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Talented, technicolour and Totally Enormous, it seems like Orlando Higginbottom has been around for ages. Now TEED has delivered a debut album that’s worth the wait. We meet the man behind the monster.
Words: Kate Hutchinson
Photos: Stephanie Smith
Orlando Higginbottom is feeling delicate. He flew in at 7am from São Paulo after an American tour, it’s just a few weeks before his debut album comes out and someone has stolen his lucky mirror ball. “It was on a little revolving platform. It was shit, but I had taken it around the world with me for two years,” he says, slurping on an organic apple juice and adjusting his Wayfarers. “And then, on the first night of our German tour in April, a girl grabbed it off the stage and ran off with it. We’ve lost costumes, broken costumes, I’ve even weed a little bit on my trousers before I’ve gone onstage, but that’s the most upsetting thing that’s ever happened on tour.”
With a name like Higginbottom you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were talking to a moustachioed 19th-century explorer, a character from Wind In The Willows or even Secret Garden Party’s latest electro-swing sensation. Not, you’d presume, the country’s most exciting young dance producer. But under his wonderfully bizarre, tongue-twisting moniker, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, the Oxford-based beat-mangler has created his own unique fantasy land. Not for him a baggy T-shirt, laser and a smoke machine: Orlando performs in a stegosaurus suit and tribal headgear alongside booty dancers armed with glitter cannons. There’s a sense of humour sometimes missing from dance music; one we’re more than happy to indulge.
But, sitting in a Shoreditch members club, flanked by his manager, agent and publicity team, it’s no wonder he’s jittery. TEED has been teetering on the periphery of greatness for some time. He has already released a trio of EPs on leftfield label Greco-Roman, toured the US three times, remixed for their royal divanesses Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, sprinkled a song on a mobile phone advert and had that same track, the startlingly sweet 2-step ditty ‘Garden’, included on a 2010 ‘Annie Mac Presents’ compilation. Never mind the jetlag, Mr Higginbottom’s debut album, ‘Trouble’, is finally out in June. “If I’ve eaten enough food and had enough sleep I’m fine with everything,” he says. “But if I’m hungover and tired and hungry then I’m like, ‘Oh fuck!’” It’s not just the weight of his huge headdresses on his shoulders: ‘Trouble’ sees Orlando shift gears from underground dance imprint to major label, propelling him from maverick electro producer to quirky pop prodigy.
And no costume is more bombastic than the one in his new live show. A week later, we’re on the balcony at Koko in Camden watching Orlando perform in what looks like an LED-lined flight deck. He bobs between drum machines, sampler and microphone while strobes judder erratically and the raptor-strength bass threatens a crowd-wide colonic at any second. So we do wonder whether it’s just our senses confusing themselves when, after a short interlude, Orlando emerges from the wings like a lizardy Las Vegas showgirl. A huge fan of kaleidoscopic glitter, complete with extreme fringing, stretches out a foot either side of him and the sequinned gold ruff around his slender neck wibbles in time to the beat (something we later find is from his ‘American Dreams Part II’ video). There are giggles and screams in equal measure, the unmistakeable sound of clubbers being entertained.
It’s a far cry from the early days of TEED, recalls Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank. “I first saw him playing live in a rain-sodden Butlins with a guy who had a cardboard box on his head,” he says. “It set the scene for his adventurous performances – and he’s only got better and more inventive. Though, luckily, he has lost the cardboard box!” The inspiration for TEED’s new show comes instead from Brixton big-beaters Basement Jaxx. “I liked how much of a celebration their sets are and how free they felt,” Orlando explains. “Very early on, I decided I wanted dancers too, but not skinny blonde models in bikinis who look like pole dancers. I wanted some party girls; people having a really good time.”
Even as a young sprite he was ahead of the curve. His father conducts the New College choir at Oxford University, and at one point he could have followed in his dad’s classical footsteps and become a pianist. But, aged just 10, he discovered jungle. “My big brother would be out raving and I’d steal his cassette tapes,” he says. “It became the obsession of my teens.” Later, while most boys his age were moshing to nu-metal, Orlando was bunking off school in favour of his local record shops, ready to snap up the latest releases by Remarc, LTJ Bukem and True Playaz, the label, collective and club night run by Hype, Zinc and Pascal. “I was picked on in school for liking jungle, being into singing and playing the piano,” he admits. “When you’re 13, it’s not cool to have a different interests from listening to Offspring.” Nevertheless, he entered a school talent contest with a friend. “We did a four-deck mix of jungle classics,” he remembers. “The teachers didn’t understand at all, and pulled the curtain on us after three minutes. We weren’t very good at mixing, so it was probably terrifying for them.”
It did, however, spur him on. Now 26, Orlando’s first love echoes through his live sets, as brief, rapid-fire jungle hypes the audience between songs, but his vibrant image, genre-hopping sound and rapturous show is also a response to the dead-end drum ’n’ bass scene of his early twenties. “It got, well, shit,” he says, a sliver of resentment in his soft voice. “It became too heavy and less individual, and it was all about geekery and tune-spotting. There was a severe lack of party going on, and not enough real celebration and character,” he continues, “and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
His image was born out of a drunken night with friends and a mum who was handy with a sewing machine and some green satin. These days, one of
his dino dancers, Nina Ribena, makes his impressive costumes, which range from elaborate feather head-dresses to cage-like wire contraptions from the fourth dimension. When Mixmag teases him that his tribal vibe has become the look of the festival season, though, he grimaces. “I read that – that feather headdresses are big this year – but I’ve never tried to put an outfit together that could be considered ‘trendy’. I’m making a concerted effort to [change that look now]. I hate the idea of looking like something from an H&M catalogue.”
He’s not keen on that fusty word ‘genre’, let alone being confined to just one. ‘Trouble’ stampedes through the electronic hinterlands, pulling in house, electro, garage, disco, techno, electronica and soul (his gentle falsetto vocals) and turning them into playful rave-pop songs. It’s not all Skrillex-sized bass drops and stadium-filling synths, though. The global folk rhythms that snake through his songs underline his offbeat individualism, and were discovered just as accidentally as his brother’s mixtapes. “My girlfriend took me to a folk dancing class,” he says. “It was only three quid! I went along for the music. We’d do a few Scottish steps, and then some pan-European and African, and it was all to incredible songs, so my interest in it started there.”
Live, these currents flow seamlessly into one another like a DJ set, creating a sound, he hopes, that is distinctly dino-rific. “I spent such a long time trying to write d’n’b that was part of something,” he says, tense and ready to launch into a thoughtful rant. “But dance music – and what’s cool – moves so fast that, in the end, I wanted to create without worrying about those things. Then I made all kinds of different stuff and I realised it felt right. I’m sure other people would have a better time too if they didn’t consider themselves ‘just a deep house producer’ or whatever. It’s not giving yourself the chance to be truly creative.” Which is why, he admits, having DJ Zinc warm up for him at Koko was a dream come true. “He’s the only person I’ve met where I’ve had proper stars in my eyes,” he says, “and he’s one of the few people from the d’n’b scene who’s managed to be relevant fifteen years later. I don’t think that should be as hard as everyone makes it out to be. You should feel free to change.”
Perhaps, by the time Orlando’s second album comes around, he’ll be reincarnated as a wombat. Or a neon badger. But, for now, as a bold, brilliant and bonkers dinosaur, he needn’t miss that tiny, talismanic mirrorball any more. Under Koko’s giant disco orb, the largest in Europe, suspended over the sold-out dancefloor,
his future is totally enormous.