During the day Orlando Higginbottom is the mild-mannered son of an Oxford music professor. At night, he paints his face, dons a reptilian costume and rampages around international stages at Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
TEED is no stranger to Berlin – he got his start on hometown label Greco-Roman, and he’s hit the Hauptstadt twice since the June release of debut full-length Trouble (Polydor/Universal), an album of exquisitely melancholic yet clubbish tracks within the lineage of Hot Chip and Herbert.
On Saturday, September 8, Mr. Higginbottom returns yet again, roaring politely through the Berlin Festival’s Club Xberg.
You’re known for your exuberant live shows, but the album is actually pretty depressing.
It’s melancholy, but at the same time it’s dance music, it’s celebratory – I think the two are very connected. On the whole, the better night you have, the more of a comedown you’re gonna have. A lot of my favourite music has a sadness to it. A lot of disco, a lot of classical music, a lot of early rave has an ethereal thing to it that’s quite tragic.
Isn’t there something quite sad about being in a pitch black room, not outside, just sort of drunk at four in the morning, hands in the air, just dancing? It’s beautiful, though. When you have your highest moments – at a party or in your life, generally – you’re always aware, somewhere at the back of your mind, “I’m gonna come down from this.”
Your lyrics have a sense of longing.
I wouldn’t at all say that I’m poetic. Lyrics are something that I try to make work rather than try to make true. They’re always just the first or second thing that comes out. But if I really had to, I could explain all the songs.
Okay, explain all the songs.
How about just one? The title track, “Trouble”.
That one’s pretty literal. It’s about seeing someone you like and not being able to be yourself with them, knowing that as much as you like them it’s not quite gonna work out. Growing up, being a teenager, everyone has all kinds of funny relationship fuck-ups and experiments, and working out what kind of person you’re attracted to… But my first [title] choice was “Original Hardcore Tribal Mix”. And the problem with that was the word “mix”. People would’ve gotten too confused.
After years of EPs and live shows, how did you approach the LP format?
My first thoughts were about how hard it is to make a successful dance album – how few classic dance albums have lasted in time. But I was thinking, why doesn’t it work? I was looking for problems, but I’m not sure if I solved any of them. The idea was to do something with a good variety of sounds and emotions. I also wanted to make something that you get stuff out of later on. You wouldn’t hear all of it on the first listen.
What would you consider a successful dance album?
The first Roni Size/Reprazent album New Forms – it’s an amazing record. I think that actually won a Mercury Prize when it came out, which is cool to think of a drum ‘n’ bass album winning that [Ed note: It did. In 1997]. With an album you’re putting little movements together to create something bigger. But with a dance album, most of them need to work individually as club records. So that’s another challenge. But I see it as a kind of exercise anyway: I don’t make pieces of music and say, “This is exactly what I wanted to do with this.” Hopefully I’ll learn from this one.
You went to Africa for the Damon Albarn project Kinshasa One Two.
It was a crazy trip. I came back and I wrote a track that has no drums on it, “Fair”, just to have a bit of space. It took me a while to decompress – just to think about how much money I spend on my fucking studio, on music equipment and vinyl. It sounds patronising, but these people out there… there were these four guys who just played these metal rods and sang. They stole the rods off building sites. And they sounded absolutely incredible.
Would you ever make a completely stripped-down acoustic album?
With great pleasure. It would be a very selfish project. I play piano, but it could still be dance music. It’s not that massively different.
You’re not dependent upon technology.
I’ve been spending money on all these new synthesizers, but I’m not really a geek about it. I know how to use about 15 percent of all the gear that I’ve got, but that’s fine with me. I’m just not very technically minded.
And it seems like you’re turning into more of a vocalist…
At the beginning of this album I thought I’d sing on just three or four of the tracks, and I ended up singing on all of them but one. I really, honestly do not consider myself a singer. I sang when I was a kid, and then when my voice broke I didn’t sing at all. I don’t have a very good technique now. I kind of lose my voice every night anyway.
Wait, you were a boy soprano?
I was a treble, yeah. It was a chapel/university choir, and we were touring and recording as well. It was a professional thing, and it was pretty intense. We were singing, like, 20 different pieces a week. Mozart, Bach – I loved singing his stuff.
So you had the whole touring and recording experience…
When I was seven, yes.
Do you keep up with classical music?
When I’m at home, I’ll play the piano, but I get rusty and it becomes less fun. But I need it, you know? Spending my life going bang, bang, bang – sometimes you’ve really got to listen to some careful craftsmanship.
You’d describe your music as lacking craftsmanship?
Yup. But I think that the training I had as a kid and teenager definitely helped a lot. If you’ve learned an instrument to a certain standard and know music theory, you’re going to have a better understanding of harmony and melody and rhythm. That’s not to say you feel it or respond to it more than anybody else. But if you want to recreate something, you can do that quickly.
Do you have a favourite dinosaur?
I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t know anything about dinosaurs (smirks). Did you think this is because I like dinosaurs?
I like the name. I said it to a friend, and we had a laugh, and I was like, all right.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Sep 8 | Berlin Festival’s Club Xberg @ Arena, Eichenstr. 4, Treptow, S-Bhf Treptower Park, www.berlinfestival.de