Bicep on Pushing a Harder Sound and Chasing Down Pizza Trucks

Words by Christina Dean

The duo, who have gone from sharing obscure disco tracks and Italo house deep cuts on their Feel My Bicep blog into DJing, producing and playing live, consistently sell out their own shows at venues like Printworks, Drumsheds, Brixton Academy and Ally Pally, and are a big draw at festivals around the world. 

After releasing their self-titled debut album in 2017, featuring the monster track ‘Glue’, which was voted Best Track at that year’s DJ Mag Awards, Bicep’s second album Isles arrived at the start of 2021 and went to number two in the UK Albums Chart. Once lockdown restrictions were finally eased, Andy and Matt toured the record with one of 2022’s most impressive live shows. Continuing to flex their muscles, the pair unveiled CHROMA this year, a whole new project encompassing a label, an event series and A/V DJ shows, with a harder sound and a distinct visual identity. 

But before their big CHROMA show in Finsbury Park and the rest of their festival gigs this summer, Bicep are putting on a club night with a twist. Called Carbs & Clubs for Charity, it’s inside Michele Pascarella’s Napoli on the Road pizzeria in Chiswick, it’s going to feature bottomless pizza, and it’s to raise funds for food poverty charity Refettorio Felix. We caught up with Andy to chat pizza orders, playing in London and pushing the Bicep sound.

How are you? How was Glastonbury?

Yeah a bit more refreshed compared to last weekend after Glasto. It was a bit of a mix, really good weather, nice and chilled in parts but it was also really intense in parts. Like our gig got shut down because it was so busy and there were a couple of other bits that were kinda annoying, when you wanted to see someone and it was way too over-the-top busy. That kinda took the shine off it but in general it was really good, had a good time. 

I didn’t go this year but heard from a lot of people that went that it was so, so packed. 

Yeah just unnecessary things like queuing for food and even showers and stuff, it was just a lot busier than I’ve known it before to the point where it was actually quite stressful. Basically, what I did after our gigs were finished, I just went up to the Crow’s Nest and chilled and said, ‘I’m not seeing anything now, I’m not gonna traipse around and get stuck in queues, I’m just gonna stay up here and just watch from afar’. That was actually the best call and I had two good days after that. 

Have you had quite a busy festival season? 

I didn’t even realise it was festival season because we’ve just been going, this year especially. We did a massive South America tour for six weeks and we did that off the back of Australia, then I went to Bali, then did six weeks in South America, all over Mexico, North America, did Coachella, and then I went to Thailand, and then once we were back here it was straight into AVA and Irish festivals. I haven’t seen winter, I mean this summer is basically winter in London, it’s an absolute killer. 

It’s awful! And you’ve got a big CHROMA show in Finsbury Park next month. 

Yeah we’ve got that start of next month, which should be good because it’s local for me, I’m literally on the top of Green Lanes. I’ve seen there were a couple of gigs this weekend, I heard Michael Bibi on Saturday, I could hear it from my living room if I opened my doors. 

Yeah I used to live opposite Victoria Park so I would always be able to hear All Points East and then could be there in two minutes, so good.

It’s a strange one but it’s actually quite cool, I’m looking forward to it. A lot of my friends who live locally are all gonna come round and have drinks at my house and then go to the gig which is a very weird rare occurrence, like I don’t think it’s ever happened before. I probably won’t have that many drinks if we’re playing for four hours, it’s gonna be quite intense.

CHROMA at Drumsheds

What can people expect from the show? Is it gonna be quite similar to what you guys have done before at other CHROMA shows at the likes of Warehouse Project and Glasto or a little bit different? 

Because we’ve got a little bit more of an extended set here we can actually stretch our legs a bit more. It’s a bit better in terms of finding out the whole sphere of what CHROMA is about and the kind of music that informs it. It’s trying to cross the worlds between a traditional club show, a small one, and a festival show, so I think we’re gonna try and touch on both sides and stretch the music and make it slightly deeper but then go more extreme with the CHROMA side of things as well. I think that’s the whole point of this CHROMA project is to not feel like it’s down the middle and be challenging from both sides. The intensity of it will hopefully make it much more interesting. 

What would you say the reaction’s been like to CHROMA, both the tracks and the shows? Looking at some of the clips you’ve posted on your Instagram, some people are like ‘this is amazing’ and others are like ‘I don’t understand, I thought this was a Bicep show’.

Yeah I know, this was the whole point of it. Me and Matt talked about it for a while, we came back off a live tour which basically lasted about six years where we did two albums, and it was constantly playing our own songs for six years. As fun as it was and as amazing as it was performing our shows live, we needed something that was a bit different to refresh ourselves and challenge our audience. I don’t think we had it in us to produce another of-the-ilk Bicep album, so we were like ‘let’s create a place where we can start making tunes in a day and get them out there and play them out’. Traditionally how the live show works is you make a song, we have to speak to the guys who do our visuals to see if it works, see if the speed works within the show, everything needs to be managed in a sense. So you make a song and it’s three months before it actually makes it into the live show. That way of working makes you not want to make music in the studio because it becomes a laborious process and not instantaneous. When we started making music we could make a song that day and play it in the club. That’s where we came from and we kinda wanted to get back to that idea of not refining everything to the point of smoothing it off and making it polished, we wanted to have everything a bit rough and ready round the edges.

Like with the CHROMA show, the lights and the visuals there’s nothing pre-programmed, they see what we’re doing from where they are on stage but we can change anything at any time and there’s nothing pre-planned. Me and Matt have shot some video and Zak has made some videos for the shows but basically that’s it, he manipulates it live. The guys doing the lights manipulate them live, there’s nothing pre-programmed in that sense. Everything’s on the fly so if you imagine four people working constantly, the visuals, lights, me and Matt and we’re all doing something at the same time but nothing’s pre-programmed so it’s really nice to have that chaotic harmony when it all comes together. You know when it hits, it hits really nicely but it doesn’t feel like it’s planned whereas when you do a live show, you have everything lined up and it needs to hit at the right time, you learn the show and everyone becomes accustomed to what’s gonna happen. The loose nature of it is what we craved and that’s basically why we had to do it, for our own mental capacity. What we’ve found actually is that we’re gaining way more fans and newer, younger people. The people who came from our first album are the ones who are probably saying what you said, like not really getting it in a sense because they know us from our albums rather than pre that. We’re getting a mix of everything but slowly everyone’s coming round, even the people who didn’t really get it at first, they see it’s not an album, it’s a kind of side step to prepare you for a new album.

It’s almost a callback to the Feel My Bicep blog days, like these are the songs we really like and we’re gonna put them out and then people start coming because it sounds amazing. 

Yeah 100%, we used to put up lots of old series like Analord by Aphex Twin ones or Electronic Battle Weapon ones The Chemical Brothers did, they were things for clubs, they don’t really sit well on an album. A lot of time when you make music in the studio you realise that a lot of the music you make wouldn’t sit well on an album, it’d be a bit too intense or isolating. You go to an album for a mood, a feeling. I’ve had albums where there’s one track that’s like ‘why did you put that on there’ so it’s kinda getting those tracks out of our system. Like when we said we were gonna do this CHROMA thing, instantly we started writing album tracks and we were like ‘fuck!’ Your brain always works in that way, always craves what it can’t have, so it’s been a good exercise for us to mentally feel like we can progress things in the right way. 

I think people that go to the shows, they might go to one or two shows a year, maybe they see you at a festival and then they see a live show, they see it twice whereas you’ve been playing that same set for six years. People don’t really think about it in that way, that you have done the same show over and over and over again. 

That’s the whole thing, like if we ever did a show in London and we did one every four to six months at one point, we never played the same show. We always tried to change it up, even in doing that you’re taking your own songs and trying to change them about a bit and or you’re trying to work in visuals, you’re trying to make it feel different and that’s what we were constantly doing, but that took a lot of effort. That was the hardest part, we worked with the same songs but changed them so many times that you’re constantly spending time changing your own songs around and you’re just in a loop. It’s kinda what happens with bands. It’s the same when you get a hit, people start resenting that hit. We still play ‘Glue’ pretty much every time and I’m still not sick of it so I’m alright! We’re not having our diva moment yet.

And you’re playing at the Napoli on the Road pizzeria, can you talk about how that came about?

Michele had a little pizza truck with an oven on the back and we were at Fortress Studios, which is near Old Street, at the time. I remember specifically the day me and Matt went out, it was in the album one writing process and we went outside and the truck was there. It was a Friday, I remember it was cash only and we only had a fiver on us and we took it from the studio. It was a fiver for each pizza and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. I can pinpoint some of the best meals and the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life and that was definitely one of them. This was 2017 Iand then it became a thing, we’d message them and say ‘where is the van this week?’ and we’d try and chase it down. We were like ‘every Friday this is our treat’ and then we’d go on tour and then come back and the pizza truck’s gone, so then me and Matt just started trying to find him. It didn’t have a big social presence and there wasn’t really an Instagram, there was a Facebook but it wasn’t updated. It was a one man band and I think he was doing most of the stuff himself, so he was like ‘why is everyone messaging me to find out where the pizza truck is?’, he thought we were weirdos just following it round. I remember one day it was at St Pauls so we got it down there, then it was super west and we’re like’ ah shit are we gonna cycle across in the rain?’ and we went super west one day. It was just constantly like that, we just followed him about for a little bit. Then he got the restaurant in Chiswick and we’ve been down there a few times.

It was quite natural, he’s grown so massively and we’ve kinda done the same as well in separate worlds. Pre putting the album out we weren’t anywhere near as big as we are and the same for him, he’s won all these awards and gone from strength to strength. It’s really easy to go when you’re doing an album campaign, ‘let’s do a little pop-up pizza thing’ and it promotes your album or whatever but it’s not that at all. It’s more a case of ‘have you got time now, we’ve got time now’ and the stars aligned. During summer it usually wouldn’t happen and off the cuff he sent Matt a message and the timing worked, so yeah we’re happy to be involved and do a little collaboration, when these align it’s amazing. And we did the hot sauce thing, that’s like a fun thing and it works with pizzas. To be honest the Neapolitans might not approve of it but we’ll see what happens!

The hot sauce is a completely separate thing right?

Yeah so the guy who makes it, HOOTS Sauce, we’ve known him for years and we’ve been talking about making a hot sauce for years as well. Then it became a thing maybe four or five years ago, everyone started doing a hot sauce, so then it felt like ‘ah no it feels like we’re jumping on a bandwagon’. We left it for ages and ended up doing this thing where he would make a batch and test it, and he would send us some tasters of like six or seven hot sauces. Then over time we built up a flavour profile we liked. It’s the same as our CHROMA show, you can give him all the ingredients but it can vary on the chillies, on how much smoke, so the first batch of the hot sauce we did was completely different to the next one even though it was pretty much the same recipe, just slight variations. It’s really nice to do these wee one-off collaborations. They’re just fun things for us to do when we’ve got a bit more time and not on the road travelling. Also, we can do collaborations with people with the hot sauce. It’s been pretty amazing the reception it’s had from different restaurants and pizzerias, how they’ve incorporated it into different dishes and how they made their own chilli honey and mayonnaises and things. Like you know your foodie friends who are a bit snobby, even they’ve come back and say they really like it. We’re really into that kind of stuff so we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t high level. Everything kinda aligned with that as well and we take our time on it, we’re not rushing it and it’s not really intended to make tons of cash, it’s just a fun thing to do. 

Do you think you’d do any other food ventures? 

Yeah me and Matt want to – I say we want to do it but I don’t think we’ll ever do it – we want to do an acid party, where it’s acid-inspired foods, citrusy cocktails and we’ll just be playing acid music. Just go the whole shebang. We’ve written up a menu and everything. We’ve talked about doing an Irish menu as well. Traditional Irish food is sometimes seen as quite basic but the high end, culinary side of Irish food is really, really top, really good fish, really good ingredients if you look for it in the right places. We’re talking about doing something like that. This is the kinda stuff you wanna do when you’re not on the road all the time, like setting up your own restaurant, you see why people do it. It’s quite similar to music in terms of creating different menus and flavours and ideas and feelings. We’d like to do it in future but we’ve got so many ideas. Matt’s really passionate about cooking and food in general, I’m like’ I’d do it but it’s a lot of work’ but it’s nice to be pushed over for this one.

The acid thing is genius, you should definitely do it!

This will be amazing to see how this goes down because it’s one of those things, you’re never gonna make money from it but you want the best of both worlds. Like this here you wanna make it feel like a homely pizzeria where everyone’s actually having a laugh and meeting each other, at the same time enjoying the music, and everything does justice to each other. It’s finding the setting and the right place to do it without making it feel like a gimmick. That’s always the challenge. You can’t go wrong with pizza and music so this will be an easy test, and if it goes well we can expand on it. 

When you were getting the pizza from the truck, was it always the same? What’s the go-to order? 

I couldn’t vary from the margherita. I always regret it if I ever venture off from that, so if we ever did do that me and Matt would always have a table pizza, we call it. Like when we go out with our crew it’s always a couple of table pizzas and then you get your own pizza. 

You’re playing inside the restaurant, is that the most unusual place you would have played a set?

Nah we’ve played some really weird places to be honest! Restaurants are always good though, we’ve played quite a few. We’ve played converted social clubs, which still have the hot dog machines inside and that, we’ve played in airport terminals, all sorts of weird places. This seems like a good balance of unusual but not dingy, or unusual for the sake of being cheap, this’ll be a nice join. 

Where are some of your favourite places to play in London? 

It’s hard to say, the three shows we’ve done over the past year have been some of my favourites. Ally Pally was absolutely huge last September and we did Drumsheds, which was also absolutely amazing. They’re complete different spectrums, one was live and one was CHROMA, DJing and curating the line-up. We also did a small show on a Sunday at Corsica Studios, which is one of me and Matt’s favourite clubs growing up in London. I say growing up, I moved here when I was 21 and it’s always been a place we used to go to with all our friends, so it’s really nice to come back and replay that. 

I would be interested to hear your take on nightlife in London at the moment. With a lot of venues closing and things becoming so much more expensive it seems like people are going out less than they used to. What do you think the impact of that will be on people getting into electronic music and also on the industry itself?

Yeah the club thing is quite tricky, it comes hand in hand with gentrification. I lived in New York for a bit and seeing the same thing happen there, slowly the clubs deteriorated, even the pop-up ones that were bars that turned into clubs at night. When I moved here across Brick Lane and Shoreditch all the car parks would turn into clubs at weekends and that’s all kind of been lost. But at the same time there’s a lot better festivals and higher quality productions going on. If you wanna find a night out there are things like Drumsheds and you’ve also got clubs like Fold. If I speak to younger people and I have spoken to quite a few who go out in London a lot more than I do, I think because we travel so much it’s quite hard, they say there is amazing stuff on but you just have to dig it out. There’s good nights but the local bars turning into clubs, I was quite lucky when I moved to London that there was so much of it. There were so many places that I could cut my teeth and play, it was easy to get gigs because every single bar had a club. I think it’s a lot harder for a young DJ to get on a run of just being a warm up DJ, understanding playing in a bar for six hours, understanding how to work a room, that’s become a little bit harder. It’s just the nature of gentrification and the way things have gone. And the move to more festivals and bigger nights, people save their money for them rather than go out every single week, which was common when I was growing up in London. 

Have you got more festivals for the rest of the year then?

Yeah I mean like for the next two years! We’ve got quite a few, I feel like it’s kinda eased off because doing South America was the first time we’ve done that since 2017, so it was really nice to actually spend some time there. I love the place, Brazil and Colombia, it was so nice to do that so it felt like a little bit of a holiday and refresh in terms of getting back into music and seeing different scenes. It felt like we were on a European conveyor belt before. We’re not playing in France this year at all, we’re not playing lots of places where we would maybe play five or six times a year, we’re not playing in Spain, we’ve got one Italy show. It’s a different outlook in terms of touring this year and we’re doing a big American tour towards the end of September. To finish that off we’re doing Portola in San Francisco, which’ll be a really nice festival and Mirage in New York as well. So we’ve got lots of really nice little bits to look forward to. The Italian one, C2C in November is gonna be amazing, we’ve done that a few times in Turin and I always hit up the same pizzeria as well so that’s gonna be good! Got lots to look forward to and hopefully a lot of time to make music within that as well. 

I was going to ask, what’s the plan for music making? Is it going to be more CHROMA releases, more Dove stuff, a third Bicep album or you’ll see what the vibe is?

We’ve got three more Bicep and collabs coming up on CHROMA, we’ve already finished them, there’s one more Dove track in the works. We’ve got a collaboration with Benjamin Damage and then one with Hammer, which are lined up to come out. We’re gonna try and finish off one more Bicep tune we’ve been working on this week actually, and then we’re gonna try and finish off one more Dove track and that will take us up to ten I think on the CHROMA front. We’ll know by then if we wanna finish off more tracks for it, we wanna do a big splash at the end, maybe different versions of the tracks we’ve already released on CHROMA because we’ve got different versions of them that we play out now. That’s what I mean about the CHROMA thing, it’s quite flexible, we’re kinda just moving every release, even with artwork and stuff, we’re just chucking in different ideas and trying to expand on them every time. But yeah I think the plan is to get CHROMA up to ten and see where we are at the end of the year, maybe we keep going, maybe we start working on an album. We’ve got stuff for album three in the works already but I think we’re gonna slow burn that one. We’ve got a couple of tunes in there that we know are special and wanna just do it when it’s right and it feels right, and get all the aggro out of our system with the CHROMA stuff. 

Bicep are playing Napoli on the Road on 15th July and CHROMA in the Park on 2nd August 2024.