English dance prodigy Disclosure isn’t simply aware that club music is steeped in queer culture – they’re inspired by it. The Grammy-nominated duo, Howard and Guy Lawrence, is still lighting up the charts with songs off their debut, “Settle” (recently released as a deluxe edition), which, according to its creators, leans heavily on the unique gay roots found in house music.
Makes sense, then, that they’re getting their groove on with Madonna. If chummy Instagram photos with the legend are any indication, presumably they’ll be working with the icon on her next album. Word broke just after I spoke with Guy for this gay press exclusive (Howard couldn’t be reached for our scheduled interview, so like a good brother, Guy stepped in for him last minute). Though he didn’t acknowledge Madonna at the time, the 23-year-old did reveal what other pop icon he’s drunk in love with: Beyonce.
How much has the gay community influenced your sound?
Honestly, the history of the music that we take influence from, like house and garage, obviously originated in gay clubs like The Warehouse in Chicago and Paradise Garage (in New York City). I don’t go to gay clubs now, but I feel like gay clubs just seem to be very forward-thinking, in terms of music anyway, and they’re always pushing boundaries. If you look back at the last 25 years or so, they’re playing the most original, creative stuff.
The gay community is often recognized as having its finger on the pulse. You hear people say we know when something is gonna be big before it actually is.
From what I’ve seen, I would agree. I don’t only look to the gay community for where I’m gonna go next, but generally, London is such a step ahead of most places in the world musically, especially with dance music. Wherever we travel, producers and DJs are always looking at London and the UK to see what’s coming up next. That’s really why I love living here. We just have such a great buzzing young producer community going on over here – it’s such a good vibe.
You say you don’t go to gay clubs much now, but it sounds like you have. Was that for research purposes?
I used to go to Brighton a lot. It’s on the south coast of England, a five-minute drive from where I used to live. It was cool – there’s a big gay community in Brighton. I can’t really remember which were gay clubs or not, but it didn’t really matter – there was always great DJs playing at them. I used to drive down there and there was definitely some research involved. When I was really into dubstep and grime and that kind of thing, I’d go down and slowly but surely everyone started playing house music and garage music. It was just a really good place to go out, especially when I was just turning 18 and wanting to learn about dance music, where it came from and the history. It was the perfect place for that.
What differences did you notice, music-wise, between gay clubs and mainstream clubs?
To be honest, man, I never ever went to clubs for the vibe of the club. I would only ever go to enjoy who was playing. I would always check the lineup first, and wherever it was that that person was playing, I would go. It didn’t matter what club it was. As long as it was near and had a good sound system, it was like, I’m there.
Would you and your brother go together?
No, not at all. And we don’t really go that much anymore because we’re always touring, or we’re always busy. We spend pretty much every evening of our lives in a club, and going to a club is the last thing you wanna do when you have a day off. (Laughs) You just kind of want to chill. But yeah, when I was going out, I was just turning 18 – but I was obviously going out a little bit before I was 18 thanks to my fake ID. Howard was 14 years old – he wasn’t ready to go to a club – so I don’t think we’ve ever really gone clubbing as such together. We’ve always just played in clubs together.
Who’s the better dancer, you or your brother?
(Laughs) Seeing as I’m the only one the phone, I’m gonna say me.
Hey, Howard had his chance.
Exactly. I think he’s gotta take this one on the chin.
Mary J. Blige laid down some soulfulness on your track “F For You.” How did working with her come about?
She was just watching TV and heard the song and loved it. She wanted to find out who we are. She found out who we were, got in contact and basically through our management said she wanted to do a cover of the original song. I sent her all the parts to the song and then she sent back a big folder of a cappelas where she had rewritten the words and rewritten the verses. She was like, “I kind of redid it rather than covered it, so here’s all the parts. Do whatever you want with it.” Howard took all the parts, sifted through these different variants and different ad-libs, and that’s the song we have today. It just worked out really nicely. She comes and does it live with us sometimes, and it’s just a really nice, refreshing take on the original song.
Her voice really fits that house vibe. She hasn’t really done a lot of straight up dance music, but she needs to do a whole album of it, and you guys need to produce it.
Man, if I had some time, I would love to. She’s always been into her dance music, especially her house, but I don’t necessarily think she’s been releasing much of it, or any of it. I hope she does because she really, really knows her shit. She knows way more than you’d think.
Who are some other major female artists you’d like to collaborate with?
It’s a difficult one because there’s so many. I don’t know, man. Mary is basically setting the bar extraordinarily high, so we’re pretty happy with her for now. We haven’t gotten into writing the next record yet – that’s gonna happen later in the year – but I think we’ll have a better idea of who we wanna work with at that point.
Maybe Beyonce? Maybe Madonna?
I’d love to work with Beyonce – I don’t know who wouldn’t.
What pop music informs your sound? What are you listening to currently, and who did you grow up on?
Anything with class, anything with soul. Nothing cheesy and formulaic. Anything that has a touch of originality to it but is also really catchy – that’s what really impresses me. Making an eight-minute techno song is an art form but writing a three-minute pop song is also an art form in itself. Both are equally difficult to do, and it’s rare you can find someone who can do both of those things. So, for me, obviously Beyonce and people like that who are just working with amazing producers and have a really good vision about what they wanna do. Her latest album is fucking brilliant. Modern-day people like her and obviously Sam Smith, whose album is so soulful and classy and has some amazing ballads on there. In the past it was people like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Anything with soul and good songwriting is what we’re into.
You worked with Sam Smith before he became this enormous phenomenon. What’s he like to work with?
He’s brilliant, man. The day I met Sam was the day we wrote “Latch.” He was still working in a bar at that point and hadn’t really started his career, so we’ve gotten to see his whole journey, which has been great. I watched his show in London recently and it was just amazing to see the amount of people and the amount of love. It’s been a mad journey, but he’s the same person as when we met him – really grounded, loads of fun and just a really, really nice guy, and also immensely talented. I’m not worried about him. He’ll be fine. (Laughs)
He also recently acknowledged publicly that he’s gay. What did you think of the way he subtly came out to the world with the video for “Leave Your Lover”?
I think he did it in an amazingly classy way with that video. He’s just being Sam. It’s just Sam being Sam, and it’s great. I’m just really happy that he’s doing what he wants to do.
People have questioned your credibility because you’re inspired by sounds that existed before you were even born. How do you feel about the skepticism?
I don’t know if it’s skepticism or more so just general interest of how we got there. In this day and age with the Internet it’s just incredibly easy to learn about anything you wanna learn about. We had dubstep and grime going on here when we were just starting to go to clubs and we really liked it and just wanted to learn how the scene arrived at that, how it got there. If you just go back in time throughout dance music, dubstep takes you to garage, garage takes you to house, house takes you to disco. We spent a lot of time buying old records online and just generally researching how the people back then were making the music, what machines they were using, where they got their influences from, how they were playing live, basically everything. It was five years ago and all we wanted to learn about was everything in the electronic world, and everything leads back to Chicago and Detroit.
So you just completely immersed yourself in that type of music?
Yeah, which is, I guess, why our music comes out sounding a little different than everyone else’s, because we grew up on pop music, not (dance). It’s only recently that we learned about that stuff, whereas most producers and DJs grew up listening to that through maybe having a dad or an uncle who was a DJ back in that time. With us, we learned to write songs first and then decided to make them in that style, in that house-y way, so I think that’s why they come out sounding a bit different.
You’ve really started this dialogue regarding what differentiates dance music from pop music nowadays, and it’s really not much. The two styles have really merged, especially lately. Have you noticed a melding of the two genres?
Definitely. That’s exactly what we wanted to do – make a pop record with those influences on it. I think us and a few other people were sort of the first people making that happen with a bit of commercial success, and actually hearing it on the radio and not just in clubs. Since then, loads of people in the UK especially have had No. 1 singles and top 10 hits with songs that as little as maybe a year or two years ago wouldn’t have even touched the charts. It’s been really cool seeing how the public responds, especially kids who haven’t really done the research necessarily. They don’t even know where it comes from, they don’t know house music is from Chicago, but they just really enjoy the music and the sound of it. It’s just great. I love turning on my radio and hearing some jackin’ house tunes. I can’t think of anything better.