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(2003-01-10) Guardian

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Ross

 

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Just a Fuckin' Idiot

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(2003-01-10) Guardian

PostMon Nov 25, 2013 6:17 pm

Guardian 10th January 2003

The much derided hippy whimsy of Donovan looks set for a reappraisal. "Electronic music is yet to produce anything as experimental as Donovan's Goo Goo Barabajagal," says Garry Cobain, the flamboyant half of the duo Future Sound of London, who arrived as part of the electronic music revolution of the early 90s that included the Aphex Twin, Autechre and the Orb. "Listen to the vocal matter in that song. Listen to the freedom of the music. We heard that track about five years ago and we were very confused. We would scratch our heads and say: 'God, what's happening to us? We like Donovan!'"

Donovan's music marked a pivotal moment in the cosmic expansion of a pair of musicians who had previously concerned themselves with urban decay and technological innovation. The fruits of this sea change arrived in mid-2002 when Cobain and his partner Brian Dougans, under the guise of Amorphous Androgynous, produced a sprawling psychedelic monster of a record called The Isness. It is a vibrant mass of sitar solos, heavenly choirs and gobbledygook lyrics that probably mean nothing but might possibly hint at the secrets of the universe. From being at the forefront of cutting-edge dance music, FSOL have mutated into a 21st-century prog-rock band. They're a strange couple. Cobain, a modern dandy in purple flares and kipper tie, is effervescently enthusiastic about all things mind- expanding. Dougans is pretty much entirely silent, and sits patiently, looking stoic, while his partner does enough talking for both. We're at Dougans' enormous warehouse flat in Shoreditch, where stacks of records take up one corner and banks of technology take up another, and there isn't any milk in the fridge or teabags in the cupboard. "I don't do the talking," says Dougans shortly before Cobain arrives, and that's pretty much the last thing he says.

Cobain launches into an explanation of how a life-threatening illness and frequent trips to India brought about the shift in mood. "I hit a period in my life where I wanted to escape my self-imposed prison walls," says Cobain, animatedly. "We realised that our music, and electronic music in general, was quite macho. But I'm rather feminine - I like touch, and feel, and Barbra Streisand. So I thought: 'Let's get into expression, because expression is beautiful.' After being very ill because my immune system is basically allergic to loads of things, I saw a different light. And the light said: 'Innovation does not only exist within technology; you must innovate your soul.'"

This journey into all things psychedelic began with the Beatles. "My dad used to play Beatles albums to us, and we would sit stiffly in our chairs and solemnly listen to them," Cobain continues. "George Martin had pushed the boundaries of technology with Abbey Road, yet created this beautiful music. So while Brian continued with technological innovation, I decided that I wanted to have 64-piece orchestras just for the sake of it, to sing about eastern mysticism, to escape the boundaries of pop music. Why not? Will Young's not going to do it. Let's throw some weird shit in there!"

Both Cobain and Dougans buy records constantly and randomly, picking up bargain-bin oddities at Brick Lane market and paying up to £100 for rare classics. One of Dougans' many charity shop finds was a version of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" by easy-listening maestro James Last. "It's an absolute classic," says Cobain. "We also collect versions of [the Doors'] "Light My Fire". So far we have versions by Shirley Bassey, the Four Tops, Ananda Shankar, and an amazing violin rendition by Helmut Zacharias and his Orchestra. It blows me away!"

Cobain feels that the mood is right for modern psychedelia, from Richard Ashcroft singing about meditating on love to the Polyphonic Spree acting like blissed-out adherents of a religious cult. "We love throngs of people from the 70s doing happy-clappy versions of Beatles covers, and I think other people do too which is why the Polyphonic Spree happened, although with them the idea is much better than the reality. I mean, have you heard "Let the Sunshine In" by the Million Sellers?" he asks. [It's a session-group version of the track from the musical Hair.] "It is magnificent!" Cobain loves Indian music and its influence on the west, from the kitsch charms of Bill Plummer and the Cosmic Brotherhood to the purity of flute player Hari Prasad Chaurasia, who provided the string arrangements for the Beatles' "Within You, Without You". "In the late 60s there was a turning towards the east that you saw with Richie Havens, Miles Davis, the Beatles, Donovan, Alice Coltrane. Mysticism is a dirty word now, but it's time for that to change, and I think we're getting towards a parallel with the late 60s today. A revolution of the self."

"Six years ago, my record collection reflected a human being who was quite limited," concludes Cobain. "Now it reveals an interesting adult. Psychedelia is about escaping from our adult cells and getting back to a childlike perspective on life, possibility, joy, fun...celebration, really." Perhaps the silent Dougans has simply been meditating throughout the interview.

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