If you don’t think classical music and electro-pop can mesh, think again. Or rather, have a listen to Clean Bandit, the classically trained British string trio climbing the charts with hits like 2014 breakout track “Rather Be” and more recently, the Sean Paul-featuring radio slam-dunk “Rockabye.”
The group’s members — currently, Grace Chatto and brothers Jack and Luke Patterson after the exit of violinist Neil Amin-Smith — have made serious strides in dance music since their days performing Bach as the Chatto Quartet. Rather than ditch the former project, the group has taken their classical talents to the dance floor, where they interlace thumping bass lines and vocals from the likes of Zara Larsson and Marina and the Diamonds with vigorous violin solos and skillful piano melodies.
Clean Bandit’s viral YouTube 2011 breakup anthem “Telephone Banking” was just the beginning. Since, the hitmakers have snagged three U.K. No. 1s, a pair of top 10s on the Billboard Hot 100 and even a Grammy for “Rather Be.”
Follow below as Billboard Dance runs through our top 10 Clean Bandit songs, and get up to speed on the group’s impressive history along the ride.
10. Clean Bandit feat. Louisa Johnson – “Tears”
In contrast with its somber title, the 2016 Clean Bandit song “Tears” is a positive, triumphant anthem for moving on from heartbreak, leaving listeners belting along to the chorus’ determined declaration — “and I’ll get over you.” With powerful vocals courtesy of 2015 X Factor champ Louisa Johnson, “Tears” resonated instantly with dance club-goers, and spent 20 weeks on the Hot Dance/Electronic Song charts, peaking at No. 17. (It also snatched No. 5 on the U.K. Singles charts.) The track’s music video (above) is similarly epic, featuring flames, a snowy owl rumored to have played Hedwig in the Harry Potter films and slo-mo footage of the group destroying their own instruments.
9. Clean Bandit feat. Elisabeth Troy – “Show Me Love”
Tackling the Robin S 1993 house classic “Show Me Love” is a risky feat for any artist. But Clean Bandit more than pull it off, amping things up with a shimmering violin hook, funky keyboard blips and thunderous vocals from Elisabeth Troy. After debuting their stellar cover on tour in North America, Clean Bandit unleashed the recording for the 2014 re-release of debut studio album New Eyes, only adding more bandwidth to the album’s high critical acclaim.
8. Clean Bandit feat. Marina and the Diamonds – “Disconnect”
Flashback to Coachella 2015, where Clean Bandit debuted a seemingly new track about technology-based anxiety featuring Marina and the Diamonds. After frustrated fans continued to demand a download for the catchy song, Clean Bandit finally delivered the finished studio version of the collaborative track “Disconnect” in late June. Was it worth the two-year tease? Oh, yes. The track manages to bridge the universal theme — the ires of the digital age — without coming off preachy, and its feathery piano melody is the perfect match for Marina’s vocal swoons.
7. Clean Bandit feat. Noonie Bao – “Dust Clears”
In this New Eyes Clean Bandit song, Jack Patterson offers robotic, futuristic vocal musings on the very nature of reality, while Noonie Bao’s fluttery, jangly chorus interjects to beg her partner to “get real.” All this is to the tune of a smooth, funky beat that showcases Clean Bandit’s instrumental skills. As if things weren’t already interesting enough, this one also comes with a wonderfully bizarre, scenic music video featuring an ice-skating minister.
6. Clean Bandit feat. Love Ssega – “Mozart’s House”
“So you think electronic music is boring? You think it’s stupid?” taunt the first lines of this dance track, which combines part of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 21” with a gritty, noisy electronic beat and verses by known Clean Bandit collaborator Love Ssega. The result is as seriously addictive as it is playful, poking fun at the group’s own classical crossover. It’s hard not to smile when Ssega quips an absurdly simple narration of the hitmaking process — “I don’t know, skip a beat / we use special tricks with a computer.”
5. Clean Bandit feat. Love Ssega – “Telephone Banking”
Our roundup wouldn’t be complete without 2011’s “Telephone Banking,” arguably the track that put Clean Bandit on the map. The glitchy break-up track perfectly captures both the group’s playfulness and instrumental mastery, melding a piercing violin and zippy computer game beeps with verses from Love Ssega that verge at times on a robotic phone conversation (“hey Grace, guess what? / Cool”); at others, winding church hymns. Don’t miss the track’s lighthearted visual, which enlists the help of a Japanese youth orchestra playing violins and Sega Game Gears.
4. Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne – “Real Love”
After “Rather Be,” we would expect any Clean Bandit/Jess Glynne collab to be straight audio gold — but more on that later. The duo delivers on their second partnership, the euphoric New Eyes track “Real Love.” Here, a tender cello tune erupts into throbbing piano chords and rippling violin, as Glynne belts chilling vocals about finding “real love.”
3. Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson – “Symphony”
In retrospect, it’s fitting that the classical group’s first No. 1 track on the Dance Club Songs charts would be the one titled “Symphony.” This monster hit, which also notched No. 1 on the U.K. Singles charts, likens romance to a melody — “I’ve been hearing symphonies/ Before, all I heard was silence,” opens Swedish vocalist Zara Larsson. All the while, lullaby-like piano keys and the swell of cello build up to a bright, jogging dance club beat.
2. Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul, Anne-Marie? – “Rockabye”
This smash track may allude to a nursery rhyme, but don’t expect to be lulled to sleep. Instead, “Rockabye” is a bouncy, bubbly club hit, which tells the story of a single mother’s struggles to support her family to the tune of tropical house beats and dancehall-tinged verses from Sean Paul. The words, sung by British vocalist Anne-Marie, ring true for a reason — Jack Patterson wrote the song with Ina Wroldsen, who penned the lyrics about her own son. The meaningful song racked up 27 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 9, and rose to No. 4 on the U.K. Singles charts.
1. Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”
We could rattle off the full list of accolades attached to this international hit, of which there are many — it snagged at No. 1 on the U.K. Singles chart, spent 31 weeks on the Hot 100 with a No. 10 peak and won Best Dance Recording at the 2015 Grammy Awards, to name a few. But chances are, you’re already well-acquainted with the pop gem’s infectious keyboard melody, swirling violin and vocal charisma from Jess Glynne. Co-penned with Disclosure collaborator Jimmy Napes, the track is a synth-pop dream, and its hallucinatory video (above) brings that feeling to life. When we named “Rather Be” one of Billboard‘s 10 Best Songs of 2014, we voiced a hunch that the song would “last forever” — and at least until now, it’s living up to that prediction.