As Fred Vahrman and Josh Grafix walked out onto main stage at Hospitality in The Park just over a week ago, they were embarking on one of the most important weeks of their lives. Not only were they about to perform their biggest and most eagerly anticipated live show yet, they were also swiftly approaching the release of their third album Cinematic Party Music.
Standing in front of a 5000 strong crowd with a stripped-back stage setup, all emphasis was piled onto the duo, who were stood centre of stage clutching their instruments, ready for battle. Unfortunately for them, the nightmare scenario they had been dreading became reality – technical issues.
However, this did not this stop Fred V & Grafix from going on to perform one of the most memorably intimate and euphoric live shows in drum and bass history. Steely determination and a desire to always better themselves is something Fred and Josh have consistently shown since signing to Hospital in 2011. With their third album in less than four years now released, it’s hard to imagine that in 2013 they were the new kids on the block with the release of their debut Goggles EP.
Cinematic Party Music represents what Fred and Josh consider to be the most Fred V & Grafix album yet. Marking their most ambitious and personal project to date, the album has been organically curated by themselves – from the live instrumentation to the vocals written and sung by Fred. With a focus on guitar-driven melodies and unique Bon Iver inspired vocals threaded throughout, it’s the complete body of work they’ve been tirelessly working towards for years.
UKF caught up with a rather emotionally drained Fred and Josh to talk about performing their biggest live show to date and the release of their new album.
The last time we spoke was after you played your debut live show to a crowd of no more than 200. Fast forward a month and you’ve now played HITP to thousands…
Fred: It was very scary… For us it feels like the Louisiana show was a year ago! We’ve done so much rehearsing since – trying to get the show better and better. HITP was our third show and from both the Louisiana and Lockdown shows we learnt so much. Everyone is getting a little better at it I hope…
Josh: Our crew is slightly bigger now and we are starting to work together well and actually realise some of the mistakes we have developed in our setup. It’s such a different game to DJing, so Fred and I are still getting used to the pressure of it and the emotional energy involved in trying to hold yourself together before a show!
I can imagine playing on such a huge stage was a vast difference to the intimacy of the Louisiana!
Fred: The biggest difference is with the small Louisiana show we had a full day rehearsal and could literally leave everything on stage, but with HITP even our tour manager was like ‘wow that’s insane’ because we had a fifteen minute changeover to get the London Elektricity Big Band off stage and us on stage. We didn’t even get to have a proper sound check on Friday because of sound equipment not working, so we had to rush on stage and hope for the best…
Josh: When you’re already nervous about playing in front of a 5000 person crowd, it adds to the nerves when you’re going in a bit blind and haven’t had enough time to get used to this big stage setup.
Fred: Even though I was so nervous I was like – I’m just going to pretend we are really good through confident body language…fake it until you make it!
You mentioned before how everything needed to be perfect for HITP. I know there were a few technical difficulties at the start, but overall how did it go for you?
Josh: That was what I had been dreading all day… Unfortunately, it happened on the biggest show we’ve ever done and the one we were looking forward to most, but that’s just how shit goes sometimes! We had to cut our set short as a result and miss out Forest Fires, which is potentially one of the most epic songs we play. We were all very emotional when we came off stage because we had been through a lot. It was a shock to have to start it in such an awkward way.
Fred: I feel like we did pretty well considering all the technical difficulties. I came off stage literally buzzing, like I was high on drugs – I genuinely thought someone had spiked my drink!
So HITP done, and now Cinematic Party Music has been released. Three albums in three and a half years…
Fred: It’s pretty crazy. This album came together very quickly in comparison to Oxygen. Basically, on ‘Oxygen’ we kept getting feedback saying things weren’t good enough but by the end of it I think we figured out how to actually make music.
Am I right in thinking you had a lot of music for Cinematic Party Music wrapped up not long after Oxygen?
Josh: There’s a couple of songs on the album that were made directly after Oxygen, but I think we were just consciously thinking – let’s not fuck around and try get everything together within the year.
Fred: Just continuing the momentum really. By that point we had already decided we wanted to perform a live show, so we knew that was going to be loads of work. It’s crazy how much time we’ve spent on the show – like we don’t really have any new music!
Looking at the album, you’ve opted to organically craft everything yourself, including the vocals?
Fred: Yeah the album doesn’t have any vocal features as such. The only one is Tudor, who co-wrote a bunch of tunes. We write a lot of songs together because, you know, we’ve got great chemistry… I always think he’s what Jesus would be like today.
Josh: Welsh Jesus.
Fred: Yes! We basically thought that the songs Tudor and I wrote on the second album were the best ones – like Altitude and Ignite. When you listen to one of your favourite bands, the main part of their sound is a repetitive vocal sound, so I wanted to make sure that there was a consistent vocal identity throughout the new album.
Did the prospect of performing live influence your decision to do that?
Josh: We decided to do that with the album because that’s the most efficient way for us to make music and we are good at it…ish. We said we might as well do it live because Fred is fucking amazing at playing every instrument under the sun, and I’m like one of those people who’s alright at everything, so it made sense making all the music ourselves.
Fred: It definitely had an influence because right now I am so inspired to write new songs because they are the best thing to play live. Now we’ve done a few shows all I want to do is write more!
It’s good to be writing and performing your own songs because it makes playing live a lot more personal to you!
Josh: Yeah with performing it, it’s literally coming straight from the horse’s mouth… Writing everything ourselves really allows us to connect with the music emotionally. I think when you witness Fred literally cry-singing on stage it’s quite nice for our fans to see. We don’t have an MC – it’s just Fred and I.
Fred: MC Grafix and MC Fred V…
I’m interested to know Josh, when did you realise Fred’s vocal talents?
Josh: Definitely in the second album, but also in the first one. When he submitted Recognise he basically did all the vocals and melodies on his own. At the time, I was like ‘oh I think it’s maybe too simple with the melodies’, but it just grew on me and turned into one of our most iconic Fred vocal tunes. I’ve always tried to push him towards the vocodered, messed up, super-harmonised vocals, because they sound awesome when he nails that Bon Iver style.
It’s things like Fred taking full control of vocal duties that make me feel like you’ve connected with this album on a completely new level to the previous ones.
Josh: That was the plan! It’s the first album where before finishing it we had quite a clear idea of where we wanted it to be and what we wanted it to look like. It’s the most Fred V & Grafix album we have done. One of the main differences with the last album is that the vocals, like you say, are Fred’s world – recording, writing and performing them. My world is more the engineering – making everything sound coherent. We’ve both shared live instrument duties though.
I’ve noticed there is a lot more emphasis on letting the music play out. It feels very unforced – particularly at the end of When You Appear.
Fred: Oh yeah I love that! The outro of that track is one of my favourite moments in the whole album. It’s almost like we could take the outro, make it the whole tune and send it to some random people… The guitar in that track was inspired by Tom Misch. He’s the most amazing guitarist, he never plays anything too complicated, but it’s always the perfect notes. A lot of the guitar I play is heavily influenced by him.
Did you intend to treat those breaks in the music a bit like a jamming session?
Josh: Well we didn’t do that but that’s sure how it feels! I think we’ve always been a fan of nice outros. That’s a good example of one where it’s like a live jam. It adds a nice touch to songs. At the same time, there are tracks on there that are straight up club bangers with little thought put into them, so it’s a nice balance between the dreamy creative roll out outros and the club tracks.
Is Cinematic Party Music one of those tracks?
Josh: That’s definitely one of them! It’s actually an idea we scrapped and then towards the end of our album process Tony was telling us how we should use it because it sounds like a classic Fred V & Grafix tune, so we changed a few parts and there you go! Fred made the bass and the melody, then we put some good drums on it. It’s not trying to be anything fresh, it’s just being like our old style.
Fred: It’s a fun one to play out. Everyone’s always like ‘what’s this tune?’ It feels like something you’ve heard before in an anthemic way, but yeah it’s not super original.
Josh: It’s not a big problem though because it’s basically ripping ourselves off…
This album is definitely you at your most creative – particularly with warped bass sounds like in Fire With Fire…
Josh: Yeah definitely! We’ve made quite a few heavy tracks over the years and we’ve never been able to fit them into a release of ours, so with that one we found a nice balance of heaviness and light-heartedness. Out of all the heavy tracks we’ve made I think that one fit the best on this album. Noisia even played it on their radio show, which was a first, so that was a nice hat tilt to us!
Looking ahead, what’s the plan? Are you going to continue making music completely organically?
Josh: Basically that yeah. We are going to keep on track with our live show and keep improving it. We want to give it a year of work, we don’t want to just do these first shows and give up. At the same time we want to keep making music together. Despite our previous history, there’s no plans for a new album for a while, so don’t expect another release next year…
Photography by Jake Davis (fb.com/hungryvisuals)