Snakehips' Hip-Swaying Beats
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Snakehips is taking EDM on a sensual, soulful detour.
By Melissa Pandika
If you’re an electronic dance music (EDM) head, you’ve probably sensed the shift from fist-pumping, festival-friendly beat drops to sultry jams that send you straight to the dance floor. Snakehips updates the playlist with their glittering take on ’90s golden era hip-hop and R&B. Their sound recalls when boom bap beats and Aaliyah’s feathery melisma ruled the airwaves, with some disco strings and funk samples that evoke a bit of ’70s nostalgia, too.
Snakehips consists of London-based Oliver Lee and James Carter, who release their tunes on their own label, Hoffman West (a pseudonym Lee invented to get into clubs for free). These two gangly, fresh-faced 20-somethings might look like unlikely producers of old school hip-hop and R&B remixes, but since teaming up around two years ago, they’ve toured the U.S. and Canada after making the rounds through Europe and Australia. Their remixes for Banks, Bondax and The Weeknd have ratcheted up millions of SoundCloud and YouTube plays. To build suspense for their debut album release this year, they kept their identities secret, using computer-generated voices for their BBC Radio One appearances. They released a new EP, Forever (Pt. II) on March 9, right on the heels of a series of European and North American tour dates.
… pulses with crackly vinyl samples, 1970s strings and a heavy beat.
Lee and Carter, who chatted with OZY via Skype from London against a backdrop of paintings of Carter’s cat, say they met on a business trip to Hong Kong. They discovered that they both loved Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah and other ’90s R&B artists, and while on a flight to Los Angeles, the sonic soul mates decided to book a studio to translate their shared tastes into their own musical flavor. They don’t take themselves too seriously, naming themselves after Lee’s signature dance move, inspired by how he shimmies into a pair of Levi’s. Lee describes their music as “kind of like soul, hip-hop influenced, but not anything specific.” They joke about the songwriting process. “We’ll work in our separate spaces alone and send stuff back and forth. I don’t really like him that much,” Carter says. “Fuck you,” Lee shoots back.
The duo released their first track in October 2012, a remix of Wild Belle’s “It’s Too Late,” infused with spacey gurgles. A laid-back remix of Bondax’s “Gold” came three months later, with seductive electric piano chords that crescendo into swooping synths. They dropped their first single, “On & On,” in 2013. It featured George Maple’s silky, Sade-esque vocals, and hit the Top 10 of the iTunes electronic charts, earning Radio One airplay. Their 2013 remix of Banks’ “Warm Water,” transformed the eerie, brooding track into a dance hit with muted organ samples, leading Billboard to dub it the No. 12 game-changing EDM track of 2013.
Snakehips’ latest single, “Gone,” released in January, layers Odd Future’s Syd the Kid’s dreamy vocals over a syrupy beat dripping in spacey snares, while “Days With You,” featuring Sinead Harnett, pulses with crackly vinyl samples, 1970s strings and a heavy beat. Although the samples and instrumentals span multiple decades, Snakehips somehow melds them together into tightly produced, get-off-your-ass tracks, again and again. A sun-drenched spin through the good ol’ days of hip-hop and R&B with Snakehips may be just the thing to get you dancing off the cold weather blues.
- Melissa Pandika, Melissa Pandika is a lab rat-turned-journalist with an eye to all things science, medicine and more. Likes distance running, snails, late-night Korean BBQ + R&B slow jams.Contact Melissa Pandika