From the club to Madison Square Garden, Disclosure’s rise to top of the pops
How two house head brothers from the UK took over the world.
It was the summer of 2013 and festival giant Summadayze was struggling through the Perth leg of what would be its last ever tour. On one of the smaller stages a baby-faced duo from the UK called Disclosure were playing for the first time ever down here, but they weren’t just DJing. They had keyboards, percussion pads, guitars, bass and more, rolling through tracks from their soon-to-be-released debut LP, Settle, to easily that stage’s biggest crowd for the day. The show was a refreshingly “live” one, and it was obvious early there was some serious intent behind those boyish smiles.
Australia, at the time balls deep in Flume-mania, took to the housier leanings of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence with aplomb; singles like When A Fire Starts To Burn, F For You and of course Latch featuring the equally fresh-faced Sam Smith connected, and connected hard. Settle was a bonafide smash, with over half the tracks going on to be huge singles in their own right (Flume’s re-do of You & Me would arguably be the year’s biggest remix, too), and since then Disclosure have been back several times, to crowds umpteen times bigger then on that balmy Sunday afternoon.
Above: With Lion Babe at Madison Square Garden.
And it’s on that ever-expanding crowd size our chat with Guy Lawrence starts, on the phone to discuss the duo’s upcoming Australian trip for next year’s Southbound and Falls Festivals, plus sideshows including the Sydney Opera House. At the time of our chat they’d just completed a show to a crowd that’s probably going to be hard to top – a sell-out concert at the historic Madison Square Garden in New York.
“It was amazing. It was basically mine and Howard’s life-long dream,” Lawrence beams. “We’ve been watching artists play there since we were little kids. Our parents had heaps of VHS tapes of live performances from that venue, like Michael Jackson and all these legends. So we were really familiar with the venue but we never thought we’d get to play there. It was the ultimate basically.”
The show was a celebration of their recently released sophomore album, Caracal, a record that’s seen them take the Disclosure “sound” and mold it into a new beast, one that really is designed for the stages they’re playing on in 2015. There was no “second album syndrome” for the brothers Lawrence; early on they knew exactly what they wanted to do with it, and they’ve achieved it almost to perfection.
Howard explains: “We don’t really make music for anyone but ourselves, we make it pretty selfishly. We coulda played it safe and made a whole nother album of house because it’s popular now and on the radio, but why the fuck would we wanna do that?
“If we’re not pushing ourselves and not enjoying what we’re making then what’s the point? So we thought let’s make something completely different. There is elements of house on this record, but there’s loads of different kinds of genres.”
Indeed the release has its roots in that house/garage sound Disclosure initially came to clubs and radios with, but they’ve expanded on it into so many different areas, looking much further back for inspiration. “The last record was just based on what we were listening to right then and there. We were listening to house music non-stop and playing it in clubs and that influenced the record,” Howard begins, “I think for this one we just looked back over our whole childhood and realised we were brought up on pop, soul, disco… And it wouldn’t be right to ignore that. Make sure it still sounded like Disclosure, but make all those influences clear to everyone that we’re not just a ‘house act’.
“We are pop as well, we are disco, R&B, all those things, because that is what we love. And the one thing that was important throughout the record was that we maintained the songwriting [and] I think we’ve outdone ourselves on that front. That’s the part that I’m super proud of with this record. No matter what style you put it in we wrote those songs in a very traditional way. And that’s how you should write music. You can produce it in any old style after that, but for us we just wanted to write some great songs.”
And if Settle is a series of well connected house bangers, Caracal is big room pop that stays true to what the duo rose to prominence with, and with a guest vocal lineup that would make Taylor Swift jealous. The Weeknd, Gregory Porter, Miguel, Lorde and more feature across the record’s full playing time (only two tracks don’t have a guest), which still manages to maintain a fluidity that could have easily been lost with too many collaborators.
Above: Guy and Howard Lawrence with Gregory Porter and songwriter Jimmy Napes.
Keeping that coherence on the LP when things like genres and BPM are all over the shop is no easy feat, and Lawrence reveals it was a big concern for the duo: “We struggled with it even on our first album and most of that was the same genre. And this is a collection of loads of genres. We knew it was gonna be tough, but I think we knew deep down as long as we could keep every song sounding or having references to Disclosure, I think we knew as long as we kept that in every song, people would know it was us.”
With such a strong lineup featuring some of the industry’s biggest players, we’re curious to know who they enjoyed working with the most. And without picking favourites (“It was really nice to work with Sam [Smith] again.”), Lawrence found New Zealand’s world-beating songstress Lorde the most interesting. “Obviously we performed with her at the Brit Awards before, knew she was a great singer and loved her stuff…” Lawrence begins, “But until you get someone in a room you never really how involved they are in their stuff; whether they write all their music or they’re just the singer or whatever.
“And I didn’t really know with Lorde, but when she came in the room and we wrote [Magnets] it was like, ‘Wow you’re a proper artist’. She was so involved not just in the lyric writing or the melodies, but telling me what to do with the drums, telling me what to do with the synths – she was just such a perfectionist, and I’ve really respected her a lot after writing that song. And she smashed that video clip as well.”
Not surprisingly, given they had a live show for their above-mentioned first trip to Australia before their first album had even been released, the current Disclosure live show is a testament to where they’re at, and will be a joy to behold when they get down in Australia. “It’s amazing man. It’s basically as big as we can take it now with just the two of us,” Lawrence says in a tone that’s mixed between excited and proud.
“It’s kind of at that stage where we’ve always wanted it to be. It just flows perfectly with the music, the visuals compliment what we’re doing… Also how much we’re playing live – we’re not just there as a distraction, it’s supposed to really highlight the fact we’re a band playing instruments on stage. Our light show is huge now, our designer Will Potts has absolutely killed it… Combined with him and us working out new ways to play our music and new instruments to use, it’s definitely the best and the biggest it’s been. “