James Ford and Jas Shaw. Two men. Three letters. SMD. Electronic pioneers. DJs. Producers. They’ve been tearing up dance-floors around the world for the past few years, but how did their story begin, and where will it end…?
Back in the late ‘90s, James and Jas were studying folklore and physics respectively at Manchester University, while crafting strange electronic music in the spare room of their shared house. Although he eventually dropped out of his course, Jas’s grounding in quantum physics was to come in useful later: the drum pattern on SMD’s early white label PlayTits & Acid was based on matrix mechanics devised by Werner Heisenberg.
But before Simian Mobile Disco there was Simian, a four-piece band Jas and James formed at Manchester with singer-songwriter Simon Lord and bass-player Alex Macnaghten. Like contemporaries such as Broadcast and The Beta Band, Simian sought to combine traditional songwriting with electronic sounds, with one key difference – their name did not contain the letter ‘B’.
Simian did quite well, but James and Jas never set out to be a conventional rhythm section in a touring band, and even though they realised it would be a terrible cliché for Simian to split in the middle of a long, hot US tour, Simian split in the middle of a long, hot US tour.
But long before the split, Jas and James had already started indulging their passion for electronic party music by booking themselves DJ dates under the name Simian Mobile Disco. Early gigs were wildly experimental, James once spinning every record in a four hour set at 5/8 the correct speed, inadvertently creating the short lived slowcore scene.