Dan Bartlett has got his eye on the prize. As the boat courses through the English Channel, a few miles out from Eastbourne harbour, the songwriter and producer is slowly lifting his fishing rod upwards, pointing it skyward. He exhales loudly, letting out an anxious sigh as the reel begins to speed into reverse; four mackerel have put some major pressure on the tip. “I can feel a cheeky little tug from beneath the sea…,” he exclaims, pulling his catch out of the water.
We’re an hour into a deep sea fishing trip, something which Bartlett and his collaborator Havelock Hudson – who perform together as Dumb Buoys Fishing Club – have ironically never experienced until today, despite their band name. This unconventional setting for an interview may be a bit of a lark, but it’s not a totally meaningless one. In their music videos, the duo embody the characters of “two degenerate fishermen”, and can be seen frollicking around the beaches of Hastings in neon waterproof overalls and cargo vests. Their debut album ‘Wrecked’ (due September 15) is an intoxicating headrush of bass kicks and dizzying rap passages – frantic, fast and loose alt-pop that oscillates between the hyperactive energy of JPEGMAFIA and the measured cool of Jamiroquai.
As we circle the Royal Sovereign lighthouse, now 11 kilometres offshore, Bartlett and Hudson continue to firmly commit to the bit: kitted out in matching spoof Bass Pro Shops caps, they share Fisherman’s Friend lozenges and keep a tally of how many fish they catch over the course of the afternoon. They affectionately hype each other up with ease, too. “There was a near-instant creative spark here. We knew we landed on something unique pretty much straight away with this project,” says Bartlett, who’ll proceed to continuously refer to his friend as “Hal”. Hudson, meanwhile, is keen to show off a Dumb Buoys Fishing Club logo tattoo on his upper arm, which he got in LA on a recent songwriting trip.
If Barlett and Hudson seem like they’re in particularly excitable form, it’s at least in part because they have waited years for this moment to arrive. Having started out solo careers as DanDLion and Havelock respectively, both of them achieved moderate success in the UK’s alternative space. Bartlett closed out the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading Festival 2022, where he was joined by Griff; Hudson gained momentum across TikTok with 2020’s ‘Scrambled’. As ‘Wrecked’ highlights ‘Life Jacket’ and ‘Fortune Teller’ demonstrate, however, they always had bigger ambitions as producers – and Dumb Buoys Fishing Club proved a unique opportunity to let their imaginations run wild.
“We kept the faith in the music that we were making, and made sure to keep the album close to ourselves and not let anyone else hear it for a while,” says Hudson, explaining how he and Bartlett started work on ‘Wrecked’ in late 2020, having met a year prior in a studio session. “When we played [‘Wrecked’] to people, everyone’s reaction was the same. They were like, ‘Woah, what is this?’,” says Bartlett. “It made us think, ‘OK, we’re really proud of what we’ve made.’”
Having relocated to a picnic table situated on the main promenade, Bartlett and Hudson explain how a run of recent live shows – including dates at Boardmasters Festival and Glastonbury – encouraged them to “fully surrender” to the project, and take extra time to cultivate a striking visual identity. “We’ve had to let down our guard completely,” Hudson says, over a tub of ice cream. “We’ve found a way to be our most extroverted selves, there’s an escapist element to the music. Our purpose in our social circles is often being the clowns of the group, but here we can transmute that energy into something substantial.”
Bartlett adds: “I think we’re representing a youth culture of being as expressive as you want to be.” It’s here, mid-conversation, where you truly catch sight of the relentless determination that separates the pair from their peers; they want to be “nothing less than the best”, Bartlett says, and they’re putting in the work to make that happen. As an independent act, they are financially responsible for all the moving pieces that make up their videos, from conception to execution. A cursory scroll through their TikTok account will show that they film the clips themselves, using a wealth of camera effects and angles, across the southeast coast.
The gradual, yet notably enthusiastic response that Bartlett and Hudson are seeing towards their content across their social media is “proof”, they say, that forging ahead without a sizable team behind them has been the right choice all along – as well as abandoning the need for commercial success. “We really wanted to shake things up and just give people a smack on the face with this whole visual world of music,” Bartlett adds.
“It can sometimes feel like shouting into a vacuum, having to meet up each week and post our own videos,” he continues. “But we were sitting on this music for a while, and it became a blind faith situation: we had to trust the process and understand that the album will see the light of day when the time is right, which is now.” As he speaks, Bartlett is thoughtful and considered in his answers – even if there’s often a self-deprecating aside close to the surface. “I’m surprised we’re not sick of each other yet,” he adds. “But there’s a real synergy between us. It’s special.”
And off they go, cooler bags in hand, towards the train station to take their catch of the day home to London. You get the impression that this – a day out at sea, bouncing off each other’s jokes, picking up where they left off in the studio – is exactly where Bartlett and Hudson want to be. Their goal with Dumb Buoys Fishing Club is simply to honour that friendship.
Dumb Buoys Fishing Club’s debut album ‘Wrecked’ will be released on September 15