|title||Two for the No-Show|
"Two for the No-Show" by Will Hodgkinson, The Times, 28 Oct 2005.
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Boards of Canada are so publicity shy they make Dylan look like Robbie. Will hodgkinson gets an exclusive, reclusive interview.
A fog of myth surrounds Boards of Canada. For the past decade the Scottish duo have been making beautiful instrumental music that has won them fans such as, Björk, Beck, Johnny Marr and Radiohead. Albums such as Music Has The Right To Children (1998) and Geogaddi (2002) are evocative, deliberately imperfect electronic portraits that are both elegant and threatening.
But Boards of Canada hardly ever play live, rarely grant interviews, and generally take at least three years to make a record. They don't like having their photograph taken. A visit to their website will reveal nothing more than the cover art for their latest album, The Campfire Headphase. The exist purely on the strength of their music.
A few facts emerged over the years. Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison (left and right in our picture) met as children in the late Seventies, and were inspired by American television shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man and educational programmes from the film Board of Canada to start making music. After stints in school bands they began to work solely together, saving their pocket money to buy exotic musical instruments and spending all their free time in their self-built studio. It's only recently that they revealed that they are in fact brothers. They live in the countryside near Edinburgh, but not even their record company is quite sure where.
As I wait in the Edinburgh Film House café I'm almost expecting two versions of the Emperor from Star Wars to appear, beams shooting from their fingers. But two slightly scruffy, good-looking, resoundingly normal men in their mid-thirties walk in.
"We really don't care about image," says Marcus, pointing out the obvious. "We decided that if the music is good enough we'd just put the records out and not bother with anything else."
"Instrumental music is evocative. As soon as you attach a face to it, you tie it down," adds Mike.
Ever since they started experimenting with tape machines as children the two have been obsessed with creating the perfect sound, which explains why tit takes them so long to complete an album. Over the three-and-a-half years it took them to make The Campfire Headphase they recorded more than 400 tracks, working by themselves six or seven days a week. Don't they fear losing touch with reality?
"We aim to switch everthing off at six o'clock now," says Mike, who has been forced to change his working methods since he became a father in 2004. "For Geogaddi we worked until 4am every day and it was hellish, so we're trying to lighten up a bit for the good of our health and our family lives."
"The problem is that we're control freaks," adds Marcus. "People think of us as a couple Scottish stoners who sit around and bang out a record every few years when we can be bothered. The opposite is true."
They are, by their own admission, almost impossible to work with. Their record label, Warp, regularly receives requests from famous artists to have Boards of Canada provide remixes, to which they almost always give a civil refusal. "It got to the point where I told Warp to turn down all requests for remixes unless they were from God or Beck'" says Marcus. "Beck called a few months later."
The fact that their music is mostly electronic is largely a result of their inability to work collaboratibely. "When I was in school bands," says Mike, "I would create a minimalist electronic track, and then some guy would want to ruin it with a guitar solo."
"The only way we could be a traditional four-piece band," muses Marcus, "is if we cloned ourselves. Then the bassit wouldn't complain about only playing one note every eight bars."
It becomes apparent that Boards of Canada have a vision so singular that it puts them at odds with pretty much everything else going on in the modern world.
The Campfire Headphase has a timeless quality in its blend of melody and dissonnance, and despite being made mostly on traditional instruments it sounds so much more rich and imaginative than most contemporary pop music.
As they talk about their favourite films - the psychadelic surf movie Crystal Voyager, Antonioni's panoramic Zabriskie Point'' - Mike and Marcus come across as commited to their art and curious about life. "If all goes according to plan, everything we've done so far will be just one stage in our development," Mike says, "Boards of Canada is the tip of the iceberg."