With a name that sounds like an anime character or perhaps a James Bond villain, you might be surprised to find out that Moto Blanco is just a pair of blokes from South London named Danny Harrison and Arthur Smith. Under their exotic pseudonyms, Bobby Blanco and Miki Moto, they are known as one of the worldís most consistent and innovative DJ production teams.
Disco is definitely the name of the duoís game, with hundreds of remixes to their credit. Together, theyíve created hits for stars as diverse as Missy Elliot, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, The Pussycat Dolls, and George Michael.
Their work has been nominated for a Grammy Ė twice! - and theyíve toured Russia , France , Germany , Greece , and Canada . While they happen to be a pair of straight guys, they often spin for gay clubs back home in London , where their fans know their every record and sing them aloud on the dancefloor.
They have made and continue to make records under several other names, which they jokingly refer to as the many skeletons in their closet. Making records is easy, they say, but coming up with names is hard, so they just go with whatever has a nice ring to it.
But now that theyíre world-famous as Moto Blanco, their name-play is a bit of a challenge. ďItís like having a drag name,Ē says Smith. ďItís very difficult to get credit cards!Ē
San Francisco fans of dance music are by now very familiar with the name Moto Blanco, following the pairís U.S. debut at H.O.M.ís grand opening back on February 1. They won over even lovers of the darkest tribal thumpings with their disco classics, and are enthusiastic to do it again this Sunday night, when theyíll be sharing the decks with local DJs Lee Decker, Jamie J Sanchez, and Luke Johnstone.
Whatís your process for giving a song the Moto Blanco treatment?
We almost always start with the acapella vocals and then lay some drums down. We try to take it in a direction thatís danceable. Our thing is to try to take a song musically somewhere where itís not, to make it radically different.
What makes you decide to remix a particular song?
The nice thing is that we do get offered a lot more remixes than we actually do. For us to take it, thereís gotta be something there for us. We have to like the song.
And then some songs we just canít do, and itís not because we donít like them. For example, we tried a Christina Aguilera song once, and the stretch of the vocals just didnít sit right inside a dance beat. We passed on The Killers as well, just because they really donít fit with what we do. We could just take the money and do it anyway, but weíd rather really try to do something special with the song.
Tempo is a big factor when we decide whether to take on a remix. A lot of American pop now is 125 BPM (beats per minute), which is just right for house and disco. That wasnít the case as much 2 years ago, so we find that weíre stretching less now. A lot of pop music now is ďfour to the floor,Ē which is closer to house music, so the songs cross over to house tempo quite easily these days.
And technology now is brilliant for making things easy, but thereís only so much you can do before people start asking, ďWhat have you done to that song?Ē
How does the Moto Blanco tag-team work?
We like role play, so we wear different hats at different times. John Cohen is our keyboard player, our musical genius. Weíll get the drums down, and then give John the basic idea, a feel for where we want to go.
From that point, weíre all kind of on the same wavelength, just 3 mates sitting in a room, really. Weíve been doing it so long now, and weíve done so many remixes, itís easy for us now. Itís fun because we know what weíre doing.
How would you describe the Moto Blanco sound?
We like to keep things simple, so our stuff is musical and fun. Itís a party!
Dance music has been around forever, and we always just try to go with what works. If itís a soulful song, for example, weíll want to bring that out more, but really we just make a song danceable. Thatís the plan, and we stick to it.
Whatís it like to be a pair of straight guys spinning at gay circuit parties?
Itís fun! Itís great! The best parties are always the gay parties. Sometimes people even sing along to our records, which makes us feel like pop stars.
Just please donít ask me to take my shirt off, because itís NOT gonna happen! Well, not for me, anyways. Arthurís the 6-pack. Iíve got more of a 16-pack!
This is your second time playing in San Francisco . The first time was your U.S. debut as Moto Blanco. Will you be on this side of the pond more regularly now?
We realize that weíve got a lot of fans here now. Our remixes are mostly coming from America now, and so we felt we definitely should be coming more.
Last time you were here, you were on your way to the Grammy Awards, where your version of Mary J. Bligeís ďJust FineĒ was nominated for Best Remixed Recording. You completely transformed that song from a breakup ballad to a dance anthem. Have you gotten any response from Mary?
You know, that was our 7th remix for Mary, and weíve not even gotten a Christmas card from her or anything! (Laughs)
But thatís our job, to make songs dancefloor-friendly. We did a similar thing with Leona Lewisí ďBleeding Love.Ē Itís such a beautiful, slow, love song, and itís actually very solemn. Even though we know itís a song about pain, we turned into a party track.
Making music is a journey, and sometimes people want to come with you, sometimes they donít. When it goes right it really goes right, and we just hope people are willing to come along for the ride.
You made a lot of fans here on your last visit.
We just watch whatís going on when we play our songs, and we know when it works. Weíre lucky.
We do struggle sometimes, because thereís fewer and fewer of us funky producers out there, and we can play tougher sometimes, but we come from a disco, soul, and funk background and we always want some element of that in what we play.
Honestly, I think popís cool again. You think ďI shouldnít be liking this song,Ē but itís catchy, and it takes the dancefloor in a totally different direction. Come and have fun with us!