It’s about halfway through London-based Gorgon City’s debut album, Sirens, that you hear it. Like a light in a smoke-filled basement club cuts the voice of Jennifer Hudson, the Oscar and Grammy-winning singer, cast for the first time in the role of club diva on the track “Go All Night.” Across a track of acid house and restrained hooks, we are reintroduced to the A-lister’s voice, radiating like a clarion call on the house duo’s record. Rooted in classic American house, it’s packed with a verve of a bygone era but at once current and fresh. It’s as if the power never went out in Chicago and The Warehouse never closed. It is the moment of revelation that house music has been unwittingly waiting for—and it almost didn’t happen.
“We wrote the track with Kiesza but we weren’t going to do it,” explains Gorgon City’s Matt Robson-Scott.
“We forgot about it really,” continues the duo’s Kye Gibbon. “We thought it was alright and Kiesza thought it was alright but we had other tracks on the album that we were so much more passionate about.”
“Our manager was like ‘Jennifer Hudson’s doing it, she’s doing it, I’ve been told she’s doing it,’” Robson-Scott explains. “We were like ‘it’s not going to happen.’ And then the Saturday before we had to get the record mastered she sent it.”
“It’s such a different track for us to do just because normally when we work we just go in the studio with whoever we’re working with and make a track from scratch and just kind of vibe it out,” says Gibbon. “That one was sent over to her, she recorded it herself, sent it back and we finished off the production.”
“She made it into a really good tune, basically,” adds Robson-Scott. “Listening to the stems separately, the adlib track was just insane, the craziest stuff in the world. It’s perfection. She’s got the range.”
“Go All Night” sits amid a collection of solid house records, some of which have been released as singles, like “Ready for Your Love” featuring MNEK and “Here for You” featuring Laura Welsh. The album also includes the group’s breakthrough “Real,” the 2013 single which first introduced the world to the duo’s trademark manipulation of house motifs and skilled deployment of vocalists.
“Real” caught the attention of labels just as house music was making its return to the UK charts. Gorgon City signed to Virgin in the UK and are being released under the Capitol Music Group’s Priority Records in the US. The deal provides support for things like artwork and live show concept resources but more importantly it has allowed them to finance the recording of Sirens, made mostly in their studio in Finsbury Park, London. There were also a few sessions in the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, where they recorded with soul-pop crooner Erik Hassle and buzzed about New York singer Tish Hyman. Also featured on the record are R&B youngster Maverick Sabre and UK dancefloor mainstay Katy B.
“She wrote the lyrics in like, ten minutes” Gibbon says of Katy B and the track “Lover Like You.” “Maybe not ten minutes, but it seemed like ten minutes. Then she locked it down in one take.”
While the duo features their vocalists as guest artists on each track they contribute to, they are less featured appearances on pedestals and more collaborators, invited in as the rotating third member of the group and blended seamlessly into the production. If they are the “sirens” of Greek mythology, Gorgon City themselves are the rocks the singers are perched on and the waves that crash around them.
Even if “Go All Night” weren’t essentially an acid house record with a power vocal on top, this approach to collaboration might indemnify Gorgon City against accusations of using someone like Hudson to make a bid for pop crossover attention. Though, it’s not something Matt and Kye aren’t worried about anymore.
“When ‘Ready for Love’ came out, I was scared of everyone being like, ‘you’ve sold out,’” says Gibbon. “But We haven’t compromised what we like and what we make. We never thought, ‘oh let’s sit down and make some pop music.’ It just happened that the musical landscape changed while we were making it. Suddenly it’s like, No. 1 hits are house tracks.”
Gorgon City is perhaps the third in a line that has included Disclosure and Clean Bandit, both of whom have made concerted efforts to hold on to their house fanbases while also making national TV appearances in the US and playing the world’s biggest festivals. There is no mistaking “Go All Night” or any other part of Sirens for Katy Perry records, but there is also no question of the track’s need to knock on the door of Top 40 radio; JHud’s presence alone entitles it to a listen. Even as questions of crossover appeal linger, both members of Gorgon City are firmly rooted in their identity as club kids who like making records they can play at Sankeys in Ibiza.
“When we made ‘Real,’ we made that as an underground track,” recalls Robson-Scott. “It’s a disco-y house beat on the Hot Natured tip, and that’s what we’ve been doing since: Using our club music production with a singer.”
“We don’t think about the charts,” Robson-Scott continues. ”We still like making straight up underground tracks and try to do both.”