How to Paint a Drumbeat: An Interview with Django Django’s David Maclean


Django Django is set to play the beautiful Regency Ballroom tomorrow (buy your tickets here before they sell out), and if you’ve never seen this band before, now is your chance to witness something quite special. If you’ve never heard of this band before, it’s time to re-evaluate your life and go listen to them immediately.

Anyhow, I recently had the honor of sitting down with drummer and producer David Maclean to discuss a bit about the band before they come and leave the The Regency a burning pile of rubble.

The beautiful thing about this band – that immediately makes a great deal of sense when listening – is that they’re all artists. They originally met at Edinburgh College of Art, Maclean studying painting while lead singer Vincent Neff studied architecture, but never got anything off the ground while they were there.

“We started [at the College] in 1998, left in ’02. During that time we all became friends; I was DJ’ing a lot, and Vinny was writing songs but was never in a band or anything,” said Maclean. “It was a busy time. Vinny was becoming an architect, and there were things like partying and drinking that got in the way of actually knuckling down on a project.”

It wasn’t until 2005, when the now-band-members serendipitously all wound up in London for different reasons, that they decided to actually put something together. And as I mentioned earlier, the fact that this is a band made up of art-school grads is immediately discernible; the experimental mindset is built into the base of who they are as a band, and absolutely shines through in their recordings.

“We’re into DIY things like sticking a microphone down a vacuum cleaner to try and get a metallic sound. There’s a lot of experimentation,” said Maclean. “If we didn’t have a kick drum, we’d tune the snare drum right down and then compress it to make a kick. Every problem that should have stopped us, we just rode through it. And that’s kinda how our sound came to be; kind of accidental, or out of stubbornness I guess.”

And this experimentation takes the reigns for Maclean as a percussionist. “I’ve got no patience at all for setting things up or doing things properly. It’s very off the cuff, haphazard,” said Maclean. A former DJ and hip hop beat maker, Maclean is able to transition his visual skills as an artist to the music he makes. “When I was making beats on a sampler and 4-track, I found it very limiting because I couldn’t see the music on the screen,” said Maclean. “When I got a qbase on a PC it was a bit more like making a collage or a painting and I could really get into it.”

And this artistic, experimental approach is how they’ve cultivated such a unique and interesting sound. If you’ve given these a songs a listen, you’ll find it no surprise that the band draws inspiration from The BeatlesThe Beach Boys and Phil Spector, but also have heavy electronic influences like Giorgio Moroder (no surprise there).

As for Maclean’s approach to making his beats, he’s mainly using “an old PC computer with an old version of qbase on it, very basic.” He’s using a couple vintage spring reverb machines, but it’s “lots of sounds broken up and mixed together to create something new.” And his years making beats and sampling are also coming into play in his percussion style for the band. “I’m a big vinyl collector, so I have a big database of samples and will either loop it or try to recreate it. So yeah, I’m using a mixture of samples and vintage gear. On top of that, a ton of mucking around and experimenting.”

And as most of those who have played in bands and participated in collaborative song writing, Maclean (as a percussionist) is playing a crucial role in song construction as well. It’s definitely been my experience that drummers have a great ear for progression, and usually a great lack of fucks given to tell you what they actually think. “I like to be in charge or rhythm and production, and arrangement,” said Maclean. “If Vinny brings up a song I’lll chop it all up, that should be the chorus, that should be the intro. But as far as chords and melodies, I’ll leave that to Vinny.”

All in all, this experimentation and unique, “innovation-through-stubbornness” approach gives them a sound that, for me, is pretty unparalleled. On tour now with Wild Belle (who is amazing), this show tomorrow at the Regency is sure to be absolute fire. Their music translates extremely well to a live setting and brings an insane amount of energy and liveliness to whatever venue they’re playing that day.

You can get your tickets here, and can also check out some tunes below to see how you feel. If I was a bettin’ man, I’d say you’re probably going to like it.

[Photo credit: Fiona Garden]