Snakehips translate sun flares into music

Much more than awkward dancing.

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Oliver: shirt Berthold / James: top Cottweiler

Lovingly adopted by Tumblr and YouTube communities, Snakehips’ credibility grows stronger every day. The London duo’s latest single, All My Friends—released with Tinashe and Chance the Rapper—steadily holds its place on top of the charts, and in just four short years Oliver Lee and James Carter have made a name for themselves by exceeding the limits of electronic R&B. With a first album on its way, Glamcult had the pleasure of meeting the light-hearted boys.

Mick Jagger aside, the first thing “Snakehips” calls to mind is probably flexible yet awkward dancing. It’s also the exact response you can expect from your body when listening to this duo’s tracks. According to James Carter—dubbed by many one of the finest saxophonists of our times—the origin of their name lies with Lee: “He had this old pair of jeans that were a bit too tight. His friends used to get him to pull them up and do a funny dance—and thus Snakehips was born.”

If dad dancing named them, it was fate that brought Lee and Carter together. The pair met while on separate business trips in 2012 at a sake bar in Hong Kong, and continued talking about their mutual love for music on a flight back to Los Angeles. Once back in London, the two hit it off in the studio and have been collaborating ever since. Their first remix, of Wild Belle’s It’s Too Late, went viral and in 2013 they released first single, On & On, on their own record label, Hoffman West. The rest is history. Suffice to say, they’re probably responsible for those tracks that come up in random YouTube mixes and have you hitting “LIKE”, dragging you into a virtual world of addictive beats that run through all their productions.

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James: top McQ Alexander McQueen / Oliver: own cape

Snakehips seem to be on top of everything that’s now and so it’s of little wonder that almost all their songs get picked up by widely endorsed YouTube channel Majestic. Their style might be best described as a mix of electronic R&B and summery vibes, and finds its influence in ’90s hip hop, disco and vintage soul. Often nostalgic, their tracks nevertheless remain firmly planted in the digital age, with their electronic bleeps and shimmering synths. “We borrow from the past to make music for the future,” Carter declares. There’s often a vocal aspect on top of Snakehips’ beats—which is not uncommon in electronic music. Where they do defy convention, though, is in the importance they place on those vocals: “We definitely get put into the electronic and dance music camps, where a lead vocal is not always necessary, but we like to bring classic songwriting and mix it with these contemporary genres.”

From remixing existing songs to working together with the coolest kids, Snakehips has evolved into an esteemed producing duo, with the seal of approval from everyone from Lorde to Years & Years. While this is no doubt thanks, in part, to the power of internet fame, they’ve also built experience around solid musical foundations: “Both of us have a strong musical background,” says Carter. “Ollie played the saxophone and I played the drums for years. We both dabble on guitar and piano too. Both of our parents are really into music as well, which was definitely a blessing growing up.” Carter continues: “My dad used to take me to Ronnie Scott’s [legendary jazz club in Soho, London] as a child. I remember I used to be fascinated by the musicians, but then I’d always fall asleep halfway through as we went to the late shows!”

It’s safe to say that last year was a crazy good one for Snakehips. Not only on account of extensive touring through the US and Europe—with the one and only Major Lazer—but also solidified with a nomination for “Best Newcomer” at the MOBO Awards. It becomes especially evident that these boys are enjoying the ride when we ask about their plans for collaborating with different artists and dreams about playing with live bands: “We’d love to and will do it at some point. We’re just waiting for the right time. At the moment it’s just fun going around the world throwing parties and just spinning fun tunes.” All of which makes “now” seem like the exact moment for them to drop their long-awaited album. Yet they remain tight-lipped no matter how hard we squeeze. For now, it seems, they’re channelling their energy towards future collabs: “Ollie really wants to get in the studio with Azealia Banks,” says Carter. “We have to make this happen somehow!” Which leaves us to seek comfort in 2015’s Forever Pt.2 EP.

While they have a clear approach to their working methods, part of what makes Snakehips so good is their flexibility and adaptable vibe. “We usually rock up to sessions with some song ideas and beats and then go from there. If they’re feeling something then we’ll go with it, but if not we’ll start something new.” This attitude extends to their success and goes beyond the often-restricting form of self-producing and the fear of becoming monotonous. Instead, they see the power of collaboration.

Snakehips surely know how to create sexy summer vibes. Whether in bed, bath or beyond, they’ll provide uncomplicated tunes to accompany your booze-infused Saturday nights, as well as lazy Sundays. Where will they be ten years from now? “Hopefully somewhere sunnier!” Until then, they’ll continue translating sun flares into music.

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James: top McQ Alexander McQueen / Oliver: shirt Berthold

www.soundcloud.com/snakehips

By Ruben Baart and Michelle Janssen

Photography: Sophie Mayanne

Styling: Hollie Clark