Sveriges Radio: Lifeforms Turns 20
Transcript by dell1972
Gaz Cobain: The real artists preserve their right to create, so what they do is, they downsize their life to be able to create. I did it in 1985 when I went to Manchester to live, 'cos I went to - I didn't know - the, to one of the cheapest places in England to live. And I was a poor man for ten years but, I didn't feel like a poor man, which is important for an artist. So I was able to feel like an artist, even though i was a poor man. And, Manchester at that point, it was like, pre-88 you know, pre-Hacienda. I met Brian there. By being resonant souls, typically we found a place - I mean I went to Manchester because my favourite music came from Manchester. Brian went to Manchester because it had one of the very first courses for music based technology - Salford I think it was called, and he was brilliant at it. I have to say I wouldn't have got into electronic music without Brian.
Brian is the guy with the Dad who worked for Scottish Television and had a studio in his house from the moment he was born, you know I was on, I was always Indie Rock and being in bands, and when I met Brian it was like, well I'm brilliant with melody and I'll write melodies, and gradually I became an expert with electronics, but I had, I've got a very different attitude to it. Brian is much more technical, it doesn't mean Brian is the producer and he is like, on the desk, although I'd say he's probably a little bit better than me. What it means is that we both do everything, but we definitely have my passion burns much more for the way that sound moves together emotionally, so I will obsess about the arrangement and the interaction of the sound. Brian will be listening, yeah but how good does it sound, the bass, mid, treble, how wide does it sound. Brian wants to be blown away by the sound, I want to be blown away by the interaction. When they work together, when they work well, you get both. It sounds amazing, and the interaction is incredibly emotional.
I always liked what David Bowie's Dad said, he said that if David Bowie hadn't been, hadn't been a rock n roll musician, he'd have made a real success out of being an accountant or anything because he was just creative. I can - and also from a spiritual point of view, to have, to - channel creativity into just one thing. I'm not that, yeah, you can be an expert at something without a doubt but I tend to think that, the musicians that I really really like, I can listen to the music and love the music, and when I meet them, I normally find that spirit embodied in the person, in the way they talk and carry themselves, and you normally find the joy or the attitude there. So I normally like the music and like the people. But having said that, that's a well known, that's a topic in rock n roll music as well, it's like people love the music but the people are actually arseholes.
There is my personal evolution, which is absolutely unique to me, like yours is unique to you, and my music is that, it's for me totally selfishly. So what, I might be mixing up rock and roll and psychedelia, and spiritual ragas with my abilities as a collagist, as a sampler for example. As a samplerdelic dude as we kind of think of ourselves, and sort of collage artist really but, I mean these are direct musicians through my electronic aptitude of hearing snippets and how snippets go together, because when we started, Brian and myself in the mid eighties, the sampler was something, was very new, I mean we sold drum machines and guitars to get a sampler, and so our ears were tuned to becoming experts in the two second snip, not how to lift a chorus that big, so from that I've realised like twenty years later, that when I listen to musicians I'm kinda going, yeah, boring boring boring, okay that's boring, okay interesting okay I would sample that. At the beginning it was play as you want and when you go I can just take what I want, and gradually I was like, well actually that's just wasting my time as well and yours because I can help you. Let's get somewhere more interesting, let me tell you what I'd like you to be playing and then I'll collage a bit and then I'll bring it back to them and I'll say okay now play this again with the way I've collaged it, so you get more into a Frank Zappa way of dealing with things.
It's a funny thing, you see a scene and you feed off that scene, and you put your stamp, you put your individuality within that scene. You see within that, there's two elements, there is being inspired by a scene. Brian and I were very inspired by numerous scenes, we were inspired by, I think at the point we're talking, we're talking late 88, I guess to look at our mandate we were bringing Cabaret Voltaire and Industrial Punk Electronic Music of England that we liked, to Acid House, because we loved Acid House. If you then fast forward to like the early nineties, as Future Sound of London, then we would have been looking at that fact that increasingly even with this huge dance scene, which we didn't view ourselves as a dance thing, for us we were definitely electronic, and we viewed ourselves as, we loved listening to rhythmic music at home, so we we were never like slaves to what worked on the dancefloor, we were never interested in that, it was all about listening because, what we were hearing was a revolution of sound and collaging, so for us it was like, how we bring like Erik Satie, Debussy, The Cocteau Twins, Cabaret Voltaire, all these weird influences into this open, what was an open palette. I mean late eighties into, looking back now, I don't think we'll ever have a time like that again, you literally had punks, beatniks, hippies, indie kids, ravers, e-heads, all just embracing this blip that, this freedom.
So no, we didn't view ourselves as a scene, but we definitely saw there was a revolution and we knew that the freedom within that huge scene was, it was open to anything. People were incredibly vulnerable and open to the most way out shit (laughs) you know, imaginable. There were shows in England where they would have like pumping electronic dance music for two hours and then they'd have an hour where they had deep electronic music, so we were kind of the, okay we can bring all of our stuff in here. At that point as Future Sound of London we viewed ourselves as kind of organic electronic I suppose, organic meaning it does have, we wanted to have a natural feel, it's not all very syncopated and computerised, we do have that, but if you listen to the albums, it's no surprise that, a lot of the indie rock bands were asking us to remix them, you know at the time, because if you listen to the drums on Dead Cities and stuff like that, this is not, I ten or twenty years time people will be coming to things like Dead Cities and realising it's as much a statement about future rock as it is about ambient or dance music any of these terms, they don't really fit us, we're definitely quite unique I think.
I find the term really odd because, any rock band these days uses a computer, so do they become electronic just by going through a computer. It's funny, it almost seems to me it's to do with the way you portray yourselves, like there are some bands these days that, they're very computerised, it all goes into the computer, I can hear it. You know you can hear Kasabian are very computerised, you can hear that its bass loops, there's breaks, it's not a drummer playing start umph all the way through, it's a drummer that's been tightened to give it an electronic sound, you know. But because they stand up with attitude on a stage and present it like a band, it becomes a band. We never really acknowledged the genres even when we were, there's no doubt there was a definite scene of electronic music and people would associate us with it, I would say, I mean yeah, I would agree we definitely did our own little innovation. I say our own little innovation because there have been many innovators but we had our own particular innovation of our use of sampling and computers, and the way that we combined things I suppose.
I always joked at the time, in around 1990 I said one of my favourite pieces of music Erik Satie's Trois Gympnopedies, if that was made now, nobody would understand it, you'd have to put a beat on it, and that made me really sad, because there's... we were in a period where people were just putting crap beats on great music. It was kind of a willful, it was a great experiment to use beats of course but it, to do it to the exclusion of everything else, it was never our game, I was never interested in that. I'm not confined to loops, if I want to reduce it to loops I can but if I can get a great musician in that's a virtuoso violin player, and I can be 50% happy with his performance and the rest of it tweak it so I'm 50% happy as if I'm listening to a sample track, you know then that's very new. That's the next thing really, and that's what I think is happening now so I don't think it's, it's not as purist anymore.
We haven't really put an album out, I mean it's quite dramatic really, we put an album out in 97, and although we've done Environments albums on our own label, they're still very much based around finding some of our old music and maybe enhancing it. The interesting thing with that is we did one of the singles with Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, and at that particular point in time I was, we were, seriously up against the limitations of where we were with the technology and Liz Fraser bought the whole thing collapsing down because she gave us like two hours of vocals and we couldn't handle them, because we had, although we had seven samplers, it was all about snippets, so if somebody forms a vocal that's great for a minute and a half and then not good for a bit, in other words, big chunks of samples. How do you do it in like 91-92, it's very difficult. So basically we never, we didn't feel we got that track right. So for the 20 year anniversary we are, we've got a Lifeforms with Liz Fraser that's amazing, I mean we've worked on it for like four/five years because I love Liz Fraser and for me I've always carried the kind of sadness of never really fulfilling the potential of us with Liz Fraser, you know. Funnily enough I think Massive Attack did it really well, it's a great track, that Massive Attack track is amazing.
We always knew that we are an album band, but album bands in the dance explosion were quite a strange phenomena, so it forced us to concentrate on a small piece of music you know, a track, and that obviously did us good, because as soon as we got Papua New Guinea, all the major record labels wanted us, because it was a massive hit. So at that point it was like, okay, we're going to indulge now, we're going to indulge. No that's slightly incorrect, we had Accelerator, we gave Accelerator away to the same label that put out Papua New Guinea, basically to say we are better than just one track. We are going to do great albums, we know we are going to do great albums, and therefore we are going to sacrifice Accelerator for not very much money, just so it goes out there and people realise that Future Sound of London is a great name, and we're going to do a great album at some point. At that point all the major labels came running, and at that point it was like, my god you're really going to get it, because now we've really arrived, we're really going to extend the dream. At that point it was like, okay, what is the statement, and gradually the statement evolved, and you're right about the imagery, the statement at that point was, okay we're not going to be a band. I've been bought up with bands, I love bands, I love dynamic bands, but this is something different. I don't want to compete against frontmen gyrating on a stage. We want to do a great album that's based on being a great album, it's not about hit singles, or bands, it's about the world. A deep, immersive, emotional world, so gradually this idea evolved of, okay, sacrifice the ego, I don't have an ego, sacrifice the ego about it being you and create a world that's greater than you.
So Lifeforms was sort of an anti band statement, but also you don't become anti band without having an extreme love of bands, because we always had this thing we had this idea that we didn't want to become two men with ironing boards, which is quite a funny image really. The idea is that two men with ironing boards like the Pet Shop Boys in a way, pretending that this music is being generated live now on the stage, we didn't want to compete with rock n roll, because we liked rock n roll, so therefore we have to find something new for us. So yeah, the imagery, the world. We then began to see ourselves, yeah we were very pompous, it was fun but we were having a lot of fun as well, and it was a really interesting intellectual idea. The idea of like, let's become a broadcast system, a broadcast system of image, emotion, sound, text, movies. And gradually, and then Brian came in very excited one morning and said, you know all the new feeds from around the world for new broadcasting come in via ISDN and these are digital phonelines that carry information. We could basically just relay our music to any where in the world down ISDN.
It was really funny because you had the dance explosion happening and everyone was putting across this idea about all the music was about one love, one people uniting on a dancefloor and we were terribly sorry, but that's not what it was for us. In fact, when we looked at our lives, it was quite the opposite, it was two guys that were coming in absolute isolation in a room, I mean yes we bring experiences of going to things of course, we lived a life and had a social life but we were bringing, bringing this experience to a room and having this very personal struggle with sound and it wasn't about everybody loving it in a room, it was a struggle. And we saw it as the opposite, we saw it as like extreme loneliness, but that through being alone though it was empowering because you find out who you were and you could broadcast that and other people could kind of experience that in moments or vulnerable moments or happy moments or whatever and I think what we all look for in music is something that touches us very personally. So, at some point if you're a musician it's got to be personal it's not selfish to be personal. If you want to reach another person you've got to be personal, and it's impossible to do it in a room with two thousand people, you don't write the tune in the room so it began to be about isolation actually, and a lot of the text around that and even the titles on Lifeforms like Dead Skin Cells, it was born of this like, well actually no, we're looking though everything microscopically through the sampler. The sampler was our microscope and we're looking at life through the microscope, and everything gets fed into the microscope. It's not just electronics, it's not just sequencers it's life itself, there's bits of television, bits of found sound, we got the microphones out, that's why the sound, it is very organic, and so that, the titles took on this kind of microscopic aspect. The Dead Skin Cells was the idea of like two guys flaking away in a room. There was a lot of humour, you know, I think it's your turn to hoover up the studio, not the most, not the top of your priority list to hoover the studio when you're two guys working on music you know, so I think it's your turn because the Dead Skin Cells are like two foot high in here!
You know I think before Lifeforms came out, the week before we played live on Radio One here, which is probably the equivalent of yours... I don't know how big your show is but Radio One is one of the biggest stations here, and we played live for two hours from our studio. I mean we really did find something amazingly good and we basically played hundreds of ISDN gigs to radio stations, which was brilliant because yes it was a very beautiful extension of the music and somebody sat at home listening is very much more open to hearing something than being drunk, out with their friends at a club or a festival. So it really worked for us, because people would get blown away, revolutionised by an extreme beauty suddenly. We then did what, in hindsight, crippled me, and that was we started to send that signal to stages of festivals, where the audience, you know 10,000 people were at the end of an ISDN line. Amazing, I mean looking back on it was amazing really but all I could, eventually all I could see was the contradictions in it, because we wanted it to be what it could be now. It's a dangerous moment. Radio was amazing, there was no problems with radio, nobody ever criticised a radio transmission, in fact it was magic, it was like Orson Welles does War of the Worlds, it was amazing, you know you could hear us speaking to the DJ. We always fragmented the speech so nobody knew if it was me or samples, I would speak to the DJ, I would trigger voice samples so that, I would have all these relevant voice samples so like the DJ would say, you know, we're contacting FSOL in London now, and we'd have a sample which said like "I'm here!!!" you know which is like a massive sample, you know I'd never do that with me I'd just say "hi" you know "I'm here". So it was a brilliant imaginative space and it really worked, but as soon as we went onto a live gig, that moment, imagine the moment, that moment. The crowd cheer, the Future Sound of London are on stage, some of the audience are thinking they're on stage, they don't understand our ISDN. So we've got some of the crowd disappointed because we're not actually there. So as soon as I come on, I've got a microphone and a camera so you're bleeding in, seeing us in the studio with the immersive world of the visuals. What I'm trying to tell you here is that first moment of connection to the audience, I basically had to make sure they knew it was live. To compensate for the fact I was not there, I had to be even more dynamic. In essence what had happened was I ended up going back into the mouth of rock n roll. That first moment it's like yeah! I'm here, you're there, and you don't think this is live but it is. I had to really lay it on the line, of being like a really dynamic human being. At that point I kind of went, I've really got a problem with this.
As soon as things start going well, you get a scene erupting. The scene is radio, the scene is journalists, the scene is musicians, the scene is money. You've suddenly got people getting livings, you've suddenly got an industry. Suddenly what happens with an industry, there are rules. The rules come in, the freedom goes, the very people that have started the revolution start being subjected to the rules. So I suddenly, Brian and myself were in the studio and we suddenly, oh right, so there's all these rules now about the beat. Suddenly a certain beat is a certain thing, a certain bass is a certain thing. All these different genres, split, splits, industry, money, different pluggers, different radio people, and for us the fun, the fun's going at that point, because the whole point is there are no rules. Be radical, be as radical as you can. So the feel closed down, at that point, Lifeforms, we rebelled against the rules of the beat.
At that point as well, something else was very interesting. You would literally sit down with people, or you'd have somebody coming to interview you and their history of music would be that. It would be from dance music to ambient music and you would kind of go, Debussy? No. Er, Japan, no. Joy Division, no. Cocteau Twins, no. Sex Pistols, yeah I've heard of them but don't like them. So in a way Brian and I were always... there's a great moment actually where a journalist came and he said - if you'd have done this it would have been very funny, you could have done it as a joke - if you'd have come into today and said, done in a German accent "Ja, so you like Kraftwerk and the Brian Eno?". You know that would have been the end of the interview. It wouldn't because I can take myself, I can joke these days, but at that point in 91 it was like, or 92 if you said that to me, I'd be like "I really don't want to talk to this person, because this person is so obsessed with it being just all being about electronic."
Yeah, I mean the interesting thing actually about the Future Sound of London is that I almost view, it almost represents my, I don't know what it represents to Brian. For Brian it represents his natural self I think. He's got no split, he's got no schizophrenia about Future Sound of London. I have a schizophrenia with it because Future Sound of London for me represents my, I don't want to say my depressive side (laughs), the side of me that overthinks, and I like... I mean we coined a phrase for FSOL internally and that is "Euphoric Sadness", it's this idea of something that is euphoric and sad and moving, and in a way FSOL does kind of evoke that space. For me I find that a natural space to inhabit, that's my natural being.
For me an album, it's not the idea of like finding something that works and sticking to it, it should explode the facets of your imagination so it should stretch what you are. But on a personal level it should stretch the idea of what you can be, it should all work together, and that's what is so magical about an album. It should work together to make a coherent something. But of course it should push dynamically from here to here you know and a good album will do that, so we wanted to do that first and foremost, so for us that's where Lifeforms began. Right let's make just a great listening experience.
We would take a track from the album and we would explode it into a 40 minute single, and at that point in time you could release 40 minute singles. The stipulation was the maximum time to qualify for a single was 40 minutes. Most people at that point were putting out 8 remixes, so all the dance producers were putting out remixes and a lot of them, there was hardly anything different. There'd be like a hi-hat missing from one mix and you'd kind of listen to them and think what an awful waste of 40 minutes. Of course because they are obsessed about dance clubs, the club scene, it was for the DJ, but for us 40 minutes was for the listener.
However long it works, so for Cascade, Lifeforms, My Kingdom, We Have Explosive, they all became mini album singles. I think people are still finding it surprising to this day that they are like albums. I think people just thought they were like singles, the same as the album but they are actually like 30 minute mini albums.
Technology is absolutely vital, but it's no more important than the developing heart, the developing soul, the developing power of communication that is me the human, Brian the human. So to overplay it like it is in the technological age is wrong, and of course it has been overplayed massively. And even we in our youth have overplayed it. Because two guys creating this world... what made the world even better was the idea that the studio was a spaceship, a technological spaceship (laughs) you know. So we made it look impressive, but actually when you strip back to it, what's really funny about it, and you'll realise the truth of this is that it was a punk studio. Our studio had gear which anybody could buy. Samplers, you know and yeah we begged borrowed and stole that stuff and we accumulated gradually a studio, but don't ever be under the myth, under the illusion that that studio was anywhere near as impressive as a commercial recording studio that bands with deals went into to record their albums. So let's not overplay the technological angle here. This was a punk revolution of people getting access to technology and doing it DIY. And the beginnings of a revolution where everybody could do it. The revolution of course has continued now where everyone can do it on a computer. I don't want to get into this kind of adulation of technology here, it was never about adulation of technology, it was yes, technology is good, but evolve your heart, evolve your power of expression. Evolve your imagination and use technology, bastardise technology, use it for what it shouldn't be used for.
To a certain degree I'm still partially, I now stand, woken up from a slightly more idealistic dream. The ideal that technology could free us all, there's lovely, many poems and things from the sixties and seventies that talk about how technology will free us up from labour. Machines can do the work and we can be as one in some kind of eden meadow. Exploring the beauty of mankind in harmony with nature growing again, I mean you've got to remember there's always going to be this what shall we call it, there's always going to be this, what do we call technology worship, there's a better word for it. If you believe in the hallicinogenic idea of technology saving us and giving us time, that's obviously seen to have not been true. Yes people you can create a revolution with the click of a button, we've seen you can be a soldier and you can post a film and it can change news. So this is still happening, but you've got to temper it, it's a deep issue. You've still got to go back to the land to actually grow your own food. You've actually got to do a lot of things that you might not have thought. You might not have said these things were hippy things. The hippy word came, it was revolution, hippy was revolution, you know it was like a lot of the hippy ideals are not known as hippy ideals now, you know the ideals of like sexual revolution, the ideas of like spiritual revolution, the idea of like growing, the idea of recycling. All these ideas, they were started, it was a revolution. You could view that punk was a revolution, I always say punk was a revolution without the peace signs. And if the hippies had been there in 77 they'd have probably been punks. Anybody that's been involved in a revolution, what's at the core of them is the revolution, not the style. The style of the revolution is subject to what's happening in society at that point. If I was in 77 I'd probably have been a punk, or an aspect of a punk. If I'd have been in the sixties I'd have been a hippy, an aspect of a hippy. I'd have still been me though and I'd have been fighting all those people in all those revolutions as well. I'd have been fighting the hippies, I'd have said I'm a beatnik not a hippy like Charles Manson probably, and if I was a punk I'd have been a punk but going yeah, but you're angry, I don't like the anger aspect, so as soon as you make that into love maybe we can do more damage with it.
So yeah, I hope you find pockets of revolution where people are. I mean I think it's happening, I mean people will always preserve the right to create. I just I do fear for the fact that it's rich kids making our... but that's not going to happen. Have you seen any signs of that changing? No let's make it clear here, they're nice rich kids, but as a cultural phenomenon, it's still limiting isn't it. It's not that it's limiting, it has its place but we want them talking to each other and interacting, because the greatest music is the interaction you know.
All I aim to do with this, when I talk about my music is to unlock doors via contradiction because I don't have any answers. I'm exploring and sound is exploration, words are exploration, so that's why I take this opportunity to talk, because there's a lot of truth in what I say, but there's no dogma. I'm not giving any rules about how anybody should live, or how... I haven't got any answers but I'm still exploring and for me that's the contradiction and the music is the contradiction.
Because where this talking brings me is to the fact that it is absolutely impossible in words to communicate things. In music, on deeper levels it's possible to communicate everything, so I totally love the idea that this is fruitless, what I am doing here is absolutely fruitless. But like any fucked up human being, messed up human being, dysfunctional human being, absolutely we've been given words to try and resolve our search for who we are, what life is, interacting with people, communing with people, it's a part of it, so I'm committed to using words, but I'm also totally aware of how useless they are, and how ultimately what you are responding to is frequency and sound and, erm, that's what my music is. So it doesn't need words.
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