The Big Chill 2002
SPILL THE BEANS #1
In a trendy wine bar in the deepest suburbs of Hull I’m sat with two of the most prolific and widely respected artists in leftfield music today. It’s a sunny afternoon and after a quick round of drinks at the bar (two pints of Kronenborg, a packet of Quavers and an orange juice), Steve and Man have just been provoked into reminiscing about life on the road across the pond. Earlier this year they had been on a whistle-stop tour of the UK and the US to promote their latest album ‘Jump Leads‘.
Man takes a sip of his orange. ‘It all seems like a long time ago now, but San Francisco and New York still stick out, they were the best gigs.’ As Steve is quick to point out, however, not everything went to plan. ‘It wasn’t all good – we lost a lot of money. But you have to start somewhere. I’m sure that when we go back to America again we’ll be able to do bigger venues and hopefully we’ll break even. You can still look at it as cheap advertising anyway, a lot of people got to see us. I suppose we played to a good ten thousand people, so if a third of them went out and bought the album… we’re in!’
‘Quid’s in!’ adds Man excitedly with a look of gleeful anticipation. Money troubles were soon forgotten however as the fates conspired to afflict the tour with a string of miniature catastrophes. Snow drifts, slipped discs and smashed hard disks all contributed to what would turn out to be a testing few weeks. There were loads of time when you’d think this just isn’t worth it,’ sighs Man, relapsing into a more sombre state. ‘When we dropped the laptop onto the pavement outside the venue… those seven hours between it hitting the floor and the gig were really, really bad. We had a real panic on. Steve was online trying to download drivers. What a fucking night.’ He appears utterly exhausted just thinking about it. But then more cheerily: ‘It was a quiet time won’t it?’ ‘Not much chatting,’ agrees Steve. Then the two almost in unison: ‘The rider was untouched!’
Still on the subject of the tour, I was curious to know about any outrageous rock and roll exploits that the band may have indulged. ‘Any rock and roll stories? Yeah, but not any that are going in any fucking archives!’ Steve protests. After a slight pause, Man fesses up. ‘Our roadie, Archie, once launched some pyrotechnic rockets off a roof at Ramstein, the German death metal band.’
The conversation turns to music. There have now been eight major releases from the band, all of which have resonated their own individual vibe and have steadily earned Fila a reputation as ‘the dons of downtempo’. Having won the respect of a large fan base without ever resorting to advertising and with little or no airplay, you could say Fila Brazillia embody ideals alien to the modern music industry. Certainly both Steve and Man have strong feelings about how their music is discovered. ‘Word of mouth is a lot more solid than adverts,’ says Steve. ‘I think if you’re actually gaining more fans through advertising it’s a bit pumped up and artificial, whereas if you’re gaining support through people saying this is fucking great you should listen to it, then it seems a lot more honest. And you keep your credibility intact. I think we’ve proved that you can sell records without advertising. But even if each album only sells ten more than the one before, we’ll consider it a success.’
Man and Cobby have also remixed singles for a veritable plethora of different artists ranging from Radiohead to Simple Minds. ‘Brazilification‘ is the culmination of these musical endeavours, but despite the fact that such artists have obviously recognised Fila’s own considerable talents and sought them out to reinterpret their art; the two seem less than excited about their moonlighting. ‘The good stuff’s on the albums,’ laments Steve. ‘The remixes are always a commercial proposition. You’re doing a mix for somebody to put out a twelve and that’s always got to be functional. Nine times out of ten it’s got to be something that can get played out. If you’re doing a twelve it’s just a red and a yellow. It’s much more minimal. Like a Rothko. With the albums we want to make a more interesting canvas. With more tributaries you can investigate. Where the shelf life’s loads longer. Club records have a job, and that job is to get peoples arses wobbling.’
Steve pauses and takes a contemplative drag on his fag, then smirks ‘which is why we should do a four hertz tone for five minutes, that’d get people’s arses wobbling!’ Some pure-minded individuals may not know what this all means, so the following explanation is for their benefit. Four hertz is the sound also known (rather affectionately) as the ‘brown note’: it’s the deep vibration which causes involuntary bowl movement and untold dry cleaning bills. ‘It’s been used as a form of riot control. It was even employed by the Nazis in the attempted production of a super weapon, a super sonic weapon.’ But of course, it’s non-directional so presumably you’d have to have some kind of masochist to operate it. ‘Yeah, can you imagine though?’ says Steve looking wistfully into the middle distance. ‘Bass! We fucking took them with bass! That’s a war I’d sign up for!’
SPILL THE BEANS #2
Fila’s latest offering, ‘Jump leads’, is perhaps their most accomplished work to date. However, though critically acclaimed and well-received by the vast majority, the band has come under fire concerning their new material. Sceptics and disenchanted fans alike have questioned their new musical direction. So do they ever worry about alienating their followers with a sound that is never static and constantly evolving? Not a bit. ‘I think that people who can’t come with us tend to be people who live in the past,’ says Steve. ‘As far as we’re concerned we’ve never done the same album twice. If we were worried about alienating people we’d have made ‘Old Codes New Chaos’ nine times over. ‘Jump Leads’ was about getting rid of our own mental shackles. It was a case of we can be anything we want. So let’s stop thinking in any pre-formed way, and do anything we want.’
We get talking about Fila’s infamous song titles, and how they get interpreted. For instance, our very own Freddie B has suggested that ‘Jump Leads’ is a comment on the rivalry between Hull and Leeds. ‘People really project don’t they?’ says Steve. ‘We call them the watchers, or the in-too-deeps. Salman Rushdie said that everybody has a God-shaped hole in them and that people fill it with music or football or whatever. You find something to believe in, and to some people we’ve become that. I think that there is enough in our music for people to escape into and I suppose it becomes a really spiritual thing for them. Which is valid, but there is no way that they’re gonna get anything out of us other than furrowed brows when they come and say things like ‘you’ve got a force behind you’.’
As is so often the case Steve has gone off on a tangent and I have to call him back to the original question. ‘No, Freddie,’ he laughs, ‘it’s to do with not hearing a Missy Elliot lyric properly. She’s got a track called ‘John Blaze’. She was singing it and I was convinced she was singing ‘M’jump leads!’ [Sung in true club singer stylee, a hysterical impersonation of Missy Elliot] and I said to Man, ‘I’m sure there’s a Missy Elliot lyric where she’s singing about jump leads, and he was like, ‘fucking top lyrics!’ I looked at the notes and realised I was wrong… but we used it anyway. We thought it was still a good title.’ It seems then that a great deal of Fila’s material stems from Steve’s inability to hear accurately, but what of it when the results are as original and as entertaining as they are?
Certainly Fila Brazillia’s music is hard to define. Their latest LP even has a folk song on it… ‘The green green grass of homegrown’, one of those little oddities that encapsulates Fila’s immense powers. ‘We did it in Brighton and we got the biggest cheer out of all the songs we did. It’s a comedy song, this is as comedy as we’ve ever got. We were waiting for our percussionist to come round to do a session and he was late so we just set up and started fucking about. This was the result; Steve saw the title on the board and took it from there.’
Here as on the rest of the album the vocals are supplied courtesy of Steve Edwards, so just how did he land the job of being the voice of ‘Jump Leads’? ‘After putting the word out through our publisher that we wanted to do some tracks with singers, we got in touch with Steve via Sim our label manager. We knew that we wanted about four songs on the album to have lyrics. The first sessions went so well that we just thought, let Steve do them all.’ This kind of ultra-spontaneous (dare I say frivolous?) decision-making is familiar territory for Fila but many fans saw the inclusion of proper song lyrics as a step towards the main stream and a leap away from the old Fila they knew and loved.
The pair struggle with this kind of close-minded hysteria. ‘It’s not a new thing! We’ve done tracks that have had vocals on them before, Anyway,’ insists Steve. ‘Most of the ‘Fila hits’ have had vocals; ‘Pots and Pans’, ‘A Zed and Two Ls’ all have vocal samples. It’s a sonic that we like, it was just that this time we decided to get in at source instead of taxing samples. Most of the next album is going to be Djini Brown, the rapper that we use. It’s going to be radically different to the one we’ve just put out. All we want to do is do something different every time. So it’s nice when people say that this one was a bit more… whatever, because it means they’re feeling the difference.’ As is becoming a bit of a trend, Man has the last say on the issue and manages to encapsulate the band’s feelings in one condensed, digestible chunk: ‘We’re just into writing good music, and if people are so big on pigeonholes they’re not gonna get it.’
Steve scratches his head and attempts a further explanation. ‘We like being contrary, you know? It keeps it interesting for us. In a lot of respects that’s why we never did interviews because it was really hard talking about what we did because we’re flippant about it. The grand scheme is to keep it enjoyable and interesting. The worst criticism that anyone could throw at us is that we’re boring. We like to be interesting. We like something that you can lose yourself in and investigate a bit more than something that’s two-dimensional. We’re sculpting rather than painting I think.’
I ask them about The Big Chill. ‘When we went the first year it was magical,’ says Man. ‘Obviously you can’t make any money from fifteen hundred people, but it was magical. It was a fucking magical weekend that, it was amazing.’ Since then chill out music has really taken off, unfortunately a great deal of it seems to be commercial tripe rolled out in force to eagerly awaiting shelves at Tesco. Which Big Chiller hasn’t cringed at the adverts for the ‘Celtic chill out’ double CD and wondered where the scene was heading? The discussion of these concerns sparks an interest in Steve as he ponders ‘How come everybody wants to chill out now? You have to look at it from an anthropological point of view. Is it all getting a bit too much? Post 9/11, does everybody want to go and disappear and hide in their own little Henry Mancini box?’
It transpires that Fila Brazillia are reluctant to be mentioned in the same breath as acts like Air and Zero 7. ‘We’ve never ever perceived ourselves as chill out. That’s just a tag that’s been thrown at us; mostly we’ve kicked against it. At lot of that has become muzak, hotel lobby music, Kruder and Dorfmeister. You can’t get excited about it, can you? You’d be like, fucking hell! I got really comfy to that one! You want a spark. I smoke a lot of draw, so we have done tunes that are kind of smoking tunes, but I still don’t think it’s chill out. Chill out implies that you’ve switched off; I’d rather switch people on. We don’t want to be background music.’
It’s a fair point, and well made. ‘I love ambient music though. ‘Apollo’ by Brian Eno is the most amazing piece of work. By the dawns early light, Harold Budd, that’s not dinner party music. A lot of chill out stuff is really well crafted but it is musak. It’s had all the edges rounded off completely. It’s safe it’s easy… it’s easy listening. I’m sure there’s a place for it, but you couldn’t say that any of our albums are chill out albums.’
Over their career Fila have proved it a personal mission to seek out strange new sounds with which to make their audience sit up and listen, and there is evidence we’ll be hearing more from them in the near future. ‘We have an EP coming out with Dinji, which is just old Fila tunes with Dinji rapping over the top. That’s called ‘Saucy Joints’. But the first thing that’s gonna come out is ‘Three White Roses and a Budd EP‘, which is some tracks we did with Harold Budd, the American avant garde composer. And Bill Nelson, they’re both pensioners. Three Yorkshire men and an American, so three white roses and a bud, aha! That’s just an ambient EP that’s gonna come out on 23, we want to start putting more stuff out on 23 so that it becomes seen as a label and not just a clearing house for Fila.’
In short, expect more of the same, or rather don’t, because Fila Brazillia have already been there and done that and now it’s time for something completely different.
By Jonathan Kay 20th September 2002
This interview is copied from http://www.bigchill.net/news/2002/09/fila-brazillia/