The story of Gorgon City is a perfect microcosm of the story of how 21st century dance music coming in from the cold. Kye Gibbon and Matt Robson-Scott are two young men who each separately jumped in to clubland's deepest and choppiest waters (at a time when halfway-decent club culture was as fragmented as it's been the last two decades and entering a period of extreme marginalisation) and learned to swim the hard way. Since then they've become skilled navigators of its currents, observed as streams converged and split again, and more by accident than design were perfectly prepared to ride its current waves of mainstream popularity.
Both boys grew up in very conventional settings – Kye in the commuter town of High Wycombe, a few miles beyond the M25, and Matt in North London ("Holloway Road, Muswell Hill, Ally Pally, the area where I still live"). Neither had a particularly musical background and neither had particularly strong musical passions at first, going through the things most 90s schoolboys would discover. Matt had a "punk era" as a kid, consisting of Nirvana and the Chili Peppers, but was saved from a life of indie-dom by falling for the moody East Coast hip hop of Mobb Deep, Wu Tang Clan in his early teens, while Kye tastes were more diffuse, browsing through whatever was on offer, also with a leaning towards hip hop… until he discovered jungle.
Each of the boys, in fact, could have continued in standard teenage bit-of-this-and-bit-of-that drifting if it weren't for the gravitational force of jungle and drum'n'bass. Neither before that had any sense that club music or culture could have anything to offer them: as Matt says, "house music at that time didn't mean anything to me, it just seemed a little bit lightweight, the opposite of the stripped back beats and heavy bass I loved in hip hop", while Kye laughs that it just seemed "girly", and the millennial mainstream superclub culture of fluffy bras, lasers and Ibiza tans seemed a million miles away from the mundane realities of adolescent life. But around 1999, almost simultaneously, at the ages of just 13 (Kye) and 14 (Matt), the boys each homed in on drum'n'bass and were hooked.
For Kye it was a One Nation rave tape pack given to him by a schoolmate: the sound in its rawest form, mixed by DJs, hollered over by MCs, full of the atmosphere of furious raves. "From that moment, I wanted to be part of it, I wanted to get involved – I started getting into all kinds of rave music, a bit of garage, a bit of other stuff, but really mainly drum'n'bass." Matt, meanwhile, immediately geeked out on the sound's history: "by 1999 the sound was really high-tech, very produced drum'n'bass, but I really quickly became aware of its roots in jungle, which obviously I'd been too young to experience in the early 90s. THAT was the dance music that I could understand as close to hip hop, with the sampled breaks and deep bass, and I started buying older 12"s in second-hand buy-and-sell shops." This, of course, is a long time before the sound of the jungle era became fetishised by collectors, so he was able to pick up classic cuts for way less than the tens or even hundreds of pounds they can now fetch on Discogs.
Though they wouldn't meet for years, the boys' parallel paths were now set. Each was obsessed not only with the sound but with the culture of jungle / d'n'b, the barely controlled madness and dark energy of the tracks and rave tapes chiming with adolescent angst and anger like audio action movies but with an added frisson of realness. Both of them collected records and fired up whatever music software they could get their hands on to, as Kye puts it, "try and understand how the music actually worked, to understand everything about it". Both were making their own tracks, and by the age of 16, Kye's level of commitment was such that he was even trekking into London and out to the East End with his saved-up Saturday job money to get his own tracks cut onto vinyl dubplates (at £30 a pop) to be able to play his own tracks at under-18s nights "because there weren't any CDJs in those days!".
Matt, meanwhile, was honing his craft, and would eventually head to university in Bristol – specifically because it was a city where bass was paramount, and the old-school jungle he loved could still be found. "Every spare moment, I made tunes," he says "and DJed at student nights every weekend." Both of them got stuck into the scene in Bristol and London, making friendship networks, and thriving on what Matt calls "that edgy, electric, slightly scary atmosphere," at drum'n'bass raves. "When people could get robbed, or crack was being smoked in the club, you'd get butterflies in your stomach on a Friday night before going out, but the mentalness was addictive. And you learn a lot about life when you're raving every weekend!" "Plus," laughs Kye, "however mad any other club you might go to gets, it seems almost gentle in comparison. You're ready for anything after that…"
Both boys achieved some success in drum'n'bass, but neither really felt fully confident in their productions. Looking for new outlets, Kye dabbled in dubstep and grime a little in the mid-2000s but never felt that was good enough to play publicly, while Matt formed part of a breakbeat duo who had some success. But once again unknowingly on parallel paths, they each discovered bass-heavy house music around the same time, and each instantly realised that this was something they could do. Kye, inspired by the funky "fidget" sounds of Jesse Rose and Switch, found his very first house production as Foamo played on Radio 1 by Kissy Sellout – while Matt, applying the aggression of his breakbeat tracks to a four-to-the-four beat found his work as RackNRuin supported by the likes of DJ Zinc and Annie Mac, and one early track picked up for an Orange advert, which kickstarted his professional career.
From here it was step-by-step, tune-by-tune, club-by-club progress for each – Kye steadily moving towards the day when he could escape his boring office dayjob, while Matt was "lucky enough to get by with just bar work, but really treating music as a job." As Foamo and Rack'n'Ruin they got agents, got gigs, got bigger gigs, and thought no further than making music pay a basic wage – until finally the pair met. "We met in a club," says Matt; "We were on the same DJ agency and started chatting purely because of that, we got on, and pretty quickly floated the idea of doing a tune together. We discovered that we worked well together, then as we did more that we worked incredibly quickly together, and before we knew it we realised we needed a different name for this project because it had taken on a life of its own and didn't sound like either of our solo stuff."
Really, it was that easy. As soon as Gorgon City began things snowballed at a barely comprehensible rate. "Because we each had a bit of reputation built up," says Kye, "the first gigs we got as Gorgon City were pretty big festival ones, and it's just gone on from there." Their experiments with vocalists showed that they were as quick and proficient with real song structures as they were with beat-making, and had a knack of bringing out the best in collaborators. They had the backing, too, of the mighty Black Butter Records – who'd already released a couple of Matt's RackNRuin tracks, including a very early Jessie Ware collaboration – and the beginning of Gorgon City coincided that label's explosion into the mainstream, spearheaded by Rudimental, began in earnest. Gorgon City singles have since sold in excess of half a million copies combined.
With the BB connections, then the addition of major label backing, and their own fast-growing reputation too, they quickly started racking up impressive musical hook-ups. The one and onlyKaty B, pop singer-songwriter MNEK (two tracks including the gigantic single 'Ready For Your Love'), R&B diva Jennifer Hudson (who is on the album and has GC production on her new single), UK soulboy Maverick Sabre, the sultry Yasmin, songwriting talent like Emeli Sande,Kiesza and Jimmy Napes… "We were working so fast," says Matt, "that there wasn't much thought about 'oh this or that will be good for the album' – we were just going in the studio with people for a try-out and ending up with whole tracks before we knew it." "Sometimes they'd end up going to the people we were collaborating with," says Kye, "like with Klaxons because we all thought the track was more 'them' than 'Gorgon City', or with Jess Glynne because it just felt like time that she got top billing instead of being a featured artist." "The only problem with the actual album," laughs Matt, "was narrowing down the tracklist from this massive amount we'd done!"
Now, though, the album is complete – in every sense – and they are riding the wave with style. Their long years of slog from bedroom tinkerers to journeyman producers and DJs mean that they'll never take any success or trend for granted. "We're a bit older now, though," laughs Kye, "and we can enjoy the full range of what the music world has to offer, we're not the angry kids who need the adrenaline rush of being in dark and scary clubs every weekend." The insane wellspring of creativity they tapped into when they teamed up as Gorgon City means that they never feel stuck in a rut: "we don't want to just do 2014 pop house," as Kye puts it, "and we don't have to. We had more than enough tracks to put together an album that's wide-ranging, and we're always making other tracks that are maybe darker or more aggressive, that we can put to use in our DJ sets." Club culture might be riding high at the moment – and Gorgon City might be infiltrating the charts and television with ease – but make no mistake: these boys are anything but fair-weather ravers. They're in it for the long haul, and always have been.