Resident Advisor 10th March 2009: The Mello Hippo Disco Show: Future Sound of London
Legendary electronic hippies Future Sound of London will return this week for their first live show in nearly 11 years at Bloc Weekend. RA's David Stubbs talks to Brian Dougans to see what the group has been up to in the meantime.
Future Sound Of London's highpoint is generally considered to be "Papua New Guinea" from 1992's Accelerator, in which the duo of Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain juxtaposed breakbeat, exotica and the wordless ethereal in the form of a sample of Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, thereby opening up all kinds of post-rave vistas.
But that's only a tiny portion of the story. Dougans first impacted, for instance, as Stakker Humanoid, with the 1988 track "Humanoid" a veritable robot war of electro-rave almost 3-D in its sonic impact. And, since 1992's Accelerator, the two have morphed into a variety of identities, most significantly Amorphous Androgynous, a name under which they've offered a colourised and liquified soundweb in which neo-rave made inner spatial connections with psychedelia and rock.
It's a moniker that has also helped bring them back into the spotlight. "Noel Gallagher got a copy of the album and was blown away by it," Dougans says, referring to A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind, a mix which charts 40 years of cosmic space music from 1967 to the present. "He gave copies to Kasabian and Paul Weller among others for Xmas and voted it his favourite album of 2008 in Rolling Stone. Before we knew it I was speaking to Noel on the phone about mixing the next single. He gave us carte-blanche to do what the f*** we want, his only mandate was to make it worthy enough to fit into one of our Psychedelic Bubble mixes.
"It's very much our manifesto for the Amorphous Androgynous paradigm. We've encapsulated all of it into the one mix—the liberation, the colour, the joy, the experimentation, tried to revolutionise the sound of Oasis, open up the colour field. Hence it ended up being 22 minutes long and hopefully illustrated an element of where we see the mash-up of the cosmic rocktronic song going."
Fame has little appeal for Dougans and Cobain, however. Amorphous Androgynous has most often been conducted outside of the mainstream record business. Dougans and Cobain have spent the past ten years building their own soundbase and attempting to establish an alternative means of putting out their music to that offered by the risk-averse, overweeningly monolithic corporate music industry of the 21st century. It's a direct response to the tack that Virgin—the company that owns the rights to the duo's early work under the FSOL name—and other labels like it have taken.
"If I knew what I know now I would never have ceded that control," fumes Dougans, for whom all this remains a continuing, sore point. "We are umbilically connected to all of our music. It feels like these people have had their use of it. Now give it back! I hate the fact that for them, it's just a page in a catalogue that they can sell to some other corporation at some stage. Hate it. We hate the mentality of 'It's only worth it if hundreds of thousands of people want it.' We survive by a more organic process. People are free to find us, leave us, when and if they please in whatever numbers. This leads to a constant flow which nourishes us rather than this hype-up, 'crash and burn' philosophy."
There is always some confusion as to where FSOL end and Amorphous Androgynous begin, as they began to merge into each other following 1994's Lifeforms, which featured Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins on vocals and whose sound palette anticipated technologies and synaesthesic audiovisual approaches that have still yet to be generally realised in music. However, if there was a marking point, it was the illness of Cobain from around 1997, which led to him rejecting the more "internal and technology led" approach to working.
"He felt quite dislocated and wanted to become more tactile and 'find himself' again—so he started travelling and getting into a lot of natural ancient philosophical stuff like yoga and healing and meditation. Also, we were getting into rock and songs and other spiritual experiments. We merely supported that journey with a different concept and kind of sound. Amorphous Androgynous has become a fully fledged band of seven live musicians and we've had to learn all the conventional stuff of being in a rock & roll band too over the last ten years travelling to places like Russia, Australia and Sweden."
In the meantime, FSOL have launched their own online label, fsoldigital.com, and created a host of alter egos such as Yage, Part Submerged and Polemic in order to produce an array of "experimenting and research recording." They've also started uploading old FSOL material, on archive, including an entire unreleased album, the first of the Environments series. "It seemed a really honest way to share some of the hundreds of tracks that have been recorded (but not released) under the FSOL moniker over the years."
Despite having lurked and toiled and created a sort of subterranean web of activity on the internet, the contents of which are too vast to go into here, Cobain and Dougans' appearance as FSOL at Bloc Weekend feels like a return to the surface, a comeback, which coincides nicely with the current small revival, taking the form of loving pastiche, of the early '90s dance scene.
Zomby's "Where Were You in '92?" is but the most prominent example of a revisitation of that era, while the return of The Prodigy, the revival of R&S records and the reactivation of FSOL themselves have all helped return the minds of those old enough to remember to that era. How pivotal, I wonder, did FSOL find that time, especially given that they were at a tangent to some of its more 'ardkore/breakbeat tendencies?
"We felt there was a revolution but it always needed a new torchbearer at each new corner reached," says Dougans. "Most music just prior to 1992 was either indie or very male orientated rave. The culture suddenly was fairly aggressive. Accelerator was the revolution of rhythm and sampling and the excitement of injecting unusual influences using some of the language of electronic dance."
There seemed to be a complex tussle back then in the dance underworld, between the forces of darkness and light, monochrome and colour, hardcore and "intelligent"—perhaps even the punk vs. hippie wars fought again by future proxy. It's fair to say that if there had been such a war, FSOL's inclinations were towards the hippyish—and they weren't the only ones. But they wanted to reach beyond that, towards a unity, a synthesis.
"There were obviously a few others who were in the same sort of headspace as us and for a while it did feel like there was a shift," recalls Dougans. "Looking back it was a very good period of very deep, warm, beautiful and varied electronic immersive music which wasn't made to be club fodder. It was timeless and suddenly millions of people worldwide from Tangerine Dream devotees and Pink Floyd heads, to kids back from the rave and indie kids and dubheads and punks and bohemians were uniting in a new counterculture. However, very quickly what had been a free and experimental movement soon gained its own set of rules/pre-conceptions/expectations and that's partly why we stepped out of it."
And, now that you've stepped out, what do you make of the music business nowadays? "It's on its knees!" cackles Dougans. "As soon as accountants started to have artistic meetings in place of music lovers we knew there was a seismic change coming. But we put our trust in the sincerity and unadulterated desire for people to need and search great, resonant music out. Small companies with original music can flourish again. There will always be this desire, whatever the industries and media like to imagine. I like to think piracy and downloading are all part of a rebalancing act to put the power back in the hands of what the consumer wants, not the greed mongers who are so f***ed up with equity groups and shareholders and creating pie charts."
Five Classic FSOL Remixes
Todd L. Burns
Future Sound of London's recent remix of Oasis is hardly anything new for the duo. The boys have been tackling likely and unlikely suspects since the early '90s. Here's a sampling of the best early work.
Bryan Ferry - I Put a Spell on You
A relentless melody turning over and over while moody atmospherics replace Bryan Ferry's cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic blues number is all that FSOL needed to turn this into gold.
Inner City - Praise
This relatively straight-ahead rework is 15-minutes of classy early house music sprinkled with touches of breakbeat and tribal that help to keep things moving.
David Sylvian and Robert Fripp - Darshan
FSOL reconstructed this 1993 work by fellow experimenters Sylvain and Fripp into a slow-moving psychedelic dreamscape that didn't sound all that far from what they'd release on Lifeforms the following year.
Unity – Unity
The duo's remake of this old skool rave track is one of their most overtly epic moments, helped in no small part by a remarkably infectious piano breakdown.
Prefab Sprout – If You Don't Love Me
The Deep Field mix is the drug of choice here, with Dougans and Cobain prefiguring The Field by lathering up Paddy McAloon's vocals for a memorable chorus.
1 post • Page 1 of 1