Turning up and hitting 'play' is not DJing, Mercury-nominated house duo Disclosure tell Ed Power Real draw: Howard and Guy Lawrence, the brothers who form house duo Disclosure
How fan-freaking-tastic must Howard Lawrence's life be right now? Aged 19, the younger half of Mercury-nominated house duo Disclosure has over recent months performed at poolside parties in Las Vegas, hopscotched across Europe by private jet and, oh yes, helped save British dance music from the soulless advance of the American EDM scene. After all of that, most people's heads would be just about ready to explode. Howard, however – kicking back in San Diego, where Disclosure are in the middle of an umpteenth sold-out US tour – is a picture of composure. A calm young man going about his business.
"Well, it hasn't happened that quickly," he says, more mature and considered than anyone born bang in the middle of 1994 has any right to be. "Everyone imagines it took off suddenly for us. For four years we plugged away without anyone paying attention. We understand we are quite privileged – bands often wait around a lot longer than four years. Ultimately, we've put the hard work in."
A collaboration with older brother Guy (a withered 22), Disclosure effortlessly live up to their billing as the most exciting thing to hit UK electronica in a generation. Combining the soulfulness and woozy weirdness of avant-gardists such as James Blake and Burial with the hands in the air populism of house and garage, their sound is both clever and riotously catchy. It's muso music for the masses and the siblings are upfront in their delight at breaking free of the underground and gatecrashing the mainstream.
"We don't have a problem with popularity," says Howard. "Sure, we cut our teeth in the clubbing scene. That doesn't mean we don't want to be heard. There is a deluded idea at the moment that, simply because a song is not in the charts, it is by definition underground. We were never going for that sort of audience. Our stuff has a pop structure, with verses and choruses."
Growing up, the Lawrences discovered their favourite bands through the internet and have little patience with dance's traditional obsession with categorisation. A hint of irritation enters Howard's voice, as if to suggest such genre naval-gazing really has nothing to do with Disclosure. He doesn't care what you call his music. He simply wants you to like it.
"We end up talking about this a lot," he says. "Out of that we have learned a great deal about the dance scene, which we were not previously aware of. I suppose it is natural – you hear a track you can't immediately categorise and want to give it a label. It was like when Burial came out – nobody had a clue what to call it. You heard descriptions like 'post step', 'future garage' ... whatever. It's not important to us. We aren't hung up on definitions."
Disclosure started with Howard and Guy mucking about on the family computer at home in Reigate, a non-descript town at the edge of the London commuter belt. Neither knew much about electronica and Howard, just turned 15 (15!) had never set foot in a club. Stumbling upon artists such as James Blake and Burial on YouTube they would try to emulate their new heroes. It was heavy going early on. Their equipment was so primitive they had to connect their laptop to a car stereo, in order to mix on decent speakers.
"Guy had a job in a clothes shop, I was still in school as it took off," says Howard. "In the end, I was kicked out of school. I was turning up one or two days. The rest of the week we were off playing Europe."
Their first gigs were, by their own admission, rather shambolic. With a quite murky grasp of how clubbing worked, they'd arrive with a car full of equipment. The guy from the venue would stand there staring, wondering why the hot young DJs he'd booked had shown up with a load of old synthesizers and drum kits.
"I'd never even been to a club by the time we put out our second single. We'd be booked and, in our naivety, assume they wanted us to play like a band. We designed a live show to that end – essentially it's the same one we have now. So we'd pull up outside and haul all our stuff in. They'd be looking at us going, 'oh great'."
Two polite boys from suburban Surrey, to look at Howard and Guy you'd think butter would not melt. Actually they've proved surprisingly adept at controversy. Only last month the video to their latest single Help Me Lose My Mind was yanked from YouTube on the grounds that it appeared to show good-looking 20-somethings sampling drugs (in reality, the toking, snorting, necking, etc was implied). Over the summer, meanwhile, they underwent the standard passage rite for any up and coming pop act: a public feud with the rapper Azealia Banks.
Things had started wonderfully between Azealia and the Disclosure bros. Deep into her (endlessly delayed) debut album Banks – or someone in her camp at any rate – thought it might be an idea to have the Lawrences around. The pair were summoned and spent a day swapping ideas with Azealia.
Soon after Guy gave an interview – on Belgian radio of all places – suggesting talk of a chart-storming hook-up with the New Yorker were overstated. "We don't have a song with her yet. We've met her once," he said.
"I think she's kind of taken to Twitter quite heavily with the fact that she's meeting with us. And people now think that we've made the greatest song of all time, and it doesn't even have a chorus."
Quicker than you could say 'shameless attention seeker', Azealia had swivelled into wrathful avenger mode.
"I did something with Disclosure ... they were really rude in an interview, so I canned it," she said in an interview. "And to be honest, I've got better stuff on my record ... It can be an F-side. A fuck-you side."
Howard sighs when I mention this. "I don't know, to be honest. We had a session with her, we didn't finish the song. I'm not sure what has happened since."
Disclosure have expressed distaste with the EDM scene, perhaps best described as mass-market America's idea of what rave music should sound like (that is, loud, yammering, faintly icky).
"Well, we're friends with Skrillex, he's a nice guy," says a diplomatic Howard. "Overall I don't think we have much in common with EDM. It's very different."
He is more plain-spoken on the ongoing controversy over dance artists who turn up at shows, press 'play', then spend the night mugging for the crowd while a tape deck does the work.
"I have nothing against DJing," he says. "What annoys me is billing it as a live show and then you come along and press 'play'. It is probably boring for everyone. And it is wrong to say it is 'live'."
The album Settle is out now. Disclosure play Black Box Galway November 14, Olympia Dublin November 15. Tickets from heinekenmusic.ie.