THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON
Almost from the beginning of Brian Dougan and Garry Cobainís mid-1980s association, the duo has been at the forefront of some groundbreaking experimentation in electronic music. In 1998, the single Stakker Humanoid ingeniously steered techno and acid house towards British mainstream acceptance, then in 1992, as The Future Sound of London, the track, Papua New Guinea, became a hugely influential rave and club classic.
FSOL albums such as Lifeforms, ISDN and Dead Cities next departed into post-apocalyptic experimentation, all the while accessible yet beyond classification. Meanwhile, the Amorphous Androgynous moniker dipped into ambient psychedelia on Tales of Ephidrina, and more recently, The Isness.
Now, after a 10-year hiatus, and following the recent release of the compilation album, Teachings from the Electronic Brain, FSOL looks set to reconvene its enigmatic history. In the most stunning and provoking FSOL interview ever printed, Barcode chats to the irrepressible, but equally charming, Garry Cobain about the project's past, present and futureÖ
FSOL is about to release a compilation album, Teachings From The Electronic Brain, have you had any input in compiling the album or did Virgin assume full control? Itís very difficult for anybody apart from us to put it together really. I think they probably would have liked to have done it by themselves, such is the nature, but we had to get involved and we were relieved actually that we could get involved. For a period there was the worry that, oh my god, if they carry this off without us it could make it absolutely impossible to continue with this name. Yíknow at the moment weíve been working on this psychedelic rock Amorphous Androgynous project, which is more of the direction that I have been into for the last years, but we both fully knew that at some point FSOL, and the things we did then Ė the modus operandi Ė would become relevant again and weíd have something to say under that name specifically. We want the name to be open and we want it to work still; we worried of course yeah, absolutely we got involved and did the ordering, editing, and every bit of control.
Itís a noticeably tight compilation that doesnít have the sort of tracks you would immediately expect for it to have on there? ErmÖ well in our mind we tried to make it a nice balance of night and dark, feminine/masculine Ė all these qualities. Thereís quite a few different sides to FSOL, there is the very, very abstract, what we term the more male, machine music. We tried to not go too extreme into that but keep it melodic, experimental, involving, yes the hits, but in maybe edited or slightly remixed form Ė thereís an edit of the Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) single on there. But actually, from our point of view, what we consider to be the most long-standing tracks, and try to get the balance right, which I think weíve done quite well.
It flows, which you donít normally find on compilation albums. Absolutely, I think a Greatest Hits would be very difficult for FSOL. In essence, we took advantage of an alternative system really. Yes, anything that is popular enough ends up being hit singles, thatís what pop music is, and it just so happened that during the period of 1990-1997 we had enough fans to take us into the top 40. It was basically by releasing 40-minute singles before that was stopped by the singles rule. In other words, what Iím leading on to say is, just to do a Greatest Hits would be difficult because our mentality at that time you must remember... Iím not sure if you would know this, was against the hit single (laughs), purely because we thought that a lot of albums were merely selling on the basis of hit singles. The whole essence of Lifeforms was to try and say, well look Ė we think the long form has been abused in favour of hit singles, so lets just write a bloody great, deep, emersive experience of an album. So, getting back to your point, I think thatís why it flows, because weíve had the legacy of people who have fought bloody hard, probably more than a lot of bands, to keep it, yes experimental, but also to keep it so it was music. Yíknow, Iíve been facing this recently very strongly through the process of putting this thing together, and as somebody who has been very much pursuing the rock and roll, psychedelic, cosmic dream of Amorphous Androgynous for the last 5-6 years, Iím almost quite distant from some aspects of FSOL, so I can almost be a pundit myself and just view it, which is quite a nice state to be in. What I would say about it, sort of flicking into that headspace, is that we really struggled hard to keep it totally far out, within the major label and pop music scenario Ė we were a very way out pop band if you like. And in a way, the reason why I think the album works is because we can flick between being very experimental and quite deep, and then the moments when we break through into being very accessible, so you get a nice balance. Thereís not many bands that can really say that, because the commercial forces that be always tip them one way or another. And letís face it, the really experimental bands probably wouldnít release a greatest hits. In other words, this compilation is quite an interesting thing because we do have that light and shade and that experimentation and commercialism. I guess thatís what appealed to us about it and I think the liner notes say it really well actually; there are the moments where you can hear everybody getting it, and the moments where you pull people away and there is a paradigm, a shift of consciousness, and then you pull back. And that was always the thing about FSOL wasnít it? What we called the immersive soup if you like, the idea that you lull people into the aesthetics of the soup, but actually within it some of the ingredients are fairly hard to swallow (laughs).
So whatís your attitude now to your earliest recordings now that youíve had the opportunity to look at them objectively? Some of it has faded on me, and the stuff that weíve put on this ďTeachingsĒ album is the stuff thatís remained with us. There is other stuff, but in order to get that balance right between light and dark, experimental and ďmusicĒ Ė for want of a simpler classification, these are the ones that we felt formed that right now. Really, if you look at the Amorphous Androgynous revolution if you like, why did I go into rock and femininity and psychedelia? Well I wanted more freedom, so in essence there was something in FSOL that I felt was holding me back. Amorphous Androgynous has been the healing of FSOL, itís enabled me to take the reigns and experiment with being me, wearing fucking flares, standing on a stage and being what I want be Ė a lot more outspoken, a lot more of a personality and to say too much. And when Brian and I talk these days, itís like whatever the growing pains of these projects have been and the shift into Amorphous Androgynous, which is quite painful Ė and we didnít realise it was happening for a while, it actually makes total sense now and enables us to revisit FSOL on good footing, because we have experimented with something that has, as a genre, has definitely kind of exploded. Psychedelic rock with electronic and ambient at a cosmic level is definitely out there, I mean I knew it was going to be and itís definitely happening. So Iím really happy to be doing that and the doing the live stuff thatís happening now, I want that in my armoury. But I also want to revisit some of what we started with FSOL because it was a bloody good experiment and nobody really has picked up the reigns of what we started. I mean, the ISDN transmissions, we stopped those basically because our vision was bigger than what we were actually managing to pull together. I mean, looking back Brian and I laugh almost, because maybe we should have been a bit more humble and kept going because it would have got to that stage that Iím imagining now Ė but in the ego of the time, and maybe that spoilt boy thing that I had, I was just like, well Iím collapsing it down because I just do not have the scale that I want. I wanted it to be a huge, immerse, wraparound, screens and audio, all the way round, experience. And yet, whatever technology we could pull, whatever support we could pull Ė and we had great support, looking back on it I had much more support then than I ever have had with this Amorphous Androgynous thing, it wasnít enough Ė we wanted to be much bigger and we werenít prepared to compromise; our attitude was Ė weíve done something so amazing here, the vision is massive, with the support this would go even more global. In a nutshell, our attitude was, look, Iím not prepared to write U2 hits and be as much of a pop band as that, no disrespect to them Ė Iím not going to be forced into achieving that first before I realise this vision. This vision will be massive BECAUSE the music is as way out as this. Do you get it?
You had some health problems, although quite a while ago. How did this experience manifest a change in your attitude towards making music? I mean, I presume the spiritual axis - if you want to call it that, on your last album - embracing Eastern sounds and philosophies - had a lot to do with that? Well, absolutely. I mean, briefly, I set off on a bit of a quest and found that I wasnít as free as I thought I was. And that was part of the health thing obviously, probably some repressed stuff and whatever. But anyway, there was a lot of physical manifestations of illness and I eventually traced one aspect of it down to mercury poisoning from my fillings. I had, basically toxic levels in my hair Ė probably about 100 times what was deemed to be safe, and thereís no safe level of mercury because itís secondary only to plutonium in terms of toxicity to the body. Yíknow, you can form your own conclusions about why weíre allowed to put mercury in our heads that obviously leaks into the body, and itís a massive subject and a very big issue for peopleís health around the world. Nevertheless, that then became deeper once I found the physical things, which I didnít find immediately, not everybody realises that mercury fillings might be related to their health unfortunately. I found it relatively quickly, within a year, but suffered since adolescence with lots of things.
Was it an actual overreaction? Iím just very hypersensitive and allergic to lots of things and just generally my energy wasnít even and wasnít good. I had a heart, which Ė we always joke actually that the reason why FSOL was so arrhythmic was because my heart is massively arrhythmic. If you look at the pulse of music itís probably related to the life force in the heart, so Iíve had an arrhythmic heart since god knows when Ė but it was knocked off kilter at some point. I was diagnosed by a Chinese acupuncturist who said, actually Iím really worried about your heart you have to go and see somebody. And one thing led to another, I didnít agree with the doctorís prognosis for me so I got into iovadic medicine and travelled off to India and went East basically. I mean, to get back to your question, the more that I began to get well, the more that I began to be open, the more that gradually the psychedelic dimension came in. By psychedelic I mean, the childish openness to see that the world is a multi-dimensional, colourful, unlimited place. A lot of people would say that FSOL was very multi-dimensional and of course it was, we pushed for it to be that, but a new dimension opened up. Whereas before we had the journalist who would say Ė it used to make us laugh actually, because they used to come in and say, ďyah, you are like Brian EnoĒ, and we would say, yeah, weíre very Brian, but actually, fuck, if you listen deeper weíre actually an organic electronic filter of a lot of stuff, from fucking Sinatra to Barbara Streisand, to Mahavishnu Orchestra, to Debussi, to Cocteau Twins.
Influences are so much deeper than that, encompassing everything in your whole life really? Absolutely, exactly, advert music, fucking porn music, whatever Ė itís all out there, itís all filtering. And that was the FSOL thing, we invented the idea of inert, armchair sampling, the idea that at some point you would just make music sitting in an armchair accessing everything coming through one system. We were talking about that in 1991-92, the idea that youíd just sit and have TV, computers Ė it was sort of early days of the Internet, but the idea that you would access all the sounds and basically be making and changing sound through this one system and outputting it in some way. I guess a massive part of FSOL, behind the scenes - we were never one of these electronic bands that just came up with far out titles for the sake of it. If you look at the 196-page book that went with Dead Cities and all the stories that I wrote, there was a real, frustrated communicator in me. I mean, now looking back on it, Brian and I have talked about this a hell of a lot over the last five years, basically between the balance of Brian and myself thereís quite a glorious Ying and Yang. Iím the guy who says too much, Brian is the guy that says too little, and within that balance heís learning from me, Iím learning from him Ė we come to a Ying and Yang balance. Brian is the man that utilises technology to write, and heís always inspired by technology, Iím inspired by going out there and being triggered by people, emotion, philosophy, literature Ė and then I come to technology and I spill that through the technology. And when I come from my travels, Brian is there, waiting basically, and heís done his research in technology, Iíve done my research Ė not that we are mutually exclusive, he obviously does have a life and does filter people, but primarily you have to be simplistic, this is quite good, I think this is truthful, Brian is very turned on by tech and Iím very turned on by the feminine aspects, communication. So in there really is FSOL, and if it gets out of balance and I take control too much you probably get a bit more of the Amorphous Androgynous thing, so Iím trying to bring him in a bit more to stamp his technology on it, because Amorphous Androgynous is very complex, itís a big band and The Isness was a very complex album. And we achieved some of it, and still actually technology was catching up with the way we were doing things, yíknow, we were combining bands and recording with technology in a way that was quite new at the time.
What do you perceive to have been the general feedback to The Isness since its release? Funny enough I think everything that Iíve started there is still coming into focus. What Iím realising is, I mean this is going to sound big-headed, so let me also quantify this before it gets taken out of context. Anybody that makes an effort to get into balance Ė I mean, Iím one of these people unfortunately that became so out of balance with health problems that I lost my balance to a certain degree. I had to do a lot of disciplinarian things to myself to get back into balance, I had to eat very carefully, I did Yoga every day for six years and actually became fixated with it. I meditated before every meal and fasted, and in an amazing period travelled and lived for me Ė it was incredibly selfish but my attitude was that I was only good as a father, lover, friend if I sorted myself out. So I kind of did a very, very serious experiment on myself, because I owed myself so I could do that experiment Ė I utilised what I had to find out who the hell I was. I canít remember what we were talking about, but it was relevant, what was the question?
The question was; what was the general feedback on your recent work. Thank you. So what Iím leading on to say, the big-headed thing is - I think that everybody basically is prophetic, has clairevoyance, everybody has a psychic dimension and I donít think anybody actually owns any idea or any creativity. I believe that musicians, and everybody in life, are a filter Ė all the ideas are floating around as energy, and every thought you have and every emotion and every need you have is vibrating around and we all transmit them out. And theyíre just hanging there really, and when that hits a critical ebb, when enough people are feeling things, then that revolution or that movement comes into being. And basically, what weíve had over the last five years, if you look at life generally; weíve had people beginning to realise theyíre not as free politically, spiritually, health wise as they thought they were. Weíre getting political revolution now, people are beginning to distrust politicians, weíre getting people now beginning to distrust the food chain, the supermarkets. Youíve had all this research, you had Eastern medicine becoming massive, acupuncture and yoga beginning to be major, organic food shops taking off, these are things that I came into ten years ago when they were minor movements and all of this is informed in the Amorphous Androgynous aspect. So yeah, how has it been received, well understanding is gathering still as we speak for Amorphous Androgynous. And actually, mySpace, funnily enough, and other network sites have been an amazing revelation of that. We only kind of went on there a couple of months ago with Amorphous and weíve had massive love from a lot of people who are really getting it. I always knew that I was beginning to be psychic through doing yoga, meditation and eating Ė basically a completely pure diet. I mean there was a period, let me tell you Ė to make it more light Ė where people were ringing me up and putting bets on football matches based on my psychic ability.
Were they successful predictions? Yeah, there was a couple. There was one quite famous match where Man Utd, in a European final, won 3-2. I was getting very clear signals Ė Iíd basically got 3-1 or something, I was very close. I just got it slightly wrong and let them down on the big one.
(Laughs) But on the run up to that they had made some money from it. Yeah, it was quite weird because the psychic ability was one where I would just imagine the newspaper the next day and I found that I could actually basically see the way that the numbers felt good; especially after meditation.
Could you predict the content of your reviews too? No, I could just almost like jump forward in time and see the score Ė it would feel right. To the brain they wouldnít feel right, because youíd get these ridiculous scores, yíknow, youíd get Arsenal losing 3-2 to Watford. If you allowed your mind to do it, it would never work Ė it would just feel right. So how did the music change? This is where it starts to relate back Ė Iíve led you on a bit of a merry dance, spun you round.
No, carry on, I prefer it to the rigidity of some interviews. Yeah, exactly. So how has it changed me? Well itís made me a completely expressive human being, much freer, much more of a humble maniac. I love Devendra Banhartís words on one of his songs, he says ďIím a humble man who says what he feelsĒ. Thatís me, Iím humble but Iím strong enough to say exactly my strengths. Some people mistake it as arrogance but Iím not saying that anybody else should feel it or go on my trip, Iím just saying this is me and Iím strong enough to be me. Iíve given birth to my feminine side, which is my expressive side. The frustrated communicator that was writing the stories and being an author for Dead Cities, and all the song titles which were obviously very expressive, you know youíve got The Far Out Son Of A Lung And The Ramblings Of A Madman, and the reason why these are good titles is because they actually work and are not obscure for the sake of it. What Iím sort of referring to here is that a lot of electronic music just gradually realised you could be very safe, I mean this was the problem. At the height of electronic music it got as weak as every other genre, and whereas at the beginning, the punks, the rebels, the hippies, the dropouts, the ravers were all coming together to celebrate freedom youíve got the business model coming up and youíve got a load of people milking the model. And the model was, make weird titles, do a concept album, bung it out, have some boring guy whoís got nothing to say but knows some computer programs, and lets begin the battle of faster, cleverer, more future-oriented music. And I kind of woke up one day and said, well actually weíve got kind of 20 shows lined up from Tomorrows World to "future this" and "future that" who wanted to talk to us about where is music going, and I was like. ďyou know what, Iím ill, and I donít give a fuck about the futureĒ. Yíknow, we were joking actually that this is the Eternally Now Sound Of London, I wanna fucking christen it again. For me, the future had a feminine touch, a slightly humorous touch as well, it wasnít just this male, rampaging towards the future full of technological control. I wasnít interested in just selling software, I was really involved in putting a whole bunch of heart in there and using technology, and even sometimes being totally backward in the name of the future. And when I found that the message was being completely misinterpreted and trying to be controlled by people that actually had a lot to gain by controlling our message I rebelled against it and I went the opposite way and said fuck that, I want to be more tactile Ė I mean, check this out, I began to find on that journey that there were a million and one mysteries from the past that were just being ignored!
Having said that, donít you feel that by being on a big corporate label like Virgin represents a restriction for you? Was that a restriction?
Does it continue to be? Erm, the glorious things is Ė thatís a good question. We came to that major label model in the right way, now I donít know if this exists now, but we had Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea was already a hit on a small, independent label. We were just mucking it out with thousands of other people releasing white labels, we were clever enough, and maybe good enough, and maybe lucky enough (laughs), to stumble upon filtering the sounds that put together Papua New Guinea. There was a lot of effort in there, a lot of danger, we took a risk with a lot of things Ė we enjoyed being creative; that was it. And then, at that point weíd already proven, it was already a top 20 single, and at that point all the major labels came running. In other words, what Iím saying to you is, for ten years the reason why that album is out, the reason why we did Dead Cities, the reason why you listen to Lifeforms and ISDN and those records will always stand up is, we had the fucking power. The reason why we had the power is that we wrote the rules because we had already proven that we could sell. Do you understand? Thatís the difference, itís different when they sign you as a fledgling, which they donít really do anymore anyway.
I was thinking more along the lines, of how does that relationship control you now? Well, now, Iím not on EMI or Virgin. Did you not realise that? That tells you the answer basically. With Amorphous Androgynous weíve gone our separate ways. Actually I understand, itís been confusing because the last album, Alice In Ultraland, was out on Harvest/EMI. Amorphous pulled away, we released The Isness on another indie label, called Artful and then we went back to Harvest specifically rather than EMI/Virgin because of the Pink Floyd association, which was groovy for us. So, no, I can understand youíd think weíd just stayed with them, but no we havenít, so thereís no real limitations really apart from them controlling our back catalogue (laughs).
It also explains why your new album has been released in some way. What do you mean by that?
Well, theyíre trying to squeeze the last drop of cash out of the project. Precisely. So basically, between you and I, they were going to do it with or without us; we got on board because we obviously wanted to control our name going forward.
When all is said and done, not a bad time to release it though? Itís not a bad time, itís good for us because Brian and I want to run hand in hand between the two parallel projects and we want them both up and running at the same time. Looking back, when the pull away began it was a healing process that just fired off into multi-dimensional exploration, and there was a whole bunch of confusion about the name and the change. The FSOL presents Amorphous Androgynous was misused by some people as well, which didnít help the whole process Ė it was always viewed as being a separate entity.
Having recorded The Isness albums, thereís obviously this amalgamation between the electronic aspect and the so-called use of conventional instruments. So can we expect this philosophy to continue moving forward with FSOL? Interesting, I think the first thing Brian and I are going to do specifically under the FSOL name Ė apart from putting together this album and producing the Amorphous Androgynous stuff, which is the way that we view it really; FSOL produces Amorphous Androgynous, which is actually a band as such. The first thing weíre doing is a surround sound piece for a new museum thatís opening up in Spitafields called Kinetica, and thatís basically Londonís first kinetik, robotic, fourth-dimensional art gallery, encompassing all things with an extra dimension to art. So weíre doing a surround sound piece for that, which will be playing on one of the floors. Brian and I just really want to experiment and see what happens, yes, electronics will definitely be more to the fore than it is in Amorphous Androgynous, which is tipped more towards a Ďwig-outí if you like, which is then processed by computers. And of course, Amorphous Androgynous is very much the opportunity for me to express and to do songs, which weíre not sure whether FSOL will be doing songs at this point. Brian refuses to be drawn; weíre just trying to get into that space where we both feel free to allow eachother the freedom, itís always a massive thing with bands. I think the whole glut of solo albums Ė I read a great article the other week about how solo albums are basically power struggles within bands to redefine personal creative space.
Itís been ten years since Dead Cities, more or less, how do you feel electronic music technology, or the use of it, has moved forward or been handled since then? Thatís a very good question actually, I would say itís moved forward and backwards, which is pretty much the answer to any question youíd ask me really. What I view my role as, is trying to achieve the balance between filtering the progress and filtering the ways in which itís gone backwards and try to amalgamate whatís been done in the past, which has been forgotten, with the innovation of today. That is, in a nutshell really, my ethos for both bands. Whereas in Amorphous it manifests itself n bringing forward ancient mysteries and healing techniques and ancient philosophies and spirituality through the lyrical idea, with FSOL itís pretty much the same. Iíve got a friend of mine, for example, whoís set up a purely 1970s studio, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on it, and his ethos Ė which I really like actually, ok, quote it as my ethos for the sake of your article because itís one that I really espouse, basically I think technology has become mass produced and factory based and technology, back in the day when you had your Moogs, was very much personalised electronics, and I think weíve lost that. So a lot of technology really needs to be led otherwise it can lead you too easily. In a lot of electronic music, I hear it being too apparent that the technology has led the creative process rather than the human spirit, and that is something I wonít lose, the ability to fight and to be maybe unexpected with technology. Now, thereís a very interesting aspect to this really, in 1997 when I began to really revolt against what was happening and go in a different direction, there was very much a tendency, especially within dance music, to say this is the real Future Sound Of London. And it was always drumíníbass, they were slurring us and using our name, saying technology is what the future is, and this idea of being more sequenced, cleverer, more programmed Ė and I can understand how they came to that misunderstanding, but that for me canít be the future, it never could be. Thatís why FSOL never got heavily into that, although we obviously did programming - we never full espoused that, although we dug some of it like we dig all music, donít get me wrong. But for us, it was always much more subtle than that, and it wasnít as basic or male as that, I didnít want to be just some computer nerd with the latest bunch of plug-ins and selling the latest bunch of software. There has to be a philosophy and there has to be a heart, and there has to be a feminine aspect to it.
Itís a good philosophy because a lot of modern electronic music has become so sophisticated; itís stuck in a rut with nowhere to move? Yeah, exactly. I mean from Brianís point of view heís been doing this thing called circuit bending, taking old speak & spell machines and old synths and toys with a synthesiser module in them and hacking into them and turning them into synthesisers. Very deep stuff; youíd never find me in there, youíll find me on the corner talking to some people about organic carrot juice, but the communion will fuse with a whole dollop of heart, which he has too, and my ability to use technology which I have too Ė Iím there being a nerd, but itís not my first and foremost primary energy.
So youíve partly answered the question about what gear we could find in your studio, not totally revolving entirely around laptops and computer software? No, itís a good question in a way because thereís a contradiction here. With the Amorphous albums, what we didnít do enough was actually strip them back out of the computers, and what weíve realised actually is, here I am spouting out a hybrid message of like balancing the past with the future, well an obvious way of doing that is, yes, use computers and processing tools to record and to be as mobile as possible Ė how fantastic, great, but then youíve got to split it back out through big old fat analogue desks. So thatís what weíre beginning now; Amorphous Androgynous didnít do that, it was always done in computers and stripped out and listening back it was pretty obvious that we should have pumped it back through Pink Floyd desks. So thereís a combination of, yes, using Apple Macs to record Ė I mean, Iíve just moved to France Ė so Iím gonna be recording out there, next to my bread oven, while Brianís down in Glastonbury, Somerset. So weíll file swap, make music on the move in our studios and then weíll come together in a physical space and mix and add to, and do further recording.
Is there a time scale for this? Well, weíre gonna do this surround sound thing, which actually is a release, because there will be a Ĺ hour DVD mix available from Kinetica Ė the gallery. So thatís our actual first new release under the FSOL name. The name of the opening show is actually Life Forms, not named after us but named as a thread between all the various works that are on display during that first two month show. In terms of a more conventional, downloadable, releasable through a record label thing, no plans of yet, our idea is just to be bloody creative over the next year and Iím sure Brian will turn round and go, ďwell Gaz, thatís just too fucking cosmic for FSOL, put it in the Amorphous bagĒ, and just begin to bag them up for different projects. If you got to the mySpace site, unfortunately loads of fans (laughs) have bagged most of the FSOL site names, so weíve had to go under more obscure names, but thereís one called myspace.com/fsolfsolfsol, and youíll hear tracks from our archive basically that have been unreleased, so weíre probably thinking about putting out an archive album as well.
Is there anything in the world of music thatís really been inspiring you recently? I think the great thing thatís happened really is that, with the amount of reissues coming out, and with the fact that on mySpace and iTunes you can really go in and demo and listen Ė and this also the thing about the theft of music Ė unlike a lot of bands that were used, I must say, used to espouse the message of record labels, which was to try and come out against file sharing when it first happened, there was various puppet bands, which I wonít mention, who jumped on it big. I was always saying, well actually hold on this is good, because itís wrestling control from the shops and itís wrestling a bit of control away from the labels, and Iím sure itís going to damage me, but in the long run I think it might be positive. And I also think itís an amazing opportunity for younger kids to actually go and listen, and now what youíre seeing happen is, kids will namedrop an FSOL record alongside Captain Beefheart, Led Zepellin and Pink Floyd. Everything exists in the moment now, whereas before you really were stuck in this idea of ďthis is current music, this is past musicĒ, to back that up I would say that the best band at Live8 was Pink Floyd, and you will see, if you look at the audience, 15-year-olds singing the lyrics as well as nostalgia freaks. Modern music? Well, yeah, lots of reissues that Iíve never heard, because for me a reissue is a modern piece of music, so not only have I been tripping for the first time on people like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and certain other sort of way-out, whacked out dudes, I mean really what weíve looked out is people that have really pushed everything; pushed philosophy, pushed spirituality, pushed the studio Ė so obviously you get George Martin fucking around with the Beatles on their psychedelia, you get Brian Eno, you get everybody donít you? And theyíre all in the same bag, and then you get the spiritualists, and theyíre all in there too.
Which spiritualists do you read about? Well, you get Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Krishnamurti.
Jiddu Krishnamurti? I like Krishnamuti, heís fantastic, then you get Osho. Everybody, thereís so many isnít there.
One thing you mentioned earlier about downloading, I was sort of hoping the ability for consumers to download individual tracks would force artists into making better albums. (Laughs) So do you think our Lifeforms experiment failed in essence? That it didnít really provoke deeper albums, and that itís still going on, that people have weak albums with pop hits?
They still do. I donít think thereís anything that one band in particular can do that will have that much of an impact to change consumer behaviour to such an extent. Absolutely.
I detect that thereís a driving force in you implying that you need to have an impact on modern music that goes beyond being on the periphery. Of course, I mean I think both Brianís ethos and mine is to be so way out weíre way in.
You donít listen to electronic music so much nowadays? I donít at all at the moment, although I have a particular love of, what I call scientific lab music, which is synthesisers gone wrong with humour in a science lab, where they produce goofy scientific-sounding music. I tell you a band who I do like who are using electronics very well, Secret Chiefs 3, they are very way out. But carry on with what you were saying?
I was going to say that Iíve noticed that a lot of electronic bands are progressing by mixing conventional instruments with electronic music to widen the sound palette. Cool, it was obvious. Because what I began to react against was isolationist, dark, male-oriented music. Brian and I fought about it, and I think it was uncomfortable with him for while but I think heíll acknowledge that it was a good move really. I was well ahead of the game; in essence it was always the fight within FSOL, yíknow, the dark, the light, the melody against the abstract. The technology against the freeform expression, they are the things that we fought with and we didnít take those battles lightly really. We tried to battle within our own hearts to get those right, and Brian and I had different mixtures of those, so it was a humungous fight, absolutely Ė still fighting, and thatís what makes us think we still have something to offer really because we still wake up with that burn to fucking keep fighting. When you donít fight those issues you donít evolve really. FSOL at its best was very feminine and very male, the technology was very much in harmony Ė you could say that Air when they get it right are very in harmony, very feminine but very male; the technology is not subordinated to the expression. And they came along and blew us off the map really. These days, the only person that really blows me away is Devendra Banhart, and having said that Iíve got an absolute itching to get my hands on him, and Iíve been communicating with him for the last 2 years about producing him. I always say to him, god, you make me feel like John the Baptist, and what I mean by that is I knew that somebody with fucking hair that was a beautiful, feminine expresser would come forward, it had to be! I found that side in myself, but Iím not really first and foremost a vocalist, Iím an ideas man, Iím a filter, I know exactly what I want the band to do and say but really I do need to work with somebody with a better voice. And when Devendra came along, yíknow, he could be my fucking brother. I love Devendra but as well I really want to revolutionise Devendra Ė having said that his latest album was fucking great to be honest, for the first time I was forced to admit actually, fuck, I have to be humble, you donít need me at all (laughs).
But donít you think with modern music, or any sort of music, historically, if you look at any movement that has ever been made - from disco to house, eventually the money comes in and everything gets channelled in one direction. The great people were always those who derived from the first two or three years? Well thatís the same with every magazine as well though isnít it? Every magazine ends up selling itself. You know what Iíd lay down as my latest challenge to people? Start something, make is massive and DONíT SELL IT! Why is it, everybody, from the fucking fish and chip shop to a magazine ends up selling itself, getting the millions and retiring. Why donít people keep going with it, why canít they change it so that it keeps being important to them. Why didnít Anita Roddick keep going with Body Shop, why did it get so alien to her that she had to sell it, why? Surely sheís making so many millions she can get the right people that she loves to keep going with the ethos; thereís something dangerous there. Youíre right, Iíll quote you something you already know, Krishnamurti, donít create a movement because youíll create the anti-movement, the exact opposite of what you create. Well, yeah, but you know, you never set out to create movements, but as it says in the liner notes on the Teachings album they express very well that what was good about FSOL was that yes, they had elements of chillout, elements of dance, rock, grunge, elements of everything really, but we never really were easy enough to be flotation tank music.
The Future Sound Of London interview, Barcode 2006 ©
This interview is the full, unedited version that Barcode was commissioned to write for Future Music magazine - issue 182, December 2006. The article also includes a piece on the "Kinetica" exhibition and FSOL's favourite artists, plus an exclusive FSOL DVD film and 5.1 surround track. No part of this interview may be reproduced under any circumstances without the written or verbal permission of the editor.