With sincere apologies to Robbie Slade and Peter Ricq, who are already tired of talking about it, the Georgia Straight is happy to report that, yes, you can get your hands on—and your upper body into—a jacket just like the one featured in the promotional images for Vancouver electronic-pop duo Humans’ new EP, Water Water. Beautifully embroidered in white and red on black, the sharp-looking item will set you back a cool $600.
“People probably ask us about those jackets more than they ask us about the music,” a rueful Slade says, interviewed alongside his bandmate at Milano Coffee’s Mount Pleasant branch. “So we were just like, ‘Fuck it, we’ll do a preorder.’ ”
“We never intended on selling them,” Ricq adds, “but because people have been asking about it, we said, ‘Okay, we’ll see if people really do want to buy it.’ Because they’re really expensive. Everything is really high quality. That’s why it looks good. We’ve actually had some sales.”
Okay, so the jackets are a little pricey. What better way, though, to show your devotion to Humans in general and Water Water in particular? The EP track “Bout Chu” is a darkly propulsive banger, with enigmatic lyrics about some unspecified backroom goings-on. (We’re guessing drugs. Because it’s always drugs, isn’t it?) Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, the title track is one of the longest entries in the duo’s catalogue. It thumps along to a steady but ever-evolving groove, playing out in trance-inducing fashion long after the vocal has ended. “Water Water” boasts the type of spare, hypnotic beauty that fans have come to expect from a duo that values sonic austerity.
“I can’t believe how much shit they put into other music sometimes,” Slade says. “People say that our music is minimal, but it sounds normal to me. When I listen to other stuff, I can’t believe how, like, buzzy the synths are and how full-range the songs are. It kind of blows me away sometimes.”
In stark contrast to that, Humans’ aesthetic is based in large part on intentionally limiting the frequency range of their music. “Honestly, the only difference between us and that other stuff is one knob,” Slade notes. “You just go over to the synth and turn down the cutoff—roll it off a bit—and it makes such a big difference to how we make music.”
The result is a sound that, while it’s perfectly suited to getting butts moving in nightclubs and festival tents, makes an excellent soundtrack to just chilling at home. According to Ricq, “People say, ‘I listen to your music on the dance floor, I can listen to it while I’m writing, I can listen to it while I’m…’ ”
“Having sex,” Slade chips in, and both men laugh.
Humans’ most recent full-length, Noontide, was released just over a year ago, which means children conceived under its spell are now keeping their parents up at night for other reasons.
That release has earned Humans a Juno nomination for electronic album of the year, a first for the duo. Another first was working with an outside producer, namely Nik Kozub of long-running Edmonton dance-punk outfit Shout Out Out Out Out.
“He is really the closest thing we’ve had to a really tight collaborator,” Slade says of Kozub. “He’ll tell us if he thinks some synth sounds like five years ago, or that my lyrics suck. He’s pretty open and honest about that. He had a lot to offer.”
Ricq says he has long been a fan of the producer’s work, and the fact that he has an amazingly well-equipped recording facility doesn’t hurt. “We had a list of all the music equipment that we wanted, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I got it, I got it. I got that, I got that.’ So when we went to the studio, it was just like a kid on Christmas morning—you know, you open all your gifts and you get to play with everything. It was kind of like that. It was pretty unreal.”
For the most part, though, Humans have been a two-man operation. Things could have gone very differently, however. When Ricq met Slade in 2008, the latter was in a folk-oriented band called Family Room. “I really liked what they were doing,” Ricq recalls. “There were no solos, and it was all very melodic and kind of sad. So I asked all of them to come to my house, because I write music too, and Robbie’s the only one who showed up. So that’s how the band got started.”
“A two-person dynamic is really good,” Slade adds. “I really like working in duos. But I used to want to have a full live band, and we both used to talk about that. We said when we started making money we might be able to do that. We still might someday, but it’s good to be nice and lean so we can tour easily, and we have really, really tight control over the band—because they’re machines.”
Humans controlling machines? Savour it while you can, because once Skynet takes over, it’ll be the other way around.
Humans play a DJ set at Celebrities next Friday (March 25).