BICEP: Isles

The Northern Ireland duo, better known as Bicep have taken over the musical world, and are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. They first established themselves 12 years ago through their Feel My Bicep blog, devoted to discovering musical sounds consisting of anything and everything, and presenting them to the public. Within a couple of years, the blog began to attract over 100,000 visitors a month, and so began their DJ career, a Rinse FM radio show, a record label, and a deal with Ninja Tune. Ninja Tune being the home to many other high calibre artists such as Denis Sulta, Peggy Gou, and Bonobo, so the Northern Ireland duo are in good company.

Bicep have progressed from underground house favourites, to headlining festivals, and daytime radio plays, all whilst producing music that conveys an incredible amount of emotion and personality. But this is what Bicep have always been working towards. All their years of work have paid off, but with the release of their new album ‘Isles’, they had to change plans. Ferguson and McBriar had to overcome their initial creative process of an album tailored to arenas, and curate an album that reflects the current mindset of society during a pandemic.

‘Isles’ feels slightly darker than their previous work, but in a period of time where there has been very little positivity in the world, with little glimpses of hope, Isles appears to be Bicep’s way of venting their frustration. Talking to Mixmag, McBriar explained the bittersweet feeling when the weather is grim outside, but warm inside. ‘Isles’ perfectly reflects this, through the pain of coronavirus, ‘Isles’ has been delivered to offer some calmness in the ever-growing storm. Through this darker side to the Northern Ireland boys, we are invited further into their personality, and gain an insight into their creative production process. The ground-breaking synths that place you in a melancholic trance add so much personality to the album, whilst also offering the chance to relax and reflect on the current surroundings.

Their early years growing up in Belfast was not the easiest for the Northern Ireland DJ/Producer sensations. Ireland was verging on civil war, the Irish Catholics wanting Ireland to break away from the United Kingdom to form a United Ireland, whilst the Ulster Protestants wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. For Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar who make up Bicep, the clubs at the time worked in the way a church is supposed to. The clubs were one of the only places in a divided city where religion and war had no purpose. The Bicep boys explain: “It felt like the safest place but, on paper, it should have been the most dangerous.” The duo found solace in the clubs and music in particular, in a time when Ireland was verging on civil war. Talking to Mixmag, McBriar explained: “With instrumental music it’s hard to describe emotions, but the musical element of ‘Isles’, the emotion behind it, was definitely centred on Ireland.”

An album for the ages, ‘Isles’ may not be what they imagined it to be, with the Northern Ireland duo used to playing sets in superclubs like Printworks or Warehouse Project, all the way to the prestigious Mediterranean venues in Ibiza. Having songs like ‘Glue’ and ‘Aura’ blasting out of immense speakers in front of thousands of people, but instead, it offers a time of reflection, whilst keeping true to the original Bicep sound. It is the perfect time in history to create an album like this, home listening is currently the only way we have of enjoying music for the foreseeable future, but creating music that works as well in a club as it does in your sitting room is a rather difficult task. However, the DJ-producer duo’s hard-hitting second album shows just how effective dance music can be, even (or perhaps especially) right now.

The duo could never have predicted what was to happen in 2020 when they first started producing ‘Isles’, but it’s become a record that holds a mirror to the times that we are living through. From the choral vocals behind the lucid synths of ‘Lido’, to the eerie melodies of ‘Cazenove’, you feel the themes of an isolated society glaring through the songs, you feel the struggle of artists desperate to resume normality, whilst the audience desperate for the beat to go just that little bit harder. With that being said there are a few tracks on the album tailormade for being belted out in the early hours of the morning in superclubs. Tracks like ‘X’ which features Clara La San’s beautiful vocals, ‘Hawk’, and ‘Atlas’. The single ‘Atlas’ is slightly reminiscent of their previous club anthems of ‘Glue’ and ‘Orca’ but has a slightly different feel, much like the rest of the album.

‘Isles’ according to McBriar isn’t a collection of fully-fledged bangers, and it is a slightly tamer album than they may have imagined their sophomore album to be. However with that being said, McBriar follows this up stating: “The LP is the home listening version. The live renditions, whenever they materialise, will be much, much harder.” Given the conditions, and the struggles that artists are experiencing right now, this is a beautiful album that will be remembered for a long time.



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Ben Broyd

Ben Broyd


I write about music, amongst other things. Hope you enjoy.