This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) in October 2015.
In the beginning, there were five. That was before the robots came. That was before art-pop collective FOUND spawned a cyborg plant orchestra in a hothouse; sired a sentient android band in a wardrobe; built a storytelling robot ensemble whose songs were shaped by mood and environment. And all the while, they made brilliant records, shed human members, and mutated identities, so that the one-time quintet is now a two-piece – Ziggy Campbell and Kev Sim – and they’re staring down the strange dawn of a new LP.
It’s a kosmische, uncanny soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi film, whose songs and instrumentals invoke Tangerine Dream, library music, retro TV themes, Vangelis, Max Ernst’s alien landscapes, obsession, kissing, brimstone, Carlisle and the apocalypse. It’s the follow-up to FOUND’s stellar Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award nominated Factorycraft, and – in homage to composer Brian Bennett’s same-titled analogue wig-out – it’s called Cloning.
Which is a fitting title for a record that is in itself a replicant. Cloning is the genetically-modified twin of an album that never existed, after Campbell inadvertently consigned the original to a black hole. He shudders at the memory of accidentally wiping their first opus in four years. “I’ve no idea what I did, but I distinctly remember opening up my computer, and there was a big hole where the album should be,” he says. “I realised I’d somehow deleted the entire thing.”
Campbell set about cloning FOUND’s lost album from what he calls “orphan files”, rough mixes and memory. “I managed to re-build it all, but I couldn’t edit some of the tracks, I couldn’t get in about them again,” he says. “In retrospect, I think that’s what’s given this record its weird eerieness: the vocals aren’t mixed as high as they could be, and there’s a lot of effects that I might have changed, but I’m really glad we never polished it up. The record became its own entity. It made its own mind up about how it wanted to sound.”
The tensions (and possibilities) between machine and mankind, between technology and nature, have underpinned the FOUND aesthetic for over a decade – from ingenious collaborations with Professor Simon Kirby and erstwhile member Tommy Perman (Three Pieces’ robot / plant alliance; Cybraphon’s Scottish BAFTA-winning android / wardrobe ensemble; #UNRAVEL’s moody mechanical pop group, as voiced by Aidan Moffat), to Campbell and Sim’s nascent exploits as a two-piece. They’d engage in thrilling sonic duels under their alter-egos: Ziggy as flamenco-wielding casanova Lomond Campbell; Kev as the techno-grinding, SEPA-baiting River of Slime.
Somewhere, along the way, their synthetic / organic rough-and-tumble morphed into a harmonious kraut-folk spectacle, as Campbell and Sim appeared to assimilate each other’s aural traits. Was that a conscious evolution, or a natural consequence of performing together? “I think it probably came from us playing live,” Campbell offers. “Although I do remember there was one point where I asked Kev what he’d been listening to. He’d been buying loads of old Tangerine Dream records, and I’d been buying loads of Vangelis – you can pick up all that stuff for really cheap – so we ended up chatting and I was like, ‘Let’s hear some stuff you’ve been doing’. He played all these mad arpeggio synth things, and I’d pretty much been independently doing exactly the same. We’d been working on that stuff with a view to each of us doing separate albums, but it just made sense to zip it up and present it together, as FOUND.”
FOUND have long revelled in multiple identities, realms and narratives – they’re musicians and an art collective; they’re a duo that sometimes recalibrates, live, into a “sprawling six-piece synth monster”; they’re out-there inventors and home-grown pop engineers. “I think it’s always been in our band ethos to do experimental things, but there’s nothing wrong with pop,” Campbell nods. “Pop is a brilliant format in its own right, so we always try to have a tight, well-structured song in there as well.”
While Factorycraft was a Scottish pop classic, it was also, says Campbell, “A brittle, spidery wire-y guitar album,” which hinted at their new record’s direction in its epic, synth-fuelled swansong, Blendbetter. Did they set out to write the follow-up with an over-arching theme in mind? “Well, we’d been playing around with loads of synths, and it became pretty apparent early on that Cloning could be a concept album,” he says. “I’m not squeamish about calling it a concept album – I think all albums are concept albums in a way – and it started making perfect sense to give it this video nasty, sci-fi, dystopian vibe, because it’s quite a menacing record.
“I tried to build a narrative into it too,” he continues. “So the first track, A Souvenir For Every Hope You Had, is quite poppy, quite optimistic and hopeful, and then it gradually becomes darker and more sinister and disintegrates, so by the time you’re at the last track it fades into this huge reverb. And then the lights go out.”
What also becomes increasingly apparent as the record progresses – or degenerates – is that there’s a very human frailty at the heart of this ominous album. “Yeah, you can do a lot by having an over-arching theme – it’s that classic thing of putting your heart on your sleeve but doing it through characters and stories,” Campbell nods. “And that spurs you on to write more, because you realise that you can talk about relationships and all that stuff, within this apocalyptic framework.”
And so it is that deep-space serenade Hit The Clone Button invokes the hurtling head-rush of eye contact (“Has anyone looked into you the way that I have?” … “Nothing seems to slow down”), while brooding electro-dirge Wheel Out Apocalypse rolls over scorched earth and untold catastrophe, but its widescreen Armageddon belies personal crisis. “Bring me calamity, disaster and tragedy, if there’s no more you and me”, Campbell sings.
Is this actually a record about a man in mortal fear of being dumped?
Campbell laughs. “It’s that thing, you know – ‘Look mate, it’s not the end of the world…’”
FOUND and Aidan Moffat #UNRAVEL interview (The Herald)
FOUND factorycraft review (The List)