disclosure are the little kings of the dancefloor
It’s a three-day weekend in England with a bank holiday on Monday, so pensioners and uni students alike are down for some fun in the town of Nottingham. In the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel, aged couples sit on leather couches, playing cribbage and watching Ronnie O’Sullivan’s masterful snooker performance at the Betfair World Championships on television. The retirees on holiday might be in for the evening, but the night is just beginning for the youth.
Around another set of lobby couches some teens convene, checking their iPhones and sipping lagers and ciders. Through the floor-length glass windows in the hotel they see others already parading down Maid Marian Way towards the clubs. The Everywhere Festival, staged across three venues in the city, is revving up for a party lasting into the wee hours, and everyone is dressed up for a night out. The ladies are in tight minis or shredded cutoffs; the lads look sharp in buttoned-up polos and clean trainers. Soon, the elevator doors open and a half-dozen girls appear with Team Surrey Rowing windbreakers on, strolling out into the night. Another group of teens emerges. And somewhere in this baker’s dozen of newcomers is the dance music duo Disclosure.
Comprised of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, Disclosure hails from the same sleepy town in Southeast England as the rowers, just outside of Greater London. They have their own crew about them: a mix of girlfriends, school chums and managers. Guy, the oldest Lawrence brother by three years, his blond hair short but with a side part, wears a clean white tee and sagging black jeans. Just barely 21, he sips a Kronenberg 1664, and there’s still a touch of acne about his chin. Nearby stands his younger brother Howard, an inch or two shorter than Guy. Moonfaced with broad shoulders, his dark hair buzzed short, he wears a black tee and a similarly roomy pair of jeans. In the childhood photo that graces the cover of their debut album, Settle, the boys—their faces slightly obscured by a white-lined, open-lipped mask—both have tousled ginger hair, not unlike Prince Harry’s.
Everyone in Disclosure’s entourage accounted for, they walk out into the night. On the street, the group is indistinguishable from other roving packs, to where one would be hard-pressed to guess who in their procession headlined the Gobi Tent at Coachella this year. Rather than conduct themselves as if the center of attention, the Lawrence brothers act like any other kids out on the weekend, goofing with friends and smiling back at their girlfriends, and with Guy sporting a black backpack, they look as if they just left campus for a night out. The only difference being that at the stroke of midnight, Disclosure will DJ before a packed crowd in Nottingham’s 30-year-old club, Rock City. As their manager, Sam Evitt, says as they stroll toward the venue, “It’s only going to get more chaotic for them.”
He’s referring to tonight—to the queues that run outside the club and wrap around the block, to the venue itself, packed full of sweaty bodies—but he could just as easily be commenting on the months ahead and the rest of 2013: beyond Nottingham, beyond England, to the rest of Europe and the States, where Disclosure are set to erupt. To the casual viewer, it might appear to be a quick ascent—what with Guy just being of legal age in the US and Howard spending the early club years of Disclosure too young to drink—but the boys worked hard to get to this place, touring and recording for years, and even forgoing school in the process.
“I was gonna go to uni, took a gap year, and it just didn’t work out,” says Guy. He did odd jobs in retail, at a bar. When Disclosure took off, it began to affect Howard, who, despite good grades, had woeful attendance. “I got like the fifth highest mark in the country for music tech, which I was pretty happy about, but the uni wouldn’t let me take the other ones,” Howard says in Rock City’s green room. Earlier, when his college was threatening to kick him out a month before graduation, their parents surprisingly encouraged him to pursue music. “My parents were like, ‘Just let them kick you out. Don’t let it detract from what you are doing as Disclosure.’ Which I think turned out to be quite good advice.”
Disclosure’s first 7-inch appeared in 2010, before either brother was even 20. More singles and tour dates soon followed. “Latch”—their third single, featuring vocals from emerging UK singer Sam Smith—entered the UK singles chart at #26 and climbed as high as #11. When the duo teamed up with singer Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge earlier this year for “White Noise,” it entered the UK singles charts at number two and remained in the Top 15 for 10 weeks. Later this week, they’ll visit BBC DJ Zane Lowe and play a live gig in Rome. The boys have collaborated with Jessie Ware, and recently inked a deal with Cherrytree/Interscope, who will release their debut album, Settle, in the weeks ahead. Their fanbase includes the likes of major UK musicians Four Tet, Hot Chip and SBTRKT.
“When my college was threatening to kick me out a month before graduation, my parents were like, just let them kick you out. Don’t let it detract from what you are doing as Disclosure.” —HOWARD LAWERENCE
One fan, however, makes Howard’s girlfriend, Fi, with flowing brunette hair and pink jogging shorts over black tights, bristle ever so slightly. Howard’s backstage crew chides Howard about his latest friend on photo sharing app Snapchat—American porn star Jessie Andrews, whom they met at a gig. Howard plays if off, saying something like she’s a cool girl and a DJ with good taste (in fact, Andrews remixed “Latch”), but then deftly defuses the situation by pulling Fi with him to study a jukebox in one corner of the room.
Not that anyone could possibly hear their selections, with the bass bleeding through the walls and floor. Flipping through, Howard says if he had to pick one album to play, “it would be Amy Winehouse, of course.” But then another title catches his eye. “Well…now it’s a toss-up between that and the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society.” That love for a well-crafted tune manifests in the boys’ own work. “We’re all about musicality,” says Howard, to which Guy adds: “It’s much more impressive to write a very well structured, put-together song than relentless house music.” Take “Latch.” It builds from an icy electro tock with quick percussive swipes, Guy slowly filling in the space around Smith’s vocal about new love as Howard’s early Chicago house-style bassline and synth washes warm it all. Those elements alone would suffice on the dancefloor, but the Lawrences shape it further, elegantly building toward the bridge and massive hook, the staples of big pop. Now I’ve got you in my space/ I won’t let go of you, Sam Smith belts at the chorus. Another Settle track, “F For You,” features Howard’s own vocals and sounds like a deep house track, with massive bass tones that hew closer to the avant-garde inclinations of someone like deep house enigma Maurice Fulton than anything in the EDM canon. Still, it clocks in at a bite-sized four-and-a-half minutes.
Another 14 guys roll into the green room, all in baseball caps and top-buttoned dress shirts. The two groups intermingle and Sam explains to the lone Yankee in the room that the crew is People Just Do Nothing, a comedy troupe who have a mockumentary BBC sitcom about the fictitious West London Kurupt FM pirate radio crew. In the fine British tradition of piss-takers, they also “perform” at electronic music festivals. Members MC Sniper and DJ Beats now begin to grill Guy and Howard.
“What d’you spin then: drum & bass or garage?” One asks.
“Both!” Guy parries. The crew cracks up.
As Disclosure move to the stage, they pass a corridor full of autographed photos from The Fall, Fatboy Slim (another Surrey native) and Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis act, Beady Eye. The sibling rivalry that both defined and marred the Gallagher brothers’ relationship through the Britpop wars springs to mind, yet in the few days spent around the Lawrences, there doesn’t appear to be a querulous thread between them. Perhaps worldwide success will one day alter their dynamic, but, as of now, they get along readily. Maybe that’s because Disclosure is the first time they’ve really bonded. Growing up, they didn’t hang out much. “Three years is quite a big age gap when you’re that young,” said Howard. He then credits the Lawrence household for encouraging their musical explorations. “Our mum used to do radio jingles and she used to work on cruise ships, singing and playing piano in the dining hall. Dad was in a rock band and they used to tour Canada.” He’s quick to swear that there was never a family band.
“what we make is maybe what we hope pop music will be one day.”
That age difference also meant that while Guy was digging deep into the jeep-braying beats crafted by the likes of DJ Premier, Dilla and A Tribe Called Quest—“any American hip-hop, really”—Howard was digging through his parents’ old records for music, nodding along to Hall and Oates, Steely Dan and Weather Report. “I was obsessed with trying to get better at the bass, so it was Jaco Pastorius for me,” says Howard. Guy similarly practiced drums along to the artists he considered the most amazing drummers on earth: Phil Collins and Neil Peart. “I just wanted to be technically amazing at drums,” Guy confesses. His attention to craft is evident throughout Settle, which Guy produced and mixed himself, but rather than flash his chops, his tricky yet propulsive drum programming serves each song concisely. For all their desire to be great players, it was only in their later teenage years that it made sense to the brothers to make music together. “We started to find music that we both enjoyed, something that hadn’t ever really happened before,” says Howard, citing a shared love for contemporary British producers like Burial and Joy Orbison. “So naturally we started to make something that we thought was similar to those influences.”
In a parallel universe, Disclosure might’ve been a time signature-obsessed jazz-fusion group rather than a proper electronic duo making ecstatic, hook-filled music. There’s a trace of the rhythmic wobble of two-step in the beats—and Guy credits acts like Skream and Floating Points for prodding him toward pads and drum programming—but Disclosure flesh out American-indebted vocal house with fully formed song arrangements. As Howard puts it, “What we make is maybe what we hope pop music will be one day.”
Rather than “push things forward”—that oft-uttered British motto that defines so much of the country’s vanguard, from drum & bass to dubstep, that insistence on proceeding onward rather than lingering and perfecting—Disclosure instead refines what pop and house can do to-gether. At times, Disclosure evokes Masters at Work, the duo of Little Louie Vega and Kenny Dope that converted New York underground house into something accessible above ground. The way that Disclosure works with the vocalists on Settle—be it royal wedding reception singer Ellie Goulding, American motivational speaker Eric Thomas or Burial collaborator Jamie Woon—evokes the way producer Todd Edwards redefined classic Jersey house, most famously on Daft Punk’s pop music paradigm-bumping Discovery. And while those robots may now be more obsessed with the sounds of the distant past, Disclosure seems to have taken the lessons of Homework and Discovery to heart: one can use the language of Chicago acid, deep house, dubstep and UK garage and make them serve a proper pop song in the present moment. The Lawrence brothers like underground dance culture fine, they insist, but at the end of the day, they come across as regular guys who want to make big music. Settle offers up what other highly anticipated electronic albums this year simply don’t: a strong and assured hook-filled album that makes you move from start to finish.
Disclosure stands in the wings at Rock City now, catching friend and warm-up act Eats Everything as he spins a set that veers from house into trap and back. At one point, Guy dashes out and hops on Eats Everything’s shoulders while Howard remains on the side of the stage, his trainers firmly planted as he nods his head methodically to the beat. Squalls of bass and white noise announce the beginning of Disclosure’s DJ set, the frequencies making sinuses shake. When the first kick hits, everyone responds viscerally: girls stop texting, boys—either buttoned-up or now shirtless and glistening—flex their arms, a group of kids waving glow sticks in one corner raise them skyward. Onstage, the brothers’ roles are undefined; each takes his turn on the decks, each gives the other space to operate. They have but one pair of headphones between them, and hand it back and forth as if comparing tracks on a long bus ride. Howard’s body language isn’t that different from when he was offstage, though perhaps he nods a bit deeper as he works the room. Guy waves his hands as if conducting the programmed drums, bunnyhopping with the crowd as “White Noise” kicks in. And when the opening notes of Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” emerge near the end of their 90-minute set, Rock City goes mental.
At lunch the next day in Nottingham, the brothers, Fi and another friend sidle into a booth. It was a late night out, with Guy jumping onstage during People Just Do Nothing’s absurd set as Howard and Fi chilled in the green room. Howard started in Disclosure too young to attend clubs as a patron, and it seems he still perceives being in them as a job, not a place to lose himself. Up early, Guy grouses a little at having his photo taken for this story (which might explain why they draw over their faces in every press photo), but the mood soon passes, and he’s agreeable again.
For the moment, being signed to a major label and playing shows around the world haven’t much altered their personal lives. Guy still lives at his parents’ home in Surrey, while Howard crashes with Fi in a temporary living situation. Is it a difficult arrangement? Howard says no, if for the simple fact that Disclosure has so many gigs lined up that he’s only there two to three days out of the month.
One thing did change for Guy upon getting a record deal however: he bought a car, a BMW 1 Series. “There was a rumor going around with my mates that I literally walked in with a suitcase full of money and just opened it and bought the car right there,” Guy says. “That never happened at all.” One might be forgiven for making that mistake though: when Guy sits down in the booth, he has to extract a billfold from his hip pocket that is George Costanza-like in its thickness. It’s not stuffed with quid though, just receipts he has to tally for all of their expenses. Talk at the table swings to Howard’s 19th birthday, which is next week. Fi mentions that the two plan to get a puppy together. Beyond that, Howard shrugs. There’s little he needs right now beyond some clothes. But then his eyes widen and for a moment he looks less like half of an electronic act set to conquer the globe, and more like an excitable teen. He perks up, smiles and says he wants a professional yo-yo, so that he can learn a bunch of new tricks.