The Future Sound Of London, in 1996 and 1997, had reached the height of their popularity with the release of the Dead Cities album. A bleak, yet beautiful, collage of sampled guitar stabs and piano phrases – it seemed the culmination of what FSOL were creating the past six years. The final single from the record, We Have Explosive, was released in the summer of 1997. The fans eagerly awaited the new single from the new full-length album. Then? Well, nothing – for five years.
I’m not sure how many paid attention in August of 1997 (I didn’t) – but a radio mix was played by KISS-FM in Manchester. It was by FSOL, but instead of showcasing their latest tracks, mixed with the newest-of-the-new electronica, it featured classic psychedelic tracks by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, alongside trippy obscurities by The White Noise and Kaptain Kopter (pseudonym of the late Randy California, on a one-off LP, after he left Spirit). New tracks were featured – The Chemical Brothers‘ The Private Psychedelic Reel, off of the Dig Your Own Hole album, was still very new at the time. Turn On, a side-project of the Stereolab crew, was represented by Triple Cause Of Poetry, a track that was only just released when it was included on the mix.
Even the title of the mix was bound to throw off some of the faithful. A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind was definitely a statement of intention. Gaz Cobain and Brian Dougans, FSOL’s duo, had been listening to quite a bit of classic psych and decided that their music was lacking in sexiness and warmth. Cobain described the “We Have Explosive” single as “mainly a product of male energy”. They started buying loads of LPs from market stalls and boot sales, then listening for hidden gems. Collating these and adding in film dialogue and recordings of poems, the result is both an hommage to psych’s beginnings and a view forward into its future.
Cobain started feeling very ill (as a result of mercury poisoning from his tooth fillings) and thought initially it was to do with being in London. He took his FSOL earnings and jetted off to the west coast of the United States, then on to India. He slowly ran out of funds and eventually returned to the UK. After the fillings were removed, he felt much better and he and Dougans re-convened to work on new music. Cobain turned up at the Big Chill festival in August 2001, to play a DJ set. To anyone still not sure about where FSOL were headed, it was an eye-opener. Fusion-era Miles Davis mixed in with Hariprasad Chaurasia mixed into Ananda Shankar. You can listen to part of the set here.
Shortly after, in October 2001, two mixes appeared on Ammocity and XFM London – called The Mello Hippo Disco Show. These both followed the M.P.B. formula, but appeared to abandon the title. The new name was chosen from a song FSOL were working on at the time. The mixes featured some carry-overs from the first M.P.B., but included The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra and Portishead. The following summer, the long-awaited new FSOL album was released – in the guise of The Amorphous Androgynous, the boys’ ambient alter-egos. They had released Tales Of Ephidrina in 1993, presumably as a one-off, but revived the group name for the new record. Two more “Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble” mixes were broadcast in December showing that, ultimately, the “Mello Hippo Disco” moniker would be short lived.
The Isness summed up the new direction: loads of sitars, fully-formed songs, multi-part suites and ambient drones. The electronic element of their music was played-down in favour of ‘real’ instruments. It was almost like The Dukes Of Stratosphear, XTC‘s faux-1960s band they created in 1985. A lot of long-time fans were puzzled, thinking that Cobain and Dougans had finally lost the plot. I reckon most were hoping for “Dead Cities – Part II” and couldn’t fathom this sprawling psychedelic/prog excursion. A new M.P.B. mix surfaced in Deccember 2002, broadcast on James Hyman‘s The Rinse show, from XFM in London. Volume 3 contained a few Frank Zappa tracks, Leon Russell and even….Barbra Streisand (??!!). The entire mix has been uploaded to You Tube and can be found here.
The fourth volume in the series was broadcast in January 2003 on Resonance FM in London. This one stretched to an hour and a half (much like Vol. 1) and has a decidedly Christian theme. A lot of the spoken-word samples are taken from the Trunk Records Resurrection compilation. There are tracks from “Jesus Christ Superstar“, Les Hombres, When and Magma. There’s also a snippet of “The Strawberry Statement” – the scene in the school gymnasium when the protestors are singing John Lennon‘s Give Peace A Chance. After that – it went quiet again – but in 2005, the next A.A. album, Alice In Ultraland, dropped in August. The record continued the psychedelic prog-rock direction, but the tunes were tightened up and the scope was less sprawling than “The Isness”. They also added a pastoral, folky feel to some of the songs, reminiscent of early-1970s film soundtracks like “The Wicker Man“.
M.P.B. Volume 5 made it’s debut on XFM on 14th September, 2005. Aside from showcasing a load of tunes off of “Alice..”, there are tracks from Silver Apples, Aphrodite’s Child and Vashti Bunyan. Volume 6 followed a week later – this time featuring tracks by Dead Meadow, T. Rex and The Monkees (the delightful “Porpoise Song“). I like these two mixes the most – even more than Volume 1, which is itself a brilliant mix. The song content and the spoken-word clips on Vols. 5 and 6 are blended together expertly. The flow seems fluid and seamless – no clunky moments or ill-fitting segues. Super psychedelic and all-around groovy. You can listen to Volume 5 here. In October, Gaz Cobain and Chris Margery, a member of the A.A. troupe, guested on BBC 6‘s “Six Mix”. The programme became M.P.B. Volume 7. The two mixed in some of the tunes present on past volumes, but added a few far-out new ones in, such as Secret Chiefs 3 and The Earlies. Gaz and Chris provided commentary between the tracks and phoned up their chum Gary Lucas (formerly of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator) for an impromptu interview. While not quite as exciting as the others in the series (Gaz & Chris’s chats do break up the flow of the mix), it was a good introduction to the M.P.B. concept for those who weren’t aware of it.
There wouldn’t be another M.P.B. volume (Number 8) until 2009, which was released through FSOL’s digital shop. The duo were quite busy up to that point, releasing several discs of “Archives” compilations (under the FSOL moniker). They also released The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds Of Superconciousness, the fourth full-length Amorphous Androgynous album, in 2008. The Environments albums, which had been spoken about since the late 90s, was finally available on CD and download as well. In addition to all of that, they started a new mix series, Electric Brain Storms. E.B.S. mixes concentrated more on electronica and less on psychedelia, perhaps as a move to balance out the A.A. stuff with a return to the ‘classic’ FSOL sound.
As if that wasn’t enough – the boys had spent a couple of years getting tracks cleared for use on a compilation. The result was an official Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble 2-CD mix, released in 2008 on Platipus Records. Volume 1 was titled “Cosmic Space Music” and while it didn’t feature any of the film dialogue (which would have had to have been cleared as well) or other spoken-word snippets, the track list stayed true to the radio mixes’ format. Volume 2, subtitled “Pagan Love Vibrations”, followed a year later. “The 3rd Ear”, third in the series, was released in 2010. The first set received a huge publicity boost when, in an inteview, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, said he received it as a gift and really enjoyed it. That led to Amorphous Androgynous re-mixing Oasis’s Falling Down single (off of the ‘final’ Oasis LP, “Dig Out Your Soul”) – turning it into a 20-minute prog suite. There were announcements that A.A. and Gallagher were collaborating on a full album, but in the end, they decided the results weren’t to their liking and the project was scrapped. A.A. did end up remixing a few songs for Noel’s High Flying Birds and tracks by Paul Weller and Pop Levi. In 2012, they released a collaboration with DJ Food, called The Illectric Hoax.
The latest offerings from A.A. are The Cartel albums – sort-of mock blaxploitation/Bollywood/hippie-sploitation soundtracks. They were released last year and are available at the FSOLDigital site. A vinyl remixes LP of the Cartel material was released on Record Store Day in April of this year. There are also hints from Gaz that an Amorphous Androgynous remix EP (or full-length record) of new-ish UK psych-folk band, Syd Arthur, will be released soon.
It’s been very quiet on the Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mix front – I keep hoping Volume 9 will appear in the Pod Room for sale. They don’t tend to stay there long, due to the involved process of getting the tracks cleared. FSOL tend to operate in the guerilla fashion, in that respect. Maybe they’re getting tracks cleared for a fourth edition of the official mixes. Who can say – in the meantime, I recommend finding both the radio and official M.P.B. sets. Trippy, listenable and will turn you on to bands you hadn’t heard previously – brilliant selections of psychedelic tunes from the 60s to now.
The FSOLDigital site can be found here