Groove Armada's Tom Findlay and Andy Cato live, work and DJ in London. However, when it's time to record their music, they neatly pack up their gear and trek to the most remote country cottage they can locate to get as far away from civilization (phones, pagers, and pubs) as they can. (Okay, well maybe not pubs.) Up close and personal with nature, they happily breathe fresh country air, sit under the stars at night and carefully cajole Groove Armada's soulful funky mojo.
Vertigo, Groove Armada's U.S. debut, is the sonic document of their excursion last summer to bucolic Ambleside in Cumbria. "It's the best time of the year for us," beams Tom Findlay. "You're away from everything and you can truly focus on the music. The only way you're in contact with the world is when you go into town."
Full of robust grooves,Vertigo is an album simultaneously rich in atmosphere and deeply contemplative. "Whatever, Whenever" features rapper M.A.D., a member of Tom's football team, on the mic ripping it up. "If Everybody Looked The Same" is a funky booty shaker, while their mournful "At The River," featuring Patti Page vocals "If you're fond of sandunes and salty air", is the perfect soundtrack for a summer's sunset. It is laden with trombone and somber chords, displaying a musicality that's almost non-existent in clubland these days. The boys stay close to their dancefloor roots on the gritty Gram'ma Funk-fronted "I See You Baby," which has been remixed by the funk soul brother himself, Norman Cook (aka FatBoy Slim).
Using an organic approach to make their tunes has helped Groove Armada to build their globally renowned reputation as a consummate duo who are able to DJ, produce and remix with the best of 'em. But it's by no means accomplished by accident. "My whole youth was filled with music in school," recalls Andy Cato, who plays a variety of instruments, including trombone, keyboards, and bass guitar. "I did everything with music that I could, without going to a music school. I was going to go to a music school when I was 17, but thankfully my parents talked me out of it and I stayed in the real world."
Tom is admittedly better at Sunday soccer than Andy having played it more than his partner in his youth. The two met five years ago through Andy's girlfriend. "She knew a Cambridge gang of music makers like Tim "Love" Lee and Idjut Boys," says Andy. "We sat around, chatted, listened to records and played bass guitar."
Before long, they both ended up in London and both looked to bring their DJing knowledge to the big city. To sidestep the "London Mafia of promoters," they set up their own club called Groove Armada, taking the name from a kitschy '70's disco club night in Newcastle, which Tom's friend Joe once ran. Initially it was a two-room venue where Andy played house in one room and Tom played funk in the other. Soon enough, they moved the party to another one-room venue and swapped turntable specialties. With more of the world now finding out about Groove Armada courtesy of Vertigo, the party has only really just begun.
With the host of indie singles and remixes, one indie album (Northern Star), and countless DJ gigs (incidentally, Groove Armada are monthly residents at the recently-opened London superclub, Fabric) under their belts, Vertigo sits comfortably as a wonderful synergy between two kindred musical spirits. This acclaimed album has reached silver status in the UK, selling over 68,000 copies to date, as well as hitting the Top 20 in the British charts, as did all three singles taken from Vertigo.
"It just works between us," beams Tom, who plays trumpet, bass guitar and a dash of keyboards here and there. "I think that there's certain lines of delineation between what we do. Andy does more engineering and I tend to make more cups of tea than he ever does! But it works out. I think we respect each other and we never have blazing rows. It's give and take and in the end we always end up with something that we're happy with." Groove Armada will always have strong roots to the dancefloor and their seven- piece band has helped them fully realize all of their musical aspirations.
Says Andy, "We grew up listening to records that were performed by people, even if they were dance of funk records. On stage we use technology to keep the rhythmic elements fat and wobbly, but re-interpret the songs to incorporate live performance. That's far more satisfying for us than just standing in front of a DAT player."
"Someone said recently that we reminded them of Sly & The Family Stone," concludes Tom, looking a bit amazed at the magnanimous compliment. "Obviously, we're not as good, but I think there's a similar vibe there."
Full of perpetual motion, chaos and something very fun and funky, Groove Armada's Vertigo, stands proudly as one of the most important rhythm collections of the '90's.