It’s 9:45 pm on a Thursday evening, and in historic London venue The Roundhouse, two ethereal figures – in get-up that can only be described as beekeepers at a funeral – hold court. Strobes are going off like it’s the wee hours at Fabric, as ‘90s house-infused vocal samples and jangling pianos are blaring through the speakers; the two figures, shrouded in their black headpieces, are egging the rave on.
And then, out of the darkness, two forces of nature bound onstage: Confidence Man’s Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, the band’s enigmatic, party-starting duo. Having hopped off stage for a quick costume change (one of many), they’re now back and ready to ignite revelry. The former is decked out in a conical bra à la Madonna, only Janet’s goes one better and lights up. Her partner in crime is in matching electrified shoulder-pads, the pair adding to the vibrant lightshow as they break out into choreographed dance routines.
This is a trademark Confidence Man show: a place to dance until you forget the horrors of the outside world, one where you’ll be transported to Ibiza and back within their euphoric 90-minute set. Ballsy, brilliant and, at times, totally batshit, it’s probably the most fun you’ll have at a gig all year.
Days earlier, we meet Janet and Sugar backstage in a cosy green room between soundcheck and their live show at KOKO, preparing for the first date of their UK tour and the opening of a three-night London residency. The humour of their live show permeates the conversation, and they’re warm, witty and willing to take the piss. A question about what they’d add to their show if money and stage logistics were no obstacle, turns into plans for an aquarium-style stage in which they’d arrive on dolphins. When asked how things have changed in the past six years since the band formed, the duo respond at the same time.
“I think we’re better,” says Janet.
“I’ve got a wooden leg,” asserts Sugar. Both are plausibly true.
This current run of concerts are in support of the group’s stellar second album ‘TILT’, a euphoric blend of rave, house and massive breakbeats released in April this year. NME gushed that “the Brisbane electro-poppers’ second album is more emotionally rounded than its predecessor, but they remain ridiculous in all the right places”. From trance-laced celebrations of letting loose and partying (the Orbital-inspired ‘Holiday’), to sun-drenched Balearic bangers (‘Luvin U Is Easy’), it’s a rapturous listen.
These London shows in particular are a hot ticket: even the band struggled to bag one. At home in Melbourne when the shows went on sale, the band logged on to have a peek at demand, but failed. “We were like: ‘the site’s broken, alert everyone, get it sorted’. Turns out that it just sold out in like a minute…” Sugar reveals.
The buzz around the band’s live show has spread like wildfire, fuelled by word of mouth, the success of their recent album and, in no small part, by videos of their triumphant Friday afternoon Glastonbury performance on The Park Stage.
With the stage presence of seasoned professionals it’s hard to believe that the band first formed in 2016, with the assorted members making music in assorted bands in their local scene: The Belligerents, Moses Gunn Collective and Jungle Giants. The quartet is rounded off by elusive musicians Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild, the aforementioned beekeepers, who pinched their on-stage monikers from IRL graveyard tombstones. The masked multi-instrumentalists prefer to keep a low-profile, leaving the limelight to Janet and Sugar.
“It was bizarre writing party bangers as the world fell apart” – Sugar Bones
The quartet lived together in a shared house in Brisbane’s West End that was home to “eight or nine” musicians. “Everyone was doing psych-rock, and I was there doing bloody marketing, not doing music at all!” Janet remembers.
“These guys were jamming and I was coming in and getting drunk like ‘what’s up!’ I was in there singing French over some of the tracks. And then one day we kicked everyone else out, and we were like ‘us four are going to be a band now,’ as we’d written a whole bunch of sick tracks,” Janet says.
It took a while for the band to find their groove. With Sugar initially hesitant to join Janet in her synchronised dancing, it took a few months for him to find his groove. “I was like: ‘I kind of like this!’” he says, miming the newfound confidence in his moves.
Having written “a few silly sounding songs that we thought were kind of fun,” these tracks helped Confidence Man pick up a manager; in 2017, they signed to UK indie Heavenly Recordings, home to Saint Etienne & King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. “It was pretty clear from the start that Janet Planet was going to be a star and I was going to be an assistant star. And that’s how it kind of played out,” says Sugar.
The following year, they released killer debut album ‘Confident Music for Confident People’, a no-fucks-given collection of fizzing dance-pop. Given the four-star treatment here at NME, we called it “MDMAzing pretension-free fun for the masses.”
The release of their debut album was followed by years of touring, playing stages across the globe and fast becoming a festival favourite. This trajectory of bigger and bigger stages looked set to continue throughout 2020 and beyond, but – as is all too familiar a story now – the pandemic saw things screech to a halt.
The pause allowed for perspective: “There was such a big silver lining in the pandemic for us – we suddenly had time,” Sugar says. “After four years of constantly touring the same album, everyone started asking ‘where’s the new one’. We just hadn’t had a chance to write at all.”
“The fact that the world just stopped for a year and a half was really good for us, and it gave us that time to reevaluate and put everything together to come up with the new album.”
“We wanted create something that we hadn’t really seen in music culture” – Janet Planet
Settling back into their shared house, the quartet began work on ‘TILT’. “It was bizarre because the whole world was falling apart, and we were trying to write uplifting, anthemic party bangers,” Sugar says. Writing in their home studio, they’d then try the songs out in their home club, nicknamed the Fuck Bunker, a converted shed in in their backyard. “The neighbours hated us, understandably,” says Janet.
These songs acted as a form of escapism in those unprecedented months. “It was all this big fabrication of what we wanted to be, and what we wanted to be doing,” says Janet of the musical process. “It’s just a testament to how music can actually take you out of the situation and make you feel good,” Sugar adds.
The results of this writing period became ‘TILT’. It’s sonically heavier than their kitsch debut, something they acknowledge as a direct impact of what they had on repeat during the early days of writing. Listening to ‘90s rave, R&B and Balearic beat, with Janet Jackson and Off The Meds getting specific name checks, the record became a wild ride destined to be seen in the live arena.
Ideas for what the next live show would entail in tandem. “When we write, we naturally write for what we can imagine is going on onstage,” says Janet. They got creative at home coming up with costume ideas: the earliest prototype for the “David Byrne on acid” style suits that Janet and Sugar don as they walk on stage were made out of bamboo gardening poles.
“I was in the garden and saw my tomatoes were dying,” Janet says. “I just pulled the poles out of the ground and I had this puffer jacket on, and I was like…”, here Janet mimes putting the poles up her sleeves, demonstrating the mechanics of these squared-off outfits.
The aim when going into creating this wild on-stage party was to “create something that we hadn’t really seen in music culture,” Janet says. “There’s all these things where I was like, ‘I wish I could see that or do that’. So it’s just a big mish-mash of all these things that we want in a live show… it’s all the fun without any faff.”
Their first performances with this new material were a shock to the system, having to learn and remember choreography for a bevy of new songs. By the time Glastonbury arrived in June they’d done the show countless times and were ready. “Anything that didn’t work we took out of the set by then. There were things that didn’t work like the flying cowboy hat,” Janet says.
“People aren’t ready for magic yet in the dance world, but they will be,” Sugar adds.
Speaking to fans in the queue ahead of their show at KOKO, a recurring theme appears, with a host of revellers explaining they found out about the band because of their acclaimed Glasto set. “I’d never seen them before but saw them there and it blew me away,” one punter tells NME. “I don’t think we’ve ever had so much FOMO before”, adds another, who watched their performance from home.
“Tame Impala messaged us about doing a remix – we accidentally ignored him for months” – Janet Planet
Playing Friday afternoon on The Park after buzzy Brit band Wet Leg, it was a wild weekend. “It was very surreal walking out onto that stage, because we didn’t know what to expect,” says Janet. “We didn’t know if it was going to be just our loyal fans, or if there was going to be a huge crowd, particularly playing after Wet Leg. I was like: ‘is everyone gonna leave?’”
“It’s something we’ve heard about our whole lives, and then to be there doing it is very surreal,” Sugar agrees.
“I can hardly even remember what happened, and watching it back I was like: ‘Oh yeah, that was sick, that was really good!’” Janet concludes. For those in the audience it felt like a similarly defining moment. As one of the first festivals back post-pandemic, there could have been times where the audience held back; instead, they kick-started some seriously hedonistic weekends.
They well and truly embraced the Glastonbury experience, catching Warmduscher, Burna Boy, Calvin Harris, Megan Thee Stallion and more throughout the weekend. “We really got into it this time. Almost too much. I was sick for weeks afterwards,” Janet says. The sign of a Glasto well done.
One thing that these big festival stages bring is the necessity of winning over a new crowd. With their music being so bold and tongue-in-cheek, have they faced opposition?
“You can see a crowd when they’re a bit uneasy at first, which for people who don’t know anything about us is normally what happens. Where they’re just standing still for the first song or two,” says Sugar. “But generally we can just break through that stiffness and then all of a sudden everyone gets it, and lets their hair down.”
Usually able to win over a crowd “by about the fifth song”, there have only been a couple of shows where they struggled: “One was Margate with Noel Gallagher, that was probably the hardest crowd,” says Janet. One of several support slots they played with the Oasis legend’s solo outfit, this particular show proved tricky: “I remember Sugar popping champagne on them, and them just putting their raincoats on.”
On the road, the band are now working on new material and the pair tease a recent recording session in the UK for a tune which will “probably” come out next year. This follows their September release of ‘Re-Tilt’, a remix EP starring musical pals like Chai, Daniel Avery and Tame Impala.
The Tame Impala remix came about when Kevin Parker slid into their DMs on Instagram. Hearing through the grapevine that he’d hit them up, the band didn’t believe it until they checked their hidden requests section of their Instagram messages only to see they’d missed his messages. “It’d been two months we hadn’t replied to him,” Janet says. Thankfully he didn’t hold it against them and produced a remix of ‘Holiday’ for the project.
“We’re old fans being Aussies, coming from that Tame Impala heritage,” Sugar adds. “It was just weird, we were like, ‘Are you serious, Kev?’”
Having achieved this global success over the past six years. Looking to the future, where do the band want to be in another six? “On that mega yacht, sitting back, retired,” Sugar jokes.
“We popped champagne on Noel Gallagher’s crowd in Margate; they just put on their raincoats”
“Madison Square Garden,” adds Janet, and the duo get to planning a fictional comeback show. “Maybe we’ll do some kind of art piece in Madison Square Garden where we just sit there and drink cocktails and watch the crowd, and that’s the art piece.”
“Make them dance,” Sugar adds, encouraging the story.
“Yeah exactly, a show where we do as little as possible ‘cos we’ll be too old by then,” Janet responds. “We only have another good three years in these bodies!” Jokes aside, the duo are positive about the future. “I just think the bigger we get, the more opportunities we’ll have to kind of come up with bigger crazier ideas,” says Janet.
Later during their live show, the dynamic duo don sunglasses for a raucous rendition of ‘C.O.O.L Party’ and when Janet Planet gets to the lyric: “Do you wanna come to the party of the year?” she’s met with elated screams. As Sugar sprays champagne on the front row of the audience, the track’s breakbeats ricocheting around the Roundhouse, and sweaty bodies shimmying around the room, she doesn’t really need to ask – we’re already there.
Confidence Man’s ‘TILT’ is out now on Heavenly Recordings