Three is the magic number for dance duo Sigma, who are gunning for their third No 1 single in a row. Their latest drum and bass banger. Higher, featuring Labrinth, follows Changing, starring Paloma Faith, and Nobody to Love, a reworking of a Kanye West song — 100mph blasts of euphoria all.
“There are definitely expectations for this next song,” says Cameron Edwards, who formed Sigma with his Home Counties pal Joe Lenzie after they started putting on club nights in Leeds during their university days. “Any chart position coming from the scene we’re from is amazing.”
Commercial success still feels very new to the 32-year-olds after a decade operating in the insular world of underground drum and bass. A dance sub-genre that was first fashionable in the mid-Nineties heyday of Goldie and Roni Size, it has drifted in and out of favour since (with those familiar racing drum breaks popping up on hits for DJ Fresh, Tinie Tempah and Rudimental in recent years) but has never faded completely. “Drum and bass has been underground and overground, but there are always people who want it,” says Lenzie.
The last artist to manage three UK No 1 singles in a row was Calvin Harris, who makes the kind of America-friendly EDM that is huge worldwide. The other dance movement to gain traction right now is Nineties-influenced house music, led by Disclosure and Duke Dumont. In contrast, Sigma are making a sound that currently has its most rabid fanbase in Belgium, so it’s no wonder they feel like underdogs. Their previous high point was a night at London club institution Fabric, hearing different DJs play the same Sigma tune five times throughout the evening. “That felt like we’d made it,” says Lenzie.
“I miss all that. It was quite an innocent way of thinking about music, even though we weren’t doing as well as we are now,” adds Edwards. “These days we don’t spend any time in clubs. It feels really alien to us.” The pair have just put DJing on the back burner and embarked on their first ever tour as a live band, which reaches London next month. It seems like a wise move, given their disillusionment with the number of clubbing opportunities on offer to Londoners these days.
“A lot of the places we used to play, they’re all shut now,” says Edwards. “If you close down all of these venues and local shops and everything that makes it cool to be somewhere, it’s not cool any more. Eventually all that’ll be there is a bunch of flats,” complains Lenzie.
We meet in their management offices near Oxford Circus, sitting on either side of a glass vase full of sweets and beneath a strategically placed gold disc for their song Nobody to Love. “We’ve got a platinum one for that now,” points out Lenzie, who with his ponytail, sunglasses and fast talking, is the one who looks more like being awake in the daytime is a strange new experience.
Unlike the new song, Nobody to Love was created with no expectations at all. At the start of 2014 they gave it away as a free download on their website to encourage more sign-ups to their mailing list. It wasn’t even a new composition, but the result of them mucking about with Kanye West’s 2013 single Bound 2 when inspiration wasn’t striking. “We’d been in the studio a long time and had a bit of writer’s block,” says Edwards. “We didn’t know what to do one day so we turned this Kanye thing into a track in just an hour or two. We gave it to Annie Mac at Radio 1, she played it and gave it to Nick Grimshaw on the Breakfast Show.”
“To get breakfast radio play on a track that was literally just a cut-and-paste bootleg, to get that exposure without a plugging team, that was when we thought it could be big,” says Lenzie.
They didn’t need West’s permission to release it as it’s essentially a cover version, featuring no original elements of his song. It topped the charts in April last year and the video now has a ridiculous 123 million views on YouTube, which may have a little to do with the two models in bikinis dancing on the beach for most of it.
Then last summer they took Paloma Faith to Miami to make the video for Changing, which involved her hanging out of a classic car in the sunshine and giving her finest clubland diva holler. It’s an instant singalong and gave Faith her first No 1 single, not that she’s said much about it.
In her long speech after being named Best British Female Solo Artist at the Brits last month there was no mention of Sigma, who were also there with nominations for best single and video. Interestingly, in a post-Brits interview published this week, she talked about still waiting for a UK No 1 single. “It’s like a bee in my bonnet. It’s probably the thing that’s going to stop me making a baby,” she told the Telegraph.
“She was grateful to be considered for the track, but I wouldn’t say she’s ever openly reached out and said, ‘Thank you for my No 1’,” says Edwards. It’s almost as if their work doesn’t count, not a fun thought when the pair are already enduring “sellout” cries from the fans who were there in the beginning.
“We’ve had to compromise the way we work a bit when you open yourself up to the pop world, which I guess is where we’re at now,” admits Edwards. “We used to go to the studio and try to write a drum and bass banger to play in the clubs and smash it on a Friday or Saturday night. These days you’re trying to cater for the audience that has bought into us already. We’ve always loved strings, choirs, real instruments. It really feels like music, gives it that authenticity.”
With Labrinth’s voice towering over Higher, it’s still a big, brash sound all right, and there’s no doubt they have another hit on their hands. The underground will have to wait some time to meet up with Sigma again.
Higher feat Labrinth is released March 22 on 3 Beat. Sigma play the Electric Brixton, SW2 (020 7274 2290, electric brixton.uk.com), on April 18