You might know of Orlando Higginbottom, or Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, because of his feather-filled headdresses. Or you might be one of the million-plus viewers who has checked out his video for “Garden.” His debut album, Trouble, is due out June 12 on Casablanca, and we recently sat down with Higginbottom and talked about dance music in America, his humanitarian efforts in the Congo and, yes, wearing headdresses.
What’s with the Aztec/Native-American-inspired attire?
I’m not really trying to do a Native American or Aztec thing. I have two headdresses out of the many that I’ve got that have been photographed a lot, which is why those feathery ones come up the most. That’s just chance that people picked up on things. With the costumes, it’s always just an aesthetic, a look. I’ve had fun, and I’m not thinking about it too much. The first costume I made was with my mom.–we made a dinosaur one-piece–and then I found a friend who got involved and helped make stuff. She mainly made dance costumes. I’ve never said it needs to be like this and this is the image I wanna put forward. That that is too camp or that’s too this. If it’s fun, I’ll wear it. It’s not about being trendy or in fashion. It’s definitely not about being in fashion. I wonder how I’ll look back on it in 20 years’ time.
It’s a little Lady Gaga.
She wears mad shit. She has worn some incredible outfits. My favorite thing that I saw was on an English TV show. She was sitting playing the piano. She was wearing this massive white dress. Halfway through the show, these wings just popped up, these massive things. She looked like she was going to turn into a butterfly. It was amazing.
You have a headpiece design competition on your website right now. Why did you decide to launch that?
I had a poster competition for my first U.K. headlining tour that I just did myself and I launched on Facebook and was like, “Does anyone wanna make me a poster?” I got like 150 posters sent in, and everyone really enjoyed it and enjoyed voting. So I thought, “Why not do a headpiece thing?” And this really cool talent house came in to kind of post it, and they supplied the prizes…dreamy, dreamy shit. They’ve got like a month to go. I’ve seen a few figures, and there’s a lot of people getting involved.
Do you get as strong of a response to your music in America as you do in Europe?
It varies form city to city, venue to venue. However, electronic music is going to blow up in America. The problem is that you will see something organic that has happened, people are finding it their own way. Now big companies are getting involved, and it will be force fed, and it will turn into something else. It will turn into a huge beast. It will just be massive. I don’t know if I will have anything to do with it. I don’t really care. Dance music in America will be as big as indie was 10 years ago.
I guess you could look at the recent write up in the New York Times about Ultra as evidence of that.
Exactly. When people with money see that, they go running.
Your involvement in the DRC Music project for Oxfam gave you the opportunity to work with Damon Albarn in the Congo. How did that happen?
That came about because my publishers are the same, and they knew about the project. There was a big list of people to contribute, and a lot of people couldn’t commit or wouldn’t commit or chickened out. As soon as I heard about it I was like, “OK, I gotta do this. This is gonna blow my mind in one way or another.” And it did. It was fucked up. I’m really happy with the project. I feel like it should have gotten a bit more press and been a bit more successful. It’s been a bit under the radar. But it was cool. I’m still kind of processing it. That was my first time doing a charity thing and first time in Africa.
What were some of the things you saw in the quick seven days spent making the album?
We were out there for seven days. We basically had six to write an album. We were either at the hotel or we were at the place where we were doing the writing, which was a French culture center. We had two studios set up and this big courtyard where all these musicians were being brought to and were setting up and playing, and we were recording and picking individuals out. There were overwhelming amounts of music and beautiful things. And at the same time this just complete poverty and corruption in the city, which was basically built on what felt like a landfill site. It was pretty dangerous. We never got out of the car. It wasn’t a holiday. It wasn’t a tourist trip. It was work and really intense and difficult. Everybody had points of extreme highs and extreme lows. We also got taken out to a few gigs like rehearsals in people’s houses. It was unbelievable. I’ve got recordings on a field recorder, but it’s not my music to show anybody. It’s for me.
In an interview with BBC Radio, you said that after your experience in the Congo, coming home and listening to music felt a little empty. How has that altered your technique?
I don’t know if maybe it has just made me appreciate what really good music is. Because I work in dance music, a lot of it is fucking simple. To the point of being pretty much crap. It’s just like bass line and drums and a silly little sample from somewhere, and sometimes that can be amazing, but sometimes it’s so simple that it’s completely void of any emotion at all. So I think it has just made me want to put more humanity and more emotion into my music. When I was out there it was like dudes playing homemade guitars, and there were like five guys singing and playing sticks of metal stolen from the sides of buildings. Just hearing how organic and real that was and sort of going back to mass-produced stuff on the computers with zero soul in it just felt pretty wrong.