll be hard pressed to find a band as versatile as Clean Bandit. Whether convincing Lily Cole to swim around an algae-covered pool (for the music video, UK Shanty), playing with the BBC Philharmonic or chilling out at Craig David’s home in Miami, the band seem, largely, unflappable.
It’s unsurprising then that the group have managed to deliver its bespoke fusion of electric beats and live strings, a combination that may sound strange on paper, so seamlessly to a general public who may not necessarily have a love of classical music at its core.
Formed in 2009, Clean Bandit was born when multi-instrumentalist Jack began bootlegging and mixing recordings of cello player Grace’s string-quartet. Champion multitaskers, the band wrote music, started up their own club night and created a local following by staging numerous gigs, whilst simultaneously studying for their undergraduate degrees. It’s enough to make any 5pm-pajama-clad-student-about-to-watch-Pointless squirm with guilt.
So far, 2014 has seen the electro-quartet play at more than 30 festivals, release their debut studio album, “New Eyes”, and secure a UK number one with “Rather Be”. With no sign of slowing down, I asked strings player Neil to look back over his time at the University of Cambridge, the current tour, and where Clean Bandit might be headed next.
First of all, how did you all meet and what was the inspiration behind the band’s name?
Well Jack, Grace and I all met at University, and Luke is Jack’s little brother. The name Clean Bandit comes from a Russian phrase meaning total bastard, which people regularly called Grace when she lived in Moscow.
How did you manage to juggle forming Clean Bandit with studying some of the most intense courses in the country?
There’s always time! Plus, the courses weren’t as intense as everyone thinks.
Inevitably, “The Riot Club” is drawing a lot of curiosity towards the secret drinking societies of Oxbridge. Were you aware of these clubs during your undergraduate years? Were any of you invited to join?
It was very hard not to be aware of them as, at Cambridge, they weren’t really secret; they were everywhere. Only Grace was ever invited…but she was not nearly loutish enough to join.
Do you ever think you’ll be able to ‘settle down’ with a permanent singer? Or do you enjoy the freedom of switching up the vocals for every track?
At the moment, we can’t really imagine having a permanent singer. Working with different vocalists on every track on New Eyes gave us so much more freedom than we would otherwise have had. It’s difficult to envision meeting someone with that sort of versatility!
You’re veteran performers at The Tuesday Club in Sheffield. What is your favourite University venue to play and why?
Probably our old college at Cambridge, just because the nostalgia is so strong and we get an amazing reception when we return.
What’s been the most surreal experience you’ve had as a group whilst on tour?
Craig David sang Rather Be to us at his place in Miami. It was truly amazing.
You’re well known for your amazing music videos. How involved are you as a unit in the creative process behind these?
We make them ourselves with the help of a couple of friends. Jack has directed all our videos so far and they’ve become as integral a part of our output as the music.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced whilst making your videos?
Before we had a record label, it was difficult as there was no budget but, luckily, Grace is the Queen of persuading people to perform unlikely favours. That sounds kind of dirty, but she genuinely is just a true hustler.
You’ve found a winning formula by mixing electronic and classical music. Do you think you’ll stray far from your current sound on future albums? Do you feel under pressure to outdo your own experimental nature?
Well, Grace and I play the cello and violin in the band, so hopefully we will keep using those sounds! I don’t think we feel pressure on the experimental front; hopefully, we can have as much freedom to do what we want with our second album as we did with our first.
What are some of your favourite covers/remixes that you’ve heard of your own music?
The Gorgon City remix of Nightingale is a full-on banger.
What were your biggest fears when you left home for University?
I was actually desperately excited until the day of departure, and then I was just super nervous and shy of having to meet so many new people.
If you could go back and do Uni again, is there anything that you’d do differently? What advice would you give to freshers starting this term?
It sounds like a stock answer, but I really would just try and make more of it. Play harder, work harder, etc etc, and waste as little time as possible pissing about on the internet/social media. Never again do you have so much free time when you can just achieve whatever you want with it, rather than having to earn a living.
Ellie McCaldin (University of Sheffield)