Aluna Francis worries that people think her full name is Aluna George, and her musical partner George Reid is frequently mistaken for her part-time session player, but as a pairing with no space between their names, AlunaGeorge are making it work as the most exciting new act in electropop.
If bands are families, the male-female duo is the child-free couple, with all the extra freedom and intensity that can bring. It didn’t work out too well in the long-term for Ike and Tina Turner or The White Stripes but in the world of electronic music it’s a dynamic that seems to suit.
The glamorous female singer, on stage with an anonymous man hiding behind a bank of keyboards and computers, is a familiar sight in clubland, from Alison Moyet in Yazoo in the Eighties, to all those Nineties trip hop pairings, to Goldfrapp today. Often the male half is so obscure that many don’t even realise that bands like Goldfrapp and La Roux are duos. That’s something AlunaGeorge hope to avoid.
“When we were working together at first I didn’t really see us being a band,” says George. “I thought, ‘Aluna’s the thing here’.” Tall and fresh-faced and still living with his parents near Hampton Court, there’s not much of the Svengali about him, though he clearly knows his music as he talks with passion about the worlds of instrumental hip hop and American R&B.
“I hated the idea of being a solo artist,” adds Aluna. “It might be different if I was coming in to George saying, ‘Okay, I’ve got five songs, they’re all about me, now produce them’. But he’s not just the production guy. This isn’t my creative baby. I’m first and foremost a collaborator.”
It’s easy to see why all eyes would be drawn to her — she’s half-Indian, half-Jamaican, around six foot tall and thin as a Biro. Vogue has already shown an interest in AlunaGeorge, booking them to play at the magazine’s Fashion’s Night Out event near Bond Street earlier this month, which left Aluna a little bemused. “Fashion people like to talk about music but as visitors to a gig they’re the least enthusiastic people you could ever have. They’re a real different breed.”
Formerly a reflexologist, she’s still listed on the website of an Islington health practice, offering “to explore ways in which you can achieve simple, effective changes to your lifestyle and take control of your journey to optimum health”. She won’t give her age — “We’re not doing ages” — which unfortunately has the unwanted effect of making me assume she must be at least a decade older than she looks.
She sings with an understated feline slinkiness that is a world away from the showy soul of the X Factor school, a subtlety well suited to George’s minimal productions. The pair’s last single, You Know You Like It, drifts along on rubbery bass and twinkly synth swirls. The next one, Your Drums, Your Love, seems to have even less to it.
There are small echoes of The xx in the way they’re unafraid of silence but they also have a pop ear that means they didn’t feel out of place when Nick Grimshaw played them on his first Radio 1 Breakfast Show this week.
“He’s played us before on his evening show. I thought he’d be too big for us now but he took us along with him in his little bag, which was great,” says Aluna.
George talks about the power of minimal US hip hop by The Neptunes and, more recently, Lil Wayne, as an inspiration. “It’s so easy to get lost in software, you get to a point where so many noises might be carrying the song, rather than the song carrying everything else. So that’s my excuse for having nothing in there.”
The music has a sexiness about it that has not gone unnoticed in media land. Their songs have appeared in both the UK and US versions of the teen drama Skins, both times backing sex scenes. Is this their natural area? “Yeah, kind of,” says Aluna. “We keep saying, ‘We’ve got another sex jam here’.”
It’s a world away from what George was doing before, making serious indie rock as a guitarist in a band that wrote their songs all together. Aluna sang in a briefly well-reviewed group called My Toys Like Me, who she says took an excruciatingly long time to put songs together through jamming and ad-libbing.
George met her when he remixed her band’s song Sweetheart (still available at his old solo website, myspace.com/tallgeorgemyspace) and they never looked back.
In the tiny room they share in a recording studio near Ravenscourt Park, she writing the lyrics on a sofa, he clicking away on a large Apple Mac, it’s a close working relationship, which isn’t always easy. “I see more of Aluna than I do anyone else,” says George.
“Boyfriends and girlfriends get jealous of the amount of time we have to spend together. We both have similar upsets going on,” says Aluna. “Plus my boyfriend’s stopped coming to our gigs because he doesn’t like the things some of the men in the audience say.” But when their debut album arrives early next year, it will all have been worth it. Based on what we’ve heard so far, this is one relationship with a glowing future.
AlunaGeorge play the Rinse 18th Birthday at the O2 Academy Brixton, SW9 (0844 477 2000, o2academybrixton.co.uk) tomorrow and Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, N1 (020 7419 4696, hoxtonsquarebar.com) on Nov 22. The single Your Drums, Your Love is released by Island on Oct 15.
TWICE AS NICE: FIVE MORE DOUBLE ACTS
SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS
The departure of singer Alejandra Deheza’s twin sister Claudia turned this trio (with guitarist Benjamin Curtis) into a duo, right, for this year’s third album, Ghostory (Full Time Hobby). The change hasn’t made much difference — her vocals are still layered to sound like there are dozens of her and the blurry electronica is as pretty as ever. sviib.com
Bob Matthews and Catherine Pockson from Kingston upon Thames operate at the dancier end of the spectrum, with house beats and Pockson’s strident vocals on their Early Hours EP, their second release, out October 8 on Untrue. They play The Lexington, N1 (020 7837 5371, thelexington.co.uk) on Oct 11; alpinesmusic.com.
Brooklyn pair Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly enjoyed early success when their cutesy single Bruises was used on an iPod advert. This year’s second album, Something (Young Turks), is also high on catchy indie pop with electronic touches. chairlifted.com
DAVID BYRNE & ST VINCENT
Two highly regarded solo acts came together this year for a one-off album, Love this Giant, out now on 4AD. Byrne is the former Talking Heads frontman while younger Annie Clark trades as St Vincent. Their sound is jerky and heavy on the horns. lovethisgiant.com
Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, a Swedish sister and brother, are the synthpop duo to beat at the moment, their haunting electronica having proved hugely influential since their last album, Silent Shout, in 2006. In April last year their website announced: “The Knife is now recording a new album to be released in 2012,” but there’s no sign yet. theknife.net