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Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff Download
Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff Download
Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff Download
Photo Credit: Sequoia ZiffDownload


Latest ReleaseView All

Off Planet

Release date: 6.16.23

Label: Because Music

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Biography View

This is what happens when worlds align. Off Planet was originally conceptualised by Django Django co founder and powerhouse Dave Maclean, buzzing on ufology as “a way to go beyond”, to bring new voices, new rhythms, new experimentation into play. Released in four separate parts, the plan was to treat each as a separate “planet” and effectively to deconstruct the band’s identity. It was an anarchistic approach that could have ended in chaos. And, well, it has certainly pushed the envelope in all directions: it’s the biggest, boldest, and most varied statement they have made, with a cavalcade of extra voices – Self Esteem, Jack Peñate, Stealing Sheep, Toya Delazy and many more, all of them either friends of the band or personally sought out by Dave – bringing entirely new creative angles into play. From bluesy pop and Middle Eastern cabaret goth to Afro acid and piano rave, to call it kaleidoscopic is putting it mildly.

However, in the process of making it they discovered that there’s a natural gravity to Django Django, something about their way of working and way of being as people, that brought those planets into alignment. What started as a harum-scarum creative process gradually coalesced – even the parts that don’t sound like anything on previous records – into something recognisably “them”, and ultimately into something that is recognisably an album as such, and a great one at that. It remains fully functional as four separate “planets”, but the full rocket ride around them all is, incredibly, an even more coherent and enjoyable experience. Partly it was probably down to the thrill of coming back together after a long period apart – but in large part, it was just how Django Django ARE: it was a microcosm, in fact, of the way they formed.

The band began with, and remain driven by, the core of Dundee-born Dave and Vincent Neff from Derry, Northern Ireland, who met at Edinburgh school of art. Dave was, and is, an obsessive music collector who’d started DJing spacey jungle / drum’n’bass until an older DJ in Dundee told him in no uncertain terms not to get locked into one groove – by the time he and Vinny met he was playing, and producing all kinds of electronic and experimental grooves from dancehall to krautrock and library music, but with a solid heart of raw American house and techno. Vinny meanwhile had grown up on rave and indie from his older sisters and was finding his own voice as a singer-songwriter. 

They became partners in musical enquiry on the uniquely passionate club and gig scene of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and on moving to London post college began making tracks together. Initially the dynamic was Vinny’s songs and Dave’s arrangements – but it quickly blurred with both writing and structuring songs. Vinny’s natural facility with writing harmonies became a key part of the sound, and with the addition of keyboardist Tommy Grace (who’d been Dave’s flatmate in Edinburgh) and bassist Jimmy Dixon, they became the fully-fledged band that has carried on to today. 

In the warehouse party-oriented of scene 00s Dalston they were surrounded by postpunk revivalists and “guys with wacky haircuts playing wonky keyboard lines and shouting” as Vinny puts it. But somehow through trial and (a lot of) error they honed their unique cosmic fusions of three part harmonies with garage rock, spaghetti western atmospheres, classic psychedelia and various flavours of electronica, and bit by bit accumulated a diverse but passionate fanbase. By the time their self titled 2012 debut came out, they were bigger than they imagined: a Mercury prize nomination and sell-out tours ensued, and the ride really began. 

With each step since, there’ve been big shifts. The home-made Django Django was followed by the exploration of big studio possibilities in 2015’s Born Under Saturn, then the more back to basics “being a band” approach of Marble Skies in 2018, and 2021’s Glowing in the Dark – conceived with the band now geographically dispersed – was an album about escape, lightness and flight, with stark dance beats and gorgeous bleeps providing a beacon of hope in the COVID-19 era. But every one of them sounds like a Django Django record above all else. There’s a golden thread running through them, or more prosaically as Jimmy says “we can’t escape being us, how we play, how our voices sound together!” 

So it goes with Off Planet. It began with Dave’s beats: in lockdown and afterwards he’d been super prolific, returning to his DJ roots and making standalone dance tracks – and when the album started they went back to the original core pattern of Vinny writing over these beats (“fast and furious because he was making them faster than I could process them!”). Initially Dave was also making a lot of instrumental electronic tracks “very specifically to be not Django Django”. But as the writing process went on and tunes were passed to Tommy and Jimmy to write parts for, the idea of having a whole load of guests crystallised, and in fact Dave’s more ravey or hip-hop beats suddenly made sense when they imagined different voices on them and reaching out to friends or, in one case, just googling “Japanese rapper”.

Thus songs began to come together that smashed the Django mould. Perhaps most vivid is the first single, “Complete Me” with Rebecca Lucy Taylor aka Self Esteem (who’d been a long associate of the band, releasing her first EP on Dave’s Kick & Clap label, appearing on Marble Skies and supporting the Djangos on tour). Its explosion of 90s dance-pop energy – packed with organs, pianos, synth strings and ultra-familiar breakbeats – make Rebecca’s hooks completely irresistible, feeling like it’s echoing from some familiar memory. But likewise bringing in rapper Yuuko (Dave’s googling struck gold on first result!) allowed the genesis of “Don’t Touch That Dial”, a relentless percussion-driven club track that resembles nothing so much as a genial, Japanese Azealia Banks. Jack Peñate was brought in to “add some classic blue-eyed soul vibes”; the band shake their heads in envious disbelief as they recall him mailing back the almost complete vocal for “No Time” within 20 minutes of receiving the instrumental sketch, and the resulting disco groove is gorgeous and radio-friendly as hell.

Yuuko wasn’t the only rapper either – there’s the Zulu lyrics of “Afro-rave” pioneer Toya Delazy on the acid house surge of “Galaxy Mood” and the North London tones of Refound, who performed around Tottenham where the Djangos’ studio is situated. Then there’s Stealing Sheep, Isabelle Woodhouse, Bernardo and Patience too… it feels like a festival, and it really could have ended up a chaotic mix. But then the band came together and so did the album. From some 50 initial sketches on Dave’s original beats, the shape of the four “planets” began to become clear, and so did the songs, and during a week playing and recording together in the Scottish countryside at Dave’s family home in Polbain in the far northwest, it all became “Djangofied”. 

Sometimes it was just about the vocal harmonies like those which turn the breathlessly trancey techno of “Slipstream” into a proper Django Django anthem, or those that flow around Refound’s verses on “Hands High”. But just as much it was the synth licks, the collective sense of groove to the playing, giving even something as pop-oriented as “Complete Me” an innate Django quirkiness and edge. Just as the Django sound had evolved in the first instance from Dave’s immersion in club culture and Vinny’s songwriting, to become fully formed as they became a band, so the process was repeated on this album, albeit with grander ambition and a whole lot more participants.

Flowing through all of this, too, is the emergent sense of cosmic wonder: as Dave puts it, “just about everything we love, whether that’s old psychedelia or Detroit techno, has that futuristic or outer space feel, and I think we can’t help putting that into what we do.” The term Off Planet comes from Dave’s obsession with ufology: it’s a term for hyper-advanced technologies kept secret from the populace. And perhaps that natural sense of the scale and potential of music and art as a technology itself is what has allowed them to very naturally align all their planets, to make sense and coherence from the ludicrous palette of colours they presented themselves with. Whatever it was, it worked, and whether you take Off Planet one part at a time or all at once, you’re immediately taken into the Djangos’ universe. All that remains now is for them to work out how to transform it to the live stage, but if the album demonstrates one thing, it’s that they can rise to just about any challenge they set themselves...



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