An interview with Groove Armada

An iconic duo and mainstay in modern dance music, Groove Armada are simultaneously timeless and forward-thinking. Tom Findlay and Andy Cato met in London in the mid-90s. Earlier this year, the pair celebrated their 25th anniversary with their final live UK tour. Crowds at the shows revealed the intergenerational impact of their music, with attendees ranging from fans who had followed Groove Armada since their inception in the 90s, to mobs of teenagers, and everything in between. Eager to explore their tracks through fresh perspectives, the pair welcomed remix releases of their classic hits, “My Friend” and “Superstylin’”, from Logic1000 and Dance System back in May. Their open-mindedness extends to further remixes that are set to drop on 15 July (listen here), this time courtesy of Fred Everything and Ashley Beedle (X-PRESS 2), who have reworked tracks from their 2020 LP, Edge of the Horizon. Ahead of release day, I sat down with Findlay to discuss the value of remixes, the process of sourcing them, the extent to which they should be transformative, and more.

“There are remixes from people that you share certain musical values and ideas with, and then remixes from people that you don’t at all, and who are going to surprise you. If you put all of that together, then I think that’s a really nice package.”

What do you think that a remix package brings to an album?

It has to be done well, and it has to be well-managed. The Logic1000 remix of “My Friend” was brilliant because it was done with some love and respect for the original. I can’t stand it when remixes don’t use any of the original parts… it’s utterly pointless. She used the original vocal, she put it into a completely different context, and she brought it to a completely different audience. I think if you can do all of that then you’re making a great remix. 

A mate of mine is heading to Hideout in Croatia, and he said he’s going to play it out there, and that’s great! Kids at Hideout probably wouldn’t describe themselves as massive Groove Armada fans. 

I also love the Dance System remix of “Superstylin’”, which is almost being super respectful of a track to the point where you’re just sort of jacking it up and giving it a different direction. 

What excites you the most about remixes of your tracks? Is it hearing them being played at festivals like Hideout? 

Yeah, I think that’s the main thing. It’s been nice as a process and as a piece of nostalgia for us to go back and to remember those records again. I’ve enjoyed going back and remembering odd places where I heard “My Friend”, and the whole process of making that record, which was a very extended process that happened down in the countryside years and years ago. 

It’s also nice to get a sense of where your place sits in the history of everything. The people we’ve managed to get involved in the remixes so far are real innovators, people that we really respect. 

How did you go about the process of sourcing the artists that feature on the remix package? What made you choose Ashley Beedle (X-PRESS 2) and Fred Everything?

The Logic1000 one was real props to the management team that look after us; they’re really well connected. It’s something I love about them: that Nath and Becky and Mike are plugged into the scene more so than me and Andy now. They’ve got a couple more ideas up their sleeve that are really exciting. 

Ashley and Fred Everything are artists that I really respect. Ashley is a guy that I’ve knocked around with on the same scene for years and years. He’s a brilliant, brilliant remixer. The mix he’s done for us on this one is amazing and technically extraordinary. Having real respect for people is important. 

And then sometimes, it’s about the idea of someone taking something in a different direction. There are remixes from people that you share certain musical values and ideas with, and then remixes from people that you don’t at all, and who are going to surprise you. If you put all of that together, then I think that’s a really nice package. 

What’s your favourite original track by each of these artists, and why?

For Fred Everything, it’d be “E.S.M. (Earth, Sun, Moon)”. It’s got a great old school feel and is also super funky; love those chord stabs. 

Ashley’s stuff is amazing, and the X-PRESS 2 stuff is incredible. The Ballistic Brothers stuff that he did prior to that is what I listened to when I was getting into music! Anything under that moniker was, I would say, the entrée to all the stuff that I’m doing now. 

My favourite track by Ashley is “New Jersey Deep”. Released under his Black Science Orchestra alias, this one is an absolute classic, and still sounds incredible on a soundsystem. 

Did you match certain artists to certain tracks, or did you give the artists the decision to choose which tracks to remix?

Definitely the latter. We’ve been very subtly reimagining these tunes since the start of the 25th Anniversary. With Logic1000, it was very much a case of that was the track that she wanted to do, and I think that’s a really lovely thing, because then people are working with something that they’ve already got initial ideas with. 

Ashley came to us out of the blue and said, “I love this track, I want to remix it.” So we didn’t even ask! He approached us, but it was a no brainer… we were like, “Yes! Obviously.” I think it’s going to be a real summer smash that one, a track you’re going to hear everywhere this summer. I hope so anyway… I’ll play it!

Ideally, do you hope for remixes of your tracks to be completely transformative, or to still retain the essence of the original?

I think it’s hard to be too prescriptive. Sometimes, it’s an enormous compliment when someone comes back with a track that’s very similar to the one you’ve given them. When you think of 90s remixes, you hear a lot of that: they take a track, and just jack it up. I quite like that as a concept. To take a track and just beef it up to make it more relevant for the times. 

But then I also like remixes like the “My Friend” one, which is a difficult track to get hold of really. It’s pretty slow – like 94 bpm – which makes it hard to make into a dancefloor record. The way she’s managed to do that… to completely cut the vocal up, put it into some mad little sleazy breakbeat vibe… I really admire that. I feel like the most important thing is that a remix should be done with affection and love. When you feel like you can hear that in the music, then that’s great. 

But let’s be honest about it, you get “Professional Widow” – the Armand Van Helden remix – which is one of the greatest remixes of all time. You probably wouldn’t even recognise the original, and that’s great. So, it depends. I think there’s a place for both of those approaches as long as it’s done with love and respect. 

Did the upcoming remixes surprise you in any way, and if so, how?

Yeah! The Ashley Beedle one you’re going to hear is so completely different from the original, but just done with real genius. I know the musical place it’s coming from, and that’s lovely. I was surprised by how brilliantly he’d taken what’s basically an R&B track and turned it into a dance record. 

The Dance System one is more like what I imagined, which is great. Sometimes you want to go to a person and say, “Do what you do, because we love what you do, and you do it really well.” And he’s done exactly that. 

You’ve recently had Logic1000 and Dance System remix some of your best-known tracks. Generally speaking, do you aim to have a balance of both veteran producers and rising talent on remix duty for your material?

I think it makes sense at this stage of our career, 25 years into it, that it’s much more interesting to have the rising talent putting their spin on things. Not that I don’t have an enormous amount of respect for our contemporaries… but I just think that the most surprising and interesting work is coming from them. That’s what I think we’ve been going for on this package, with the exception of Ashley. That ability to plug yourself back into a slightly different scene is something really worth having. 

Do you envision allowing more artists to remix your material in the long-term?

I think we’ll see how we go with this… If it comes from a place where people are really supporting your stuff and want to put a different spin on it, then I’m always open to that idea. 

It’s hard to know which of our tracks are left that could really lend themselves well… so many of our tracks have had those reworks. But yeah, I’ve never felt massively protective about it in that sense, within reason. I’d like to have some creative control, not over what they do, but over the people that we get involved. I don’t want to go down some sort of horrific EDM take… that wouldn’t give me a lot of joy. But people who are doing interesting stuff with it… then that’s a lovely thing, it’s a real compliment. 

Earlier this year, you did your last ever live UK tour to celebrate your 25th anniversary. You later tweeted that, “It was an amazing feeling to be back on the road with the same gang of musicians and technicians we’ve been adventuring with for so long.”

Given how much time has elapsed since you first started touring, was it challenging to get this same group of musicians and technicians back together?

It was quite challenging. To be totally clear: from 25 years ago, there’s probably like four that were back on the road. But we were thinking more from the last run we did, which was about 12 years ago. It’s pretty much the same crew. Musician-wise, a bit less so, because they’ve kind of gone off and are developing their own careers. 

The band was pretty easy to get back together, and that was great. With the crew, because we’ve been so tight for so long, they’re kind of now mates and best friends: they travel together, and when they’re not on tour, they’re hanging out together. For them, it’s kind of a good opportunity to get together, listen to some music that they quite like, and have a good time. We’ve always had that camaraderie between us on the road. 

I’d like to think we’ve always been respectful of all the people that have worked with us; they come back into an environment where they know they’re respected. 

We’ve got a few shows left this summer: we’ve got eight or nine shows at little festivals around the UK. Same crew pretty much, and definitely the same band. It’s been good! 

The festivals and gigs that we’ve just done have been lovely, and multiple generations come! I’ve literally seen grandparents, parents, and kids at one gig. I saw possies of 18–19-year-old kids alongside people who are more my age. It’s really gratifying. 

As much as streaming isn’t a positive for music in every way (the financial aspects of it are problematic), in terms of keeping music alive and spreading it to new audiences, the streaming services are amazing for keeping our stuff out there and helping us to have new fans. I really appreciate that aspect of it. 

What is it that you find rewarding about sticking with the same gang? Is it easier to solve problems faster on tour if you’ve got people that know your setup inside and out? 

Yeah, 100%. I’m sure there’s loads of amazing crew people out there in the world, but these ones are perfect for us. They really understand what we do, and they’re really open to finding new ways to improve things, even now. It makes life a lot simpler. 

The blend that we do between technology and musicianship is quite key. It requires people to play in a certain way. All the beats that we do are coming live off a drummer, but that means that he can’t go off and start doing crazy drum solos, because we’re playing house music, so it has to be locked and it has to be tight. 

The guitar player can’t be doing mad guitar solos because he has to be sitting in a pocket and he has to understand and respect the space. MCs are the same. All that stuff is so key to delivering a dance show that feels live but also feels authentic. It’s a subtle balance, and the people we work with really understand that balance, as do (hopefully) me and Andy. 

What were some of the most emotional moments of the tour for you?

It’s so hard to say. Going back to Brixton again is always deeply emotional. The people that work there and the crew are so lovely. Being in Brixton on a summer’s day and the energy of that place… it just feels so alive. There are so many great bands who have been through that venue; we had a five nightstand there about 10-15 years ago. Being back there is incredibly evocative. 

Bristol is always a great city to back to. I think it’s one of the most dynamic cities in the UK now. Manchester as well; I was a student there, so it’s kind of weird for me. The possibility that I could make a career out of music began there. I was DJing for £100 a night in this place called Head Funk on Oxford Road, so to be going back and playing the Manchester Victoria Warehouse for 6000 people… that stuff makes you think about the journey you’ve taken. 

Going back to Glasgow too, which is the first night we did, which was at The Barrowland… one of the great venues of the world. We were there on a Tuesday night, and it was drizzly and grey, but the atmosphere was absolutely incredible! I still look back at footage from that gig and can’t work out how that was a Tuesday night… it was just insane.

But honestly, and I’m not just saying this: every night of that run was just a real pleasure to play. I could feel a real sense of warmth and love from the audience. It was a really emotional event… It felt like we even made a bit of an impact on people’s lives. It was a really amazing time.

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