THE IDEOLOGY AND THE ECSTASY: Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons

A billion bloody fans can’t possibly be wrong, can they? Fuck no! But what will they think of the new avenues of expression the British band traverses on new album Slow Focus? Benjamin John Power and Andres Hung have some explaining to do.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

Two years ago, a Fuck Buttons song was broadcast to over 1 billion people. It was “Olympians” and, fittingly enough, it was incorporated into the London Olympics’ opening ceremony, along with the equally blood-pounding, equally ecstatic “Surf Solar.”

 

“We were approached by Rick Smith from Underworld who was working on the opening ceremony,” says Benjamin John Power.  Power, along with Andrew Hung, has made up Fuck Buttons since the mid-‘00s. “He just proposed to us that he wanted to include us. We didn’t really know in what capacity our music was going to be used until quite late on in the day. We were as surprised as anybody else.”  

 

While being included in the same extravaganza as Paul McCartney, Daniel Craig and, ahem, the Queen, must be quite a rush, it’s just a large scale example of the transformation this Bristol-born electronic duo has undergone, evolving from two guys hunched over a laptop in a room to festival showstoppers with thousands of sweaty, gyrating fans.

 

Hung and Power, who first met as skateboarding teens, reconnected at the University of Bristol in 2004, where Power was studying illustration and Hung videomaking and art. Their first project was music for a film Hung was making. Not long after, in 2006, an early single got ATP’s attention.  They signed with the label in 2007. In 2008, their first full-length, Street Horrrsing came out.  Mojo called it “a six-track, 50-minute melange of iridescent synths, psychedelic drone, distorted vocals and tribal rhythm, peaking with the deftly layered counter-melodies and blissed -out propulsion of epic single ‘Bright Tomorrow.’“ It earned a #83 spot on the 2008 Pazz & Jop poll.

 

The Andrew Weatherall-produced Tarot Sport followed in 2009, attracting even more praise. The A.V. Club enthused that, “Fuck Buttons succeeds at turning its unpredictable epics into masterpieces of pacing and strange beauty.” And then, years passed, with the Fuck Buttons on near-constant tour, hitting massive European festivals and shaking the ground with their physically propulsive, cerebrally intricate, spiritually transforming grooves.  

 

“It’s been four years since the last album came out, but it’s not that we’ve been inactive,” says Power, when asked about the long gap between recordings. “You know, after Tarot Sport we were touring for about two years, two and a half years. When we got back from touring we started to write the latest record. We were doing it at our own pace. We didn’t want to have any external deadlines, kind of rushing us along trying to finish it. I think that’s made it possible for us to make something that we’re very, very happy with.”

 

Power and Hung could afford to take their time, because for Slow Focus (ATP Recordings), for the first time, they were working in their own studio and producing their own material.  Power had recently moved to a new home, a converted dairy with storage space below.  

 

“We started to kind of work and track things there as opposed to going to somebody else’s space,” Power says. “We always produced ourselves anyway. We just didn’t have the technological know-how to really know our way around the software with the previous records, but we do now. “

 

 

Following the rules

Fuck Buttons is defined by a set of guidelines that comprise a kind of ideology. The first rule is that all composition has to be done together.

 

“We have to show up in a live capacity for writing. Sitting at the table facing each other. It has to be live,” says Power. “For the first part, there’s not a computer in sight. We’re using no hardware. And everything’s patched up into a strange unique schematic.”

 

The two of them try out ideas, there, in the room. They never write separately or bring in preliminary sketches to work on. Their ideas take shape through person-to-person collaboration. Power says that they don’t even listen to music, other than the material they’re recording, during the process. “To begin with, we just try to draw on whatever we have in front of us, and then we try and come across passages that we’re both interested in,” says Power. “Once we’ve found those, then we start to structure the music.”

 

The other part of Fuck Buttons’ ideology is the need for constant evolution. “The instrumentation is always changing because we don’t want to do the same thing twice,” says Power. “It means that we get to surprise ourselves, which I think is quite important. Keeps interest alive.”

 

Powers says that he and Hung used a number of new instruments on Soft Focus, but he declines to name specific ones. That’s another part of the Fuck Buttons credo: don’t get too enamored of individual sounds. “You don’t want to get too attached to these things, because if you do, you start to overuse them. I think it’s important to emphasize a signature ideology but maybe not a signature sound or texture.”

 

Moreover, by the time the Fuck Buttons have finished processing and arranging and altering sounds, their original source may not be that important. Asked about the drum sounds in “Sentient,” Power struggles a bit. “The first one that you hear, I don’t even know how we made that. It’s been really changed, the initial signal, and it’s hard to pinpoint how that actually came about, but I think that might have been some kind of drum patterned, programmed, synchronized over,” he explains. “It doesn’t really matter. You can chuck a floor stand down a set of stairs and if it sounds good, who cares?”

 

 

The brain and the body

 

Fuck Buttons’ “Olympians” was perfect for the Olympics, not just because of the name, but because of the driving, pounding physicality of the tune – and, really, you could do worse than Slow Focus if you’re sound-tracking a hard workout. Yet the band’s music has a very spiritual quality, and a certain amount of intellectual heft, as well. I ask Power if his band writes for the brain or the body.

 

“Well, I mean, Andrew and I both come from a visual background, so I think there is a level of …we’re probably aiming more towards the cerebral,” he hazards. “Then when we perform live we like to try to get the maximum volume as far as we can. It’s a bit of both, really, although we don’t write for anyone but ourselves initially.”   

 

Because both Power and Hung started as visual artists, they often interpret the songs in pictorial terms, as large-scale landscapes. As they finish the tracks, they talk about these images and sometimes reflect them in the titles. Powers explains, “Because there aren’t any lyrics, I think, like obviously, once we’ve written the track, we’ll often discuss the imagery that comes to each of us individually. The nature of the sound and the textures we’re using are quite wide and they’re quite grand and that kind of lends itself to the idea of a landscape.”  

 

Yet all that changes in the live setting, where Fuck Buttons are headed this summer, in the enormous festivals where brainy compositions and artful imagery dissolves in the sheer force of volume, rhythm and communal experience.

 

Asked about the transition from sitting across a table from Hung, messing with altered sounds, to performing for thousands, Powers answers, “It’s shocking. When we started out nine years ago, we never thought we’d be playing to anybody other than a room with 20 people in it.  It’s exciting. It’s nice to see how people respond. Especially since a big part of the writing process occurs when we play out live and experiment with things.”   

 

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