“Everyone in London Just Sort of Gets on With It”: An Interview With Paranoid London

Jackson Dianni speaks to the UK-based electronic duo about their new album Arseholes, Liars and Electronic Pioneers being made to be played at festivals, being introduced to Acid House and more.
By    March 20, 2024

Image via Paranoid London/Instagram

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The name “Paranoid London” sounds like a headline you would read in the Daily Mail after a riot. Or the name of a pirate radio channel. It’s suggestive of something seedy and restless, an unseen force below the surface, and it’s a fitting moniker for this enigmatic U.K. electronic duo, whose music draws on a variety of styles, including punk, hip hop, rave, and industrial. Although born on opposite sides of the country, Gerardo “Del” Delgado and Quinn Whalley both ended up in the London area in the 2000s, where they met and began producing tracks together. They’ve been putting together a vital and uncompromising discography ever since.

Their music is an explicit sonic homage to “acid house,” a relatively-obscure sub-genre of house music that blipped in and out of existence in the mid/late-1980s. Ironically, it’s not even native to London (or even the U.K.), but rather Chicago. Characterized by sequenced TB-303 basslines and analog drum machines, it peaked circa 1987 and had all but disappeared by the 1990s, when it was picked up by DJs in London and Manchester, who gave it a renewed popularity. Del and Quinn are some of its last well-known practitioners.

What differentiates their pastiche from traditional acid house music has been a slate of distinctive guest vocalists (Mutado Pintado, Josh Caffé), all of whom exhibit a similar style of deadpan speak-singing. A flat delivery that calls to mind No Wave, somewhere between ranting, spoken-word, and free-associative poetry.

In the beginning of their career, Paranoid London were reclusive. They refused to do interviews, released all their music exclusively on vinyl (no CDs, no downloads), and did zero promotion. Cultivating an air of mystery turned them into cult figures, and earned them a dedicated audience. Until, one day, they decided to step out from behind the curtain. The decision to speak on record coincided with the end of a lengthy between-albums hiatus, and they’ve since become a fixture of the club and festival scenes in the U.K.

In this interview, I tried to fill in some of the gaps of their story. We talked about their backgrounds in West Surrey and Manchester, their early influences, how they hooked up with Alan Vega, and their latest album, Arseholes, Liars and Electronic Pioneers, which was released on February 9. – Jackson Diianni

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

Are you both primarily self-taught musicians? Where did you first pick up your recording skills?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: I wouldn’t call us musicians (laughs).

Quinn Whalley: My dad’s a musician, so he always had drum machines lying around. I could play the recorder, which was cool. I was quite good at that. But that’s the extent of any musical training that I ever had.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: I did piano for about six weeks, and that was it, when I was a kid. Far too boring. So the answer to your question is ‘no.’

Del, I know you’re from West Surrey. Can you tell me a little about how that geographical context informed your music?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: Surrey’s just outside London, so it’s about 40 minutes on the train. It’s not too far. There’s not much to do in Surrey. Everyone’s quite well-to-do. And when I was a kid, I found the train that went from where I lived to London, and then I discovered Soho, which had all the record shops. And that was it, I literally skipped school most weeks and ended up walking around Soho and spending most of my time in record shops discovering wonderful bands and records. So yeah, Surrey’s boring, but London’s amazing when you’re a kid. Now it’s the opposite. I can’t wait to go back to Surrey.

And then Quinn, same question re: Manchester?

Quinn Whalley: I mean, I moved out of there – we moved when I was like three years old. So not much. No, actually, that’s rubbish! Because we used to go back there all the time. And in fact, I lied on the last question as well, because I did have a bit more musical training. The guy that used to play drums for my dad is called Bruce Mitchell, and he was in a band called The Durutti Column that was on Factory Records, and he taught me how to play the drums in Manchester as well.

What kinds of music did your families listen to? Is there anything they used to play that stuck with you when you were growing up?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: My mom and dad are Spanish, so I was brought up on merengue, salsa, flamenco… wonderful Spanish disco, which is what really stuck out to me, ‘cause it was, like, quite cosmic. And a lot of pop records thrown in there as well… No electronica. ‘Popcorn.’ Do you remember the record ‘Popcorn’? That was the first electronic record my dad and mom owned. So, yeah, wasn’t that cool. But it was great. I mean, salsa and merengue is amazing. It’s all about rhythm and beats, so it’s all good. Like, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz… Lot of that going on.

Quinn Whalley: Yeah, and then mine was – I mean, I’m named after a Bob Dylan song. My brother’s named after a Van Morrison song. My mom and dad were hippies. So lots of Bob Dylan, lots of blues, lots of Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, Dr. John… stuff like that.

In an interview with MixMag, you said the name ‘Paranoid London’ was inspired by the 7/7 bombings. Would you guys characterize the political climate in London as one of paranoia and distrust?

Quinn Whalley: No, London’s pretty cool! Yeah, London’s alright. Everyone in London just sort of gets on with it. It’s when you get outside London that people are paranoid that there’s loads of people coming over and stealing their jobs and stuff. But London’s alright. Yeah, it’s nice. Yeah, everyone gets on with each other, really. It’s alright.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: Well, not 100%.

Quinn Whalley: Yeah, yeah, but it’s pretty chilled-out in London.

You guys avoided press appearances for a long time. Why was that?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: We had nothing to say (laughs). The main reason was, we wanted to let the music do the talking. There’s nothing worse than, you know, you put your name to a record, and people know who you are, they either buy it because they like you, or they don’t listen to the music. But if you put something out, and it does really well, or people like it, just because it’s the music, you’ve done your job. So that was the reason we didn’t do any press at the start. Just like, put the albums out, put the twelves out, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So that was the reason behind it.

As a follow-up, when you guys started doing interviews, did it ever feel like that ruined the mystique? Or does it feel natural now?

Quinn Whalley: It’s alright! Yeah!

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: We got used to it now.

Quinn Whalley: We could sit and talk about ourselves all day now! You just, I don’t know, like he said, once you realize that no one’s expecting you to say anything important, it’s alright (laughs).

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: I mean, the reason we started doing interviews was, it got a bit boring trying to be, you know, underground and cool and putting out three hundred vinyl records. It just became very same-same. You can only do that for so long before it’s just … it’s boring for us! I’m sure it’s boring for everyone else, but for us, it’s like, you know what? I finally said, let’s do the interviews. Let people see who we are. How wonderful – beautiful we are (laughs). And how much shit we’ve got to say, basically.

Acid house was obviously a Chicago thing for a long time, and then it got really popular in the U.K. too. Why do you think it translated so well? What made it accessible to people in London and Manchester?

Quinn Whalley: There’s a theory about this. I can’t remember who it was, but it’s sort of, like, a proper academic theory about this. And it’s that – so when our generation was growing up in this country, the funding was cut to the state television channel, the BBC. And so what they did was they got rid of all the musicians that used to play the theme-tunes to the children’s TV programs, and they made something called the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and they had to make all the theme-tunes electronically using, like, tape-splicing and stuff like that. And so this entire generation of children that were brought up on electronic ‘bleeps’ and ‘bloops’ as like the theme-tunes to all their kids’ TV programs… So when acid house and techno and what-have-you, like, first came over here, we’d already been listening to it since we were, like, six years old on the BBC. So that’s the theory about it all. And it’s true, if you remember, all our TV programs that we had had these, like, vulgar theme-tunes.

A lot of your guest vocalists have a very flat, deadpan delivery, almost like rapping. Is it a conscious choice on your part to pair your beats with that kind of vocals? Or are you just drawn to that type of performer?

Quinn Whalley: I think both of us – most of the bands that we liked, the singers weren’t, like, sort of, very good at singing or nothing like that. So it’s just kind of the way that we like to hear people. It’s sort of a throwback to the kind of bands – the kinds of singers in the bands that we like, really. It doesn’t work so well if you have a virtuoso singer, like, doing all the Whitney Houston sort of stuff. It doesn’t really do it for me. Sorry, kids!

Congrats on the new record. What do you want people to take away from this project?

Quinn Whalley: Come and see us! The takeaway is ‘I would definitely go and see those guys, if they ever come to my town.’ That would be a really good takeaway.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: I would say it’s a bit different from the other albums. Most of our records are made for, like, clubs between five hundred and a thousand people sweating in a little sweaty box, where this album was made because we played so many big festivals. All the records had to be made to hit the back of the field with ten thousand people. So it’s a bit more up-and-down, and it’s, you know, there’s a bit more singing, and there’s a bit more build-up, and, you know, it drops out. It’s a bit more dramatic, the whole thing. Do you know what I mean? So this one is basically – it’s made for festivals, this album, where the other two albums were made for clubs. And we’ve got new, amazing visuals for the festival scenes. You know, the music goes with the visuals. We’re working hard on this! We actually thought on this one! Normally, we just put it out. This one, we actually worked hard.

The track “People (Ah Yeah)” is a much more low-key and melodic track than most of your other material. How did that track come together?

Quinn Whalley: It just didn’t work when we tried to do sort of a banging track with Bobby. So, we just sort of – we came in the studio, we tried it out, it didn’t work. Then I think it was Del called him up and was just like, “Mate, why don’t we try something a bit more, you know, like the old stuff that you used to make?” And then I think he called back like two days later, really excited, he’d written the song, sang it to us on the phone, and it was great. But yeah, it just came about like that because, like, it just didn’t work when we tried to do something banging. And I don’t know whether that was our fault, but it just didn’t happen, so yeah. We just tried something else.

This is your first time working with Joe Love from Fat Dog. How did you guys link up?

Quinn Whalley: He’s sort of on the similar scene to some other bands that we know. And yeah, it was just sort of, like, looking around and – I can’t remember how we got in touch with him. Right, somebody – one of us phoned him up and said, “Do you want to come do a track?” and he was like, turns out he was quite into our stuff. So we went and met him down the pub, and then, yeah, then a couple of months or so later we came to the studio and we just made the track. Pretty easy, really. Because when we met him, his whole band showed up. At some point, it looked like we were gonna record the whole band. But then I think they all split up before he could come to the studio. But yeah, it was pretty easy. We just literally called him up and said, “Mate, do you want to do a track?” and he said, “Yeah.” And so we did. It was cool. It was brilliant as well. Yeah, he’s really good fun to work with.

Do you usually tailor your beats to the collaborator, or do you let them choose from a couple beats?

Quinn Whalley: So usually, we sort of do something – we’ll make something that doesn’t sound like a Paranoid London record. You know, like it might even have some chords on it, or something like that! So that whoever it has has got something they can – there’s a bit more to sort of grab onto. And then, you know, once you’ve got the vocal with them, then we just rip out all the music and just do the music again. It’s almost like remixing it or whatever, really. We’ll rip out all the music and start again with it. And yeah, just start mucking about basically. ‘Cause it’s quite difficult if you just give someone a really moronic loop that just goes round and round, and then, like, expect them to be able to come up with something. So it’s good to give them something that moves about a bit, and does a bit more. And then, yeah, you wouldn’t believe it – some of them sound like actual songs when we give it to them! And then we just take all that out and put the moronic stuff behind it at the end.

Have you gotten requests for collaboration outside your usual group of artists? Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?

Quinn Whalley: I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone request, have we?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: No.

Quinn Whalley: I don’t think anyone has ever asked to collaborate with us at all.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: ‘Cause we use a group of people that are quite freakish. And they’ve got their own stuff. I think most people would be pretty scared to try and join in, because they have to sort of live up to all these people. Like, they’re amazing, do you know what I mean? So I think that most people wait to be asked. They need to be loved first, and then they jump on. But yeah, we don’t really get asked.

Quinn Whalley: Yeah, no one’s ever asked us to collaborate. Like, some people ask us to do remixes for them and stuff, but no one’s ever asked us to collaborate.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: I’ve got a list of people we want to work with. The list is as long as my arm. Can’t tell you who, though! Because they’re all in the pipeline. But yes, there’s always people that – and the other thing is, most of them are really old. And I’m trying to get them before they die. So yeah, there’s a million people.

What do you guys find yourselves listening to these days? Are there any current artists you feel are doing stuff in a similar vein to your music?

Quinn Whalley: Most of the stuff that we hear that’s really cool is being played by someone in a setting of either a nightclub or something like that, so we hear loads of amazing music, but I can’t remember the names of any of the people who were ever on it. I don’t know about Del, but for me, most of the amazing stuff that I hear is when we’re out, and we hear, like, people playing stuff.

I’m a big fan of the band Suicide, and I know you guys collaborated with Alan Vega. Can you tell me about that process?

Quinn Whalley: So we met Arthur Baker in Barcelona. We got off the plane and Arthur Baker was standing there. We thought, “This is never going to happen again,” so we went over, made idiots of ourselves, like, introduced ourselves and what have you. Then a few months later, I was in London and I went to a Suicide gig at the Barbican with Clams Baker (Mutado Pintado). And we went to the Suicide gig, and then literally the next day, we got into the studio, and there was an email from Arthur Baker, saying, “Oh, we’ve got this thing that I made with Alan Vega years ago that never got released. Would you help out on it?” Like, this is the next day after that. So, I phoned Del, and then we freaked out, and then he sent us over the parts, and that was how the Suicide thing came about. We met Arthur Baker, and luckily we introduced ourselves, because had we not, then he probably wouldn’t have thought of us to do the thing with Alan Vega. I think it was the last Suicide show they ever did in England. And then, yeah, the next morning, there was the email from Arthur.

Did you guys ever meet Alan Vega?

Quinn Whalley: Unfortunately, no. Clams did. Mutado. He used to run – outside New York – this party. This, like, big house. And he would sort of get together art people, band people, and club people, and just throw them into this scenario. And anyway, he put Suicide once to come and play there. And they came and played, and this was, like, what was this? It was like a squat party in this house. And then at the end of the night, he went over and I think he was talking to Martin Rev, and basically it transpired, you know, he went over to thank him for doing the gig and stuff, ‘cause he was quite surprised that they did the gig for him. And it transpired that they had only done the gig because they had a friend who had exactly the same name as Clams, and they thought that when they booked him, they thought that they were working for their friend, Clams. They didn’t realize. They would never have done the gig if they’d known it was him. They only found out when they showed up. So, yeah. I think I was once in the same room as Martin Rev. But yeah, no, I never met Alan Vega, but Clams did. Clams actually booked them and had them play in his little squat party in New York, which was probably pretty cool, I imagine.

Looking ahead, what’s next for Paranoid London?

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: The next thing is we revamped the DJ thing. We don’t do DJ sets anymore, we do a hybrid thing, which is basically, like, we DJ loops, but then we add on top of that drum machines, 303s and 202s and all sorts of things over the top and make it, you know, completely live, but with a DJ setting. And then the actual live show has been revamped, so it’s me and Quinn with these amazing visuals – I mean, literally insane visuals. It’s from a guy called – what’s his name?

Quinn Whalley: Bob Jaroc.

Gerardo “Del” Delgado: Bob Jaroc. He does all this stuff for Fatboy Slim and people like that. And he’s amazing. Insane. The visuals are brilliant. So the live’s got the visuals. We set that up. The DJ is also on a different level, because he’s all about loops, adding drums, and you know, adding other basslines on top, and just, you know, making it completely live as well. So that’s what we’ll be doing for the next eighteen months probably. Hopefully.

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