Future Sound Of London

Tamara Palmer investigates Future Sound of London's creative alliance and the underlying themes behind their album, The Isness

By Tamara Palmer

Following last year's well-received Papua New Guinea – Translations release, eccentric electronic pioneers Brian Dougans and Gaz Cobain, aka the Future Sound of London, slither back into the public consciousness with their first new studio album in six years, The Isness. Unleashed under their Amorphous Androgynous alias on Future Sound Of London Recordings, the album is a 13-track swamp of progtronica, taking a dense samplerdelic approach to composition, destined to confound listeners old and new.

Do you feel as a band that you're consistently misinterpreted or misrepresented by journalists? If so, how?
I'm not really attempting to enforce any clear message so therefore we will always seem unclear. And probably our lack of being a coherent visible band make us a bit obtuse. Life and music for me are an exhilarating personal discovery. Life itself is beautiful because of its vast contradictory nature. At one point we called the album The Meaningless Significance, which sums it all up really. I prefer to scatter lots of seeds and see which ones take root. I guess I enjoy the game – after all it is all a game, isn't it? Misinterpreted? Well, people are welcome to misinterpret, aren't they? I suppose I live a fairly far out life and my music reflects this very personal experience, and not everyone will get it. I've always assumed I'll go so far into this odyssey I'll come out the other side into cosmic consciousness and everyone will get it! But we'll see, won't we?
Did collaborating with all of these various musicians and contributions to this album (The Isness) bring about a closer working partnership between the two of you? If so, can you describe how it might have improved?
Difficult to say really. I was initially annoyed with Gaz because at that point he had pulled away from the studio we had built in North London to work at home. He had written a bunch of songs with vocals and was heading in a new direction. On hearing these recordings I busied myself working on the vehicle that would carry it to the world. I researched new music software and recording techniques, my idea was to jam through Gaz's songs and build them from his guitar with the samplers – two guys jamming with acoustics and electronics. Gaz, on the other hand, had more grandiose ideas which involved the full prog rinse orchestras, drummers, bass players, sitar players, choirs etc.

So okay, the vision was good. We set about moving our studio to accommodate the new order. Musicians came, jammed and went and we built the album from simple acoustic guitar and vocal tracks up to monstrous 80-track layers of skyscraper sound. Gaz (who had the vision) pretty much controlled the ship and guided the musical structures. I could only hold on tight while the white knuckle ride began, feeding the engine and making sure everything ran smoothly and sounded correct. So, did it bring us closer? Probably not, the tension will always exist with Gaz, that's part of the attraction. I must say, when not discussing anything to do with music he's me best mate deffo.
You seem to be two very different people, but what is the bond and the common thread that has kept you working together throughout the years? How do your fundamental differences help your creative process?
We actually have an incredibly similar vision in everything and ultimately I think this is what bonds us. Sometimes we are positively clairvoyant. We'll always like the same images and sounds – but not always the same trousers, although I think he envies me in certain ways. I also really envy many attributes to his character that he has! We are both very intuitive and always make decisions based on whether something feels right. This quite often drives everyone else mad but both Brian and myself never differ. Music, people, business – we fly on intuition. It's indefinable really! We are both also totally honest and I think in both our separate ways teach each other a lot. I move very quickly from idea to intangible idea but Brian nurtures and supports and is far more thrusting in technological innovation, whereas I'll struggle with content and communication endlessly. However, once shown a technological trick I quite often will wrestle unlimited content from it. Yin and Yang baby! Yin and Yang -- that's what we are. Earth and water, balance – whatever you want to call it.
I've had some people say to me that they think you're taking the piss with this album because it's not like your older material and delves more into 60s psychedelia. How would you respond to that?
I'm not in this business to feed a machine. I'm not in this business to stand still. I'm human, it's my life. I'm an explorer, just like the old days. Would you want me to discover the same country over and over? You would think I'm a wanker. So why should I explore the same sounds and rhythms? Taking the piss? I suppose in a way I always take the piss. I take the piss out of restriction, fear, unconsciousness and slavish following of rules and idioms. Also out of my own idea of who and what I think I am. I prefer though to see this album as a celebration of human potential and a celebration that everything is possible. Music is becoming increasingly corporately driven and because of this a lot of the music is sounding like it's made by accountants. It doesn't surprise me that some people won't get it. I think only those that are celebrating adventure and possibility will delight in this album; anybody that's trying to plug into selling something probably won't!

Let's face it, a lot of dance has become a massive corporation. I mean, what's dangerous about a music that soundtracks every water aerobics class and gymnasium in the country? It's become part of the mass sedation that I loathe and which has never been a motivation in my music. Having said that, all music is ultimately different levels of consciousness expressing itself, which is beautiful. And you must realize that in no way, shape or form am I suggesting that I am higher at all here! Merely in a different place. I kind of imagined a technicolour mash up of all the things burning my soul! It's kind of like clothes really: Why wear monochrome when you can celebrate the hundreds of colours and fabrics from around the world?
Do world events and concerns inform your creative process?
Yes, of course. I am connected to it. I am a wave in the ocean: Within you, without you, as George Harrison declared with the help of the Maharishi. Having said that, I have become far more concerned with the inner revolution -- meditation -- the inner tide rather than getting too obsessed with the outward mirage. As far as I'm concerned the outer world events will never change as long as singularly we stay the same, therefore my emphasis in the last five years has been the self-revolution. Sorting out my own backyard, as it were. If we all did that, how much could we change the world at large?
What do you think are some of the most serious problems in your country (the UK) that deserve further international attention? How about internationally?
The reduction of all life to a scientific experiment in which we and the world are the guinea pigs. The way in which a handful of corporates rule the financial infrastructure of the world and see it as a playground to be raped for its own profits oblivious of the effects on present and future generations. The way that true research doesn't seem to reach the masses so that they remain ill and unconscious. And the continuing fracturing of mankind against mankind by the organized religions who keep man enslaved and fearful. This is not the true religion and consequently man is very scornful of religion and therefore unfortunately missing a spiritual connection. This is very much changing as we reevaluate and explore new god concepts and alternative philosophies of consciousness. Not surprisingly, there has been a huge surge in interest for mysticism and Eastern traditions.
Now that you're no longer working with a major label, has/how has your view of art vs commerce changed? Is it important to make a product with strong sales potential? Or are you freed from that sort of pressure?
We are the same as we always were. We are quite selfish – we do it for us and then you – so nothing's changed really. I've always done exactly what I've wanted. We've stopped working with Virgin because for whatever corporate reasons they were becoming increasingly formulaic with their approach to music and we were arguing all the time. We wasted several years fighting. My approach to the so-called crisis within the industry is to simply become more novel and more individual, not less so. We vowed to simply make an album that we wanted and needed to hear. After all, I'm fed and nurtured by the same cosmos that I'll be delivering the album to. I guess what I'm saying is that the cosmos has written this album – I merely tried to not get in its way too much! I suppose if I was trying to build empires, sales potential would be important. However, I'm not, and I merely chronicle my personal evolution imagining that somehow the way I conduct the very personal experiment that is my life might have a little something of value for the world.

For the past five years I have submerged totally into a life of rebalancing and healing. Probably a life quite extreme to many but nonetheless some of the things I have found I have imparted obliquely in my music, ultimately believing totally in music's curative powers. I'm certainly not freed from that pressure, I simply choose to not allow it to affect the heart of my music. Quite frankly I could never manufacture shoes that I wouldn't personally wear, even if they would sell in their millions. For me there is no joy in that. I have hundreds of ideas each day. My lifestyle has given me what I believe to be a natural clairvoyant ability to see and feel the various swings and turns of where music, fashion, design and consciousness are going but life is simply too short to do things that don't fill me with joy!
Do you feel connected at all to the dance/electronic 'scene' these days? Does The Isness LP share any lineage with your earlier work that might have been directed more towards this scene?
Yes and no and yes and no and yes and no. I don't belong to any family or any scene. I celebrate my individuality as much as I can each day. All great music connects me to the beyondness somehow. Sometimes this music can be electronic, as long as the music seems liberated and genuine we'll dig it. Currently we're digging any hybrid forms that revolutionise the soul and celebrate. We're not really into anything miserable. If it's dance it has to have a hippy optimism or a kind of goofiness that isn't too male and fearful. We have drawn a psychedelic lineage from 1967 through to the present day, from Donovan through the Beatles to ELO, Mercury Rev, Ananda and Ravi Shankar. We're groovin' to a slightly more organic hippy jam these days. There is a new spiritual uplift coming through the airwaves. Anything that seems too scientific or intellectual seems stolid and passé.
Cleopatra Records in the US is re-releasing/re-packaging Accelerator to release it in time with The Isness. Surveying both albums in the same breath, how would you describe the evolution of your sound over the past 10 years? How does it feel to listen to Accelerator now?
I still like it. Some of it sounds a bit cheesy but hey, I think it still works. We have explored over the past 10 years, we've had a good laugh, we made some cash and we lost some cash. Every time we do an album we are different people: older, happier, sadder, richer, poorer. All the albums clearly reflect us and where we were at in our lives and within society. Each album in a sense is situationist; that is to say it was a cause of our situation. Our evolution is more of a selfish historical documentation.
Is this maxim true?: "Do the work you love and the money will follow."
Absolutely, and if the money doesn't follow then you can guarantee that whatever does will do you no harm. Sometimes it's kind of important to go through different phases, it brings you to greater understanding. I've been a very wealthy man and I've been practically a tramp – there's not a vast difference really. I live very simply, my only luxury is the freshest organic food – apart from that I don't need much! It would be sad if the only reward that we care about would be financial, sometimes other things happen that one doesn't expect that are equally rewarding. I think living the reverse of this way (ie for money and success) would be a very dislocated existence but I don't also accept the adage that spirituality and money are mutually exclusive. In fact, money gives you the security and foundation to go within. That's why the West has such spiritual potential because we are financially secure enough to realise and search for meaning beyond this as the sole pursuit. It's no surprise that Brad Pitt has had a spiritual crisis. He's got enough money to finally realise there has to be more to life! Yes I believe so very much – there's nothing worse than being a false fucker. Everyone can see it and will avoid you like the plague.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as a band?
We call it the FSOL puddle: two individuals fighting to be heard but only really compromising to create a puddle of confusion. But always from this comes a clarity and a purpose and a momentum and direction. Our strength is our indomitable spirit and courage to explore. Our weakness is that we can be mind-blowingly complex sometimes and sometimes you just want to go and thrash out a three-minute, two chord pop song! In fact, I even tried that on this album but even that ended up strangely complex.
Did you choose music, or did music choose you?
I gyrated to music as a kid with imaginary microphones and despite my parents telling me I would never make a living from music, I always felt that even without a technical brilliance I could win through with sheer originality. All the musicians I ever liked were considered technically crap! My physiological makeup is air/fire so therefore it was obvious I would be a communicator of some kind, so music was my karma, let's say! Music choose me from an early age and then shortly afterwards I chose it too. Me dad had a studio in the attic. He used to record soundtracks for underground movies and I've no doubt he was the only bloke in Scotland at the beginning of the 70s to have a synthesizer. But did he try to make bagpipe sounds? No. 
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