Option November/December 1995: Future Sound of London By Julie Taraska
Don’t call the Future Sound of London’s Garry Cobain a techno geek.
“I don’t know as much about technology as people assume,” he says, sitting in the lounge of Manhattan’s Royalton Hotel. “We often get these people who are really into technology sent to interview us. They are so off the point.”
Wearing black leather trousers, a climbing vest and carrot-orange hair, Cobain is in town to premiere an installment of the FSOL’s upcoming television series, Teaching From the Electronic Brain. The group’s most recent album, ISDN, is a crucible of music, technology and media that documents their 1994 foray into another electronic realm – radio. Released
in the U.K. as a limited-edition album, ISDN came out in the U.S. on Caroline early this year.
By any definition, Cobain and partner Brian Dougans are chameleons, the Madonna Ciccones of electronic music. They refuse to stay with one musical genre, medium, or even name. The only consistency of their songs is that ubiquitous underlying beat. From there, Cobain and Dougans survey music of all decades and places, taking the best from here and there. They then collage samples and sounds and release the finished work under such aliases as Amorphous Androgynous, Yage, Semi Real and, of course, the Future Sound Of London.
“We try to come up with new identities because we’re trying to say something new,” Cobain explains, casually tucking his arm behind his head. “More than that, sometimes we find it a pressure to have to come up with some huge positive statement.”
The FSOL hope the realm of television will offer them new ways to metamorphose, “What we actually are doing is building up a new face for music rather than this face.” He points to his own, “I think we can say a lot more that way instead of when we are the people who communicate it. You’ll never get past us – whether you like us or like our looks.”
Dougans and Cobain met at a Manchester nightclub in 1986, just after Cobain had abandoned his university course in electronics. Dougans was in the process of completing his own program in electronic engineering when the found that they had overlapping musical interests. They began experimenting together with slap bass and industrial white funk, and in 1988, formed Humanoid and released the rave anthem, “Stakker Humanoid.” The following two years found the duo dabbling in various techno subgenres and sending out the results under a half-dozen different names as a series of EPs called Pulse. In 1991, they recorded “Papua New Guinea” as Future Sound of London, and the song proved to be the turning point in their career. With symphonic surges spliced between a big soulful vocal, “Papua New Guinea” was techno that sounded good even outside the context of a psychotropic dance floor. After appearing in the animated, sci-fi film Cool World, the song took off, and a major label bidding war ensued. Virgin wooed the duo with a $320,000 advance, which Cobain and Dougans used to stock their Earthbeat studio with computers, monitors, cameras and recording equipment. Cobain calls it “The Great Audio-Visual Swindle.”
In 1993, under Amorphous Androgynous, the duo released Tales of Ephidrena, a collection of melted beats and flow-motion pieces. Later that year came “Cascade” a five-part single that went on for more than 30 minutes and was issued without dance remixes. Last year, Cobain and Dougans released Lifeforms, two discs of samples, found sounds, and fluid rhythms that put the FSOL at the vanguard of ambient music. With the TV series, Cobain says he and Dougans hope to energise the idiot box’s flaccid presentation of words and images. “The series is a cultural soup whereby we throw in things
that bubble to the surface then go away,” he enthuses. “We can do things like have an alternative comedy sketch that goes into a piece of music that goes into a piece of computer animation. The installments are all very nonlinear, like our albums.”
Yage, a 15-headed character who changes form, expression and opinion, is the unifying focus of Teaching From the Electronic Brain. “Yage is the embodiment of me,” says Cobain, “because every time I say something, my other 14 heads look at me like I am and idiot, and contradict me.”
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