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Pendulum Swing Back Into Focus

Renowned as leaders of the drum and bass genre, and an essential live act, this week finally sees Pendulum releasing their first new music in almost a decade

It goes without saying that it’s been a long time between drinks for Pendulum. In fact, to be a little bit more precise, it’s been over a decade since they released a new album, and almost nine-and-a-half years since their last new single. To put it simply, fans have been eager for a comeback from the Western Australian icons for some time.

To be fair though, the famed purveyors of drum and bass haven’t exactly been too far away. Having first formed in Perth near the start of the century, the group soon relocated to the UK, where they released three studio albums and one live record between 2005 and 2010, with Immersion hitting number three on the ARIA charts upon its release in early 2010.

Amidst talk of a fourth record though, Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen formed Knife Party in 2011, a new outfit which focused more on house music than the drum and bass which Pendulum were known for. By 2012, their main band was officially on hiatus, though murmurs of a new Pendulum album kept on rising up from time to time, leading to some uncertainty as to what the future actually held.

In late 2015 however, the comeback process officially began. While a live return took place in 2016, the next year brought with it news that Pendulum were truly back, with the promise of new material once again being discussed. However, despite a remix album called The Reworks emerging in 2018, the only fresh tunes received by fans were snippets of new tracks being played during the band’s live sets near the start of the year.

After years of uncertainty and waiting, today sees Pendulum officially release their first new tracks in almost ten years, with the double A-side of “Nothing For Free” and “Driver” arriving in the midst of a global pandemic. While the notion of launching a comeback at such a time would be daunting for any band, it’s a testament to their own tenacity and hard work that they’ve chosen now as the time to return with new music.

“It’s a weird time. There’s probably never been a worse, or better time to release new music,” Swire explains via a late-night Zoom call from London. “It’s definitely made it feel a lot more surreal. It does feel weird to get stuff out there.

“I always had ten years in my head, and I thought if you go past that, then just don’t bother bringing it back. So the timing feels kind of right to bring it [back].”

“I always had ten years in my head, and I thought if you go past that, then just don’t bother bringing it back.”

Though the mental deadline is indeed marching ever-closer, with April of 2021 serving as the ten year anniversary of their last single, “Ransom”, the band’s return was never planned to include such a tight race to the finish line, with 2020 having disrupted the plans of not just Pendulum, but the world at large.

“It was supposed to happen in March,” Swire explains of their return. “We had signed to a label services company called The Orchard – it’s not really like a label, but it’s more label services – and we sort of had it all ready to go, and then all of a sudden, everyone at the office is at home, our manager’s at home, and stuff is a nightmare.

“We had plans to have a music video out, and all that sort of stuff just came to a screeching halt. So it was meant for March/April, but everything just sort of [went downhill].”

While McGrillen and Swire readily admit that the arrival of new music during lockdown means that fans will have a chance to listen to it more closely and potentially appreciate it more, the fact remains that this was nothing like the return they had envisioned. Even before Pendulum went on hiatus in 2012, Swire had been promising the eventual release of new material, with numerous references being made to a new album as the years went by.

For the diehard Pendulum fans, this undoubtedly served as good news – a bright beacon of light at the end of an uncertain tunnel. For outside observers though, it almost seemed like Swire and his bandmates found themselves in a position where they felt new material was an inevitability, though it was an inability to find the proper frame of mind to work on new material that was halting any progress.

In a Reddit AMA back in 2014, the group confirmed this, noting that despite being contracted for another record, they didn’t “really want to do one”. Fast forward six years, and Swire echoes verifies that this was indeed the situation Pendulum found themselves in, albeit with a bit of indecision thrown into the mix for good measure.

“We had sort of ideas about how we wanted it to come back, ideas of the style we wanted to do, and the whole concept behind the [material],” he explains. “That kept kind of changing over the years, but it was around 2016 that we really started thinking about that. It went through a few iterations before we ended up here.”

Indeed, 2016 was destined to be a big year for Pendulum, with the group making their long-awaited return as a live band at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Though there was no specific catalyst for their reunion, the lure of both returning to the live stage, and an offer they couldn’t refuse from Ultra’s promoter resulted in more fun than they’d had in years.

“It was so refreshing, because you know how you sometimes retrospectively think back on something and sometimes in a negative light?” McGrillen asks. “I think at the point we put everything on hold, everything that came with Pendulum was just feeling a bit negative.

“Then when we did this live stuff again, we just had so much fun doing it. I think that re-sparked everything.”

“The promoter of Ultra Festival, Adam [Russakoff], he’s one of our friends,” Swire recalls after some prompting from McGrillen. “He came into the car before a Knife Party show in Miami and said, [Swire adopts an American accent] ‘Right, what is it going to take you motherfuckers to bring Pendulum to Miami?’

“I initially don’t want to do it, so I say the first thing that comes to my head; just talking it up as something that he’d never do. So I say, ‘Alright, how about this? Knife Party headlining the main stage, and Pendulum, together at once, and then Pendulum will do it.’ And he’s like, ‘Done!’ I’m like, ‘Fuck! This is happening.'”

Ultimately, Pendulum’s return was a welcome one, though it took until 2017 for the group to formally announce their comeback. As Swire admits, the decision to fully reactivate as an outfit wasn’t one that was made lightly, and one that was predominantly reliant on needing to feel an absence within the scene that only they could fill.

“I think it was that we missed playing live,” he states, casting his mind back to the band’s initial era. “I think it’s hard to remember now, especially for new people getting into drum and bass – even though drum and bass is still alive and healthy – I found that some of the younger people getting into it, they have this idea like, ‘Pendulum! They were the kings of drum and bass! Yeah!’

“It’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no…’ They’ve sort of misunderstood what the relationship was like with the scene initially. We weren’t the darlings of drum and bass. We were not seen in a positive light, generally, by the scene. There was always this kind of love/hate thing with the scene, and I guess as we stopped feeling that, and felt the absence, it felt like we could come back.

“We weren’t the darlings of drum and bass. We were not seen in a positive light, generally, by the scene.”

Once Pendulum were once again considered a musical entity, their future plans weren’t explicitly set in stone. Rather, its members had envisioned that the project would remain a live act for the foreseeable future, with Swire noting they looked set to keep it this way until they “found the inspiration” for new music. Ironically, it didn’t take longs for the seeds of their comeback to be sewn.

“‘Nothing For Free’, the idea of that whole thing was actually made in 2016,” Swire notes. “‘Driver’ was made more recently, and bits and pieces were kind of cobbled together. But it always takes us a long time to work out what the hell we want to do.”

Things did eventually become somewhat clearer for Pendulum as the years went on, and by 2019, the group had not only released a collection of remixes dubbed The Reworks, but had launched their new Trinity project; a new live format which provides Swire, McGrillen, and Paul ‘El Hornet’ Harding a much more freeing live experience than previous full-band shows or DJ sets would.

“It was something different to the whole band thing,” Swire explains. “It was a bit more of taking the DJ format and seeing what we could do with it, with Paul, who was originally a member.”

“It always takes us a long time to work out what the hell we want to do.”

“It’s something we hadn’t done in as long as we could remember, the three of us DJing all at once,” adds McGrillen. “And adding the performance element to it as well, with Rob singing various tracks as well, it seemed like a refreshing, different way of doing things, without hauling the whole band and all of the equipment on the road.”

“It’s a much looser format,” echoes Swire. “You don’t have as much to worry about in terms of soundcheck, and lugging gear around, and freight costs, and what goes where, and then the truck broke down… All of that isn’t an issue, so it’s a lot more freer this time around.”

The live shows themselves have been riotous affairs, with dedicated fans relishing the chance to see one of the most celebrated bands in drum and bass, whether or not Pendulum themselves believe such admiration is warranted. To make matters all the more special, the group have also been using these shows as a platform from which to showcase their newly-released tracks.

While the mere news of the band previewing new material has been met with fervent excitement online, the group admit it’s been an exciting opportunity to allow fans to hear their new tunes in such an environment.

“It’s been good, I think it’s useful launching with those two tracks,” Swire notes. “One’s kind of different, so if we’d just come out with ‘Nothing For Free’, people would have gone, ‘What’s happened?’

“But I don’t know, I full expect people to complain about it and say ‘That doesn’t sound like Pendulum!’ We’ve pretty much been accused of not sounding like Pendulum for 18 years now. I’m starting to think that not sounding like Pendulum does sound like Pendulum. So maybe that will work?”

“We’ve pretty much been accused of not sounding like Pendulum for 18 years now. I’m starting to think that not sounding like Pendulum does sound like Pendulum.”

Ultimately, the group’s new material indeed sounds like classic Pendulum. While Swire seems taken aback to hear such a review of the songs, “Nothing For Free” and “Driver” are perfect example of what made the group so beloved throughout the ’00s.

Of course, with their trademark sound on full display, one could be forgiven for thinking it’s been an easy return to things, with few difficulties getting back in the saddle. Of course, nothing worth having comes easy.

“It’s a difficult mix of: A, not giving a fuck what anyone thinks, and B, giving way too much of a fuck what everyone will think to the point of paralysis,” Swire admits. “Because it’s like, ‘Right, how do you bring this fucking thing back after ten years?’ For one, we’re different people to what we were back then, and two, we probably haven’t heard as much drum and bass, or drum and bass influences, as much in a while”

“It’s mad if you spend ten years just living your life balls deep in house music, and then coming back to drum and bass and then trying to figure out what it was you loved about drum and bass,” McGrillen adds. “And also rediscovering the things you hated about drum and bass at the same time. Then, moving forward from there, as Rob said, it’s sort of paralysing.”

“It’s like, ‘Right, how do you bring this fucking thing back after ten years?'”

“I’ve had bands come and go throughout my life where maybe you liked them at one point, then they went on hiatus, and then they picked it up after however many years,” notes Swire. “You never really want that reaction of like, ‘Oh, it just sounds like the same thing they fucking did when they were last around.’

“And you don’t want the whole, ‘What the fuck happened?’, where they completely change. So with those two in mind, it’s not exactly helpful when you sit down in the studio and just try and make something.”

Despite the paralysing apprehension that goes along with making new music that will hopefully live up to their legacy, McGrillen notes they’ve in fact been looking ahead to the point where enough time had passed that they no longer have to consider the elements of their previous record, 2010’s Immersion.

Though they’re not looking to specifically ignore these elements, it’s the search for a more liberating experience while creating music that comes into play. However, Swire admits it’ll be a little while before the feeling of liberation permeates all their activities.

“I think things will be [more liberating] after these first tracks come out. But I think it’s the fact it’s the first ones, and they’re the first ones in a while, has been been mildly fucking terrifying, a little bit,” he says. “I’m sure once it comes out and people are like, ‘Wow, fuck, cool!’, I’ll be like, ‘What the fuck were we talking about?'”

“I think it’s the fact it’s the first ones, and they’re the first ones in a while, has been been mildly fucking terrifying.”

Apprehension and fear aside, the music that has now emerged sees Pendulum picking up where they left off. In fact, while “Driver” was a track whose origins only extend back to the start of the year, “Nothing For Free” is a song that’s been in the works since 2016, with the more melodic elements of the track recorded back around the time of their reunion.

“I like writing things really quick because it helps to get the idea out, but also I occasionally like to sit on things for a while because it means if you’re not sick of it by the 160th time, there must be something to it,” Swire adds.

Despite being written back in 2016, the track’s lyrical message is rather prescient, with lines that almost seem to either predict or reflect the global situation that backdrop’s the group’s release of new tunes. Although McGrillen testifies the track was indeed written between Los Angeles and London in 2016, he calls the situation rather serendipitous, with an accompanying video similarly carrying on the theme, though it was created far more recently.

Working with Lewis Cater, the music video (which premieres at 9pm AEST on Friday, September 18th) is part animation, and part live-action, with shots of Swire being interspersed between images of cartoon rabbits as myxomatosis becomes the newest global pandemic.

“We gave them stylistic ideas and then they kind of ran with it,” Swire says of the clip. “It was a fucking awkward shoot though, I’ll tell you that.

“I hadn’t been out of the house in about five months, apart from occasionally going to the shops for supplies, but I hadn’t been around people except for maybe delivery guys, and suddenly you’re surrounded by 13 people with fucking DPs [director of photography], and directors, and camera guys, all with masks on.

“They’re like, ‘Okay, go! Just feel the vibe!’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been at home for five fucking months! What vibe?’. I think I’m kind of lucky though because people have been like, ‘I like how you look kind of lonely and confused a bit,’ and that’s what I was! There’s no fucking acting there.”

With new music out in the world now, the focus of fans does shift towards the future, and what’s next to come from Pendulum. Though it almost seems greedy to think about new music as soon as their first pair of tracks in a decade release, the group admit there is indeed more to come, though the traditional release format may be far behind them.

“There’s more coming. There’s a collab we’ve done with Hybrid Minds that we’re putting the finishing touches on now; there’s another track to go along with that,” Swire explains.

“We’re sort of going to do it in collections of two tracks at a time. The reason for that is partly because there’s a lot less pressure than putting an entire album together and putting it out there, and partly because I don’t think people listen to fucking albums anymore.”

Though albums have long been the traditional method of releasing collections of material, recent years have seen countless artists eschew this route, choosing instead to take a more urgent approach. For Pendulum though, it’s unclear whether another new album eventuate, though Swire hints towards a potential full-length at some point, whether it be collecting all of their forthcoming tracks, or just their favourites.

“The album as an entity doesn’t need to be something that all comes at once these days,” explains McGrillen. “It could be something that’s staggered, and the attention span of people works better towards that when things come progressively.”

“We’ve had meetings with people where they’ve said that releasing a whole album at once could work against you,” Swire adds. “It would work for Taylor Swift, it could work for Kanye West, but say we did it, and some people at Spotify are like, ‘Well fuck, we can only really put one or two [songs] on the playlist.’ Whereas if we stagger them, you can put them all on there. So it works in our favour and their’s, I guess.

“I can’t even remember the last time I listened to an album and said, ‘That’s just a really great album; the concept and everything.'”

However, what is certain for the immediate future is uncertainty, with the group’s forthcoming plans for touring completely left up in the air. While McGrillen says he’s planning to return to Australia at the end of the year, it’s unknown whether or not plans for Pendulum to make another homecoming will fall by the wayside.

“We’re obviously kind of beholden to the whole situation at the moment,” Swire notes. “There was some shows booked around New Zealand and Australia around New Year’s Eve, but who knows if they’re going to happen? Next year we’ve apparently got Creamfields, Rampage in Belgium, We Are FSTVL, a couple of things in Finland, but as for if they happen, who knows?”

Though the future remains uncertain currently, Pendulum are still in one of the best positions they’ve found themselves in for a very long time. Armed with their first new music in almost a decade, a stunning live show, and a voracious appetite to tour once again, the band’s coming era looks brighter than ever.

As for when it can finally arrive, well, that’s the question both Pendulum and their fans are hoping to have an answer to soon enough. In the meantime, there’s new music to devour, with the long wait finally over.

Pendulum’s “Nothing For Free” and “Driver” are out now.