Coming back to reality and getting your head back in work mode after the Christmas break is always tough, even if you’re a musician. London-based production duo Arcades were feeling that new year slump when an email suddenly arrived in their inbox and set 2019 on an entirely different path.
“I was having one of those days, walking around Soho like a headless chicken, when Max [Graham] phoned me up and said, ‘Have you looked at your email?’” explains Matt Thomson. Intrigued by his bandmate’s call, he refreshed his inbox. In it, was an email confirming that BTS would like to use one of the songs the pair had pitched to the Korean world-conquerors. “I looked at it and I can’t remember if I screamed or not, but I’m sure Soho will be able to tell you,” he laughs.
Arcades have previously worked with the likes of Years & Years and Julia Michaels, and have a serendipitous connection to BTS – one of their managers, James Reynolds, mixes tracks for the Korean band. That association led J-Hope, one of the group’s rappers, to hear their debut single ‘In The Air’ and add it to his “J-Hope’s Jam” Spotify playlist, which features the likes of Drake, Meek Mill, and Snoop Dogg.
That addition kickstarted a chain of events that have now led to the pair having a hand in two songs on BTS’ brand new release, ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ – the quiet euphoria of ‘Mikrokosmos’ and the emotional ‘Jamais Vu’. The day before the record was released, Matt and Max spoke to NME over the phone to explain what it’s like working with one of the biggest bands in the world.
Let’s go back to the beginning of your relationship with BTS – J-Hope added ‘In The Air’ to his playlist last summer. How did it feel to have that initial show of support from him?
Matt: “It was absolutely incredible because it was the first time we got a taste of what they were capable of. Our manager James has been mixing them since day one, so we’ve always known about them. He was the first to tell us about this band who’ve got the most incredible fanbase. But it was really only then when we got a taste of it that we realised how big they are.”
Max: “We saw them from the beginning but once you’re involved, it’s very different. But it was also our debut single and it wasn’t out for very long – it was only out for two weeks – before he added it.”
How did you then get to be invited to write with BTS?
Max: “After that initial thing of being added to J-Hope’s playlist, we started getting pitch sheets from them asking for songs. Sometimes you don’t really hear back and, as time goes by, you keep submitting stuff. Then one day we got this email and it was like golden ticket time.”
For those of us who aren’t familiar with it, what’s the process of working with BTS?
Matt: “I suppose it varies from project to project. Big Hit [BTS’ label] said to us, ‘we’re looking for tracks with this sort of vibe’. And then they’ll send two or three songs that are already out as the reference points. One of the things we sent we were actually very close to the reference and they don’t want that. They don’t want it to be a direct copy, they want it to be new, fresh, and original. Sometimes in a pitch process, you’re put in a position where you’re being asked to do something that is slightly out of your comfort zone. When that happens, I think that is when you start to copy because you’re like, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to write a tropical house track and I’ve never written one before.'”
Max: “There’s a lot of back and forth on email with the guys. They work very fast. They’re very efficient.”
Matt: “They don’t sleep. They have the most amazing work ethic of anyone. If you send them an email at what would be four in the morning in Korea, they get back to you and they’re like, ‘Hi!’, wide awake. You feel like you’re more sleepy than they are.”
Have you heard what they’ve done with the tracks yet?
Max: “We’ve heard ‘Mikrokosmos’, we haven’t heard ‘Jamais Vu’ so we’re really excited to hear it. We love ‘Mikrokosmos’. Hearing the final version, when you hear the raps that the boys have done, they’re wicked, they’re so good.”
Matt: “That’s obviously a huge part of who they are – there’s three rappers so that’s not something that we do. That comes purely from them, we don’t have any involvement in that. They know exactly what they want and how to do it. To be fair, they’re the best at what they do so there’s no point us trying to tell them.”
What’s the response from ARMY been like?
Matt: “I can put my phone on loudspeaker for you and you can work it out for yourself. It’s been going ‘Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!’ The thing is, as well, they have so much appreciation for the writers that do it. They don’t get all, ‘My boys have written this’. What they say to you is, ‘Welcome to the family’. They say it like they’re bringing you in. It’s great ‘cos they’re so loyal.”
Are you hoping to work with BTS again?
Matt: “100%. I just used the word loyalty there and, if you look back at the albums that they’ve done previously right through to now, it is the same writers and the same producers and the same team. So for them to let somebody new in is a big deal and we hope it’s something we can sustain because we’ve loved it and it’d be fantastic if we could keep that relationship.”
Max: “We are planning to make a writing trip to go to Seoul at some point this year.”
What else are you working on at the moment?
Max: “We’ve got a few singles that we’re finalising now so we’re gonna be releasing those pretty soon and then that will culminate in an EP in the next couple of months.”
Matt: “Because BTS have got a worldwide platform, it’s given us the chance to go out and we’re going to lap that up for all we can because it gives us a chance to work with the best people all around the world. We’ve also done a track, which we’re hoping will be our next single. We wrote it with Ryan Lawrie and Marcus McCoan, who we all wrote ‘Mikrokosmos’ together so that will be nice cos it’s the exact same team. That was the first thing we did together as a team and this is the second. So we’re setting the bar pretty high!”