Mojo Magazine January 2010: Electric Ladyboys
They're forever blowing psychedelic bubbles: it's The Amorphous Androgynous. Mark Paytress tunes in.
It's 5PM on a windy winter's afternoon, deep in the Surrey countryside, and daylight is fading fast. "I think we're going the wrong way," says our man at the wheel, the effusive Gaz Cobain. "I don't remember a lake being there before." Welcome to the magical mystery twilight world of The Amorphous Androgynous.
"We're always after a bit of idyllicism," Cobain adds, as we inch our way towards the exit of Painshill Park, 160 acres of magnificent landscaped parkland dotted with gothic towers, teples, a crystal grotto, even a small vineyard. Gaz had considered knocking on neighbour Robin Gibb's door - "He's got a mini-Stonehenge in his garden!" - before deciding on Painshill as an easier photoshoot option.
Cobain, long-time musical partner Brian Dougans, and the merry men (and woman) of the current Amorphous Androgynous are dressed in mediaeval-style psychedelic garb. Those who recall the pair as The Future Sound of London back in the mid-'90s might be a little surprised. "We were at the forefront of the electronic revolution," Cobain explains, "high on this 'Fuck all that rock star rubbish' vibe. But we always thought of FSOL as deep, experimental electronic music that would reach people's souls."
But by the tmie of Dead Cities, the duo's 1996 mini-masterpiece, Cobain was cracking up. "There was a time I took the hedonistic route but it did nothing for me, so I went the opposite way." Several hundred olive oil and coffee enemas later, plus trips to India and yoga and meditation studies, he was a changed man. "And in that process, I resonated with a different kind of music."
The result was 2002's The Isness, a psych-infested set with contributions from Donovan, Gary Lucas and Kate St John. "To the outside world, it might have seemed that we'd disappeared, but in our mis-guided eyes we were creating the biggest concept album known to man," Cobain says. But the accountants at Virgin didn't think so. "This guy held up a pie chart and said, 'Haven't you got another hit single for us?'
"There was also this weirdness about the fact Future Sound of London were making psychedelic music," adds Brian Dougans. The label's reaction led the pair to credit the LP to The Amorphous Androgynous, but it wasn't AA's first outing. Their ambient Tales of Ephidrina, out in 1993, also had the Amorphous Androgynous imprint. Cobain says the name was around for longer than FSOL. Nor was it the duo's first latter-day psychedelic effort.
"By the mid-'90s, I'd been beat-mixing The Stooges and The Doors into radio mixes and all the dance people said, 'You can't do that!' But I never wanted to do just dance music. I was into freedom." A three-hour DJ set, A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind, also broadcast on Kiss FM in 1997, confirmed this. "We had everything in there, from reverbed Barbara Streisand collaged next to Charles Bukowski talking about women with torpedo breasts, to Jonathan King singing 'EVeryone's Gone to the Moon'. It was psychedelic, but not in that paisley shirted way. It was more about an eternal quest for colour, transformation, liberation." FSOL, already bored by an increasingly moribund dance scene, would never be the same again.
Since then, the duo have mashed up their roles as FSOL, The Amorphous Androgynous and psych compilers. "It's all a struggle for balance," says Cobain, who describes the duo's two subsequent mix CDs as "probably the only albums compiled in the name of super-consciousness." How else could one explain the juxtaposition of Animal Collective and Melanie, Bo Diddley and David HOlmes, Oasis and Cozy Powell - all of whom feature on the latest 2-CD crush-up, A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Vol 2: Pagan Love Vibrations..
As Mojo's exclusive 'Mini-Bubble' cover-mount mix suggests, the series is rarely played straight. "People love the journey we get into," says Brian, who reckons the final mix is "sounding awesome. We don't just crossfade. Tracks go through a tropical forest with helicopters, trains, anything you can think of." In that respect, it's all an extension of the FSOL world, which is where Gaz and Brian's feeling for what they call "sound design" began. So with FSOL and AA both still active, how do they differentiate between them? "FSOL is The Amorphous Androgynous's darker, bigger brother," says Brian.
In the wake of the Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble's mix of Oasis's 'Falling Down', Gaz and Brian are about to work on remixes for Paul Weller and Pop Levi, with more liaisons to follow. Cobain: "Brian and I still exist as FSOL as producers, but The Amorphous Androgynous is this extended working band, that plays live and writes material on real instruments. At the centre of it are Brian and I who produce, as well as make monstrous mixes for others."
And that unashamedly hippy outlook? "A hippy is a beatnik is a raver is a punk, I always say," Gaz says. "All those revolutions were more linked than people realise, really!"
They Like Psych
Gaz cobain on why 1967 is where it's at.
"In 1997, as I began to widen my journey, I found that everything seemed to begin in 1967 - the year I was born. The song was revolutionised around that time, prompted by the emergence of the counterculture. It said, 'Why sing about love and romance when we're experiencing all this other stuff? We want to sing about spirituality, fantasy, about realms of consciousness, experimentation on personal, societal and drug levels too.' At the same time, there was experimentation in the studio. George Martin was linking up reel-to-reel tape recorders. Musicians were bringing in the sounds of the East, playing exotic instruments. There was this incredible innocence about it. That's why I rate Donovan. To say he was a poor man's Bob Dylan is so lazy. Maybe that was partly true when he started out, because the record industry needed another Dylan. But by 1967, Donovan's bard-like qualities had fused together with Eastern textures, great lyricism and childishness. And I use the word 'childishness' as the highest accolate. It's not about immaturity but having the ability to be open and innocent, to embrace feminine properties, which was something that I felt had been lost in music."
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