Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs makes music at the central point between pop, electro, house and melodic, tuff rave – and his debut album ‘Trouble’ is just more proof that TEED’s Orlando Higginbottom is one of the most fascinating, brilliant and musically kaleidoscopic artists in the world right now. And he’s about to stomp all over everywhere.
When Orlando Higginbottom was four or five he worked out how to work his Dad’s CD player and soon had three favourites on repeat: Rossini’s ‘Overtures’, Holst’s ‘The Planets’ and Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’. “Classical music was 99% of my listening until I was about ten. I thought Mozart was really cool. I had a book, an A-Z of composers, that I read every night. They were like rock ‘n’ roll stars to me.”
This remained the case until the boy chorister (his father is the conductor of the choir at New College, Oxford) hit 13, at which point he absorbed another culturally deep and musically exciting musical genre: jungle.
Our intrepid pre-TEED also discovered Avid, one of those local record shops that doesn’t exist any more with Nicky Blackmarket posters on the wall and a pile of psy-trance flyers on the counter, and where fresh promos would land from London every Thursday and Friday. He careered through the whole junglist spectrum, starting with Zinc and Hype’s Tru Playaz crew and getting heavily into Nico’s No U-Turn Records. It was only when Bad Company and Pendulum started reducing the creativity beyond nil that he stopped buying the music – although that hasn’t stopped him running up a current bill of £360 with Discogs to fill the gaps in his collection.
So how do we get from this evangelical member of the junglist youth wing to the kaleidoscopically vibrant world of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs? It’s a swerving, careering route that turns hard right through an unsuccessful term reading music at Bristol University (“I got messy every night and then dropped out. I knew the course wasn’t right for me”) and then sharp left to a year in Leeds on a music production course. His time there coincided with the early days of dubstep and DMZ’s regular excursions to the West Indian Centre in Chapeltown. “I was seeing all these students taking their first K in this big Jamaican community centre. I found it weird. Why is this suddenly cool? It could have been cool ten years ago. Some of it, I liked, but I was lost, and drum ‘n’ bass had got so shit, I was like ‘fuck it: Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs’. I’m going to dress up as a dinosaur, make weird electro shit and just enjoy it.”
And just to clarify, the name doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even really come from anywhere. It’s just a great big waving flag that announces, incontrovertibly, that Orlando Higginbottom doesn’t give a monkeys what anyone else thinks.
There was one other link in the chain of events: winning a MySpace competition for music to accompany a painting in The Tate, judged by Huw Stephens and Felix from Basement Jaxx. This led to Radio 1 play and some supportive friends in the industry, which it’s own way, led him to the label, Greco-Roman. Up until this point, house and techno had barely registered – and he certainly wasn’t listening to it. “I was making a style of music I knew nothing about and had no love for. I didn’t know what the rules were and I guess that’s why it was fun.”
It’s an attitude that saw him selected to join Oxfam and Damon Albarn in the Congo to make the Warp album ‘Kinshasa One Two’. “The influence of the trip was massive. It made me worry less about what people think.”
So does he think he’s breaking down the boundaries between music and art with the beautiful, riotous headpieces he dons for live shows? Of course not. “I’m just slightly poking fun at the idea of the cool guy in a cap under a bridge with graffiti. There’s no thought or theories behind it apart from something entertaining or fantastical that looks good.”
If the headpieces and the costumes have any antecedents it’s the joyful, ultra-funky carnage of Earth Wind And Fire, although with just one member instead of a stage-full. He’s got a neon white set that frames his performance in flowering dino spinal plates and a bugged out portable lighting rig that folds down into what he describes as a ‘fucking huge flight case’. It is an improvement on the early days when he’d sweat on overpacked trains with a suitcase and a rucksack to play in Manchester to ten people. His shows, for the uninitiated, are a riot of light, energy and perfectly calibrated musical hedonism that scoops up house, electro, hip hop, UK funky and the compositional chops picked up as a classically-minded pre-teen playing piano and writing scores on manuscript paper.
These are all elements you’ll hear singing loud and clear in his debut album, Trouble, and on standout moments Your Love and Household Goods. The former is a joyful, melodic, individual spin through the world of house music, taking the best elements (vibrant synth lines, a chorus as catchy as Starlight’s ‘Music Sounds Better’ and a elastic, 2-steppy bass line) and conjuring them into a modern pop classic of enormous dimensions. And the latter, well, Household Goods is arguably the track that trumpeted his arrival when it was released in November 2010. It was a signal charge: a notice that things had changed and music was sounding colourful again. It’s a point that is made repeatedly, brilliantly, through Trouble.
The debut album was recorded in his parent’s Oxford garage, where he’d been playing records, rehearsing with bands and making tunes since he was a kid. It starts with an unexpected minute of ambience on the positivity-drenched opener Promises, which also offers another surprise: sunshine-tipped hi-life guitars. The title track was, he says, the first track that was shaped into a full song and thus provided a turning point, a kind of sonic ramp into the making of the album. If you’re looking for the artist’s personal favourite, start here. Garden is another friendly, colourful gem amongst gems that features more of Higginbottom’s warm and understated vocals, a duet with Luisa that was picked up for a global Nokia campaign and has helped take his sound around the world. “I write a lot about the Wednesday after, and that feeling that is everywhere in life, where you hope for great stuff, you hope for something meaningful and special, but at the same time you always know it’s going to come to an end and there’s something really sad and really glorious about that.”
Then there’s a song like Panpipes which sees Orlando taking an interest in UK funky and adds something soft and gentle. Solo is his self-confessed ‘dark’ tune. “When I do it live people stand there for three minutes when it does its second drop everyone suddenly goes woooo”. He made Closer with his friend Ed, although it actually started when they were 17 and recorded some humming. “It’s a bit slightly ‘scared in the dance’ vibe. Feeling a bit sad in the club. I reckon loads of people feel a bit sad in the club sometimes.” Closing track Stronger sums up the whole record, that emotion of feeling great but knowing that there’s going to be a payback somewhere down the line. “It’s half hands in the air, and half hankies in the air,” says Orlando only half joking. “There are relationship tunes on there, there are tunes about having it out with the music industry. They’re my lyrics. I did have to struggle with them, and some of them are cheap as fuck. I think I just about get away with it.”
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: getting away with it, and some.