EDM for the People
Oxford, England’s Orlando Higginbottom, known to the stage as Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, plays genre-less dance music. Really. There are house and techno tendencies, poppy vocals and disco vibes. But the tracks on his forthcoming debut album Trouble are just a little too free floating to peg. And this is by choice. Genres are irrelevant to Higginbottom’s sincere and single-minded goal of getting people — everyone — to dance. The unwieldy name and the dinosaur costumes he dons for shows serve his purposes by creating a decidedly unserious mood. He’s got not a few other lighten-up tricks in his bag too.
While in the states to play a few select dates, the young producer and DJ sat for an interview with us where her revealed his biggest party starting tactic. Read on for that plus the reason why he needs more room.
A lot of people seem open to dance music who weren’t before. You play a lot of festivals where you’re performing alongside a lot of indie bands. Have you thought about how more people are willing to consider dance music a part of independent music?
To me, dance music is independent from the beginning. I think there’s a different story in America and a different story in Europe. In Europe it’s always been underground and cool and it’s always been going on, and there’s always been a big presence at the festivals. There’s never not been a tent where you could go and dance ‘til six in the morning to techno.
I think that it’s fair to say that the kind of American side of things has changed because of David Guetta and opening up loads of kids to house music. So they’re realizing there must be some better stuff out there. So, they’ve gone searching a bit. There’s a boom here going on and it’s going to get bigger and take over.
Naturally we have trends and right now, guitar and indie bands are not so much where it’s at. I think one thing that’s happened is that teenagers love writing music. A lot of the time the hardest fans, the people who are into it the most, are the people who are making music themselves. The people who will introduce all their mates to it and say I love this band.
I think if you went ten years ago back to school and you said “how many of you lot are in a band?” you’d see all the hands go up. And if you go into a school now you wouldn’t get as many hands but if you said “how many of you write music at home?” you’d see the same amount of hands. You don’t need to have a band anymore because you can have a computer and you can write a dance track.
Do you feel like you’re a part of that generational movement? Or were you a bit behind that?
I was always into dance music. I did play in bands when I was a teenager, and everyone was kind of playing bands. I like having computers to control my sound sound now and I could only do that on my own in the studio. I can make a massive sound that there’s no way I could make with a band.
What kind of bands were you playing in early on?
I played in a hip-hop band, I played in a kind of Radiohead-y sounding band, I played in an experimental electronic band. We kind of did it all. We were just kids playing around.
Do you think your music fits in better in a small venue or in a proper club?
Proper club. I’ve kind of developed the show so it works better for a thousand people in a decent venue than 200 people in some kid’s dump.
What have you done to make it bigger?
The kind of sounds I’ve been working on, the presentation. In the UK, I’m working with some dancers and a full lighting rig and stuff. The visas are too expensive to bring that over here, though. You kind of develop the pace of the set and the drama of the set. And those things change when you change the size of the venue.
You’ve enjoyed that, things getting bigger and bigger?
Yeah, because it works better and better, actually. If it hadn’t worked with 2,000 people I wouldn’t be saying this, but it worked.
I would describe your songs as being more playful than a lot of mainstream dance music. Do you feel really at home with the mainstream DJ community?
That kind of depends who you’re talking about. I’m certainly different than a lot of the artists in the way that I write and the presentation, I can see that; you know there aren’t many producers that sing on their own music.
I definitely feel slightly apart but there’s a kind of mainstream-mainstream dance music that’s not dance music, it’s pop music. If you’re talking about Calvin Harris and David Guetta and people like that, then that’s not club music. That doesn’t get played in clubs. Maybe it does in America, but actual clubs, for dancing, serious dance music. They’d never, ever play that music.
It’s nothing to do with dance music culture, that’s pop now. That’s played where people would want to kiss and get too drunk. And I’m not really a part of that, either. There’s a lot going on in America with dance music, it’s funny. There’s a serious side to it, a serious underground blowing up, and then there’s this kind of commercial side to it which is blowing up as well.
It seems like everyone is more interested in dance music than in the past, more open to it.
People are realizing how much money they can make off it, and they’re putting more money into it. There are labels and investors and powerful people who are realizing that hip-hop and indie are dead horses and they’re going to spend the money on the big raise.
Do you feel like you’ve been gathering fans who are not usually involved in that kind of music?
Yes. When I started this project it came out of kind of a reaction from the small separated scenes in the UK, different subgenres of dance music and how I loved dance music and I saw that if you didn’t know about any of these scenes and you were on the outside of it, it could look like an impossible fortress to scale.
There was tech-house, tribal-house, beat-house, people doing just pure Detroit nights, pure Chicago nights. All the music was good but it was threatening, it wasn’t welcoming. It wasn’t like, “hey come and join us and have a party” it was like “by the way, we’re doing this really exclusive shit.”
I wanted to do something that wasn’t that. So, I’m really glad when I see that there are people who come to my shows who definitely don’t come from that. I find that really refreshing.
I see a massive range of people in lots of different ways and I know from the way people move and the way they react to the different styles of my different tracks that they do or don’t know anything about that style of dance music.
So, you see people who have no idea what’s going on and you’re really stoked?
Yeah, they’ve bought a ticket to come and see me play because they like my music and then they’re really not a raver. I think that’s great. That’s kind of what creating is about. You want to do things for the public, and so you can open people up to new things.
What kind of pop music inspires you?
A lot of ’80s stuff, ’90s stuff, I really like. Bands like SOS Band, that kind of early R&B. Soul, boogie and disco, Talking Heads. Nineties R&B I think is amazing, and I like the new wave of hip-hop that’s coming out of America at the moment. It’s like somebody finally worked out what bass is, and that’s good. I think that’s cool, there’s something rough about it that I appreciate, sort of like what I’d listen to as a teenager.
Oh, like who?
People like A$AP Rocky. I like the production style of that stuff. It reminds me of jungle music. It has the same bass as jungle music, which was what I was listening to when I was fourteen.
You wear a dinosaur costume to lighten the mood at gigs. What other things lighten the mood and get people dancing?
Confetti. I love it. It’s a wake up. Everybody gets to put their hands in the air and scream a little bit and it’s just a little prod. It’s just to say hey, this is fun. We’re having a party. I’m doing a show in London in a couple of weeks and we are ordering so much confetti. It’s gonna be like a snowstorm.
Do you try to evoke certain emotions with the compositions?
Increasingly, that’s how I go about writing. I start with, not necessarily an emotion, but an atmosphere or feeling. I want to create an atmosphere, so that’s how I start writing. But initially it was just this kind of melancholy that a lot of my music comes out with, a kind of nostalgic feel. That was just happening by chance, it wasn’t like, “oh, let me make a kind of slightly sad-sounding dance record.”
The lyrics tend toward romantic themes. Are they personal, or are you just drawing on the pop vocabulary?
I’m not a lyricist. I don’t even really think of myself as a songwriter. I try to avoid clichés, but in dance music I think clichés are great, and dance music you can kind of repeat one line over and over again with a good beat and it will work.
So, the most important thing is lyrics shouldn’t take away from a song?
Especially, when you’re trying to get people to dance. You distract them too much with emotional content and lyrics and they won’t start bouncing.