20th August, 2012 Interview Dean Mayo Davies Photography Leonn Ward Fashion Harry Lambert
Touring over the coming months to Norway, Ireland, Germany, France, the UK and making a couple of trips to Australia, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (aka Orlando Higginbottom outside working hours) released his major label debut album this Summer, following a string of EPs on Greco-Roman.
Orlando’s appropriation of costume has made him an instant standout, eager to revel in the hands-in-the-air, big smiles, joyous nature of dance music – a very British, 90s take on raving that’s not too cool for itself, evolving from a taste in Native American headdresses to a love of full-on fashion: on the cover of ‘Stronger/American Dream Part II’ he’s wearing a Katie Eary snake print parka. As Orlando got to grips with Versace AW12 on set for the portrait you see here, we sat down for a chat in photographer Leonn Ward’s kitchen.
Dean Mayo Davies: How did you get into music?
Orlando Higginbottom: I kind of grew up in a musical household and just was interested in it from as far back as I can remember. Some of my first memories are of listening to music. I was into classical music when I was a kid – when I was 4 or 5. Then I stared hearing electronic music – which was jungle – when I was 10, 11. I was hooked on it for about six years and then, well, this sort of of happened. That’s a very brief version.
DMD: I heard you were teaching at a school, is that right?
OH: Yeah I did, during some years when I didn’t know what I was doing. I taught steel pans at a primary school in Oxford. That was really fun. It’s a cool instrument.
DMD: Did that have any impact on the direction that you’re taking with music now? It’s quite a playful instrument.
OH: I guess it just made me appreciate that I can write and make music as a job. Because teaching is not always that satisfying if you want to be creative. It was a reminder that I am lucky, really.
DMD: So can you tell us about the album. Has it been in the making for a while?
OH: To be fair it is about a year and a half late, but only because we were making predictions about when it would be ready. I have now learnt never ever to do that! What to say about the album? When I started working on it I was thinking a lot about why dance albums are generally so bad and certainly last such a little amount of time – they definitely don’t have a big shelf life. It was more thinking about the mistakes than the really, really good ones that I grew up listening to. So I set out to do a decent amount of emotions, textures and mixture of sounds as well as quite simply what worked on a dancefloor level and a listening level. You don’t have to be a clever fucker to think of those things.
DMD: Are you aiming to make dance music more joyous?
OH: I think, more importantly, I want to see electronic music have a bit more character. You know when you first hear disco music? You think that it is upbeat, fun music then after you realise that it is really tragic as well – you can’t have one without the other. There has been so much techno and house music that’s just incredibly, incredibly boring. Drum and bass? I was into jungle and I thought that was amazing. When it turned into drum and bass it lost all sorts of emotion.
DMD: Drum and bass was nowhere near as good as jungle.
OH: No, no, no.
DMD: Where did the headdresses you’ve been wearing come from?
OH: At the beginning it was just an extension of growing up and dressing up and stuff. I had a friend making them all and she introduced me to one of her friends who was also making headdresses. So there was no waking up in the middle of the night thinking: “ooh I’ve got to make headdresses.” Now it’s not something that I am fussed about, I’m not doing any today and most of the time on stage I don’t wear them anymore. I might put one on for an encore. I am really happy to be doing something that is slightly out of my comfort zone. It is just really fun to wear crazy shit.
DMD: Style or image isn’t something that’s bothered many new electronic musicians for a while.
OH: Yes, definitely. I think what’s been really interesting for me is that I only realised how interested in fashion I am in during the last couple of months. Because I’ve been making costumes with people, you start to see the parallels in the fashion and music and that it’s really creative to reference and push boundaries around. I’m excited by it but if you had asked me two years ago I would have been like: ‘oomfph’. Loads of horrible people spending too much money.
DMD: There’s still a lot of that.
OH: Yeah, yeah sure.
DMD: What’s been the best experience so far?
OH: I’ve had some nights out with some people I never thought I would party with. It’s always interesting when you get to see in the door with semi-celebrities. You kind of pinch yourself. And when I did my UK tour in February, the reaction that I got, the nice things that people said and the diversity of the crowd – these are all things that sound like I am bigging myself up – but they were things I noticed. The audiences that are coming are really fucking nice and diverse and different ages and different everything and I am super appreciative of that. One of the reasons I started this project was from going to club nights and music nights where it was like being locked into scenes and not very expressive.
DMD: Are you still based in Oxford? Does that help give you perspective?
OH: Yeah. I would say there is something about looking in because London considers itself a kind of hub. Which it is. But it can also work itself up and generate ideas that are complete bullshit. When you are on the outside you can stay away from things that don’t have to affect you. If you want to create you need to have your space and I suppose I have got that in Oxford.