Presenting The Freemasons, a Grammy-nominated Brighton based English-Irish duo of DJ’s, producers and remixers. They are known the world over for their incredible remixes of some of the world’s biggest artists, here they give us the lowdown on new album Shakedown 3, and working with the Minogues.
Absolutely love Shakedown 3! The dance scene has seen a massive change and resurgence after a rough few years, is that one of the reasons why you scaled back a bit on Freemasons duties?
First of all we’re both so glad you love it as it was a labour of love and very personal. Yes we pulled back a touch when the sound changed and what we tend to call new trance (EDM) came to the fore, as a lot of it wasn’t our thing (we do dabble, just never inhale). Also sonic production changes in dance music, meant everyone from our era was caught a little bit with pants down and had to dig back in, do some homework and get everything sounding bigger, better, faster (and even stronger). It was a 2 year process – possibly more, to get the new material sounding the way we wanted and just as we were firing back up, what should happen? … Classic house suddenly jumped back into the public psyche and before you knew it pianos and organ bass lines were back – Yipeeeeee. Not only that, the young producers had moved the sound on even further and suddenly you find yourself very excitedly poring over Cool Cut and Buzz Chart listings, as some brilliant new House classics are being made!
I’m afraid, I need to ask the obligatory “why did you choose Freemasons” for a name? Is it because you are secretly plotting to take over the world, one remix at a time?
It would have worked if it wasn’t for those pesky kids!! Anyone old enough to remember Hannah Barbera raise your hands (quietly) now… It is actually a fairly mundane answer – the first FM studio was very close to Hove’s Freemasons Tavern and it was a great Friday night pub back then where literally anything could happen. The record company phoned up for an artist name whilst we’d popped out to get some ‘air’ and we looked down at the menu. However one day later I was coming back from a horrible meeting in London after a Japanese project had gone completely beyond pear and I noticed I was surrounded by a really chatty bunch of (what can only be described as) pensioners. They’d just been up to some do at the Lord Mayor of Westminster’s (the proper posh London Mayor, not the blond Tory jester) and were swapping war stories. I have to say I was really warmed by their friendship and later on they kept talking about the lodge – I was surrounded by Freemasons! Life has a funny way of doing that. If you dig deep there really are no coincidences.
You recently launched a little side project called “Pegasus” what made you want to do that?
It was a reaction to some of the one note anti-musical Noise Fest that seemed to be everywhere when Dubstep and EDM hit hard. Now I’ll never be snobby about any movement as without punk, there would not have been New Wave, and without New Wave we wouldn’t have had Yazoo, ABC’s Lexicon of Love and Blue Monday by New Order. But personally (and call me old fashioned) I love a good ol’ chord change with a cracking vocal melody across it, making your ears breathe and the hairs on your arms stand up. Now a few years back, the hairs were standing up on my arms but mainly in blind panic as much of the sound of ‘then’ resembled a Combine Harvester eating Notting Hill’s vinyl exchange and appeared to actually only have one note in it (and bit of ‘wobble’ – whatever that was). When will.i.am ruined a perfectly good Dirty Dancing ballad, that was the straw that not only broke the camel’s back, but gave it a damn good shafting too. We had to do something, so we started Pegasus as a guise in which we could make beautiful things again. Across tempos and sometimes outside of house, whilst everyone else was trying to make sounds to scare young children. Luckily the East End was brimming full of pride having rediscovered house again, and in no time we felt thoroughly fashionable again. In The Blue from Shakedown II was the first Pegasus track ever and we’d never thought organ bass lines would come back – who knew!
You guys are massively famous all over the world, where do you love playing most?
England, Australia, America and the Balkans have been our second homes for the last 10 years so they will always be special, but every gig is a new adventure and new friends to make, so we never look shy to any trip.
You also have a massive following in the gay clubbing culture, did you ever expect that?
No, it came as a completely wonderful surprise, but let’s be honest here – there’s no better place in the world than a gay club for a good sing-along, and as you know, we do LOVE a Diva, and we love our songs. To be supported for so long so passionately by such a wonderful community is (I would happily say) one of our greatest accolades. We’ve made life-long friends, we had our own tribute float at Sydney Mardi Gras, and some utterly amazing things have happened, including a waxing in Fire Island!
Still on the ‘gay theme’ you also remixed queen of the gays, Kylie, what was that like and did she like it?
It was simply brilliant. My dear friend Steve Anderson has been involved in the live shows for years and Biff Stannard and Ash who worked on The One and with Kylie for years, are wonderful chums, so we’ve only ever been a few degrees of separation from Team Minogue. Also, after meeting and chatting to Dannii a few stolen times in Oz, I have to say that nature could not have produced a nicer/kinder pair of artists, role models and businesswomen than Kylie and Dannii if it tried to, and they deserve every bit of love they get from us all.
How did it feel being nominated for a Grammy award?
I think I nearly got run over when I got the call! It’s the kinda reverse of stopping traffic and we are both so incredibly proud. I think my favourite part was texting my Father. He’s recently retired and has only just told me he always wanted to get into the music industry as a singer as a young man in the 50s. Unfortunately he was from a tiny village in the country and he was never able to fulfill his heart’s ambition. When I saw him next he bought up an engraved glass he’d had made just so I would get something whether we won or not. I had no idea just how incredibly proud he was of me until then and it made me melt.
You have remixed some of the biggest names in music, is there anyone you would love to remix that you haven’t yet?
Will someone please send us all the Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ and ‘Off the Wall’ multi-tracks and the big ones from Whitney’s first album for good measure? We’ve actually done incredibly well and to be honest, the more we’re hearing the new breed, the more I’m getting excited about the next lot of singers coming through.
Did anyone ever turn down an offer of a Freemasons’ mix (name and shame)?
I can hold my head up and actually say. we’ve never offered, we’ve only ever been asked. Although, there is a magnificent Emile Sandé bootleg of Heaven on the studio drives somewhere. You would be amazed if we told you who we’ve turned down though ;0
On Shakedown 3, Venice In Peril is my favourite track as it samples one of my favourite pieces of music, if you had to pick, what would be your favourite “Freemasons” song off Shakedown 3?
I’m so glad so many people have picked that up! I was utterly, utterly obsessed with the track as a teenager, after hearing it at a warehouse party in the very early 90s. I have always wanted to cover it, but only now has the sampling of strings got so incredibly accurate I felt we could do it justice. As for personal faves, I love so many of them. Lyrically, I think Sea of Fire is total genius – ‘Here comes the thunder valentine with stormy kisses’…Emma had visions of Henry VIII’s battleships on fire off the shore of the white cliffs of Dover. But also, HANA (a local Brighton artist) has written one hell of a song in True Love Survivor. But you know we love our girls, and Amanda’s Let It Be Me, Bailey’s The Fall, Jude’s Paradise, and In The Blue have not been off the stereo. However, simply because it was amazing to record our friend doing that incredible Gravity- esque ad-lib in our studio and, because of the fun we had writing it with her and Ben Onono, it has to be us and Katherine Ellis’ Cold Light Of Day.
Any big names lined up for a future Freemasons’ remix, and can you give us a little hint?
For the moment, after months of endless work on Shakedown 3 it’s time to tour, rest and recuperate, so all that we have right now, we give to you on this release!
What has been your personal favourite Freemasons’ remix you have done?
I can’t pick one – Whitney for the look on our friend Scott’s face when we took him to the studio to play him the finished mix (to call him an enormous Whitney fan would be painfully underestimating the situation – I’m convinced he had a draw full of restraining orders), but also Deja Vu Beyoncé. I remember calling our manager and telling him it was going to be career changing when we completed it (how right we were), but my love of it is very personal. It was the first time we’d got the sounds utterly bang on – Disco colliding with House and a set of chords even Nile Rogers could have been proud of. To see so many smiling faces of so many crowds over the years when it’s played and know you’ve made people happy, I’d take that over any success any day, month or year. Now, ‘Ring the Alarm’…there’s another chapter!!
Sum up Shakedown 3 in 3 words or less
Blood, Sweat and Tears.