While it’s a natural evolution for DJs to become remixers, it isn’t often that remixers evolve into superstars. The Freemasons, a British DJ duo who took their talents into the studio just a few short years ago and already have a Grammy-nomination to their credits, have done exactly that, with remixes of artists like Faith Evans, Kylie, and Moby that have electrified dancefloors around the world.
Named after a pub near the studio in Brighton where they transform pop hits into uplifting house anthems, The Freemasons are Russell Small and James Wiltshire. They have been firing off one huge success after another since 2005, when they launched their own record label called Freemaison, and have made their mark on dance music by creating their own special blend of classic disco samples and exotic instrumentals.
They are perhaps best known for their magical transformation of Beyonce songs, including “Déjà Vu” from Dreamgirls, “Ring the Alarm,” and “Beautiful Liar,” Beyonce’s duet with Shakira. They’ve also memorably worked over Tina Turner and Alanis, in addition to several UK singers.
In 2007 they released “Shakeown,” a compilation showcasing their ridiculous number of hits in just two years. Their streak of success has continued with such strength that they are already releasing a second compilation in July, and this one will include some never-before-released tracks.
This week the Freemasons return to their DJ roles at HOM on Sunday night, in their first-ever US appearance. Fans can expect a heavy dose of the happy, high-energy funky, soulful, disco house that has made the Freemasons go-to artists for glittery dancefloor makeovers.
How does it feel to be getting behind the decks again?
We feel really lucky to have both ends of this business, in terms of being DJs and remixers. When we do DJ, we play a lot of our own music, which is different from a lot of producers. With us, what you see is what you get, and we’ll be playing a lot of our own tracks.
It’s great because, when we finish something in the studio, we can very quickly turn it around and have it ready for the dancefloor. That’s quite unique about us, and we love to get that instant reaction to our work from the dancefloor.
Your signature sound is often described as “uplifting vocal house music.” Is that accurate, and how was your signature sound inspired?
Yes, we’ve boiled our sound down to that, although we don’t want to be the kinds of DJs who stick to one note. We both love songs more than sounds. We both grew up with vintage soul from the Motown era, and stuck with dance music right up to disco and 80s music.
We’ve always been about chords, music, vocals, and melody. For us, house music is about rhythm and sounds and sonics, and we’ve really stuck to our guns on that.
It seems like I often hear Middle Eastern instruments mixed in to your work?
Yes. We’re very interested in anything from other places around the world that is hit, strummed, or plucked. We’re really fascinated by it.
What we love especially is that the percussion is always gonna be completely raw, not made digitally. Music is always at the forefront of technology, and we love that, but there still has to be music involved.
How do you two work as a team when you’re spinning live? Do you have a formula, or is it improv?
It’s different every time. We certainly don’t play one record each, or for a certain amount of time each. It comes much more naturally than that, and it’s not egotistical at all. Neither one of us hogs anything, and we don’t have any arguments. If either of us is on a roll, we certainly wouldn’t break that up.
What are the kinds of songs that attract you when take on a remix?
We spend a lot of time working on a remix, so first off we want to make sure it’s a song that we know with can do a good job with. And honestly, the production on the original song doesn’t even matter much to us. If the song is good, we can see right through that, and we always want to work on a good song.
And actually, we’re not remixing this year particularly. We’re doing more writing at the moment, and have a new single coming up with Sophie Ellis Bextor. She’s a huge artist in the UK.
Do you ever get direct feedback from the divas you’ve remixed?
We’ve gotten a lot of pats on the back from management, but we’ve never actually met any of the divas we’ve worked with. Clearly, we would like to!
We do have a great working relationship with Matthew Knowles, Beyonce’s dad and manager. We’ve become very friendly with him, and we’ve heard that Beyonce really enjoys listening to the remixes, more than the originals, even.
Where we have had a lot of direct feedback in on MySpace and Facebook, and it’s been really great. So many people have asked us to come to their town, including people from San Francisco, which is the one place we really wanted to visit.
Have you had DJ gigs at gay clubs before?
We love spinning for a gay crowd! They are really there for the music, and I think every DJ believes that to be true. But at the same time, we don’t try to educate the crowd when it comes to the music. Education is what you do in college or university, when you go out and party you leave that behind.
We’re a lot more musical than a lot of other DJs on the gay circuit, so we know it’s going to be a big party in San Francisco. Everyone’s there to have fun.
What’s your most memorable moment as DJs?
The first time we played “Beautiful Liar” live was at Mardi Gras in Sydney, and that was quite an experience. The song had just come out, and everyone knew it was coming. The moment the vocal line hit, everyone started going bonkers, and that was definitely a standout experience for us.
San Francisco is anticipating a memorable night with your appearance at HOM.
We’ve got bootlegs and chop-ups we’ve made, and we’ve got lots of stuff we’ve arranged for other people. It’s going to be a good time!