Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rediscovering The Future Sound of London

One of my favorite bands was/is The Future Sound of London, even though their output comes after long breaks and not everything they put out is for everyone who listens to them. They even have an alter-ego band (Amorphous Androgynous) under which some of their music is released.

A little background is required as to why they hold such a place in my heart and mind, aside from their challenging, brilliant music. Back in the early to mid 1990's, I was in my twenties and living in the city. It was an amazing time of liberation for me. For the first time I was truly independent and on my own. No school, no teachers, no parents, nothing. I was free to explore life, ideas, my sexuality, my writing/performing, and to define my identity entirely free of any outside influence or controls. I read massive amounts of early 20th Century literature, went crazy publishing my poetry and doing open mics, built new friendships, got my career going in the direction I wanted, dove deep into the latest thinking in particle physics, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics, ate up all the independent theatre in the area, and spent free time in coffeehouses all over the place soaking up every kind of input from new people I was meeting.

Independent music stores like Evil Clown and Reckless Records allowed me to swim in a sea of non-mainstream, non-major label music.  I was exposed to acid jazz, afropop, trance, goa, gangsta rap, downtempo/lounge, and trip hop. I was able to hear classical jazz through the ears of people who understood it, experienced music by artists from all over the world not just the stuff record companies spoon feed the masses here in the US, and I got to see amazing live performances.  One guy took me on a date to see Sir George Solti conducting "Bolero". Another highlight was seeing Guru perform live at the Metro after the release of his second Jazzmatazz release (with Vanessa Daou opening).

In this setting, FSOL's 1996 album Dead Cities was one of the first techno releases I ever bought, and it blew me away completely. It's a mixture of a sonic collage mentality, an aesthetic that bends and twists sounds like silly putty, a dark/dystopian tonality, and savage beats juxtaposed against ominous ambient vibes. I'd never heard anything like it or even dreamed anything like it could exist. So it was one of my first "wow!" moments as I dove into new sounds and musical sensibilities.

After that eye-opening moment, I purchased several other offerings by FSOL from time to time. Their maxi-single for the track "My Kingdom" off Dead Cities is an amazing release on its own merits and it takes the idea of a maxi-single into an entirely different universe. There was something almost akin to classical music in the 'movements' presented in the maxi-single. I also bought Lifeforms, the maxi-single for the electrifying "We Have Explosive", and the maxi-single for "Cascade". Loved them all and became very much into their approach to music.

Since then I have been exploring electronic music genres of all kinds and have heard some really phenomenal stuff but, as always happens, sometimes the album that 'breaks us in' to a style of music holds a special place in our heart. However, I also am glad that my first listen for this kind of challenging techno or IDM was a masterpiece like Dead Cities. Very lucky. Just as I was lucky my first gangsta rap album was Gangstarr's Daily Operation. Always good to hear something phenomenal at the start!

More recently (in 2002), FSOL put out their follow-up to Dead Cities (The Isness).  I bought it without listening to it or knowing anything about it, got it home, tore it open, and put it on the CD player. I was hungry to be taken somewhere unbelievable all over again. And then...I hear a bunch of retro sounding hippie music! WTF! I hated it! I gave it a few more spins, reminding myself that you can't judge a band based on what you expect them to do, but I could not get into it. Into the closet it went. 

This past week, after listening to some of the sitar influenced work by Bombay Dub Orchestra on their 2008 album 3 Cities, I recalled some of the sounds and textures on The Isness and thought I'd give it a try again. For whatever reason, I immediately was able to enjoy the album. Not even sure exactly why it was so objectionable to me in the first place. Well, that's not entirely true. The shift in tonality and style from Dead Cities to The Isness is pretty neck-snapping, but in fact the approach FSOL takes to music is apparent in both albums, and I can see that now. (The fact that the tracks like "Elysian Feels" and "Divinity" hit me in my sonic-emotional g-spot doesn't hurt either).

Every so often, this happens with music or art or literature (or even food - see my entry on falling in love with sushi). We are exposed to something and we just can't get into it, but much later we suddenly 'get it'.  Perhaps I just needed more time to amass the experience or information needed for The Isness to make sense to me? Whatever the reason, I'm listening to The Isness right now and finding myself as enthralled by it as I was all those years ago when I first gave Dead Cities a spin.

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