Flex your muscle – nine years of Bicep

In 2017 Bicep’s debut LP is released the history books will read – that phrase still sits somewhat awkwardly on the tongue, considering the Irish duo and their idiosyncratic musical tendencies are already firmly ingrained in House music’s lexicon today. Bicep are a sound all onto their own, and where other similar acts have ventured and fell short Bicep succeeded and thrived. They are known for their blend of big-room House percussion and R&B melodic contrails coming together in effervescent arrangements that push and pull at something primal in your DNA. Their tracks heave, rather than lure, their unsuspecting victims to the dance floor, a culmination of their efforts in the booth as DJs compressed into the 5-10 minutes of a DJ tool. Today they’ve already left a lasting legacy on House music, and yet their debut LP is only released in 2017.

Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson met in school in Belfast and while a friendship was formed on the field playing mini rugby their interests soon shifted to music. Moving into their adolescent years Matt and Andy’s musical education started on the club floor at the age of fifteen with the Belfast club Shine playing a pivotal role to the story of Bicep. It was at Shine they would hear “likes of Underground Resistance, Richie Hawtin, Laurent Garnier, Green Velvet and Dave Clarke on pretty much a weekly basis” and it’s undoubtedly on that floor where the seed to a career in DJing and music was planted.

Growing up in Ireland had especially played an important role in their musical education. “The scene there is much more insular and underground”, explains Matt in a 2012 interview with Scion A/V. “I think the fact that Ireland is so separate makes it more compelling for young people to hunt elsewhere”, elucidates Matt and that perhaps justifies the one aspect of their careers that launched them into public view.

In 2008 Andy and Matt found themselves living in two separate regions in the world and started the Feel my Bicep blog as “kinda like one big long dj mix” according to Andy in a Ransom Note article. With Matt living in Dubai and Andy in London, and unable to DJ together, the blog became a way for the pair to continue collaborating around their shared musical passions – a kind of abstract DJ set. Feel my Bicep was a place where they “could share music with a close group of friends” who had split up, living throughout the UK they explained in that article. It was also “a chance to share much weirder, more left field and obscure tastes”. A mix of old and new music, the blog indulged the boys’ more adventurous side and “was always more about synth music, Italo disco, ambient soundscapes, ’80s electronica, re-edits, soul, funk and older hard-to-find house”, according to an interview in The Quietus than it was about catering to a dance floor. With nothing but a pure love for the music pushing them forward and at a time where the blogosphere was at a peak, Feel My Bicep found a fairly large audience early on and it  brought the DJ duo to the world’s attention even before they’d officially appeared together in the booth.

Working remotely between Dubai and London, Andy and Matt started producing records together at about the same time the Feel My Bicep blog surfaced. “The music wasn’t organic” they explain to the Quietus. “It was produced digitally and generally had no feeling at all.” They regarded that period as a “steep learning curve” and found it a “very tough way to work”; collaborating across time zones and communicating through text rather than creative impulses in each other’s presence. After a few releases they took the step to consolidate the Bicep project and Matt made the move to London, at the time when the city’s music scene was flourishing, especially around House. Amongst the likes of Julio Bashmore, George Fitzgerald and Floating Points, Bicep’s early releases immediately stood on their own for their uninhibited design, where tempos pulse at 125BPM or higher and audacious kicks pounded out concise rhythms. Those first few releases on AUS, Throne of Blood and Feel My Bicep were the purview of House DJs all over Europe and by 2012’s Vision Of Love, hardly a House mix made it onto the internet without a Bicep track featured.

Bicep weren’t an immediate success however, and even though all manner of blogs, DJs and labels were picking the Irish duo up for releases they still had to toil at their craft, putting in 7 days a week for the gratification of the dedicated few. Their releases kept on coming on labels like AUS and KMS and the the Feel My Bicep label grew at the same rate. They were constantly touring, and their DJ sets were synonymous with the sound of their work and the label; unrestrained high-energy affairs that slotted perfectly into peak time hours. The one aspect of Bicep seemed to inform the other, with the dance floor firmly represented in their productions and their productions implying the sound of their sets.

Their blog remained active through their rigorous touring and studio schedule, but Bicep remained an underground treasure, the want of a musical minority, that defied trend-informed movements in the House genre for something determinable and idiosyncratic and that’s what they found in Bicep. It wasn’t however until 2016’s “Just” that the boys started noticing a shift in their career. “(It) was one of those tracks that really changed a lot of things for us and how people viewed us and it’s probably been the most important one in terms of our career so far”, they explain in a Q&A with XLR8R earlier this year.

The half-time beat and the melodic countenance of “Just” wasn’t anything Bicep hadn’t done before, but the memorable uplifting hook and the toe-tapping beat, moved them away from the dance floor and into the living room. With elements acknowledging 90’s downtempo Techno and tempering their music around a more accessible formula, “Just” harked in a new era for Bicep, without departing completely from the distinctive character that had marked Bicep’s initial appeal. It coincided with a new approach in Bicep’s working habits, where they went “from fiddling with samples and editing on a laptop to a fully working hardware studio”, and that contributed a new impulsive, creative workflow too. “Our approach now is to play as much stuff as live as possible and use our hands and try and get feeling into it” they explain to The Quietus at around the same time “Just” was released.

It’s almost as if they only really started working as duo around that time and the results are presumably a more tactile and human execution. “When there is two of you, you need to find a kind of organic feeling where you bounce off one another and create something. Looking back, working from a laptop felt very designed and contrived for us personally.”

This new approach called in the next phase of Bicep, and they cemented it in 2017 with the launch of their debut, self-titled LP. Bicep broke new ground for the duo, channeling their sound from the dance floor to the living room. “It’s very much home listening or for listening on the train, not a club album” they told XLR8R back in July. “It’s certainly more restrained or gentle, but also a lot more dynamic we feel. We’ve spent a lot more time on the little details.” Bicep feature almost no club tracks, and the songs are composed and arranged in a way closer to popular forms. They engage with listener on a different level, doing away with the base corporeal function of the beat and rhythm and focus on melodic and harmonic parts that tap into something visceral and emotive.

Not merely content with playing edits or remixes of these album tracks in DJ sets, like they might have done in the past, Bicep have taken their music to stage for another first for the group, touring a unique live show to accompany the album. Unsurprisingly it’s an ostentatious hardware affair, with Matt and Andy beefing up the album originals for the dance floor, channeling that unbridled energy of a Bicep set into a live show, that’s already left  the critics swooning and the audiences captivated.

From their charismatic DJ sets, their dancefloor filler productions and now their album and accompanying live show, Bicep’s presence in electronic club music is comprehensive. They’ve upturned every stone in the near-decade they’ve been around, and show absolutely no signs of slowing down today. Over the course of the last nine years they’ve established something unique and through the album they’ve introduced an entire new phase to their music that will almost definitely install them in the popular consciousness in the years to come… and to think, it all started with a blog.


* Bicep play our basement at Retro. Advance tickets on sale here.