Dance

Bicep Muscles Its Way to the Forefront of the Dance World (And Beyond): Emerging Artist Spotlight

Dan Medhurst

Bicep

Welcome to Emerging Artists Spotlight, the Billboard series where we highlight a musician or band who has recently made their debut on the Emerging Artists chart. Whether they are new to the industry, or have been around for a while but are just starting to have a chart impact, the intention is to showcase where they are here and now. This week's pick is electronic duo Bicep, who debuted at No. 30 on the chart (dated Feb. 6) thanks to their sophomore LP, Isles


While Bicep just made their Emerging Artists chart debut, the duo is already fully materialized in the dance world. The Belfast-bred, London-based pair became scene heroes more than a decade back, when the then-early-twentysomethings established themselves via their blog, Feel My Bicep.

Launched as a place to aggregate deep cuts, club tracks and world music enjoyed by the two crate-diggers (Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson), Feel My Bicep caught on. Its success led to DJ gigs, a sprawling fanbase and a label contract, with a flurry of EPs and global gigs to follow.

Bicep's self-titled debut album dropped in 2017, via the venerable English indie imprint Ninja Tune. Album track "Glue" became a calling card -- and their highest streaming Spotify song to date, with nearly 59 million plays -- while the entire album and previous studio productions served as source material for hard-hitting live sets that also incorporated the deep cuts, rarities and global sounds that first defined their sonic palette on Feel My Bicep.

Friends since childhood, McBriar (now 34) and Ferguson (33) are childhood friends from Northern Ireland capital of Belfast. Growing up on an island instilled in them mixed emotions, they say, about "wanting to leave, wanting to return." It is these feelings of isolation, melancholy and the comfort of home that inform their recently released (and fully excellent) sophomore album, Isles, released via the venerable electronic label Ninja Tune on Jan. 22.

Isles, which debuted at No. 12 on Top Dance/Electronic Albums and No. 73 on Top Album Sales (charts dated Feb. 6) with 3,000 equivalent album units, likewise propelled them onto the Emerging Artists chart.

While the album may be inspired by island life, Isles also incorporates sounds from far beyond their home turf. Album single "Sundial" samples "Jab Andhera Hota Hai," from the 1973 Bollywood film Raja Rani. Since relocating to East London years back, the guys have become influenced by the city's Indian culture and by Bollywood film scores and the female sopranos therein. For the guys, the "haunting melancholic epicness" of these vocals resonate particularly hard in their similarity to the Irish folk music (like that of the country's iconic band Clannad) they grew up listening to.

Meanwhile, album track "Apricots' (Billboard Dance's No. 1 dance track of 2020) fuses a 1950’s performance by The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir with traditional Malawian singing -- to epic, haunting effect. The duo will likely play these tracks and more when they perform an extended live show (with support acts to be announced) that will be livestreamed from London's Saatchi Gallery on Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are $18.50. A summer tour will also take them through Europe, public health permitting.

And that blog of theirs? Still in operation.

Learn more about Bicep below.

Hometown: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Recommended Bicep Track: "Apricots"

"It's just one of those ones where we got something that felt quite magical, the combination of the two different voices," the duo said of the song on their recent Apple Music radio show. "It really does kind of remind us of some of the Celtic folk we've grown up listening to, the sort of chants and choral elements. It most definitely set the tone for that mixture of happiness and sadness together that was across the rest of the album."

Outside of the music: "We've been focusing on a lot of creative outlets recently from home during lockdown. Cooking, reading and gardening."

What's next: “We can't wait to get back on the road when everything's safe. In the meantime, we have our Global Live Stream II from London’s Saatchi gallery on Feb. 26, which will be a much tougher version of our album.”


Past Emerging Artists Spotlights: Joshua BassettAsiahn | Morray | Benee | Breland | (Sandy) Alex G | Charly Bliss | Tank and the Bangas | J.S. Ondara | Mabel | Kiana Lede