It's a brisk night in Chicago when we meet Bondax at Chop Shop for their sound check. The British-based electronic duo, made up of Adam Kaye and George Townsend, are on tour ahead of their debut album, to be released June 29th, and are tuckered out, but all smiles. Though Bondax as a group has existed for about a decade, this is, by their account, the first time they feel truly themselves in what they’ve created. And that intangible delight shows on their faces.
Bondax initially made a splash with blissful pop-leaning tunes like “All I See,” but over the past few years have evolved, leaning into disco and funk instead. Their new singles are testament to this. “Neo Seoul,” inspired by their travels in South Korea, is a club-tinged groove that would be perfectly complemented by glitter and a slowly spinning mirror ball. “Real Thing,” from the duo's upcoming album, goes even deeper with a wavy beat that tackles the long journey many face to reaching self-love. “It's not that the music from then is completely untrue to us,” Townsend says. “But I think we can say in all confidence that this upcoming album is us. We’ve had to fight to make what we want.”
We wind our way upstairs, hunkering down before doors open. Townsend pops open a Fat Tire, while Kaye blushingly orders a black coffee—he says he’s not much for drinking in general. The next hour unfolds in wild spirals of thought, the two parrying off each other’s words with the quickness that only belongs to old friends. While the Chicago wind whistles outside, we discuss everything from blending analog and electronic to an obsession with synesthesia to shadow brewing through the haze of coffee steam and lingering cigarettes.
Adam, you’re not drinking tonight?
Kaye: I'm really not a good drinker. I try, but it just makes me feel sick most the time.
Townsend: It's an acquired taste. I think all alcohol is really.
Kaye: When I was younger and DJing, like around sixteen to eighteen years old, I drank a lot more, obviously.
Townsend: It got me a bit worried when we DJed for about a year nonstop. We had put two tracks out and then were booked for loads of gigs. When the whiskey didn’t burn anymore I remember thinking, ‘Maybe we're partying a bit too hard. Maybe we should take it down a bit.’
We had a King Julius by the Tree House Brewing Company, which was an incredibly flavorsome double IPA.”
Do you remember your first beer?
Townsend: Straight out of the womb probably.
Kaye: Not my first beer, but I remember the first time I got drunk. It was my sister's 18th birthday party and I was thirteen. I was with my friend Tristan, who I used to be in a band with. We found a bottle of gin and we drank a lot of it...and I remember being very, very sick.
Is there a beer scene where you’re from?
Kaye: We're from an hour outside of Manchester, where we now live. When we were growing up you'd drink ale at the local pub—there weren't really any options. That was it, so we threw parties instead. There was a barn behind my house and we'd have big parties and those were some of the best times of my life. We'd hire a Funktion One system and lasers and smoke machines for about £300.
Townsend: That's how we got a reputation!
Kaye: Whenever my parents would go away we'd throw a fat party in the barn. Starslinger played one year, and so did Sega Bodega.
Do you prefer lighter beer or heavier beer?
Townsend: We tend to enjoy a lighter beer, after returning from tour we dug into a crate from beer52 which had a decent IPA called Irishman in New England, which was really tasty.
What are your favorite UK-made beers?
Townsend: There's a ‘shadow brewery’ here in Manchester called Shindigger that makes some great beer. They also collaborate with local artists on limited runs. I'm not sure they export yet but if you're ever in Manchester, England, check it out. There's also a larger brewery not too far from us called Thornbridge. They produce a beer called Jaipur, which is another one of our favorite English beers.
What about in America?
Townsend: We had a King Julius by the Tree House Brewing Company, which was an incredibly flavorsome double IPA. One to look out for if you live in the States!
Do you have any fun beer-related memories from on the road?
Kaye: I remember being at Pitch Festival and Heineken—a festival sponsor—had printed off special artist labels and left them in our dressing rooms. Had a funny moment cheersing Kaytranada's bottle with our own Bondax bottle. I associate beer with our friends at festivals, where you have all these mountains of cheap lager. Those are some of the happiest times I've had, being in the sun drinking warm beer. It's horrible but that's the nostalgia I have with it!
Townsend: There’s something to that. I was brought up on beer, and now it's one of those things where, you know when you like something just because it triggers a memory? I think part of why I like it isn't about taste; it’s a comfort thing.
Not to get too deep here, but I got really obsessed with the idea of synesthesia, which is when certain people hear sound and then see colors. At the time I got into it, we got an email from a guy at Stanford who had been studying curing dementia by using smells to induce memories. We met him in San Diego and he gave us this little roller thing that had an incense-like lemongrass smell. He said, ‘Just roll it on your palm and instead of taking a photo or a selfie when you're having a really good time, smell this. Then whenever you smell this in the future it will remind you of that moment.’ He was very specific about how you can have all these different smells and then when you're, like, 90-years-old a smell will bring a memory back. We got obsessed with this idea for a bit. It's been a pipe dream for certain songs to sell a CD or a vinyl with a particular smell.
Kaye: If we can get the technology to maintain the smell, the next Bondax LP is going to smell amazing!
Townsend: The first time we used that lemongrass smell was in a Buddhist temple in Seoul. We were like, ‘Get the smell out!’ And we were passing it between all of us. It's proper weird how memories come back. Now, when I smell that smell, I think of that temple. We wanted to take smells, if we could capture them somehow, and attach them to the album.
It's not entirely impossible.
Kaye: No, in the future we can but we're independent now. We made a lot of sacrifices to be independent so basically...
Townsend: We don't have any money.
Kaye: We're basically bankrupt. But it's fine because we're really happy with what we've made and that's all that matters.
I feel like dance music catalyzed in the first place because of togetherness, bringing like-minded people together.”
What’s the vibe you want to bring with your music?
Townsend: We understand what makes a good party. And what makes a good party is not poser dudes or girls that think they're too hot for anyone in the room—it’s not people on their phones, or guys creeping on girls. You know when you're at a good party. I feel like dance music catalyzed in the first place because of togetherness, bringing like-minded people together. We crave that connection, we all do. The beautiful thing about raves is no matter where you're from, you come together and you enjoy it. Right now, in Manchester, it's not in the clubs sadly, it's more in raves, so we go there.
Kaye: We've had discussions so many times between ourselves at certain festivals where you see those beefed up dudes walking around thumping their head and looking for girls. It's like, ‘What has this become?’ It's so far removed from the origin.
You guys are old souls.
Kaye: We definitely are. Even though we're obviously still young we've been doing this for six or seven years.
Townsend: We got bunch of jazz pianists to come on the tracks for our album and they're all way older than us. Our vision and what we can actually do are not on the same level, so collaboration has been the key for us. We have a spectrum of people on this album. We even got a Macedonian orchestra!
Kaye: We’d just written all these string parts on a synth patch with a Nord keyboard and then we painstakingly MIDI'd it all out. We'd never done this sort of thing before. It was a real learning curve. We had a guy help us score it, and then we flew to Macedonia and got a fifty-piece orchestra for £3,000. There were all these amazing microphones and the orchestra in this crazy old ex-communist Soviet building.
Townsend: Because we paid for all this we had to work out the best way to go about everything. The budget was really important and we had to do our best with what we had.
Kaye: And we did go over by quite a lot. It’s also one of the reasons why we're bankrupt.
Townsend: Limitations are a good thing.
Kaye: Loss of ego is another important thing. For this one part I had a grand piano and all these mics and said, ‘I'm going to stay here late and nail this, it's cool.’ I stayed for maybe four hours trying to nail it, and I just couldn't. I couldn't do the real Latin bossa stuff. So you have to lose the ego and be like, ‘If we can get someone else to do this, then whatever sounds best.’
The past few years have sort of been a hiatus for Bondax. What were you up to then?
Townsend: We put out a track called ‘Temptation,’ but at that point in time we'd just had a conflict with Sony. I wouldn't say we were scared of being too popular, but we were very aware that if we allowed the project to go too far into the pop realm then we'd never be able to pull it back again.
Kaye: There have been times when I thought we'd gone there already. Back then was weird time for us. Like, one of the songs they changed the arrangement, and it became a pop house song that in the end didn’t really have anything to do with us. But, that was a turning point to be like, "We need to just do our thing and make music we actually like."
Townsend: Yeah, I think we cluelessly went along with it and then learned lessons on the way. It's not that the music from then is completely untrue to us, but I think we can say in all confidence that this upcoming album is us, whether there's commercial success or not. It's true we've had to fight to make what we want.
Kaye: It's a fickle industry, as we all know. At the end of the day, we're here with you having this conversation, on tour, having a great time, so we've got nothing to complain about.
Townsend: It's weird there's such a pedestal musicians are put on when they do well. People that would have been horrible to us back at home, people in school that wouldn't have given a shit about us are suddenly like, "Oh, good to see you mate!" People that would have not cared very suddenly cared.
Was school not a great experience?
Kaye: I left school and I got loads of shit for it. I was doing fine in school and so it was like, "You just fucked it because you could have gone to a really good university." And I just left. People said some really horrible things to me, and then when we had some sort of minor success they turned around like, "You're such an amazing guy." If I ever have a child I will make sure they know that they can just do what they want. I don't want them to fuck themselves over, but I really had to muster that confidence to leave school for music and it came from my dad. My dad's a head teacher, so education was everything, but he always wanted to be a poet and never did it. My mom always wanted to be an artist, and soon after I left school she quit a job to study art! Now she's a working artist. It’s infectious. A lot of people suppress that feeling for a more comfortable life, or because of fear.