Cobain and Dougans were too holistic and too curious about the wide horizon to be just Londoners, but as they morph into a whole new phase of organic dynamism, letting the tide wash over their technological footprints, and embracing wild new sound hybrids, it's clear that they really did know a lot about the future - even if it wasn't the hard, digital one many people imagined.
FSOL have had a consistently accelerated evolution. At the point when Cobain and Dougans borrowed US techno legend Derrick May's title for his Future Sound Of Detroit project they had already served an apprenticeship in sample sonics and dance music. Glasgow born Dougans and Bedford rooted Cobain met at Manchester University in the pre house days of 1985.
Electronics student Cobain and nascent sound engineer Dougans were mutually fascinated by the possibilities of the new tech. With Dougans affection for prototypical likes of Cabaret Voltaire and A Certain Ratio as starting points, they set up their own studio and began collaborating on experimental electronic pieces.
The extrovert conceptualiser Cobain and the reserved sound sculptor Dougans fitted together perfectly, but it took the house explosion of ‘88 for their ideas to synch with the times. Dougans created the hard techno classic 'Humanoid' under the name Stakker, crashing into the rave days Top 10. Working together, now in London, they issued a slew of inventive, underground dance tunes using an ever changing lexicon of names including Smart Systems, Indotribe, Yage, Mental Cube, Semi Real, Yoga, Metropolis, Intelligent Communication and Art Science Technology. Their time as explorers on the fringes of dance came to an end in ‘92. Two days in the studio with a sampler had seen them pull down from the ether a beautiful, transportive piece of music, which owed as much to Erik Satie and Debussy as it did to acid house. They called it 'Papua New Guinea', brought in Andrew Weatherall to mix a version, released it through Jumpin’ & Pumpin’ under the FSOL name, and sat back and marvelled as the tune slowly grew from a minor piece of eccentricity to a massive crossover hit, now regarded as one of the last decade's defining musical moments.
1992's debut album 'Accelerator', which included 'Papua New Guinea' formed a kinetic soundscape for an optimistic dystopia and established them as leading lights in the 'head music' zone of dance. Looking back on 'Papua New Guinea' Cobain sees it now as 'a beautiful and naive child', but at the time it helped liberate 'dance' music from the deadend tunnel of hardcore. 'Intelligent techno' and a flourishing 'ambient' scene were both hugely enabled by FSOL's success. In the light of their sudden potential as hit makers, Cobain and Dougans were signed to Virgin Records and given the unusual freedom to record elsewhere under different names.
Resolutely multi-dimensional their first release for Virgin was 93's sonic voyage 'Tales Of Ephidrina' under the name Amorphous Androgynous. Over the next three years they issued two FSOL albums, 94's 'Lifeforms' and 96's 'Dead Cities', which were wilfully, precognitively and often brilliantly placed at the spinning nexus where dark and light ambient, classical, dub, techno, house and rock, meet, fight, fuck, kiss, make up and make patterns in the dust. Pushing at the industry's restrictions they issued a series of 'singles', (beginning with '93's superb 'Cascades') which stretched time limits to 30 and 40 minutes.
As the internet took off and ISDN technology came in, Cobain and Dougans took full advantage, testing entertainment/ rock'n'roll/performance traditions by beaming live gigs from their Earthbeat studio in Dollis Hill. Shows went out in London, New York, Israel. Major telecommunications companies were offering support. Mainstream media were inviting them in. Via Radio One, they played profoundly tripped out DJ sets to vast audiences.
After the release of 'Dead Cities' in 96, FSOL were due to play a high profile 'virtual' show, but Cobain was feeling less and less at ease with his role. He pulled out of the gig and flew to L.A. staying for a month with The Cult's Ian Astbury who he had been planning to collaborate with. This was the first of a series of reappraisals which would lead to FSOL's full reinvention. In the same year Cobain and Dougans indulged their love of hyper-eclectic, mind trip soundclash mixes, spending six weeks in the studio putting together the research document 'A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In The Mind'. An indicator of their current path, the legendary mix was a grade-A meta-cultural stimulus, blending a reverbed out Barbara Streisand into Bill Hicks, Bukowski, Deepak Chopra and The Rolling Stones. Licensing problems prevented an official release but KissFM in London played it, and bootlegs have turned up around the planet.
The second half of the ‘90s saw a symbiotic musical and personal overhaul take place within FSOL. While Dougans redrew his musical parameters, continuing to work in the band's new studio in East London, Cobain went looking for a soul, mind and body balance. He had become unhappy with the tendency of technology to promote egotism and aggression. At the same time he was suffering from a series of on-going immune system illnesses. His 'stripping back' process saw him travel widely and investigate Ayurvedic as well as Western medicine, finding answers in the strangest places and discovering techniques for balance, spanning meditation to nutrition.
With their samplers realigned and a loose collective of musicians dropping by the studio to add some awesome performances to the mix, the time was right for FSOL to slowly unveil their new shape. Jumpin’ & Pumpin’ had wanted to re-release 'Papua New Guinea' for some time and Cobain and Dougans finally agreed, partly because only remixed versions had come out originally. "For us we saw it as an opportunity to place 'Papua New Guinea' in a sound field that was completely our creation so we thought why not," says Cobain.
Accordingly, a five mix single of 'Papua New Guinea' emerge, featuring versions by Simian, Satoshi Tomiie, Hybrid and Blue States as well as the original Cobain and Dougans mix. This prefaced the October 1st re-release of their 'Accelerator' album featuring remixed tracks and accompanying bonus CD of the single's five 'Papua' remixes plus six more including Andrew Weatherall's never before issued 1992 ‘Producer's Cut’. With club chart and radio response affirming the timelessness of the tune, FSOL are ideally placed to fade up into the next stage of their evolution.
October 29th 2001 saw the release of new project 'Translations'. Locating 'Papua New Guinea' as the sonic base camp they ascend to a summit of tantric, cosmic, organic fusion which bears little resemblance to the template and then set the controls for beyond the ether.
For those with their heads down, busy with getting and spending the enlightenment at the end of the tunnel is not always easy to see. But that's alright. The Future Sound Of London have come all this odyssean way, avoided all those pitfalls and harvested such know how, to provide a soundtrack which clues you in, raises you up, maybe even opens you out, just as they've been doing, in one magic mutation or another, for the last ten years.