Django untamed

Django Django. Photo: PA Photo/Antonio Zarli.
Django Django. Photo: PA Photo/Antonio Zarli.

It’s been more than three years since Django Django released their self-titled debut.

Not much has happened in that time, if the band, who met at university, are to be believed.

At a recent gig in Leeds, frontman Vincent Neff told the crowd that bassist Jimmy Dixon had got a cat, and that they’d rescued keyboard player Tommy Grace from the retirement home once again.

While it’s pleasing to hear the band’s running joke about Grace being ancient (in reality, they’re all pretty much the same age), Neff was ignoring one musical large matter.

They’re to return with their second album, Born Under Saturn, on May 4, and begin a UK tour the day after. The album’s named after a book that drummer Dave Maclean found in a shop in Stratford, says Dixon.

“To be born under Saturn means you’re supposed to have an artistic temperament, but I think Dave just liked the words, really, and that it was a pretty esoteric book when he started reading it.”

The foursome had been on the lookout for an album title, having already come up with the artwork; a striking image of what looks like the world’s juiciest orange, painted black and white on the outside but cut in half to reveal the perfect, vivid centre.

“We wanted something as bold as the music,” says Dixon.

They’ve been playing a handful of the new songs live for a few months now, Reflections and Pause Repeat getting the most positive reaction.

That’s pleasing, says Dixon, but really, they’re just relieved to have some new songs to play.

“By the time we finished touring the first album, I think we were so used to playing the songs, we were doing so without thinking about it,” he says. “We were getting a bit sloppy. We weren’t short-changing anyone, but it didn’t feel like we were tight enough, and we were on autopilot.”

Having made the first album themselves in their tiny studio, which also doubles as Maclean’s bedroom, they were adamant they wanted to do something a little grander this time round.

“We wanted to make the album bigger and better, basically,” says Dixon. “And the only way to do that is to go to a proper studio.”

So after writing in their old workspace, they moved on to Angelic in Banbury, Oxfordshire, a studio in a converted barn. Among the main benefits of the residential studio is that it takes a band away from everyday life and its distractions, and plants them in a work-only environment. There are, however, disadvantages to that too.

“We started to go a bit mad,” says Dixon. “And we realised we were spending quite a lot of time messing around with all the different instruments we had there.”

Fortunately, they managed to focus long enough to make a pretty special album.

It’s one of the biggest cliches in music that a band’s second album is difficult to make - based around the idea that they have their entire life to write a debut, and a relatively short space of time to follow it up - but with Born Under Saturn, Django Django have made that particular piece of erroneous received wisdom look even more outdated.

Rather than change direction, they’ve actually just taken what made them interesting in the first place; their blend of the exotic rhythms, close harmony singing, electronic beats and sci-fi lyrics, and ramped them up to create a distilled version of their own sound.

New track Pause Repeat is a case in point, and easily the most danceable song on the album.

“That’s been getting a great reaction when we’ve played live,” says Dixon. “We played in Paris recently, and I don’t know how they knew it but they were shouting for that song and singing along.

“Sometimes we can play a song live and think it’s too slow, so with this album, we really wanted to get a crowd’s energy levels up. We knew we wanted to work on that before we started. We just want people to dance, and want to make it as easy for them as possible.”

Though it took a while for Django Django’s music to catch on with the music press, once it did, many critics were falling over themselves to explain their many influences, and how the four members formed the band after meeting at Edinburgh College Of Art.

Unlike many buzz bands, however, they delivered on initial promise with their debut album.

It didn’t set the charts on fire, peaking at No 33, but it was nominated for the 2012 Mercury Prize, and saw the band win an army of fans all over Europe. They’re particularly big in the Netherlands and France.

Where Born Under Saturn differs is the addition of piano.

“We bought it, and lugged it up a few flights of stairs, so we were damn well going to use it,” says Dixon. “But Tommy was using it to work out things he was writing, so much we had to physically drag him off it.

“That’s why there are so many more piano-driven songs on the album, but at one point we were worried we’d made a piano album, like Richard Clayderman or something.”

The standout in that regard in Reflections, which originally started life as a riff Neff had, only for Maclean to turn it into a dance track reminiscent of 808 State’s pioneering Pacific State.

“Before we had a name for it, we actually referred to that track as 808 State,” says Dixon. “That’s one we can’t wait to play live. It’s really going to get people going.”