Melody Maker July 25 1992: London Calling!
The Future Sound of London have just released an album called Accelerator that establishes them as the most awesome and innovative electronic dance band operating anywhere. Dave Simpson gets plugged in.
"A lot people have said the name is cocky," begins Garry Cobain of The Future Sound Of London, "which it is! But, in a way, calling ourselves that is a constant challenge to ourselves. The name does engender this amazing quality control. Unless we come up with the goods every time, we’re gonna get slagged. We know that, and we've laid ourselves open with that name. But it’s the only way our music can go forward.
"We don’t want The Future Sound Of London to be a functional dance band," he continues. "We see ourselves going completely outside that area. We want to push dance music beyond its boundaries, but push everybody outside dance music as well! We’re not limiting our music or our appeal to the dance music scene. We’re thinking much bigger than that."
"Actually," confides his colleague, Brian Dougans, "that’s why there may not be another Future Sound Of London record for six months. Or there might never be another Future Sound Of London record! If we can’t keep making music that’s different or innovative, then we won’t release anything!"
Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain are currently being talked about as the most innovative and experimental dance and electronic-based unit operating anywhere. When their awesome, genre-busting classic, "Papua New Guinea", stormed the Top 20 earlier this year, a new musical term was born. They called it "intelligent techno". But "Papua New Guinea" was more than that. With its ethnic mantras and eerie space dubs, "Papua…" was the first truly undefinable record to grace the chart in ages. It was also one of the most radical, left-field hits of all time. "When I heard it on Steve Wright, I understood why it crossed over," remembers Garry Cobain. "When we first made that record, everyone was like 'Wow! What’s this?
There’s no chorus!' But it was actually a great pop record. It sounded really good on Steve Wright!"
I meet Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain at their Earthbeat Studios in north west London, close by Dollis Hill tube. For about an hour before the interview, I wander around the area, taking in the atmosphere and listening to the sounds. All around me
there’s the constant chatter of different languages. Cars speed by, often blasting out the crashing dub of a booming reggae bassline. Walking past a house, a "tikka-tikka-tikka" sound fizzes out of a doorway ghetto blaster while, up at a window, an elderly chap plays around with a rasping saxophone. Dollis Hill sounds like The Future Sound Of London. The Future Sound Of London sound like Dollis Hill.
Earthbeat Studios is a tiny, claustrophobic affair. The walls are covered with press cuttings and the dozen or so sleeves of the records Brian and Garry have put out over the last couple of years – largely underground releases, under names like Mental Cube, Smart Systems and Yage. Prominent among the display is the striking, computer graphic sleeve of their newly
released album, "Accelerator". As its title implies, "Accelerator" takes the listener a very long way within a short period of time. The album's like a musical space module, catapulting itself from a dance and electronic launchpad and going on to explore hitherto uncharted, weird and wonderful territories.
How is it done? "We rape and plunder!" declares Garry. "No, we’ve got tapes recording from TV. We’ve got 40 DATs full of noises from the radio, tiny sections of other records, natural sounds, everything! We get musicians in as well. We don’t know where half the stuff is from, but we use it intricately."
From the record it sounds like you work at the speed of light!
"We’ve trained ourselves to listen to small bits of things that are good," explains the quietly-spoken Dougans. "We pick up on these bits, and re-piece and re-collage. It’s a different way of working, really."
Brian and Garry’s background is a bit different, too. Originally from Glasgow and Bedfordshire, respectively, the pair met when they were studying electronics in Manchester in the mid-Eighties. They listened to lots of Cabaret Voltaire and A Certain Ratio, and devoted their time to wearing frighteningly long overcoats and building electric chairs! They both worked night at the notorious International 2, and once almost electrocuted themselves when they attempted to make a video of the fledging Stone Roses. They then began making tapes of Cabs-style cut-up stuff and distributing them around Manchester.
They moved to London in 1987, called themselves Humanoid, and had a huge hit in the summer of 1988 with brilliant bonkers acid anthem "Stakker Humanoid". Humanoid fell apart but after building their own studio, Brian and Garry continued to make music. Garry Cobain attributes the duo continued motivation and longevity to their theoretical and experimental groundings. They are electronic engineers, and are thus perfectly qualified to make perfect electronic music.
"I think increasingly that people from our kind of (electronics) background are ending up in this sort of music," says Garry. "That’s good for dance music, although I don’t actually think that term is any longer adequate for the type of stuff we do. We’re electronic experimentalists. It’s just that the dance field seems to be where most of the innovation is now taking place."
The Future Sound Of London hardly ever use vocals. The ones on Accelerator are merely snatches, like the samples of Yargo’s Basil Clarke on "While Other’s Cry". "That’s the only way I like vocals," explains Garry. "To take just one or two lines gives it an outer-worldly feel that doesn’t really date. I’ve been through all that great frontperson thing – when I was younger, Morrissey and Ian Curtis were incredibly important to me, but I find generally that people with a 'message' can only be appropriate to one time in your life and, as soon as that time is over, they lose their allure. Consequently, these days I'm into just a snatch of a vocal sample which doesn’t ever age."
Which ties in with that fast-moving quality.
"Yeah," agrees Garry. "That really does sum up our whole approach to music. We don’t ever want to be able to be pinned down. The best way to describe what we’ve done is a series of one-offs, and that is the only way to move forward. I think it says a lot about that we’re able to come up with music that is as innovative as 'Stakker Humanoid' was back in 1988. And we hope we can continue doing that."
Accelerator is out now on Jumpin' And Pumpin'
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