As the summer approaches, so the giants of dance music emerge from their winter hibernation, shake off their slumber and get ready for another frantic season of globe-trotting, playing music to tens of thousands of fans at a time.
And among those acts are Groove Armada, who are headlining the Warehouse Big Top tomorrow with a DJ set at this weekend’s Mutiny Festival.
After a one-year stopover at Fontwell Park near Chichester, the dance music festival is coming home to Portsmouth for its biggest year yet, with 30,000 fans expected through its gates. Also on the bill are Swedish House Mafia man Steve Angello, funk-soul star CeeLo Green, DJ legend Pete Tong and many more.
Groove Armada broke through in the late ’90s with such now-classic singles as Down By The River, I See You Baby and Superstylin’. WOW247 spoke with Tom Findlay, one half of Groove Armada along with Andy Cato, to find out how things are going for the duo.
‘It’s all good, thanks, we tend to take it easy, and don’t really do much in the winter. Things pick up when festival season and Ibiza season kicks in, which makes sense really.
‘Things are getting quite busy – we’ve got five gigs in three days next weekend, and Mutiny and Fabric this weekend, so it’s all good.’
And of course, in true superstar DJ fashion, those dates involve bouncing from The Netherlands to Spain and to Ireland in very quick succession.
Last Friday, the pair released a new mix CD under the Fabriclive banner, which took them back to their DJing roots at the London superclub.
‘It was a nice thing to do.
‘The first kind of residency we ever had was with Fabric when it first opened, It’s quite weird going back to it – we became residents there again in room one a couple of years ago, and we saw a lot of the same old faces from 15-20 years ago, bizarrely, and they hadn’t even changed, so the nightclubbing lifestyle must be good for you in some ways!’ he laughs.
The obvious thing would be to go out as a band and do the big 20th anniversary tour, but I don’t really think that’s where our heads are atTom Findlay
‘Doing the CD, for a UK DJ it’s the standout series in terms of clubbing. It was one of those few remaining ambitions that we still had to fulfil.’
Things have been changing in clubland in recent years though – many have gone out of business, and even big names like Ministry of Sound have struggled.
‘I think the traditional sense of what a nightclub is, it’s something this generation is moving away from,’ says Tom. ‘You need to see these things in cycles, and that sort of era of that club, it’s sad, but it seems to be coming to and end.
‘The scene in London is getting a lot of publicity, but when you’ve got a big space like that in London there’s a lot of pressure from things like property developers, so there’s definitely an issue there.’
However he’s optimistic about the more underground club scene.
‘There’s a real energy in a smaller scene there. There’s places like XOYO in London, that sort of 500-cap venue that is actually really thriving.
‘Maybe it’s because they’re a bit easier to promote, your costs are lower, and those 3-4,000-cap clubs are expensive things to run.
‘Festivals have become a thriving business and a big market. They’re much more of a thing than when we started out, and maybe they’ve stolen their thunder to some extent as well.’
Groove Armada should know what they’re talking about when it comes to festivals – in 2002 they set up Lovebox, a dance music festival that has since become a staple of the calendar.
‘When we first started Lovebox, we did that on Clapham Common, there were no festivals in London. We did it on the same weekend as Glastonbury because there wasn’t really anything happening in London.
‘Now when you look at something like Mutiny and you look at the calibre of artists that they get at something like that, you can tick lots of boxes, and you can see that’s maybe why people are getting their fix from something like that rather than from the clubs.’
But he adds that they’re looking forward to coming to the south coast for Mutiny.
‘It’s a really good line-up, I’ve seen lots of names of people I know, like Kerri Chandler and Steve Angello. It’s really solid.
‘I think it’s quite a unique thing to the UK, there isn’t necessarily that thriving festival scene elsewhere, but everywhere seems to have some kind of event now in this country.’
The pair set up shop as Groove Armada roughly 20 years ago, but don’t expect a big fancy tour to mark the achievement.
‘It’s one of those things where it depends on where you mark “Year One”, so it’s either this year or next, but I’m not sure how much we want to celebrate it.
‘The obvious thing would be to go out as a band and do the big 20th anniversary tour, but I don’t really think that’s where our heads are at, so I don’t think that’s going to happen. We will do something, but at the moment we’re not planning to make a big song and dance about it.’
And they are very well aware of where they sit with their peers and where they sit in the public’s affections.
‘Fatboy’s still out there, Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, Underworld. I think we remind people of a certain period on their lives, and they remind us of that, but I think we’ve now come through that in a nice way.
‘I feel a sort of connection with those acts, but we’re not on the same bill as them too much – we were with Basement Jaxx last week in Cornwall though, their live show is great, they’ve definitely still got it.
‘But we can now do things like Fabric and we’re trying to win over a new audience which is less fussed about the halcyon days of UK dance music, which is a good thing.’
The duo still see themselves as evolving – their last release was 2015’s Little Black Book, a mix of new tracks and remixes, which followed their previous album, Black Light’s turn into darker territory for the twosome.
But it could be a while before their next full album, as Tom reveals, ‘Andy is basically now a full-time farmer, he live in Toulouse in France, and he’s got some cows and he grows a certain kind of wheat, which really does limit the time.
‘To take on an album it’s a year of complete focus, you might think it’s only 12 songs, but the experience of it is never less than that.
‘He’s in France and I’m in London, so we tend to work a lot virtually these days, we send a lot of files back and forward. I think you can do an EP in those circumstance and you can make that work and that’s fine, but I don’t think you can really do an album that way.
‘He has the oddest life, really, he spends five days riding around in a horse and cart and then he comes in and DJs in packed tents.’
He doesn’t think his musical partner will ever step away from Groove Armada for good though.
‘It’s a balance. I’d love to make another record again. We’re still relatively young – before we did Black Book, we did an album called Black Light, which I think artistically and technically was one of our better records, and that was a quite a different sound.’
And when that new album is released?
‘At that point, then I would consider touring and doing the whole live thing again, but I don’t think that we really want to do it for the 20th anniversary because that whole thing is really played out.’
n Mutiny Festival takes place tomorrow and Sunday on King George V Playing Fields in Cosham, Portsmouth. Gates open from midday, with music until 11pm both days. Tickets are £35 a day, or £50 for the weekend. Go to mutinyfestivals.co.uk
THE WEEKEND’S TIMETABLE
9.30pm: Steve Angello
9pm: Jack Harris
7.30pm: Sub Focus
6pm: Sister Bliss
5pm: Toyboy & Robin
3pm: Mike Skinner
2pm: Charlie T
1pm: Leon Lour
Midday: We Are Fly
Warehouse Big Top
9pm: Groove Armada
7pm: Kerri Chandler
6pm: Soul Divide
Midday: Amplified Residents
10pm: Ceelo Green
9.30pm: We Are Fly
8.30pm: Example + DJ Wire
7.30pm: Fatman Scoop
6pm: Mistajam (With Yungen)
4.30pm: Jaguar Skills
2pm: Vato Gonzalez
Warehouse Big Top
9pm: Pete Tong B2B Patrick Topping
4.30pm: Kry Wolf
Midday: Concrete DJs