Alternative hip-hop duo dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip is made up of, respectively, musician and producer Dan Stephens and emcee/vocalist David Meads, left to right in opposite photo. The duo arrived triumphantly on the UK music scene last year with their breakout debut hit single "Thou Shalt Always Kill," which became an instant hit.
Packed with wit and sly observations on British pop culture, it topped the XFM and BBC radio charts and won high praise in countless media outlets, including the Guardian UK, which called the track the "underground anthem" of 2007 and the NME, which proclaimed it "The Track of the Year" -- and this despite the fact that the song mocks the same UK music mag in its ever satirical lyrics. Since the runaway success of "Thou Shalt Always Kill" as both a single and a video (see clip below), the talented duo have kept very busy. They've toured back home as well as performing at festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, including at the Glastonbury, Leeds, and Reading festivals in England and at both Coachella and SxSW in the States this year.
They've also been busy recording and releasing a series of follow-up singles, including "Letter from God to Man," "Beat That My Heart Skipped," and "Look For The Woman." They have also just released their debut album this month, Angles, which includes all of their singles, released in the US on Sage Francis' Strange Famous label (available at Amoeba).
The pair are currently on their first US tour in support of this debut album, with Cali dates including tomorrow in LA at Echo (Tuesday Sept 30th) and Wednesday in San Francisco at Cafe du Nord (Oct 1st).
Despite its highly opinionated veneer, "Thou Shalt Always Kill," like much of the pair's music, is at its core a caring self-help message, challenging individuals to always think for themselves and to "always kill" (as in always excel) at whatever one does in life.
Meanwhile, in the song "Fixed," Scroobius Pip raps that the only thing worth focusing on in life is trying to improve one's self. Coincidentally, when they did a brief UK mini-tour two months ago they structured the presentation of their unique shows as self help motivation seminars.
But perhaps what is most commendable about this group is that they actually practice what they preach, especially when it comes to thinking for themselves. Case in point: they didn't rush into a record deal after their debut's surprise success. "We didn't sign a record deal until after we had finished our album. So it was a year after 'Thou Shalt' came out over here that we signed our actual deal because we wanted to make the album [then] decide who we sign to as opposed [to] who we sign to decid[ing] how the album sounds. We didn't want anyone playing about or pushing us in any direction," Scroobius Pip told me by phone from the UK recently, before heading over to the States for this current tour that began last week on the East Coast.
"Again, we were well aware that we were naive to the industry so we didn't want some slick A&R guy convincing us it's best to go this way or that way when it really isn't. We had a lot of labels waving check books about and talking the talk both in the UK and the US. But we waited til there was a label that just felt right, that felt like home....And as soon as that [Strange Famous] came on the horizon, that was all our focus was on. I've been a fan of his [Sage Francis] work for a long time. I like his ethic and I dig what he does," said Pip. He also noted that since its inception two years ago the duo had been self managed until quite recently.
Like Sage Francis, the duo don't fit the conventional hip-hop model -- perhaps even less so since dan le sac's production is all over the map, including glitchy excursions on some tracks -- yet they give more love to the genre than any act I have heard in a long while. "I love hip-hop," said Scroobius, quickly qualifying that, "Over here hip-hop is just Kayne and 50 and they are all popular....and I am not heavily into that type of hip-hop." "There is a great underground scene in America right now with people like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock and Sage (Francis), and Saul Williams and all these other people," said Pip, who started out in the spoken word/poetry scene. So is that why he wrote that line in "Thou Shalt..." criticizing those who walk out of open-mic poetry readings midway after they have read their own work but not sticking around to listen to others? "Yeah, exactly," replied the poet/emcee. "That makes the whole process pointless 'cos if they're just there to do their bit then they're not there to listen to anyone else. So there is no point in getting up and doing your bit...It's pointless. You might as well stay at home and do it."
It was at home, in their respective bedrooms on their laptops, where they wrote and recorded "Thou Shalt..." communicating by computer via MySpace, where the two had connected musically, even though they are both from the same small town of Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, a short distance from London. "Thou Shalt..." was their first track together and has been their most successful to date, with a success story-line like something out of a movie. RIght after they had just finished recording the song they emailed it to a radio DJ at the UK station XFM where within four hours it was garnering airplay. "It was the only copy we sent out," noted Pip. The corresponding video, a short time later made on a teeny budget of $400, was so popular that it got added to YouTube's front page and still gets tons of daily hits, close to two million to date.
They are currently working on a remix 12" of "Thou Shalt..." featuring a lot of guest collaborations. dan le sac told me that until recently he considered himself "more of a DJ and a promoter....I never thought about been in a band til a few years ago." As a DJ he said he was pretty eclectic, spinning everything from hip-hop and funk to electronic and others, always working Aphex Twin into his sets. For the band's music, he records the parts first and then samples them and chops them up in the computer afterwards; he rarely samples anyone else's music. (The Radiohead "Planet Telex" samples on "Letter from God to Man" are a rare exception.)
In concert, Pip wrecks the mic and dan le sac fills in the rest of the sound. "I play pretty much the laptop, a bit of keys, and a bit of backing vocals...It's live music even though you can't see the drummer," he laughed, noting that he favors the Ableton Live computer program for recording and performing. And what about the duo's concerts: what can be expected? "We're not coming over to try and change political systems," laughed dan. "We're coming and having a party!"
dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip's new debut album Angles is available at each Amoeba Music. Check out their upcoming tour dates here.