happymeals2016

IN CONVERSATION: Happy Meals

Glasgow duo Happy Meals were the best new live act I saw last year. The unexpected show-stealers at From Now On festival early in the year, lighting up Chapter’s theatre space in a whirl of rave pumping beats colliding with the sweetly unique Franco-Scots melodies. Their surprising notes scaled the register in a manner reminiscent of early Bjork and Kate Bush. Singer Suzanne Rodden was a true star; she started off behind the decks manned by partner L.Cook and danced down to the front of the stage, invading the crowd for dance-offs on excellent cuts like ‘Electronic Disco’ and the enrapturing ‘Le Voyage’.

They’ve already released an album Apero in 2015 and an EP, last year’s Fruit Juice. A collision of heady melodies, Happy Meals hit the sweet spot between dance four-to-the-floor beats, continental samples and artfully seductive melodies that intrigue and entice. Cuts like the infectious ‘If You Want Me Now’ spiralling somewhere between the clever bilingual pop of Stereolab and the cut and paste disco suave pop of Broadcast, they’re threatening two albums in 2017, and we can hardly wait!  We caught up with them recently and here’s what they had to say…

Hi, How are you today?
Feeling good thanks.

Why Happy Meals? I assume you aren’t fans of McDonald’s?
No – the words are just really nice together and we wanted to reclaim them. A few people told us it’s a bad name before we properly adopted it so we stuck with it.

How did you meet? Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted Happy Meals to sound from the beginning?
We met on Myspace in 2006 but it took quite a few years before we started making music together. We both shared musical interests but mostly an interest in a particular kind of instrument – hardware electronics. We wanted to try and make music for people in the future.

How do the songs emerge? Is it a case of building on top of a beat or is it more dependent upon a melodic or instrumental part and building from there? What kind of programmes/keyboards/synth models do you use to conjure up these sounds?
Sometimes we just hear a sound somewhere in someone else’s music or cruising sounds on the instruments we use and take it from there; sometimes we have a particular subject we want to explore. We’ve never actually come to the studio with a finished ‘song’ though. Everything comes together over the course of the recording process which I think allows the recordings to breathe sonically before they’re committed to structure. We started with only one synthesiser and a sampler and managed to buy more with money we made from playing shows. We still use the same sampler (Electribe ESX) at the core of everything we do – it’s important for us to have a personal relationship with the instruments we use – some synthesizers can make things very easy for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time learning but they have as much complexity and depth as any acoustic instrument and our psychoacoustic relationship with them is just as sensitive. We currently work with a Korg Delta (in since the beginning), a totally wrecked MS20mini, Electribe ESX, Moog Sub Phatty and the newest members, a Korg Minilogue and an Arturia Drumbrute.

We record things in weird ways on various mediums, micing up old speakers and setting up recordings down the other end of hallways. Some of the recordings stem from jams so we try to keep in some of the distortions, ‘mistakes’ etc. so that there’s a process there to be heard in the music – something that I think has been sadly lost in a lot of modern electronic music. Both of us believe that naivety is not something to be embarrassed about as artists. Everyone (self-proclaimed artist or not) is wrapped up in a game of trying to present themselves in a particular way and then constantly trying to live up to those expectations. A lot of stuff coming out today feels like the sonic representation of this practice. Scrolling through SoundCloud can feel a lot like scrolling through people’s uninspired posed selfies – never really giving anything away and processed through an algorithmic filter. We’re trying to laugh about that and at the same time share something sincere in the hope that it will smash the barriers that separate us.


I saw you play at From Now on in Cardiff earlier this year, it was a wonderful performance; Suzanne in particular danced into the crowd. Are you trying to break the barrier between artist and performer?
When we play live, we mostly want to make dance music but fucking hate so much of the culture that surrounds the various clubbing scenes. There’s a definite ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ thing going on with a lot of DJ culture where everyone kind of knows it but no-one’s allowed to say that, for the most part, it’s just hyped bros playing homogeneous records to a crowd that paid far too much to get in. If we’re going to play dance music – we’ll bring the rig but we’re going to dance too – We’re making the noises with our bodies and it needs to be physical. We want to celebrate the liberty that can be found in the experience of dance music without becoming entangled with the chains that prohibit that liberty in the first place.

From a distance, there appears to be a healthy electronic scene in Scotland, is that the case?
In Glasgow in particular, we’re lucky enough to have a scene united in its diversity. More often than not we end up playing alongside bands that we love but might not be considered similar in style (our last show was with Sacred Paws and Rapid Tan) but I think there is a common thread that unites us and separates us from others in our positive philosophy. That’s not to say the music sounds ‘positive’ but that there’s a healthy contingent of people making music and art for the right reasons – to share with each other moments that would never have happened otherwise, to challenge expectations, to inspire each other and to create something that is distinct, sincere and pure.

Does Night School records approach as a label invest time and backing into their artists help them produce their best artistically do you think?
Yeah, it’s important for us to work with someone that embodies the qualities I just mentioned and Michael from Night School does just that. It’s meant that we’ve been able to release our music exactly as we wanted and take the time to get things just right.

The collision of synthetic sounds and samples with more traditional instrumentation like flute solos, percussive loops and Suzanne’s alluring vocals creates a real warmth. Are you striving to create electronic music that is accessible and human rather than something mass (over) produced ?
Oh yeah. My self-indulgent answers to previous questions has left me at risk of repeating myself here…

Apero is a great album; I particularly love the almost ’70s sound of ‘Electronic Disco’ and ‘Crystal Salutations’ were these your attempt to capture the heart of the dancefloor sound with an ear of 2016?
There’s definitely a lot of influences to be heard in there from stuff we love – krautrock, disco, Italo, acid, etc. but I think the idea for us was to pick up some of the instruments we hear on those records and try and capture that sense of projecting into the future with a sense of wonder. As I said, much of the complex computer-based music stuff you can do has become ideologically entangled (at least for us) with ultra-cerebral chin-stroke core or paint-by-numbers house/techno/whatever. Sometimes it’s cool just to set yourself some boundaries which presents a challenge in itself. As I said before, these instruments leave an incredibly sensitive psychoacoustic effect on us as listeners – For example, the Linn Drum sound is like a sonic meme. Something that so many of us understand but which also contains a subtlety to aspects of how it’s used, produced, subverted etc. that can change the flavour and significance completely. Nonetheless, we’ve found a pallette of bold colours – when you paint with red white and blue, some are going to say it looks like the French flag, some will say the British and then some will see it as something altogether different.

It strikes me that some of the lyrics are conversational; some of them capture moments in time. How do they emerge? Do you carry a notepad?
Some emerge from little phrases that are noted down and then develop into full songs. Sometimes the subject of a song is there at first and then the song develops afterwards. There’s actually not much consistency as to how the songs are formed but that’s part of it I guess.

There are deep references to Franco-Gallic pop music within your work from (Altered Images) to songs on the new EP, who are your favourites in that field? And does utilising a different language add something to your sound do you think?
One of our big influences were Deux when we started. Also the coldwave band Ruth are great. We also like a lot of french and Belgian disco and pop music too. We definitely identify a lot of with the Belgian New Beat era too.

Compared to your debut ‘Apero’ the ‘Fruit Juice’ EP takes your sound into even more colourful and experimental terrains, was this influenced your travels and experiments on the road and on stage?
Yeah, definitely – if we’re away somewhere, we try to make a recording while we’re there if we have our instruments. We recorded some stuff by ourselves and also with Bitchin Bajas last year when we visited the Azores islands and mixed most of the record when we were out with them in Chicago later in the year. Even if we don’t get the opportunity to record when we’re away we always take something home.

I feel like you are taking us on a journey with each of your pieces there are elements of music we may recognise, house, disco, electronica and pop music but it’s a constantly surprising and delightful trip, is this your intention?
Yes – I think it’s important to always be exploring – I’m really glad you like it.

‘If You Want Me Now’ sounds like a real crowd pleaser, which of your songs goes down best live?
It depends on the night but Le Voyage is always fun to play and also we tend to take things off the grid towards the end of our set allowing us to experiment with new bits of songs or sounds or whatever but usually at about 135bpm+ so that’s always fun too.

I see you are finishing off album number two. Can you give us any hints at what it will sound like at this stage?
We’ve got a lot sitting underneath the surface. One album we’re working on at the moment which we’re not ready to talk about it yet. Plus another record that is finished but I’ve been told won’t be out until June because of printing problems. That record is going to be a different pace- that’s all we’ll say for now. Oh, and our collab with Bitchin Bajas might be finished under a different name. not sure when that’s out but we’ll see.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.