Interview with UK duo Siente

UK duo Siente are back with their first single of 2020, the slick, infectious On Guard featuring vocals from US singer Nic Hanson.

Over the last few years, Siente have delivered a steady stream of crossover dance cuts, most notably 2019 singles Doubts and I Know Better which have clocked up millions of streams between them.

Latest single On Guard feat. Nic Hanson draws on their love of emotional, evocative pop music, which when combined with their dance music influences results in a pop-house hybrid with soaring melodies and a yearning vocal from Hanson. With On Guard out now, we caught up with the guys for a chat.

Can you start by telling us how you guys initially met, and how Siente came into existence?

Steve: We first met about a decade ago through Nick’s brother Lewis, another producer who I’d worked with over a summer after my first year of Uni. I knew Nick was starting to make beats and we’d had a few conversations about it, but we only really saw each other occasionally when we were back in our hometown between terms.

About a year later Nick and his bro hosted this crazy Hawaiian themed house party and invited all our friends to DJ. At some bonkers time in the early morning, Nick and I ended up jumping behind the decks for an impromptu B2B and the whole set really seemed to click (what I remember of it, anyway). We realised we had very similar taste in music and thought we’d try to make some tunes together.

A week later I sent Nick a rough idea that I’d been sat on for a while, which later became our first single, ‘Wonderful’. I absolutely loved what he did with it and we both agreed on the spot that we should continue making music as an ongoing project… at that moment, Siente was born!

Your music seems to fit somewhere between pop and more underground club music… was it a conscious decision to sit somewhere between those genres? Or is it more organic than that? 

Nick: I don’t think we ever really had a clear idea of how our music should sound when we started, other than that we wanted to try and straddle the line between classic House and the more chilled, French Touch sound which had really influenced us both growing up. Our style has undoubtedly developed over time though, particularly as we’ve started experimenting with new sounds and worked with other artists. The last few releases are probably the ones that have given us a more identifiable ‘sound’.

Steve: Yeah, I think the ‘poppier’ side of the sound has probably come through as we’ve started working with vocalists and songwriters more, rather than solely relying on samples. There’s both a complex skill and an art to making good pop music, which makes for a great challenge for us as producers. I’m in awe of three-minute pop songs that manage to do so much, without much in the way of musical or production trickery.

I guess the new goal is trying to make songs which wouldn’t sound out of place on daytime radio but are founded in our musical heritage. Judging by the charts now there definitely seems to be space for it; both Doja Cat and Dua Lipa have scored number ones this year with songs which are unashamedly disco.
Now more than ever it feels like music is an escape from the often grim reality of the world… what have you been listening to recently to get you through the days? 

Nick: I’ve definitely found myself listening to more upbeat music to take my mind off everything that’s happening. Lots of disco and old-school hip-hop, particularly as the weather in the UK has gotten warmer recently. In terms of specific artists, I’ve got the Franc Moody album on repeat right now, I love what those guys are doing.

Steve: I’m a huge hip-hop fan as well, although my listening has become more eclectic since we went into lockdown. The restriction of being at home has given me time to experiment and do some proper crate-digging, which I don’t always get the time for in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I’m digging the new Onra and Pomrad (OXP) collab album, but to be honest my recently played on any given day is a pretty bizarre mix of instrumental hip-hop, latin pop and jazz – it’s all good!

How did you hook up with Nic on the new single… was he someone you\’d worked with before? 

Steve: We’d been massive fans his since we first heard his voice on Moon Boots\’ ‘Keep the Faith’ but to be honest, had never thought to reach out to him.

Then last November he came over to Europe as part of Moon Boots’ band on the tour for his new album. I managed to get tickets to the London leg and it was an amazing gig – Nic absolutely smashed it, working the crowd like a pro.

Afterwards my group got chatting to him in the bar…I was probably still a bit in awe from the performance, but a friend grabbed us both and said to Nic, ‘Hey! You’re an incredible singer and this guy makes beats which would really fit your voice – you two need to hook up whilst you are in London’. We got chatting and really hit it off. Then two days later, Nic came over to my home studio and we laid down the vocal for ‘On Guard’ pretty much straight away.

It’s funny, if you listen to the lyrics it’s almost like we wrote them about the situation – it was honestly one of the funnest studio sessions we’ve had, as well. Nic is super laid back and brings an amazing energy and enthusiasm to the process; I think he wrote the first draft of the lyrics in the time it took me to make a coffee, he’s like the Duracell bunny!

We hear you\’re both fans of some 80s nostalgia, especially in music. What are some of your favourite artists or records from that period? 

Nick: We’re hugely influenced by the stripped-back, post-disco sound of the early 80s. Producers like Luther Vandross, Kashif, Larry Levan who made some of the grooviest music possible whilst only using one or two synths and a drum machine. They’re also the progenitors of House music – you can hear so much of modern dance in the original recordings from that era.

Steve: I think our song writing also owes a lot to New Wave artists like Tears for Fears, Wang Chung, Thompson Twins…pretty much anything produced by Trevor Horn as well. What I love about those artists is that the music they produced was in a sense, synthetic and contrived, but they still managed to convey a huge range of emotion with their writing.

The 80s can sometimes be a little maligned for being a \’bad\’ decade for music, but it was also a massive time for innovation and progression, especially in dance music and hip-hop. Do you think pop went a little off the rails in the 80s, or is that over simplifying things? 

Steve: I get where that opinion is comes from, but I think it’s an oversimplification. People always look for narratives when they describe history and the idea of 80s pop as tacky and derivative fits this well-worn idea that the 80s was all about commercialisation and economic progress, at the expense of cultural integrity.

There was definitely lots of manufactured, forgettable stuff on rock and mainstream radio, but it was also the decade that gave us albums like ‘Thriller’, ‘Scary Monsters… and ‘1999’ – huge, genre-defining works that pushed the boundaries of what ‘pop’ could be.

That’s without even considering the innovations in dance and hip-hop, like you said. Gangster rap, conscious hip-hop, house, techno…so many of these genres originated in the 80s and almost always with black artists, who managed to change music in profound ways whilst fighting resistance from big, powerful, cultural institutions.

How has lockdown affected you, both personally and professionally over the last few months?

Nick: It’s been really tough at times, if I’m being honest – isolation has had a bigger impact on me mentally than I expected it to at the start. At the moment I’m getting through my days by blasting tunes and dancing in my underwear. I also think my musical ideas are getting a little stranger – there’s lots of time to experiment and its led me in some interesting directions, especially working with analog synths.

Steve: I’ve also found it difficult at times, but in some respects, it’s given me some time for self-reflection and a chance to slow down. That’s had some positive outcomes professionally – its undoubtedly made me focus on finishing songs more, rather than just starting new ideas! I think we started and finished an upcoming remix in about 24 hours recently…that has got to be a new record for us!

Have you guys been making lots of music during lockdown? Given that you\’re a duo, have you had to change your way or working, or do you usually do things remotely?

Nick: The extra time has been helpful in letting us focus on building out a solid body of work. We’re sitting on lots of new music at the moment, most of which has been started and finished since we went into lockdown. When it comes to remote working, it’s really no issue for us – since we started Siente we’ve never lived in the same location and have always had to bounce ideas back and forth virtually.

Steve: Ha – since we started working together, Nick has lived in Chile, Barcelona, Tenerife, Kettering and Leeds…he likes to keep me on my toes when it comes to time zones.

What, if anything, do you think the music industry can take away from the last few months in terms of the impact of coronavirus?

Nick: The key thing for me is that its proved distance is not a barrier to creative expression – its now so easy for two musicians to just jump on Zoom together and start making music.

Steve: I think it’s also reaffirmed that positive, upbeat music has the power to bond people together in times of crisis. I’ve spoken to producers who have been hesitant to release House tunes due to the clubs not being open and the general anxious mood, but to be honest, some of my best times in lockdown have come from dancing around to a livestream, or popping into an impromptu Instagram live from a singer I like. Quick shout out to Defected, who I think have produced some of the most consistently great content over lockdown with their weekly livestream.

Nick: Yeah I think we’ll definitely see more livestreams even when lockdown’s over – for better or worse!

What else should we be looking out for from Siente this year? 

Nick: It’s a cliched answer, but, lots of new music. We’re still at that stage of trying to reach as many new fans as possible and the only way to do that is keep releasing new stuff and showing what we’re about; whether that’s originals, remixes or mixtapes. Some of our newer material is perhaps a bit more clubby than our recent releases as well – at our core, we’re DJs, and we felt the urge to produce some more music which we’d be comfortable including in our club sets. Whatever we put out though, it will have that Siente ‘sound’ – I’m so excited about some of the vocalists we’ve worked with recently, they’re really at the top of their game…

Steve: Yeah I can’t wait to start putting out some of the stuff we’ve been working on recently, I think it will surprise a lot of people. We’re also part of a new collective, ‘Boys Next Door’ with our good friends Fabich, Pastel and Jafunk. We’ve put on five or six shows over the last year or so and every one of them has been an amazing vibe. The plan before lockdown was to put on a regular night in London and invite some of our favourite DJs to come and headline, but alas, that one had to take a rain check. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to put something on before the end of the year – I think we’ll all need a ‘Corona blow-out’ by then…

On Guard is out now on Humble Angel Dance – listen & buy

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