Fila Brazillia

The boys from Hull

With their seventh album Fila Brazillia are finally coming out of hiding.

For nearly a decade, Fila Brazillia have been one of pop’s best kept secrets. Bunkered down in foggy Hull like a Philip Glass funk orchestra, the reclusive duo have released six instrumental albums of sunny, funky, spacious grooves. All are deceptively gentle patchworks of sound that hide avant-garde ideas behind an effortless musicality.

Fila Brazillia pre-date Air and Groove Armada. They have remixed Radiohead, James, Black Uhuru and The Orb. But they’ve refused to be photographed and are rarely interviewed. Until now. “I always felt it was about the tunes,” explains 33-year-old Steve Cobby, half of Fila with Dave McSherry (35). “Let’s just make something so rock solid and concrete that no one can mess with it.”

A brief spell as guitarist in early 90s Manchester funksters Ashley & Jackson left Cobby disgusted with the manoeuvrings of the music business. He retreated to his hometown of Hull, where he began collaborating with old schoolmate McSherry, previously in leftfield punk act Puncture Tough Guy.

For the release of their seventh album, A Touch Of Cloth, the first on their own label Tritone (after sticking with the tiny independent Pork Recordings), and illustrated with a stained-glass window cartoon showing Jesus smoking a joint, Fila Brazillia have gone on tour with a six-piece band. A 600-strong crowd at London’s New Scala greeted the band with applause and football-style whoops of “Fila! Fila!” Trendy mid-20s couples smile and good vibes glisten. Fila fans smile at each other in recognition as another lilting melody – the tense 70s feel of Harmonicas – blasts from the stage.

The secret is out. Unlike most studio bods, Cobby (shimmering funk guitar and keyboards) and McSherry (tight disco bass) – can actually play their instruments. “If you’re a guitarist in a band you’ll say, ‘I need guitar from beginning to end of every single song’,” McSherry said, over a pint of Guinness in a Kings Cross pub. “We’ll say, chop it out. Put a hacksaw in instead.” If there are any hacksaws in the colourful chill-out grooves that fill albums like Black Market Gardening, Old Codes New Chaos, or the more abrasive Mess, they’re played in the best possible taste. “It is purposely cinematic,” says Cobby. “You are meant to produce your own films in your head. You haven’t got singers weaving some cod story over the top.” Consequently, Fila Brazillia tracks turn up in the weirdest places: San Francisco coffee shops, Australian hippy hovels, or on TV, backing gardening and DiY programmes.

Cobby and McSherry are wisecracking northerners whose musical views were forged in the post-punk creative hothouse of the early 80s, when bands such as The Clash started dabbling with funk, disco, rap and reggae. Their contemporaries included fellow northern experimentalists Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA and the Comsat Angels. Like Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk, they moved into electronic dance music, determined to stay among the post-punk drop-outs who were in Hull avoiding the “mortgage noose”.

Cobby describes today’s rebellion-by-numbers pop landscape as “international cabaret”, and McSherry talks about unfashionable concepts like “selling out”. Both admit to art house interests – “we’re receptive to eye and ear food,” says McSherry – but prefer to communicate their ideas subtly, through “tickling people under the chin” rather than banging on their foreheads. They could have turned into two pub bores, but instead pulled off their post-punk dream of total creative independence: their jokes can’t hide a real sense of pride that “we did it our way”.

Sim, from fellow travellers Heights of Abraham, joined the table and remembered one Fila fan, a merchant seaman, who took the band’s music on long ocean crossings. “Imagine, on the bridge, crossing the Atlantic for hours, listening. Steps ain’t gonna do it, is it?”

A Touch of Cloth is out now on Tritone.

By Dom Phillips

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