Lost and found: How Bondax discovered their sound - Notion Magazine Feature
Paint the picture of an electronic two-piece with a global reputation, a solid fan base packing out clubs across the world and their own record label to boot, and tell me - what image springs to mind? A pair head-to-toe in designer get-up, perched on the edge of an infinity pool alongside scantily glad models, sapphire martinis in hand, during the peak of an Ibizan summer, maybe? Admitedly, my initial presumptions of Bondax's time in the DJ realm were a little off the mark with this romanticised mental imagery - at least, I've discovered, that's not how they spend their time 24/7. As I soon found out, the real George Townsend and Adam Kaye are markedly more balanced than that.
That’s not to say these Lancashire lads haven’t seen their fair share of parties, and don’t love to travel far and wide beyond the confinements of the UK. Their recent time spent in Bali filled them with a desire to return to record their second album from the depths of the jungle, and they recall how they have found a lot of comfort and relaxation in South Korea’s Seoul. But there’s a sense in our conversation that these two men are made up of a deeper kind of stuff, and have fond memories that are far less glamorous than you’d expect. “There’s a level of irony that probably the most exciting points of our career were spent in the least nice of places”, George says. And for the majority of their early days, one of their biggest troubles were finding girlfriends, and questioning if they would ever have real and meaningful relationships devoid of superficiality.
When I meet them, we’re sat in a bar on a sunny afternoon in Kings Cross. It takes me a matter of minutes to work out that the pair are everything I had hoped for from two northern souls - chatty, personable and warm; the two of them reminding me of longtime friends. Despite their quick rise to success, they have come on a long and winding road since they were first discovered at 16, and as a result, they’ve learnt a lesson or two about loyalty, principles and the importance of being upfront.
Meeting way back in their seventh year of school in rural Lancashire, George, had begun to manifest an itching desire to become a DJ after his cousin introduced him to the baseline producer Pinch, and Adam had a reputation as being one of the best musicians in the school, dabbling in various rock bands (one of them named Burberry Chicken), although he plays this down. They present as a slick two-piece, strong after years together, but as George puts it, “we’re so different. Our attitudes are very different.” They share good humour, but their interests outside of Bondax are varied, and while Adam exudes endearing vim and vigour, George seems pensive, sharp-witted and philosophical.
It wasn’t long after realising how well they clicked together, that the two began sticking beats with home produced sounds that they had recorded into their MacBook microphone. They built on chilled-out melodies that half took inspiration from the forests where they hung out, and half from the clubs where they hoped their mixes could eventually end up. Did they enjoy going out clubbing themselves, I ask. “We didn’t know what it was”, George admits. “We were too young to actually go out”. Instead, they hired sound systems and smoke machines and threw parties in Adam’s barn to debut their tunes while his parents were away, much to the disgruntlement of the neighbours.
You’d have thought these kinds of cracks would have made them a hot topic among their peers, but there was no instant gratification to be had in the reactions of their classmates. Back when they started sharing their tunes, electronic music had barely touched the mainstream. “Electro music wasn’t known,” says Adam. “It wasn’t cool. We weren’t in an indie band, so everyone was like ‘what is this tripe?!’”
Bondax attribute a lot of their success to timing. I realise halfway through our interview that I’m the same age as George and Adam, but how many of us 24-year-olds can claim to have travelled the world and been signed a major record deal straight out of school?Being one of the first artists to develop a reputation in their genre, and utilise SoundCloud and Myspace, was key. Looking back on their earliest songs, George can’t believe (in his words) quite how bad they were. “But we were making it at a time when no one else was making it.” Adam shares this same sentiment: “That’s one of the key things to our plight, just being there early. And then when it was kind of cool, we’d already been around for a bit.”
The early days of their career were a whirlwind. Adam tells me that their aim from the start was to be underground DJs and play small club shows on the weekends. “Dark Sky were like our heroes, we just wanted to be like those guys. Then we got on BBCRadio 1. It was never our intention”. They share with me stories of them starting out, excitable (albeit naïve) 16 year olds, totally unaware of the risks involved in the music business. Adam summarises this period of time in a sentence, “[It was] just us and all our friends against the world, in ibis hotels.” They recall once travelling down to London and booking a room in a bedsit in Walthamstow with no more than £20. They paint the scene vividly: “when we get to our room, the door is already open, we had one room with a bunk bed, and we’re sharing the bedsit with a group of builders.” They were so freaked out at the time that they barricaded themselves in with a chest of drawers and a bookcase, with no choice but to wee out if the window. “That was the beginning of our careers!”
Bondax may have spent many years in the game so it may come as somewhat of a surprise their upcoming album Revolve is their debut. Their recent quiet period was also a difficult one, characterised by incidents like having a laptop containing their entire body of work stolen in Bulgaria and needing to start from scratch, and being in a sticky relationship with their record label. It’s a tale as old as time; making hits for the money-men, versus writing music you actually like. For the duo, there was no question except to stick to their guns, start afresh and keep their creative integrity intact. This decision ultimately moved them towards set-ting up their own record label, Justus Recordings, and heading back to their hometown to record their longer project. The result? A coming-of-age record inspired by the different genres they’ve come into contact with across the globe, experimenting with bossa nova rhythms, classical piano and jazz - oh, and a 40-piece orchestra - Bondax have finally found the freedom that they once craved, and they’ve learnt how to play it precisely to their tune.
With their feet set deep in their own self-styled genre of ambient, romantic melodies, their album is significantly less clubby than their older stuff; oozing out soulful vocals, a silky smooth baseline and that all important funk that we fell in love with their track, ‘Neo Seoul’.It’s a far cry from their previous hits like ‘Baby I Got That’ and ‘Gold’ - but that’s just fine as their new album retains all that feel- good, soaked-in-sun nostalgia but now with such a diverse, instrumental line-up and a certain sexiness that listeners won’t want to turn away from.George tells me, “we kind of refer to the last stuff we did as ‘plastic music’, but the album’s made of real... It’s kind of come from both our mind and our heart, as opposed to just our brain.”
The twosome seem pretty concerned with placing context and depth into their music for an electronic duo; a genre that can often be taken purely on face-value. “I think we both don’t see the point if it doesn’t have any feeling”, says George. The drummer on their new album is one of their good friends from home, and they claim that without their producer, they would have never have made it at all. With all the lessons learned from riding the choppy waves of their career so far and the type of collaborative music they produce, it is loyalty that has kept them afloat. “Loyalty is a big thing in our music. I think that it runs true the whole way through the album” says Adam. “And our real role is to direct people, and you can only do that if you trust each other.”
Our conversation spins off into wild and unwitting territory, from the Noam Chomsky George is reading, to Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive, to how to not be awkward in vocal booths. At some points, it’s more like Bondax are interviewing me, on my literature degree and my thoughts regarding space travel. Perhaps it’s because they don’t need to fret over their future now that they’re entirely at the reins. What they are sure of, though, is the intention to transfer their wisdom onto other fresh-faced talent and give them a platform with their label - and they’re enthusiastic about the idea of one day writing a score to a sci-fi movie. But for now, it’s all about putting out the album they’ve been pining after for years and enjoying the payoff that is so rightfully theirs.
Photography: Lottie Bea Spencer
Fashion: Jamie Jarvis