Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED) has carved a hole for himself in left-field dance music. Sitting somewhere between glistening pop and quirky house, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (real name Orlando Tobias Edward Higginbottom) has become a staple of music festivals and clubs worldwide, whether with a live band or more recently as a DJ. With the launch of his own label, Nice Age, in 2014 and a packed summer line-up for 2015, TEED is continuing to grow in stature on the international dance scene. We sat down at Eastern Electrics festival for a chat about the future of TEED, what makes a perfect record and the woes of 150 word album reviews.
You’re classically trained. How has that influenced how you go about making music?
First of all an awareness of different sounds, and secondly a technique, an ability, really, that I learnt when I was a kid. You know, being trained in how to harmonise something, in how to structure music, different types of music from different periods over the last 600 years. That is just knowledge in a way, I’m not saying that you need it, but the more you know about the subject the better I think.
The TEED Project is very visual. What inspired that?
Initially, with the live show, I wanted with the shows following the last album, something that was really fun. That was basically the idea. I wanted to do something that was colourful, that wasn’t too serious, that inspired people to let their hair down a little bit. That was just in the small world that I was in at that time, I wasn’t getting that, so I had to make it for myself. Obviously lots of people have done that, that’s just what inspired me.
Having travelled through touring, which cultures do you find most interesting?
I find it all interesting.
Dance music is in this new wave at the moment. It’s probably peaked but we’re at a point where it has reached every corner of the globe. And everybody listens to it slightly differently and everybody experiences it slightly differently and makes it slightly differently. Obviously there are a million other things other than just the music side, but just the crowds you go to in the different countries, they’re all different.
I mean the most interesting is America, I think because of the weird attitude Europeans have toward American dance music and culture. What is going on over there is amazing. So cool. The crowds have the most open ears, have the best time. People don’t realise that. I’ll probably move to America next.
Garden- Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
You have talked about being attracted to darkness in music. Does that go against the pop label you’re often given?
It’s a simplification of pop music to say that it can’t be dark. We don’t want to define pop here but a song can have any emotion attached to it. There have been number one records that have been incredibly sad. I’m thinking about that Christmas number one Mad World. Practically a suicide record, it’s that dark. So no, I don’t think that there is a friction between pop and darkness.
Your work is in a huge amount of demand. How much time do you get to sit down and think about your music?
I think about music all the time.
It’s an incredibly self-centred life. Any musician who doesn’t admit that is lying to themselves. You wake up and you think about your music, which is yourself, so it is weird, strange in that sense. So yeah, I think about it all the time.
Have you had any thoughts about when we will see TEED as a live band, rather than DJ set again?
Absolutely, as soon as I feel like I have a record that I want to put out and perform live, then I will do that. I miss playing live.
What makes a record special for you?
I used to answer that question in a different way. I used to say that it was about craftsmanship and that’s what I was looking for. I was looking for care.
Now I’m much more intrigued and interested by people who clearly give themselves and take and risk and expose themselves in a record. That’s what I want to hear from an artist. When I hear those records I am so excited about them. When somebody was probably quite nervous about releasing something and its very personal. That’s the goal.
Is that something which is translating into what you’re writing at the moment?
I hope so. It is very easy to disappoint yourself if you reveal too much about yourself you know? Anyone can come up with the concept of a perfect record. Actually, making it is completely different. I try not to think about it a making the perfect record too much.
Boiler Room DJ Set- Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
What has been your worst ever gig?
I think the only one that comes to mind right now is when I played in Moscow. We were playing a live show at the opening of Europe’s, including Russia, largest ice rink. It was an outdoor stage and it was blowing a blizzard. The stage had no walls.
It was a corporate gig, so I was getting paid so much that I had to try and do something. There was snow on all my gear and we played for fifteen minutes. Someone behind me fell over and smashed their head on the ice and there was blood everywhere. There were like fifteen people in the crowd. I didn’t mind that. When it’s surreal it’s okay, it’s just funny.
How do you feel about commercialism in the music industry?
There is always this idea that art, in a general sense and creativity, because it’s abstract and intangible that is doesn’t have value. The very fact that brands, because it’s always brands that pay the money, will pay big money to DJs or singers to come and do their stuff shows how much value it does have. Because they are buying in to your credibility and your legitimacy as an artist.
I think commercialism is fine. It doesn’t matter you know? If you as a punter don’t want to go and see someone, that’s your choice but everything else that goes on behind the scenes, you gotta believe that the artist and the promoter are always working on this balance. It is a business model, it has to work for everyone. So I don’t think there is a great conspiracy behind the music industry, it’s legitimate.
So you consider the music industry to be legitimate?
In some senses it is, and in some senses it isn’t. There are some really dark things about it. For example, the deal between the streaming services and the major labels. That’s dark.
But, how much artists are being payed for shows and so on. I did four years of touring before any money, so I feel like I’m allowed to earn some cash.
You’ve previously said some interesting things about music journalism.
Yeah, what did I say?
Well do you want an exact quote?
[Laughs.] Feel free to paraphrase.
Basically something about music journalists being parasites.
Oh really? I think what I want to encourage in journalism is a really positive conversation. A lot of what you get now is soundbite news, basically click-bait stuff. And I think that music and all this stuff that we love is a very precious thing. People need to be encouraged to be involved with it.
Look, a lot of people spend two and a half years making an album. And they’ll get a hundred and fifty word review from someone calling themselves… you know, come on, let’s talk about it, really question that music. If everyone puts in the same amount then you have a community that grows and builds in to a really beautiful thing.
Is that an answer that satisfies you?
Yeah, well it’s what we want. So, less seriously, what the hell is house music?
I got to be careful of what I say, don’t want to insult anyone. [Laughs.]
I dunno. Good music to dance to? A lot of it, well some of it. It means different things to different people and it should be like that. No one should define it and their answer be right.
Would you say that across the board with music genres?
Yeah. Otherwise you do this thing where you draw a line that becomes unwelcoming to people who don’t have that knowledge or don’t know what’s going on. I think that is the opposite of what music should be. Music should be inclusive.
It doesn’t matter where you are, where you’re from, what you know about something. Come have a party or cry and listen. Music has different emotions attached to it. I would hate to define anything so that it becomes unwelcoming.
Interview by Matthew Gibson