(1998-00) Future Music Issue 66

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(1998-00) Future Music Issue 66

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Future Music Issue 66 February 1998

Future Sound of London have always done more than make music. Derek O'Sullivan speaks to them about their overall agenda which now encompasses their own label EBV.

Interviewer: More than any of their contemporaries, FSOL have advanced their conceptual dream toward its logical conclusion, both by consistently flooding the market with mind-bending electronic music, and by furthering the generally half-baked world of audio-visual expression with stunning artwork and broadcast media experiments. The latest stage of the pair's creative empire comes in a shape of a record label Electronic Brain Violence established and run by themselves to field new talent to the masses. A worthy distraction from the ongoing process of recording the follow-up to their essential Dead Cities album. EBV is simultaneously an outlet for fresh music and catharic endeavor for FSOL's relentless sonic obsession.

The garrulous Garry Cobain, undisputed soundbite king, and knowingly subdued Brian Dougans are, as ever, holed up in their North London nerve centre Earthbeat: an intimidating encleve that houses what will, if they continue to unite and conquer, undoubtedly define future sounds. Surrounded by music gears and computers, the two seem relaxed, comfortably at home amid the electronic hum and constant stream of important sounding phone calls. So what happening gents?

Garry Cobain: At the moment its a glorious mess of running our own tracks through the mill and help people around us to gets their finished, as well as liasing with the growing number of people we've got signed, so it's becoming quite hectic.

Interviewer: The process of getting the next album under way has involved a bizzare and interesting re-affirmation of the two members of FSOL's musical stance. A recently completed compilation, a precursor to the forthcoming album, is suitably odd. "A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind" is the snappy title of this offering, ably sumed by Cobain.

Garry Cobain: Mixing together all the elements from the past that appeal to us that we're amalgamating into the next album.

Interviewer: Sounds mad. And it is. As Garry explains:

Garry Cobain: We've taken elements from the 60's and 70's, stuff you would traditionally call psychedelia, and drawn a line from that up to the present day. It probably won't be ever released; it's a mind fuck. It's basically got 60 tracks in an hour that we've fucked with, turned them backwards, all sort of things. There's Jonathan King, The Byrds, loads of stuff. Some of the artists are going to find it highly objectionable but it's a great piece of work.

Interviewer: The pair are reticent about revealing details of the next FSOL album, but hint towards it being much more song-based, structually. The heavily name-checked Barbra Streisand may reveal something about the direction they're moving in, but there's little room between Garry's cards and his chest.

Garry Cobain: It's a lot to do with what we've been listening to, but I'm not going to give away the idea of the next album, because I don't want anyone nicking it! No no one can nick it because the idea already exists out there and it's already forming. I see a lot of strands of what we're doing, and we're picking on those strands and pulling them together into something.

Interviewer: For the time being though, there's more than enough going on to keep the boys interested, specifically in promoting EBV artists, the process of which is also helping their own musical progress.

Garry Cobain: Generally, the relationship with FSOL is that we're constantly trying to get the best out of all this sound that we're trying to process. Inherently we're frustrated because we can't possibly match all the shit that's going in. I want to, but the label means that I can satisfy certain lust in me.

Interviewer: With an open agenda in terms of artists signed and genres covered, EBV is an attempt to promote challenging new music. The creative standards are high as you'd expect from FSOL, superior production values are a prerequisite. Other than that, there's the less tangible head compatibility. Cobain's insistence on being involved exclusively with whom he defines as the right people has undoubtedly paid off so far, so his autocratic self-assurance as a spotter of good sorts is difficult to question. The label has quickly grown from an ideal to a reality, and with purposefully hands-on approach, the pressure is steadily mounting as Garry explains:

Garry Cobain: It's enjoyable, but it's a responsibility putting people's records out. A responsibility I'm not fully living up to yet. I feel guilt, daily, that I'm not doing enough.

Interviewer: The experience FSOL have gained over the years is something that's allowing them to direct the EBV roster away from obvious pitfalls, but the hands-on running of a label also means tackling those non-musical aspects in greater depth; a learning process for Garry.

Garry Cobain: It's more about sussing out the whole game, how it relates to retail and all that shit, although I'd rather be concentrating on putting out good records than entering into the ways of all that stuff for the first time.

Interviewer: There are obvious benefits though, and the concept of collective consciousness and a chain of like minds is appealing.

Garry Cobain: We're trying to find the right bunch of heads to deal with us on every level, and we're still hunting for various members, I'd like to find a label manager so I don't have to do it all; somebody I can trust who can handle it. In a way it's nice-the people we're dealing with like the fact that we can help them and we're creative-but we've been through the mill. We've learn a lot. And we also vent a lot of our frustrations from over the years. Having your label means that you can say, "Look we're not happy with uncreative press kits, all the stuff that pissed us off. I don't care if that costs us money. It's our label, we'll do it right.

Interviewer: What does it take to get on to EBV, then? What qualities do Garry and Brian look for in the artists, they bring on board?

Garry Cobain: The most important thing is that we're all friends. Dealing with us is pretty mad.

Interviewer: As far as the kind of music EBV embraces goes, it's a long way from their own sound, but there are no real boundaries. The current line-up of signings tend toward live instrumentalist working with MIDI and technology, rather than the pure electronica and ambient flavours you might except. Garry outlines the selection process:

Garry Cobain: "We're quite hard work, in that I don't think you can ever predict what we'll like. If Barbra Streisand came in now with a good track I'd sign, but at the same time I would also get into a piece of very good ambient music, which is maybe more as people would expect from us.

Interviewer: The basic idea is to equip the artists with the means to produce and leave them to it, with relatively little intervention, allowing them the freedom to develop. There are no strangehold deals within EBV. Instead the artist are encouraged to become independent.

Garry Cobain: We basically give someone we like some money to set up a studio so they become self-sufficient, which is a big important point. Self-sufficiency equals time, equals creativity, equals some day you'll have something, and we want it. That's the only stipulation. Anything we don't like, stuff you can go elsewhere with, that's cool, you know, we don't owe you, but please just bring everything you do back, what's all I really ask.

Interviewer: Despite numerous offers, the boys tend to steer clear of remixes these days, principally as a result of their perfectionist approach.

Garry Cobain: "At the one time, after the last album, we probably had about 100 grand's worth of mixes on the table. And the money part of us was like "Come on man why can't you just do it?" Everyone else manages to do it, but I think the point is that if we do a mix it should sound good enough to be a single in its own right, so we end up spending way too long getting amazing results. That's the only way I'd like to do a mix. We were doing Supergrass, [it's not me] because we love their stuff. We turned down all these other people, but the Supergrass album's brilliant. So I ended up getting too excited, felt too much in love with the track and we spent three weeks on it. At the end of it we did something eight-out-of-ten, almost brilliant, but I wanted it to be amazing, to blow people's heads off, not just come out and arouse a bit of interest, so we never actually delivered it. They probably thing we're just rude bastards.

Interviewer: FSOL have put their name to a couple of dubious tracks in the past, among them Bryan Ferry's "I Put a Spell on You", and limp MOR tunesmiths Prefab Sprout's "If You Don't Love Me" but Garry avoids embarrassment by explaining, how they tackled this type of remix.

Garry Cobain: It was easy then, because we hated the tracks we were working on, so we basically do what the f*** we wanted to them, no respect involved. With the Bryan Ferry track, for instance, the only thing we used from the original was the split from his headphones.

Headstone Lane
Electronic Brain Violence is the expansion of FSOL's label EBV. On the other hand, the Headstone Lane press release declares it to be Extraordinaily Beautiful Vagina, or, alternatively, Euphoric Beatnik Vibes. Both of which kind of fit in with the man who is Headstone Lane: Simon Wells, one time guitarist with punk pranksters Snuff; yes, the ones who gave us thrash covers of Match of the Day, Shake 'n' Vac and the Cadbury's Flake advert amongst others. He's been knocking around Earthbeat for ages, using the rehearsal room from time to time and generally larking about Dollis Hill.

"The day I met Simon," Garry begins, "he thrust a flyer into my hand with that disarming grin and said 'Come and check us out.'" The flyer was for Snuff's farewell show at the Kilburn National in 1992, and on arriving, Cobain was amused by what he saw: a combination of power-punk sentiments and crowd pleasing tomfoolery. It transpired there was more to Wells' talents, as Garry affirms. "Simon had a really good understanding of our music and a whole range of other stuff. He became interested in making music but not music of any particular type, just music through an electronic medium."

Big Mind Explosion
Big Mind Explosion is Richie, a multi-instrumentalist who drummed with 80s experimentalists Dif Juz and played guitar with Virgin signings The Lilacs prior to his involvement with EBV. Tell us more.

FM: When did you start making music?
Richie: At 11, I pestered my mum and aunt to buy me an electric guitar. They both decided that using electricity was too dangerous and bought me a drum set instead. Bless 'em!
FM: What were your early influence?
Richie: John Barry, The Clash, Syd Barrett, Augustus Pablo, Cabaret Voltaire, Lee Perry, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, JS Bach, Ravi Shankar, Velvet Underground, The Kinks, Can, Kraftwerk, Nick Drake...
FM: How did you get involved with EBV?
Richie: Gary stumbled into a conversation I was having about Dif Juz. He introduced himself and said FSOL had covered a song by them, then my friend told him I was in the group. We've been friends since.
FM: What are the advantages in working for EBV?
Richie: We're all trading and sharing ideas and seem to be on a parallel path at present. There's a collective understanding and animation in our music. Plus I enjoy winding Gary up!
FM: What part do FSOL play in the music you produce for their label?
Richie: I'm excited by the idea of FSOL remixing my performances and songs, and anticipating further collaborations between the boys and Big Mind Explosion.
FM: Whose music do you rate?
Richie: Big Mind Explosion, naturally. The Verve, a good balance between songs, harmony, melody and sonics. Nick Drake for timeless beauty and the next FSOL album. I've worked on a track which is dead good.
FM: Where is your music going?
Richie: I want to combine analogue and computer recording. And I'd like to do live, ISDN-linked performance.
FM: How important is sampling?
Richie: Very. Particularly to regurgitate my recorded performances, but I only have 35 seconds of memory so I can't rely too heavily on it.
FM: What piece of musical equipment has been most important?
Richie: An upright piano.

Kit list:
Akai S950
drum kAT
Farfisa 255 VIP organ
Fostex M-80
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
Jen synth
Seck 12:8:2
Tokai bass guitar

Leon Mar may already be familiar to FSOL fans for his remixes of We Have Explosive. As Oil, he's been producing mangled techno-funk trip outs for EBV for some time now although his also figures in the drum 'n' bass scene as Arcon 2, with a bunch of tracks released on Reinforced. It wasn't until his style evolved into something less easy to categorise though that FSOL became interested.

"Leon's been self-sufficient for years," Garry explains. "As Oil, he began to turn out stuff that we really thought was excellent, and after he wrote Slight of Hand - this mad psychedelic, funk thing mixed with good programming - I spent the next six months trying to copy it."

Also worth looking out for are releases by Riverman, the working name for singer Riz Maslen, who appeared on the FM CD back in September 1994 as Neotropic with a reader's demo, and the re-release of an EP by Sundial, a rock/psychedelic band from the early '90s.

Interview by Derek O'Sullivan
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Re: (1998-00) Future Music Issue 66

Post by Ross »

Just discovered this interview went out in the February 1998 of FM. Obviously it was conducted in autumn 1997, but still, it's technically press coverage from the wilderness years...
Scans are on Archive.org - turns out those widely used studio shots are from this issue, meaning Gaz looking like some audio professor dates to well within the Isness sessions.

I've added the Headstone Lane, Oil and Big Mind Explosion bits to the interview above.
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