Clean Bandit interview: From classical music in Cambridge to parties with porn stars in the US

These twenty-something pioneers are doing something right

It’s the evening after the night before. In a bustling bar-restaurant in New York’s hipster ground zero, the Brooklyn neighbourhood Williamsburg, Clean Bandit are reflecting on their first US show and anticipating their second.

Already today, the London-based foursome have appeared on a coast-to-coast morning TV show, performing their still-irresistible single “Rather Be” – the sound of the summer, seven months after it sold 163,000 copies in its first week of release in the UK. Tonight, the Music Hall of Williamsburg awaits, and the queue is already snaking up the hot, early-evening pavement. Yesterday, the celebrations after their show at Los Angeles’ Roxy club had continued into the wee hours. These twenty-something “electronic chamber music” pioneers – an Italo-house piano riff here, a violin solo there, a belting vocal all over – are doing something right.

“It was a wild night,” affirms the very un-wild looking Grace Chatto, the band’s cellist. She’s the picture of refinement, even wrestling with the after-effects of a hangover savage enough to last the length of the band’s transcontinental journey. “We went out afterwards to the Rainbow Bar and ended up at a party with Ron Jeremy. It was definitely him,” she adds. How, one wonders, did mild-mannered Cambridge University graduates Clean Bandit ask the famously endowed porn star to prove his identity?

“He opened his boot,” begins keyboard player Jack Patterson, quickly clarifying that this is not a euphemism, “and it was full of porn mags, and he had copies of his single.” (It’s little wonder Jeremy was drawn to a band who sample both Mozart’s String Quartet No 21 and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 on their debut album New Eyes: his seven-incher is called “Understanding and Appreciating Classical Music”.)

“Then we went to Soho House with our manager,” continues Chatto. “Then we got split up.” Her picaresque adventures in La La Land had only just begun. “I ended up in a really swanky club with loads of Rolls-Royces outside. Then someone invited us to this amazing party in the Hollywood Hills with incredible views and a hot tub. Yes,” she giggles, “I was in it.”

Blimey. That’s some night. They might not look like the most rock’n’roll British musical export – One Direction seem more dangerous – but Clean Bandit ticked all the boxes on their first night on US soil. The only thing missing was a run-in with the LAPD. “Maybe next time,” says Chatto.

Still, it sounds like the revelries were justified. “The show was brilliant,” she enthuses of their sold-out appearance at the Roxy. “There were lots of really young people wearing Clean Bandit T-shirts, and they knew all the words to all the songs on the album – even though it only came out in America that day. So we think maybe they got it illegally beforehand.”

“Bastards,” Patterson mutters playfully.

“And then there were some older guys raving at the back,” continues Chatto in her very well-spoken tones. “I don’t think they were industry people though.”

To be fair, they probably were. There’s a music-biz buzz about Clean Bandit in the US just now, the tailwind of the chart-topping “Rather Be” having blown like a pop El Niño across the Atlantic.

The quartet, who formed at university and feature a pair of brothers (Jack and drummer Luke Patterson) and a couple (Jack Patterson and Chatto), are at the vanguard of a fresh British mini-invasion of the US. Soul singer Sam Smith, as we speak, is over the road in Rough Trade NYC doing a signing session for his debut album. A few weeks later it takes the No 2 slot on the Billboard charts, just behind Ed Sheeran at No 1.

“I think because we’re from abroad, the Americans see us as a bit more exotic,” says quietly spoken violinist Milan Neil Amin-Smih, barely audible above the din of drinkers. “In the UK, we’re a pop band. But here they think we’re a bit more leftfield.”

For all the band’s classical DNA – on top of their orchestral training, their breakthrough British single was the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin “Mozart’s House” – it sounds as if they prefer to be viewed as a little more progressive and unconventional. Certainly the shy-seeming Patterson, who writes most of the music, gained succour from the working methods of Rudimental.

The Hackney collective’s label Black Butter discovered Clean Bandit, first releasing “Mozart’s House” in late 2011. “Those guys, not just musically but ideologically, were a big influence. Like us, they’re four instrumental musicians and no vocalist – and it works,” shrugs Patterson. “When we saw that, it gave us confidence that we could do something like that too. We hadn’t really seen any other acts doing it until then.”

Ssegawa-Ssekintu “Love Segga” Kiwanuka, vocalist on “Mozart’s House”, “was at university with us and he was very much our lead singer when we started,” explains Chatto. “Then he decided to do a PhD in laser analytics and didn’t have time to do the band. So at that time we decided to open it into a collective where we could work with him when he had time, but also other people.” Patterson nods, adding: “We were a bit worried about how it would work for us, without a lead singer. But it seems like we’re just about getting away with it.”

That evening at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Clean Bandit more than get away with it. They’re hugely entertaining, Amin-Smith excitedly bopping about with his fiddle, Chatto beaming serenely behind her stand-up electric cello, the Patterson brothers intently working their instruments behind them.

And in the middle, touring singers Elisabeth Troy and Florence Rawlings do a brilliant job of rousing the ecstatic crowd along to the clubby beats, and ably covering all the bases from a debut album bristling with guest vocalists.

For their summer run of UK festivals, though, Clean Bandit are hopeful that the likes of Jess Glynne (“Rather Be”) and Stylo G (“Come Over”) will be jumping onstage. At Glastonbury, the band were joined by Love Segga, Stylo G and Rae Morris (“Up Again”) for a riotously good-natured party set that drew the weekend’s biggest crowds to the John Peel tent. It’s this free-floating, carnival vibe that will make Clean Bandit an undoubted hit at next weekend’s Latitude festival. But, admits Patterson, “I think deep down we’re sill looking for one singer. That Special One.”

“Maybe it’s Luke,” suggests Chatto of the one member who hasn’t made it for the interview and who is, it seems, even more reserved than his brother. “Can you imagine if he just started singing and he sounded like Frank Sinatra? Or Sam Smith.”

Looking past the summer, Clean Bandit will be reconnecting with their other love, and won’t be needing a vocalist. “In September we’re doing a symphony based on the album with the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester,” says Patterson. He admits he’s not sure his grade-four clarinet skills are entirely up to the task. “We’re figuring out now what we’re going to do. We’re definitely going to work with an arranger, because it’s not something we’ve done before in its entirety. I did it a bit for my A-level, but that was probably a bit shit.”

Clean Bandit’s single “Come Over” (Atlantic) is released on 11 August. The band play Latitude festival, Suffolk, next weekend

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