Hot Chip - Biography
By David Downs
London-based, genre-smashing experimental pop quintet Hot Chip debuted in 2000 with EP "Mexico" (2000-Victory Gardens) and have found worldwide fame through three LPs Coming On Strong (2004-Moshi Moshi) & (2005-Astralwerks), The Warning (2006-DFA/Astralwerks), and Made In the Dark (2008-DFA/Astralwerks). Dance singles "Over And Over", "Colours", and "No Fit State" showcase the band's uptempo, highly percussive, synth-driven style. Yet later tracks like "Made In The Dark" exemplify the band's equally fine ballad-writing skills. Hot Chip's profile increased considerably in 2005 when LCD Soundsystem label DFA Records also started distributing the band, and The Warning went gold in the UK, receiving a nomination for the UK Mercury Prize in 2006. Follow-up Made In The Dark hit number four on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the U.S. Billboard Top Electronic Albums Chart in 2008 amid positive reviews as well. The band is centered around childhood friends and poly-instrumentalists Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard who continue to perform, record and remix as of 2008 with the established lineup of Owen Clarke, Al Doyle and Felix Martin.
Hot Chip began with Taylor and Goddard, school friends who grew up near London making home recordings with a love of synthesizers, guitars and percussion. The name of the band came from a high school show Taylor and Goddard played. The student audience asked if the band had a name. Taylor and Goddard did not have one and took suggestions, cobbling together two answers from the audience. Band addition Al Doyle has said Taylor and Goddard liked the name because it evoked the thought of a hot, fried potato slice; too hot to enjoy. Clarke, another school friend, soon joined the duo.
The band's initial direction was much more angsty, Goddard has said. The band wrote sixth-form poetry, employed acoustic guitars and made songs about loneliness. Frustration soon set in, so the band started trying to make what they have said in interviews is the most inane music they could. That initial turn to simplicity was seasoned by the fact that Hot Chip's members all had degrees in English, Art, and History. They were simply too smart to leave stupid dance music alone. They released debut EP "Mexico" (2000-Victory Gardens) followed by EP "Sanfrandisco E-Pee" (2002-No Label) and eventually signed to Moshi Moshi Records, producing early twelve-inch "Down With Prince" (2003-Moshi Moshi) and laying the groundwork for their first EP.
Coming On Strong (2004-Moshi Moshi) was written entirely by Goddard and Taylor, recorded at Goddard's home, and performed by with the help of Clarke and new addition Felix Martin. Future members Al Doyle and past percussionist Rob Smoughton also contributed. The initial effort sounds more minimal and relaxed compared to later work, and yet it contains the traces of electro, soul, pop and seriously funny lyrics that would make its follow-up a success. The album got the attention of EMI's electronica subsidiary Astralwerks, who re-released Coming On Strong in 2005, the same year Hot Chip released All Filler, No Killer! (2005-No Label) and the EP "Barbarian" (2005-EMI). By now, the band had congealed around: Martin on percussion; Al Doyle on vocals, synth, guitar, and bass; Clarke on synth, guitar, and bass; Taylor on vocals and guitar; and Goddard on vocals and synth. A swirling, pounding, percussive, synth-dance bonanza, the band caught the attention of genre-killing experimentalist James Murphy, part of post punk, funk duo LCD Soundsystem and head of production group The DFA. Murphey's co-owned label DFA Records agreed to distribute Hot Chip's next album in conjunction with Astralwerks, giving it a cache amongst the music literati. Soon came singles "Over And Over" (2005-EMI), "Boy From School" (2005-EMI) "Colours" (2006-EMI) and "No Fit State" (2006-EMI), which sparked a full-on media crush.
The Warning (2006-EMI) debuted to gold sales in the UK and hit number thirteen on the Billboard U.S. Top Electronic Albums. Recorded again at home, Goddard said he sought a radical departure from Coming On Strong. Doyle and Martin had become full-time Hot Chip members and the sound of the band took on a heavier, denser quality coupled to a newfound pop aesthetic. Opening track "Careful" contrasted rave synths with intense, almost industrial percussion and ballad-like verse. Standout single ‘Over and Over’ treats every instrument in the band like a drum, layering and layering horn stabs and bells and bass into an impossible wall of dance jamming. The song won the UK's Ivor Novello songwriting award as well as plenty of space in year-end critics polls in both mainstream Rolling Stone, and indie Pitchfork. Reviews also focused on track like "And I Was A Boy From School" -- an unexpectedly driving, dance ballad that began as a tinny Casio waltz. "Colours" draws inspiration from the directness and repetition of Kraftwerk lyrics, taking its structure from the iterative reworking of a single phrase and melody.
Hot Chip's live show also came into its own over two years playing festivals and halls around the world with peers LCD Soundsystem, Stereolab & Goldfrapp. Their show's energy and edge-of-your-seat experimentalism crept into the recording and production of follow up Made In The Dark. Following their mix album DJ-Kicks (2007-Studio-!K7), Hot Chip's third album Made In The Dark (2008-EMI) would be their most successful to date, hitting number four on the UK albums chart and cracking the U.S. Billboard 200 at 109. Written, recorded and produced by Hot Chip in both Goddard's home and live, the album has more rock, and more ballads, and is held together only by how hard they try to innovate on their successful songwriting formula. Single "Ready For the Floor" is a certified dance smash humbled by a ridiculously whimsical coda quoting Jack Nicholson. Meanwhile minimalist soul ballad "Made In The Dark" inverts the energy of the album with almost no percussion. Instead it hinges on the expert lyrics and vocal delivery of the now-mature team.
The band's sterling reputation has resulted in a slew of remix projects for The Rolling Stones, Gorillaz, M.I.A., Amy Winehouse and Queens of the Stone Age. They are part of an entire crop of electronica musicians like James Murphy who produce as much as they perform. Though steeped in soul and R&B for inspiration, Hot Chip was inevitably drawn to the electronica and experimental pop movements of their turn of the century cohorts. Band members have stated in interviews that they desired to recontextualize the energy of raves, and to that extent they have succeeded. But their intense live show versions of tracks like "Over And Over" bely a sensitivity to each and every note and word. That range -- from eclectic dance to simplified soul -- has earned them top billing on tours and record stores around the world.