Music

Okay, Let's Talk About Magic: An Interview with Fuck Buttons

Matt Spencer

Not many noise/electronic duos get their music featured in the Olympics, but Fuck Buttons aren't any ordinary group, and they talk to PopMatters about their big gold medal moment, their new album, and so much more.


Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus

Label: ATP
US Release Date: 2013-07-23
UK Release Date: 2013-07-22
Amazon
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With the release of their third album, Slow Focus, Fuck Buttons continue an unlikely evolution from droning noisemakers to psychedelic electronic pop artists, all the while retaining a sense of epic scale and carefully sculpted sound design.

The duo of Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power formed in 2004 while the two were studying art in Bristol after Hung asked Power to help score a student film he was making. The band released their debut album, Street Horrrsing, in 2008, and their highly-regarded early sound featured distorted drones and pummeling percussion, not unlike early influences such as Mogwai. The follow-up, Tarot Sport, saw them incorporating more airy synth textures along with the steady pulse more associated with electronic dance music.

Plenty of groups exist nowadays that fuse elements of rock, noise, and electronic dance music, but none sound like the Fuck Buttons. This is because, along with their desire to build unique sonic landscapes, they also have an ear towards hooks and beats that stems from a intuitive way the members work with each other. "I think that if we were to analyze it for certain qualities," he says, "we could come up with conclusions, for sure." But they don't. The point is to make sounds that elicit emotion rather than generate ideas.

Perhaps this is why Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld, as music directors of the 2012 Olympics, selected two Fuck Buttons tracks for the Opening Ceremony in London, as well as an adaption of Power's electronic music project Blanck Mass to be played by the London Symphony orchestra during the raising of the Union Jack. Even in that array of unlikely artists, the Fuck Buttons seemed to have been plucked from the air, that is until you actually hear "Surf Solar" or the prophetically named "Olympians". The fluorescent chords and propulsive beats make for the perfect accompaniment to athletic special.

While Hung has said previously that band hasn't received that much money through licensing the songs to the Olympics, one aspect of the experience has been undeniable: the moral support behind billions of people listing to their music. "It was the first time I saw my parents going mental about what I do," he says with good humor and a measure of pride.

* * *

How would you describe recording your new album?

I think it took longer than anticipated. We were kinda feeling our way through it, being the first time that we recorded it [ourselves]. In the end, all the hard work was done already. We knew how the record wanted to sound once we had written the songs. So when it came down to recording, it had more to do with technicalities. It wasn't fully a creative process, the production.

So I heard with some of the previous albums that you came into the studio with songs a little less structured. Was it the same this time around?

In the past, it's been the same, really. But we had a producer just to help us with that side of things. We came to realize that the production side of things was intact once the songs had been written. We approach songs from a production point of view anyway. We approach them from a textural point of view straight from the beginning and that develops as well.

What is it about a particular sound makes it a Fuck Buttons sound? Is it something that you can pin down?

I think that if we were to analyze it for certain qualities, we could come up with conclusions, for sure. You know when you have a friend who's really into music; you can go on into other music and say "Oh, I bet you'll like this." Ben and I, Fuck Buttons is basically the music we like listening to. I think you could dissect it, I really do, but we never have. We continue to feel our way through it because it's more fun that way, not knowing what you like and trying to find what you like. That's what we do.

So the difference this time was that handled the process of recording this time around instead of using someone from the outside?

When we first start writing a track, we both look for sounds we like. It's quite a meticulous process. It's exploratory, and there's a lot of discarding. But then once we hit something, we'll build a song around it. That's really the core of the songwriting process for us -- is making sure that a combination of sounds is prevalent. So that's all we really need to get from the production side of things. Traditionally, you'd write songs and then produce them. But for us, we're already producing. It's just a matter of recording it.

Do you guys do a lot of self sampling?

We always create our own samples. We started off using live drum kits -- we had a room to play in. Because drum kits are quite loud, you can't really play them in a house. So we had a little studio space this time around, which we were able to utilize. So we always make our samples from whatever, and that's always been the case.

And even with those resources at your disposal, I still hear somewhat of a lo-fi or bent sound to some of the elements. Is that something that you've consciously tried to retain?

We were talking about the specifics of taste. We do tend to like a bit noisier things. Right now we are drawn to dirtier sounds as opposed to clean things. I'm not sure why that is. It's a taste thing.

In the past you've used budget equipment, like things from charity shops -- either out of choice or taste. Have you continued to use those means for creating your music?

It really does come down to finances, actually. I'd think we'd really love to buy expensive Moog modulars. But I don't think we'd ever be able to afford it. But it does come down to practicality. It could be anything, really. We don't really have taste when it comes to instruments. That's why anything goes. We're still continuing to accumulate a lot of other instruments. That's always an ongoing process.

Are able at this point to make a living through music?

Just about. Most of our income comes from playing live, so we do have to do that fairly regularly. There's only two of us -- God, this stuff is quite boring [laughs]. There's two of us. We can travel in a car. So our heads our quite small in that way. I don't really understand, for instance, bands that have drum kits, which means they have to tour in vans or tour buses. Judging for our fees, it's probably quite tight.

You direct a lot of videos for Fuck Buttons. Is the visual aspect important for the group?

It's the music that's the most important aspect of Fuck Buttons. But then with the visuals and the artwork, they're all means of delivering the music. But Ben and I, we're also visual artists. I was a visual artist way before I became a musician. We both went to art collage, and our background is in visual art. So it's actually things that we enjoy doing. It's nice that way. It gives an opportunity to flex those muscles.

So when you guys formed the band, did that happen naturally or was there a conscious decision to try something different?

Like a lot of bands, it grew out of friendship, liking the same sort of bands. When we started to make music together, which was about 2004 or so, Ben had been a few other bands. He's a very capable musician, whereas I had only started programming music, never played live. And so I made a film at the time, and I needed someone to play live instruments on it. And so I invited Ben to come in. It was very easy to work then. And we just decided to make a band, which is really exciting and has carried on ever since then.

What were some of the music touchstones were you going off when the band was first starting out?

We've actually very different music taste. I couldn't tell you what Ben is listening to at the moment. But we used to go to a lot of gigs together at the time. It was in Uni that we started to go to gigs together, in Bristol. And the kind of music scene there is really, really good for somewhere that's off the beaten track. There's always gigs going on, local gigs. American bands would come as well. And we used to go see them. It was good time then, I think, an exciting time for music

Given more resources, would you choose to develop more of the visual side of the band?

Yeah, Ben and I are really interested in that side of things. The live show, for instance, the visual element is becoming more and more of a concern for us as we play bigger stages. It's quite fun actually.

So what are you doing right now?

So there's a light show, first of all. But we're also using projections and using something that's like real-time motion capture. Ah, how to explain it? So it's processing out images in real time and feeding that through the projector, but that's still in the design phase at the moment. We've only five shows or so with the new system, just seeing what it's capable of. It's quite exciting times really.

So onto the inevitable Olympics question: so for friends and family members that normally aren't an audience for you music, has that exposure changed how that look at what you do?

It certainly an affirmation, if you're talking to someone's dad or whatever. [laughs] He might go, "Oh, he was on the Olympics." From that point of view, for sure. It was the first time I saw my parents going mental about what I do. Before, they were like, "You need to get a job. You need get a proper job." They've been doing that for years now. As soon as they saw the music on the Olympics, that's when they started getting excited.

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