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Above Board!

title Above Board!
author Gal Detourn
publication Playlouder
date 2005/10/20

"Above Board!" is a 2005 interview by Gal Detourn. It originally appeared in Playlouder ltd.a.


This is an original text copied verbatim from the original source. Do not edit this text to correct errors or misspellings. Aside from added wikilinks, this text is exactly as it originally appeared.

Above Board!

Like Autechre, Warp's Boards of Canada have slowly built a reputation for quality and innovation within the electronica sphere, which, with their reluctance to become public personalities, has created an enigmatic persona. Hence, the minute details of their lives have not been documented. What we can tell you however, is that Marcus and Michael are brothers, they hail from Scotland, and their latest opus - 'The Campfire Headphase' - is one of the most beautiful, bittersweet slices of electronica you're likely to hear. Marcus and Michael have found an uncanny way of investing the most futuristic production techniques, with a warm glow of nostalgia. Here's how they see it...

Why are you reluctant to be interviewed?
"Marcus: "We've always preferred to let the music stand up for itself, I think it works better in an escapist kind of way when you don't spoil it by talking about it all the time. There are a lot of bands out there who are well-known for being well-known, you know what I mean? And we're not one of those."
The album seems too cohesive to have arrived by accident. What did you set out to achieve?
"Mike: "With every record we try to make it able to stand up on its own without relying on what's currently going on. We're making a unique mental and temporal bubble for our records to exist in. This time we set out to make something simple that had shades of a road movie soundtrack, like the musical score to a surreal journey across a late 70's North American desert highway. I think of it as a sort of skewed pop record."
How did you incorporate the guitar elements? Are they samples or did you play?
"Mike: "All the guitars and other instruments are played by us. We recorded days of ideas being jammed, then we went through and sampled out phrases. It's all been twisted out of shape. I don't know if I'd ever want to make a straightforward record where it's all regulation live instrumentation, like a traditional rock band. Our approach is to combine organic live elements, of instruments like guitar and drums, but to sample and abuse them to bring in an odd, synthetic side to the music. It's the clash of these things I find interesting."
Is the album less synthesised? Did you have to change your method of working?
"Marcus: "There's less use of synths on this record. We've leaned heavily towards a whole 'played, taped and sampled' backdrop this time. I guess sampling for us is different from a lot of other bands, because we routinely sample ourselves rather than other records, so most of the sound generation is coming from real instruments that we played ourselves, mostly recorded with microphones, and a lot of location recording. What you hear on the record is kind of a wall of sound created by sampling as many gnarled acoustic sources we could find."
It's been said that there's a vibe of hazy nostalgia that underpins your music. Where do you think that comes from?
"Marcus: "Maybe it's the fuel that we subconsciously use to make our songs, we've got a way of bringing these things out in tunes. We're always pushing a song to the point where it triggers a memory for us. It's a fine science. Something brand new can be artificially nostalgic sometimes, you can implant emotions into the listener that relate to something in their history that in reality never happened."
Is it more accurate to say that you're trying to soundtrack the future or the here and now?
"Mike: "That's a good question, because we sort of think we're soundtracking a future that belongs to a past era that took a different branch. We've taken a lot of inspiration from the 70's and early 80's idea of what the future would be. You know, great paranoia films like 'Soylent Green', 'Logan's Run', 'Silent Running' or the 'Andromeda Strain'. I think it would be fair to argue that the future we're now living in has turned out a lot more mundane than anyone expected. It used to be thought that in the year 2000 we'd all be going around in silver costumes, having sex with androids and so on, yet for most of us in 2005 we're not doing much different really from what we were doing in 1977. There's just the addition of mobile phones, the Internet, and different haircuts."
There's a genuine positivity on this album. Where do you think that comes from? Has the birth of Mike's child given you both a different view of the world maybe?
"Mike: "I guess this record is more positive than the last, at least on the surface. 'Geogaddi' was kind of exorcising demons, and even after we'd set out to do a record like that, smack in the middle of working on it, 9/11 happened. I remember there were a few of us in the studio that day, and we just ended up glued to the TV for the whole day. I think the months after that pushed us into making a darker record, as I'm sure it did with a lot of bands. A lot's happened since then, I have an amazing little daughter now who makes me laugh every day and gives me a greater sense of purpose on this planet than I ever had. But in a way, the world has actually become even darker over the past four years. There's some crazy underground shenanigans going on now. But instead of reflecting it in a dark record, we decided to make an escapist soundtrack. Like a kind of sanctuary; a day-glo vista you can visit by putting the record on."
But it's often tinged with melancholy. Can emotions that are too clear cut sound cheesy?
"Mike: "Absolutely yes, I don't really believe in music that swings too far to either side. You can't just reduce music down to 'happy' or 'sad', that's just dumbing it down. It's a pretty limited, binary way of looking at things. The truth is, it's obviously a huge, complex range of possibilities. When people try to be too emotive or happy with music, it just becomes saccharine and dishonest, like most of what's in the pop charts today. If you want something to be emotionally powerful, there has to be something bittersweet, something emotionally ambiguous, not just black or white. You can be a thousand times more powerful by being subtle and insidious."
Playlouder interviewed Autechre and they seemed like the kind of blokes you could have a pint and a laugh with. Nothing like their enigmatic 'Autechre' persona might suggest. Do people have similar misconceptions about you?
"Marcus: "They probably do. Bands like Autechre and ourselves are more interested in pushing music than pushing personalities, but the downside of that is these strange images invented by some overzealous fans and fairly inaccurate journalism."
Finally, does the fact that you're brothers aid the creative process?
"Mike: "Yeah of course. We have the advantage of not taking ages to explain ideas to each other. When you've written music with the same person for 20 years, you start getting a kind of shorthand dialogue together, so you can cut to the chase. It helps to keep you polar in your own ideas. I think a lot of bands suffer from having too many chefs, and the only way that works is if there's a megalomaniac in the band. With us, there's two megalomaniacs both with the same plan."

interview by by Gal Detourn, October 2005.


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