Dance music has given birth to few legends in its relatively brief history, but one act that would undeniably included in every discussion is Faithless, the British hit makers who have grossed $15 million across six albums. Playing some of the biggest stages, stadiums, and festivals across the world, Faithless have recently taken a step back since their last album, 2010′s ‘The Dance’, which featured hits like ‘Not Going Home’ and ‘Tweak Your Nipple’. Since them, they’ve showed up occasionally for big shows and festivals, including a spot at this year’s Ultra Music Festival. We sat down backstage with Sister Bliss, who discussed the band’s immense musical influence, current plans, the state of EDM, and more.
On when they realized they had become ‘superstars’:
“I think, I guess when ‘Insomnia’ blew up all over Europe and we heard ourselves on the radio – we were like, #2 in Germany and The Fugees were #1. We did a show and it was upgraded from a small place to, suddenly were playing to 5,000 people with The Fugees in a Mercedes factory. And then we heard the show back on the radio and it was like ‘oh my gosh – this sounds quite good’. So I guess it was when the first tour kind of exploded and then it just didn’t end it just kind of went on and on and on as each territory kind of got the album, ‘Reverence’, and the single ‘Insomnia’. And then we re-released ‘Salva Mea’ – you’ve gotta remember every thing we did we re-released twice because, it just took a while to sink into people’s consciousness.
And the radio was much more dance friendly in Europe than it was in the UK – so it took a year and a half to have a hit. We were overjoyed when it hit like number 30 – and it was actually Pete Tong who’s a very famous UK DJ, kind of a lynchpin of UK dance music, he campaigned and said you have to re-release that record. And we were like ‘really?’. You know, we’ve kind of moved on, we’ve already done three other singles, we’re gonna do something else. And he was like ‘no, no, no, you’ve gotta put it out again’. And he was right – it sort of became more than a global hit, because it keeps coming back year after year, and it has sort of become a ‘dance standard’ if you’d like. What I find really interesting is now, so much of the big records, they have a lot of that ‘Faithless DNA’. It’s not like the sound like The Chemical Brothers or Prodigy particularly, it that – we’ve created a fucking monster. The big riff, the bass line. Of course now, it’s become even busier and there’s crazy new instruments like Massive synths, so everybody had the same kind of bass drops. But the, kind of structure of house music, I think Insomnia, it created a blueprint for the sound that we became known for.”
On the history of their sound, and the current state of EDM:
“I still think we don’t sound like anybody else. I went out to three different clubs last night – every fucking record sounded the same. I know, the people who hate on EDM, say ‘it’s not music, it’s not this’. No, actually people get together for a vibe. But in the twenty years leading up to this point, people were very passionate about individual songs and they do know every piece of music. But I still think that Faithless does not sound like any other record. Maxi doesn’t sound like a pop rapper on a house record. We have a very distinct sound and I like to think it’s quite classy, and not cheap. We don’t just go for the cheap, easy option. Also, there’s a tension in the music – you know? It’s tense, theres a build, and a build, and a build, and then a release.
It’s also what people have said to us, you know, there wouldn’t be Faithless without Underworld, without Left Field, people who made albums and their music had their own unique sound. It wasn’t generic. It wasn’t just fifty records that sounded the same. Even within dance music, people say it’s all just ‘bmf, bmf, bmf” – Underworld does not sound like Faithless and Faithless does not sound like The Chemical Brothers but there is obviously a common language. I love how Underworld just wait, and wait, and wait and spin these minimal grooves, and then they change a tiny little thing and you are just like ‘ah!’.
So, to sound as good as our peers in dance music, there’s always been something, uh – I’m a DJ as well, so I’m always listening to new music and taking in new production techniques, and things that make it current as well. So, even though we’re not making Faithless music at the moment, me and Rollo, we’re working together on loads of stuff. We played a couple of new ones tonight that were our own music. You have to make effort in order to try and do something new. To me, there’s a lot in EDM that feels like people chasing money. You can hear it in the music. I can hear a private jet. I can hear a big tour bus. And um, to me, that’s not what the spirit of dance music is about.
Of course, we’ve done extremely well out of it, we’ve sold millions of albums, and singles, it wasn’t just about doing the big gigs with the table service, it was about the communal experience, it was about ‘We Come One’, it was about that there is something bigger than the individual, with love and peace and harmony between people of all walks a lot. You know, I just think there’s a place in dance music to say something beautiful and passionate and that brings people together. And I’m happy that Maxi is the one to say it, you know? He’s a buddhist, and that kind of comes out in his lyrics.”
On their ‘live band’ set:
“The live band is like a rock band – there’s eight people in it and there’s guitars and riffs and big and angry, and almost punky sometimes. And I love that, and, well, we were firing on all cylinders between the clubs and rock and roll, and we played with bands like REM and Linkin Park, and fucking heavy bands like Klawfinger – you heard of them? Fuck me, there brilliant. Ya know Maxi, he’s a Buddhist but he’s a Buddhist punk, and he can bring out the fuckin’ rabble rousing vibe with his energy, and our sound engineer Mark knows to crank the guitars up to eleven, and we can compete in a rock environment. You know, they used to have dance music in the ‘Dance Tent’ in the back of a field, and now it’s on the main stage at the festival’s everywhere. We sort of held open the doors for dance music to be accepted everywhere because know you can have Bob Dylan, and you can have Faithless, and you can have Swedish House Mafia, and you know, Lenny Kravitz, and it’s all good music.”
On why dance music took so long to gain acceptance in America:
“Well they thought it was black and it was gay, and it was associated with disco and it was ‘faggy music’, and there was a lot of prejudice about it. And hip-hop was so big, and the urban sound was just massive, and obviously it took David Guetta to marry rap with electronic music, but Clive Davis from Arista Records signed us, as a band, in the mid 90′s. He said, we had a big meeting, and, this is the guy who signed Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen and The Eurythmics, you know, the hugest bands ever, and he says ‘what is interesting to me Bliss, is the mix of rap and electronic music.’ But we were like twenty years too early, I think. But also the radio is so, um, sectioned off here. It’s adult contemporary or it’s country or it’s Christian rock, and we always hovered outside the Top 40. And once we got a big band it was really expensive to tour, so I would have loved to really tour in America, but it was a loss making thing for us at the time. And we did play a few raves, but mainly we played rock venues, but it difficult. And I really wish we had done more, but we didn’t have management, we managed ourselves. And we were kind of losing money, and we did a couple of tours of America, we did a great show at Coachella a couple years ago.”
On the lack of shows in America:
“I feel like, ‘fuck me’, we could be killing it now. But Maxi wanted to stop touring last year, and well, we’ve worked really, really, really hard for a long time, and he wants to – he built a house in Jamaica for his mom. She’s 92, she’s not gonna last forever. I’ve just been with him there this week, and we’ve been kind of hanging out, it’s been amazing. But just doing the odd DJ gig is much less stressful than having to keep an eight piece band on the road, and it’s all about thirty people in our entourage, because you have crew, and lighting, and video, so you have to do a big amount of gigs to pay for it all, and it just became, I think a little too much for Maxi, and he said ‘we’ve done six albums, we’ve done a greatest hits, and I don’t want people to be sick of us.’
So, we’re still headlining festivals and I think it’s cool to kind of quit at the top, and then pop back for the occasional ‘hello! remember us guys?’. And this kind of, what an amazing crowd, it makes me want to quit because – I DJ every week, I play all the time. But, the reception we got makes me want to go, ‘aw, come on Maxi! Come on just a little tour in America!’. It’s just so beautiful and there’s so much affection here for Faithless. And the live band is even to me, a different experience than the DJ set.”
On recreating songs for a live band:
“I’m gonna have a spliff, on the record, because I only smoke weed when I need to, and I need to, and I need to kind of now – jetlagged. But that kind of took a lot of work, but Maxi was adamant when he started, because he had kind of been a hip hop MC, and he said ‘I don’t want it to just be me and a DJ scratching, it’s a bit limited’. You know, it’s alright to do it now after it’s been fifteen years with a massive band, but at the time he said ‘if we’re going to do a live gig I’d really like to be with music, because I respond to the drummer’s beats and I rap harder and better – it’s an exchange of energy’. Because, like obviously theres a multitrack of stuff you can control, and we stripped all the songs back to the basics and then we listened again, because when you’re listening live it’s like a different medium, and what I love about the live show is, it’s not the same as just going to see a band and they play everything note for note, it’s that sense of a live remix. And I think that made it a very unique experience, not the same thing as a DJ set. And also, our albums are really eclectic, it’s not just house, it’s beat driven, there’s groovy stuff, hip hop, ambient, to almost reggae vibes, very punky songs like ‘Mass Destruction’ which got a lot of traction in radio, especially in LA, and that’s like a punk rock songs, but that’s my job, I weave it all together like a DJ Set, so the songs just like join up and segue together. It’s not like, you know, a song, everyone claps, and then it’s the next song. It’s just one after the other, after the other. So I’ve kind of thought really cleverly on how to make all of this weird music mix together.
Like, I saw Avicii did a folk set the other day, but it didn’t work, because, he probably should have done it in a smaller venue first before here. To weave together music that isn’t just, four to the floor, with a crowd that expects that – you’ve got to sort of doing something quite special, and it takes a lot of work. But let me tell you something, something we used to have to do is play ‘Insomnia’ early, because people we get there and be like, ‘is this the same band?’. They didn’t know the slower, groovier, funky stuff. So we used play it third song in the set, and everyone would be like “oh yeah”, and then they’d relax and listen. It’s a good technique – if you ever go on the road, play the hit early, then play it again later – different versions. And that’s my tip for the day!”