The renaissance of deep house and modern disco vibes has exploded in recent times, with an onslaught of fresh producers changing the shape of the genres while holding closely to the characteristics formed over the 20+ years of house music’s existence.
One such act is the oddly named Death On The Balcony, a UK duo formed by Mark Caramelli and Paul Hargeraves, who have seemingly come out of nowhere with an array of deep-house records that have been championed by punters and DJs worldwide. We spoke to the duo about their music and more—read on!
First of all, what are you doing at this exact moment (besides the interview, of course)?
PAUL: Watching a documentary on TV about Blackpool. Amazing how many different faces and times it has seen over the years! As it is both our hometowns, it will always hold a special charm in our hearts. Even if nowadays, in some parts, the fashion “must have” is a pram and a pair of Adidas poppers, the heritage is golden!
And before we get into the details about your world, explain the roots of the name Death On The Balcony..
MARK:Death On The Balcony originated from our first studio session. The night previous, there had been an incident/accident at a club we were both at. The following day, we were having a deep conversation about life and death on a balcony and coined the phrase. It was a working title that ended up sticking. We felt it stood out, had interesting imagery and a certain charm beyond calling ourselves Mark and Paul, or something equally forgettable.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where did you two grow up, and where are you based now?
PAUL: Lytham St. Annes is my hometown; a small place on the North West coast known for the pier, bingo and its abundance of OAPs [pensioners]. The closest place to reference is Blackpool, which is 20 minutes away. I am now based in Leeds, have been here ever since studying music production at uni. I have been here a while now, and it has become a good base for us. Leeds has a strong scene and a great network of people, so socially it’s great, dangerous if you don’t know how to behave yourself sometimes! We have a nice place too, so my next move will have to be a good one!
Mark: We both come from the Fylde Coast, which is in the North West of England—the coast that stretches up and down from Blackpool. I grew up in a small “pub” town called Poulton le Fylde, and I got up to my fair share of mischief and musical shenanigans in various towns up and down the coast in my early teens onwards. My family was spread around most of the Fylde Coast and also in Lytham St. Annes, so I used to spend my time around lots of the towns with friends and family. I studied photography and design for five years in Blackpool whilst always DJing and being involved in events and parties. I then moved to Leeds when I was 21, after I graduated. I came to Leeds through friend connections, a work opportunity, for the nightlife and the city itself, and have been here for the past 12 years—recently, more as a base. The funny thing is me and Paul come from the same place but didn’t know that or each other from there, but only met on the after-party circuit in Leeds where we became acquainted, then friends, and then started working and playing together. So it was quite mad that by chance we came from the same place and didn’t know each other. There is an age gap of six years between us, so that explains not meeting, but it still is a coincidence that we came from the same area and town in the UK and where our families still are today. Our friendship and working relationship is a bit like were related or cousins, especially over the five years we have being doing DOTB. But we’re not related; I suppose it’s brothers-from-other-mothers vibes.
How did you get started DJing and/or making music?
MARK: Growing up in the North West, I met a circle of four or five friends in my early teens through high school; they were in the year above and I was taken into the friendship group. We were into hardcore, drum & bass, techno and also downtempo and hip-hop stuff like Portishead, Tricky, Pharcyde, Cypress Hill. We were also massive stoners (no surprise). One of the group had a attic bedroom where we got away with murder, considering our ages!
He also had decks and loads of drum & bass, hardcore and techno vinyl, and we all learned to DJ from his setup whilst constantly being baked out our heads! We used to go to raves and parties around the North West of England, and his attic became our retreat and safe house to come back down in. Here we would take turns mixing, or trying to. I was the last one in the group to learn to mix without train-crashing the mix, and it’s funny that I was the only one who went on to make a career out of DJing. At the time, I was always the one being ribbed for being the last to be able to mix or not being able to, so I’ve done all right, considering! Learning to DJ with hardcore and drum & bass records is a good grounding—when I moved into the house and disco world when I was 16, it became a much easier process for me to DJ.
It was also the time when I bought my first pair of 1210s, started to play out, warm up in bars and clubs, and seriously started buying, collecting and caring about music as well. In the attic, we also used to make tracks on an Amiga and an Atari with a synth and a program called Octamed and a sampler that plugged into the computer. Back then it was just all coding numbers and floppy discs with samples and beats on them, with each sound given its own number code. You would type and repeat and build a pattern or track that way. From that we moved onto sequencer programs like Acid and samplers like Sound Forge, where I went sample-crazy, taking from lots of music genres and film snippets. From these we would build beats around them, as we still do at times today. I still have all my homemade sample CD libraries from this time, and we have been known to go back to them and see what we find on them for samples and loops.
PAUL: I got a guitar when I was maybe 12 or 13. I taught myself how to play with books and by trying to copy songs I heard on the radio. When I came to Leeds I started to take music more seriously by taking a course at university; the use of the degree was more to buy me time to create my own thing instead of to get the piece of paper. I dabbled with projects previous to DOTB. Then, after meeting Mark, he introduced me to a load of deeper stuff as he had been collecting house and disco music for years before I was introduced to it. After that I was hooked on making music electronically. Synths continue to amaze us to this day!
How would you describe Death On The Balcony’s sound?
MARK: Influences from disco and house to deep techno with warmth, melody, soul and emotion with a trippy, spacey feel and a good groove.
What are your DJ sets like?
PAUL: When we DJ we play vinyl and CDs; from a DOTB set you can expect anything from disco and edits to deep house, house, and deep techno, depending on the time, space and environment. We like spontaneity in our DJ sets, so much is never planned! We don’t do a live set yet, but we may start playing a set of all our own productions off the back of our Views from the Balcony project, which is a mix of all our own released material, unreleased tracks and exclusives that is about to drop in November.
We never normally play all our own music as we have a love for so much music out there, as any good DJ should. It’s what playing out is all about for us—the finding, discovering and digging for other people’s music that you buzz off to play in the mix with your own tracks, and which also inspire you. The reason the Views from the Balcony idea/format came about is because a label asked us for the mix, otherwise it probably wouldn’t have happened. Surprising, really, as it’s an obvious thing for a artist to do, but then again suppose that’s the DJ in us!
Did you have any mentors when you were starting out? Who helped you get established?
MARK: We have worked really hard to create our sound and profile for ourselves, and will continue to do this every day. We have received some great opportunities over the years and made some great connections. We believe that if you do something for someone then it will hopefully come back to you, a two-way street like most good relationships. This sort of determines who we end up working with further, as it’s genuine. We were given some really cool opportunities by our partner in Throwback. Our working relationship with him helped us to bring some great guests to our party and to push the disco and house side of our sound, and also build relationships with the guests we booked. There is a bunch of people who have given us some breaks with releases too you just have to check our back cat to find out who they are!
When did you first feel that you had finally discovered your own sound?
PAUL: We both have a love for ‘70s/’80s disco, funk, new wave, synth pop, boogie, rare groove, early house and ambient and also most aspects of the culture from these times. That’s pretty much where we synced initially. Our music has always had that feel to it. What it has matured to be is something that is well structured and that translates on a dance floor, as that’s what we are aiming for, to have that connection with people on the dance floor. Our very early stuff was perhaps more experimental at times, but that was us just pushing ourselves to see where our “sound” was. We had really started to hone our sound when we started releasing with Akbal Music and Airdrop. Our recent releases on Culprit, Silver Network and Pets we feel show the variety in our sound well. The thing that is noticeable more so about our earlier productions to now is the tempo.
How do you explain your music to your family members?
MARK: Pretty much how it is. My mum actually likes our music—the melodic, deeper stuff and our Throwback mixes and the more disco-influenced tracks and edits. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, or my mum’s just being a top mum with good taste and being lovely, as they mostly are. My older brother and cousins are into most of our stuff, and music and clubbing in general (younger cousins more so), so they love to follow and keep up with what I’m up to, and download the latest podcasts or get new tunes.
PAUL: My grandparents thought I spoke in between tracks when I DJed, like Terry Wogan, until a few months ago. I have played them bits, so they have an idea of what we are about. Even got the idea for “We Need Passion” from a Rod Stewart CD on in my mum’s car—she’s a cool cat, that one! My whole family is very supportive of what I do, even if some of them don’t fully understand it.
Do you know what kind of track you want to write before you sit down to make it, or are you mostly improvising?
MARK: It really depends. There is no real rhyme or reason to the creative process—it’s different every time. We never really force ourselves to produce at certain times of the day, either. Quite a lot of our tracks have started with a sample or an idea, and we have built around that. We would be equally happy sitting down and playing on a synth; then you may get a hook or a bass line down and go from there.
When you sit down to make a track, what’s the first thing you typically do?
PAUL: We may have a loop of something—a vocal, a synth, sample, hook or something—then build beats on that… or jam on the keyboard. Varying the process keeps your productions exciting and sounding new each time. We hope to create our own sound and DOTB feel through the finished product. Not just using the same percussion and synths for each track. We start each track from scratch. Sometimes a track can take a week or two to finish, or just a couple of hours.
Do you currently have a favorite piece of gear?
MARK: No real favorite. We have a Microkorg, which is great! Looking at investing in some more synths soon, too… We also like the old pots and pans, and the washboard can sound really phatt when played correctly.
You both share a label called Magicbag Music with a healthy roster of our favorite new-jack producers – any ethos behind the label itself?
PAUL: Just to push good quality electronic music. Youandewan being the perfect example of that. Magicbag hasn’t any more releases planned at the moment, as we have all been busy following our own projects—not to say we wont be getting our heads together again to release more in the near future.
Tell us about your upcoming gigs and releases…
MARK: We have gigs this weekend in Leeds for Coloursound on November 11 and Hot Boxx, Berlin on November 12. Also our own party in London Emmanuelle’s Party Bucket on November 18 and Manchester on the 19th, then Minival, Aberdeen on November 25, Throwback & Butter Side up, Leeds, December 2, and Wonderland, Lisbon, on December 16.
Releases we have out at the moment are “Nothing Stays The Same” on the Culprit EP “Above The City,” “Them 3 Words” on the Pets Recordings compilation “Friends Will Carry You Home,” “We Are Time and Space” EP on Silver Network with remixes from Jef K & Gwen Maze, Robert James & Valentin. Plus some forthcoming releases and remixes on Lower East, Act Natural Records, Apersonal, Illusion Recordings, Hissy Fit & a vinyl-only release on Mystery Meat. Also coming is a limited mixed CD of our own material named Views from the Balcony on No More Hits Italy, in good music shops soon!
Finally, tell us a joke…
PAUL: As a child there is nothing more embarrassing than your mum going topless on holiday.
MARK: I haven’t been back to Legoland since. Ba-dum-cha!…