Zoom In: An interview with Fuck Buttons – Telekom Electronic Beats

Zoom In: An interview with Fuck Buttons

Words by Steph Kretowicz

Steph Kretowicz meets the duo behind the epic, Olympian textures and driving rhythms to reveal a new way of not looking at music. 

 

“We don’t really need to talk to each other,” says Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons. These are not the words of a band in crisis but of one that works so intuitively that they could take four years off between records and still sound unmistakably like themselves. Outside an East London bar on a not-quite-warm summer’s day promoting their third album, Slow Focus, the pair are sat side by side across a bench, looking like complete opposites. Hung, with his crisp yellow and white striped polo shirt, Benjamin Power in a significantly more ostentatious getup, including a black leather jacket and black-rimmed, gold-temple sunglasses, hands flecked with the odd scrawled tattoo.

The Fuck Buttons’ break saw both musicians busy working on their own projects. Power has been making another name for himself in the mottled sonic voyages of Blanck Mass and Hung is the mind behind the wonky bass thrust of Dawn Hunger, an anagram of his own name, realized live and on record by vocalist Claire Inglis and multi-instrumentalist Matthew de Pulford. Together as Fuck Buttons, it’s as if their differing temperaments converge. In Slow Focus a skyward glide easily slots into a thumping drum echo in “Brainfreeze”, and frenetic synth decay is laid across a strident build up before bursting into dazzling polyrhythms in “Prince’s Prize”. It’s all a part of a creative fluidity that relies as much on the listener’s interpretation as its creators’ intent.

In my punk and hardcore days, I used to think of Fuck Buttons as a noise act, centered around the brutal percussive orgy of “Ribs Out” on 2008’s Street Horrrsing and the wobbly clatter of “Phantom Limb” on 2009’s Tarot Sport. Now though, it’s the cosmic soundtrack of “Sweet Love for Planet Earth” and ambient electronica of “Space Mountain” that informs my idea of what Fuck Buttons represents, those epic textures a reflection of my own shifting temperament. That’s because there’s something in the mutability of Fuck Buttons that makes their music as much an underground mainstay as a sound accessible to millions of people—as evidenced when they played at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. The fact that that song was called “Olympians” not only speaks to the chain of events linking that track to Power’s memory of passing the as-yet-unfinished Olympic stadium in London while listening to it in 2009, but also the role that words can play in one’s interpretation of a song.

That’s why the London-based musicians—who met in the Worcestershire skating community before attending art school together in Bristol—are reluctant to talk about the potential concepts and ideas surrounding Slow Focus. Not only that, but Fuck Buttons are staunchly against the aid of visual cues when writing and recording, insisting that sight and sound are modes entirely distinct from one another, making them quite a contemporary anomaly in their processes. In an era where audio software and laptop performance pervades, Fuck Buttons close their eyes to the wave forms and speaker specs that could influence their perceptions to develop music with a universal reach, while sounding unmistakably theirs.

 

With more people using computers to make music, the process has become a lot more audio-visual, while you still seem to make a fairly solid distinction between the visual and aural formats—which is a unique sensibility to have these days.

Benjamin Power: Yeah. I guess because, like you’re saying, there are a lot of people championing exclusively using laptops, so, obviously for them, they go hand in hand but it’s never really worked like that for us. There are separate stages for us now, whereas with others the divides are a little more blurred.

Andrew Hung: That’s what I don’t like about using computers, actually, being able to see it visually, because it’s got nothing to do with the music. I’d prefer to have all that stuff hidden. When you can see waveforms, I find that really distracting. With Soundcloud, for instance, I don’t really like seeing the waveform in front of me. I want to be able to just hear it because I don’t want any danger of that influencing what I’m hearing. When you’re in a mastering studio, they’ve got the speakers hidden for a reason because you don’t want to see the specs of what the speakers are, so you don’t have an instant judgement of what the music’s doing for you.

BP: Yeah. When we are recording, and we’re listening back to something, we’re sat in the back of the room so you can’t see the waveforms. Once you add that extra element, you’re not completely focused on the one that actually matters overall.

You must have to make quite a concerted effort to remove that visual aspect from making music.

BP: It doesn’t really feel like a concerted effort. [Andy]’s really good at not paying attention to that sort of thing and sometimes I do find myself staring at the computer screen when we’re recording. But then I think, “Hang on, this isn’t right,” and I just turn around. It doesn’t feel really hard, it’s just like, “Hang on, maybe don’t do that.”

Aren’t humans just more visual creatures?

AH: Definitely. We are. I had laser eye surgery recently. I couldn’t see for a few hours and it really struck home how much of our world is dependent on visual information, in everything we do: opening a door, walking down the street avoiding people or anything like that. I was going to get the tube or a bus but I couldn’t do anything like that. I had to get a taxi in the end but even that was really disconcerting [laughs].

So you utilize a range of unconventional and miscellaneous tools to write and perform, except for computers.

AH: Even with keyboards, they give you a visual representation of music, don’t they? They give you an idea of what you should be playing and sometimes you need to get rid of that. I bought a keyboard recently that gives you hexagonal keys and you have no idea where all the notes are because they’re all related to each other harmonically, not on a scale like a normal keyboard. So you’re having to approach it just by using your senses, to get your tastes out. I find that stuff quite interesting.

Is there an instrument in existence that allows you to create sound without visual cues?

AH: I haven’t touched upon stuff like Max/MSP for instance, where you make your own instruments. You code it. I’m not very good at coding but that’s something I want to explore because there’s infinite possibility. Synthesizers are infinite in possibility. Technically, you should be able to make any sort of sound from a synthesizer but they don’t have that capability in reality.

Infinite possibility can be limiting, in some ways, because it’s hard to navigate something that’s endless.

AH: But your tastes aren’t infinite. Your tastes are finite and that’s what Fuck Buttons is, it’s what we like. I think if we didn’t know what we liked, it could be all sorts of shit. It would be a pile of shit [laughs].

You’ve said that you could quite possibly have very different ideas of what your music represents to each of you.

AH: I think the issue is that we don’t want to rob someone of their own ideas. We don’t want to officialize anything.

I know you don’t want to talk about it but do you have a clear idea of what it represents personally?

BP: Yeah, potentially. We obviously arrive at a similar point when tracks are getting titled but something could happen to Andy when he’s listening to “The Red Wing” or “Brainfreeze” and that could add a whole new meaning, and I’m not going to say, “Well, we decided on this already.”

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Especially when you consider that you attach certain emotions to the music you were listening to at a certain time of your life. That’s why your approach feels quite amorphous in that way. Where that ambiguity is there so it could be interpreted any number of ways.

BP: I think so. It’s definitely an idea we like to embrace because, as Andy’s saying, we don’t want to rob somebody of that kind of thinking. That’s what makes the world an interesting place. People have different ideas and we’re not here to tell you whether you’re wrong or your right. ~

 

Slow Focus is out via ATP Recordings on July 22nd.