It’s unusual for an artist to score a hit the third time of releasing it, but thanks to a recent remix from DJ Snake, British alt-R&B duo AlunaGeorge has nabbed a surprise smash with “You Know You Like It.” The song, which initially dropped in 2011 as a splotchy, sexy electro-zapped slinker, found a new home on the group’s 2013 full-length debut Body Music, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart. But after the pair, consisting of vocalist Aluna Francis and instrumentalist George Reid, reached out to Snake to remix the song, it took on a new life thanks to its new sound and a bizarre video where a human monkey is shown dealing drugs and hitting the club.
With the single seated at No. 15 on the Hot 100, Francis chatted with Billboard about the song’s perplexing success, the mounting trend of DJs and producers taking old songs and giving them a late boost, and the progress of their upcoming sophomore album, releasing in 2016.
What do you remember about the session for the original version of “You Know You Like It”?
That was a time when me and George hadn’t really found our writing formula. Even now, we still do it different every time. We were both writing separately at the moment, and he had written a track where he was trying to experiment with not using a kick drum and using a bassline to be significant. I was writing a song that was trying to embody breaking out of the norm and the backlash that you get, when ultimately they kind of love you for it though they’ll say that they hate you. So that was the premise of the idea of the song. Then listening to the track, I was kind of humming the sentence “You know you like it but it drives you insane.” I came back and was like, “George, I can’t think of anything else but this and it’s really annoying.” And he was like, “What is it?” And I sang it to him and he was like, “No, that’s it, that’s it.” So it was all kind of pieces that had to get fit together. The rest of the song somehow managed to go with this random piece of lyric that I came up with.
You released the song and then re-released it with the album. And now DJ Snake did his own version of it — and that’s the one that’s blowing up. Did you ever envision this trajectory?
No, definitely not. But we did feel that that song had a wider appeal. The message within the song is very much something that a lot of people can relate to. It’s such a feel-good song as well. For me, in my heart of hearts, I wanted as many people to hear it as possible and through that have those good feelings and thoughts going through their minds. As a kind of underground indie band who didn’t have that kind of traction or getting heard by that many people, when DJ Snake wanted to throw it a little bit further out there, we were ecstatic because it meant that that song could touch as many people as possible.
Did he contact you before remixing it? How did that come about?
The remix process is very natural. We just heard [Snake’s] “Bird Machine” and we loved it, so we contacted him directly and asked for a remix and he was like, “OK!” We have a lot of really really excellent remixes, so people kind of associate us with that, and more than not the people who we ask will be excited to do them. So he just did the remix and, I guess we call it a soft release and just pushed it out. He’s contacted us a year later and was like, this is pretty popular and we should release it properly.
What is it like to have a top 20 hit? You’ve had a strong footing in the U.K., but over here you’ve been seen more as critical darlings. How does that feel to know you’ve crossed over in a way?
I think we still have a lot to prove here. One half of a collaboration is really exciting for us and gives us a little taste of how far things can go in the U.S., but as far as I understand, the U.S. market is about longevity and being able to continuously produce consistently good music and your fan base will appreciate that. So that’s the next stage for us, to keep delivering.
This is part of a trend of producers and DJs taking songs that were released a few years ago, remixing them and turning them into hits. Why is that happening?
Dance music consumers are now more of the sorts of people that used to listen to more fan-based music, and they miss that still. They want the euphoria of hundreds of thousands of people dancing together to the same song, which is a very powerful feeling if you’ve ever experienced it. But when I’m collecting songs for my DJ set, I’m listening out for a vocal that’s very significant. It has to have something about it. It can’t just be one of those generic dance vocals anymore. People are expecting much more from their dance music vocal. They want something that was actually originally a song. They don’t want bits of chopped up randomness. I guess that they’re becoming more consciously taste-driven in the vocal part of it.
In terms of a new audience discovering AlunaGeorge, does this success give you pause to slow it down or does it ramp up the expectations for the next album?
It certainly gives us an opportunity, and we’re gonna do our best with this opportunity. We never slow down the working process. It’s always higher on our list of priorities. We’ve been writing this album for a year already, so we’re pretty enthusiastic to get it released and finished at some point soon. We’re definitely not gonna rest on our laurels.
How do you think the sound of the second album is shaping up? Is it an extension of Body Music or does it veer into a new place?
We’re trying to keep it as an extension, because we’re interested in developing this idea that we’ve always had of taking a strange sound or difficult drum beat and encompassing it into the structure of a meaningful song. In that vein, that limits us in a way. You’re not gonna have 10-minute instrumental music coming out. It is a big restriction having that “fun” factor involved, which is important to us.
More recently, collaborations have become a big piece of your process. Are you and George opening up the writing process in this album to include others?
It’s one of those things where we’ve been in connection with so many artists and producers along the way, but it does become kind of irresistible to not get in the studio. I’m gonna say that there might be a possibility that there might be a few collaborations. It’s not something that we intend on, but it’s kind of unavoidable. Also to just keep things fun and fresh. You enjoy just spending time with somebody who has some different ideas and a totally different way of working. Sometimes out of that with come something golden that you have to have on your album. Still, the core process is me and George.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 13 issue of Billboard.