My Life In 10 Songs: Future Kult

A balacava-clan duo making strange sounds in the Mexian desert, Future Kult had us intrigued from the moment we first laid eyes and ears on them. The scant fragments of information the web has thrown up about the pair, along with the dark, visceral pulse of singles ‘Hidalgo‘, ‘Hound In a Storm‘ and ‘My Brothers and Me‘ have only served to further pique our curiosity, and with a self-titled debut album due out at the end of the week, we made contact with Benjamin and Sion to find out more about the music that had led them to this point in their journey.

1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?

S: I don’t remember masses of music being played up to a certain point, but I do remember a muddled swathe of pretty sketchy country music emanating from my mum’s car stereo. The first bit of music I can really pin down is Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’, my dad used to put it on while we ate lunch when we’d go over on the weekends. It sounds like a high brow affair now, but it wasn’t back then for us. My dad also taught me a bit of Waldo Williams’ Welsh poetry at the time as well, ‘beth yw byw? Cael neuadd fawr rhwng cyfyng furiau’. Roughly translates as ‘what is life? A giant hall within tiny walls’. 

OK just listened to ‘Stabat Mater’ again now after all these years, it totally slays. 

The first piece I remember ever getting excited about is Chemical Brothers’ ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’. I never really engaged with any sort of music until I heard this on the TV in the late 90s. I’d started to play classical piano concerts around this time as well, but there’s a difference between being moved as a performer and as a listener. Felt like a god damn awakening. Hadn’t heard anything like it before, track still slays now. I think this track made me want to pick up the drums.

B: I’m Austrian with Hungarian and Berber ancestry, and my first memories are of various kinds of folk music. I was born and grew up in Innsbruck, a small city surrounded by the Alps, and the clearest early memory I have is actually of my grandmother playing the zither, which is an instrument traditional to the Alps, like a form of a dulcimer. It’s the instrument used for the Harry Lime theme in the movie The Third Man. I think the mechanics of it, the many strings and pegs and silver and brass got me hooked at least as much as the music that emanated from the instrument. I still love the sound of it, Sion and I both use quite a lot of harpsichord on our songs, which is not too far removed. I’ve always had a fascination for shiny instruments, another one is the clarinet, which one of my uncles played. I’m still blown away by human ingenuity in coming up with the amazing variety of acoustic instruments. At our own home though, I don’t remember much music being played at all, it was mostly classical and talk radio, which I still love. 

2) What was the first single/album that you ever bought? Where did you get it and do you have any recollection of the experience?

S: I remember buying two albums at the same time when I was on a school trip, I’d never bought music before. I know it looks like an unlikely hipster combo, but truth is I got Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet (I’d heard ‘Dance of the Knights’ on my old man’s radio and loved it) and Wu Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang. I played them on my dad’s CD player back home, and both blew me away. Felt like both of these  unearthed a fundamental love for big textures and rhythm. I obviously didn’t get the references and even the words themselves also totally eluded me, it was just the sonics and the rhythms that blew me away.

I chose the end of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet, I remember thinking this sounded like actual death to me. All the beautiful rage, sadness, discomfort, bittersweetness, mourning, unease of it. It’s restless, feels incomplete somehow, a lot of Prokofiev’s music goes that way for me. 

3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?

S: Honestly, when I was in my mid-20s. I remember when I was 15, a second cousin who lived someplace in New York came to Cardiff to visit. I took him to Spillers Records, the last noble repository of decent records in this place, and we bought each other an album. I was obsessed with Deftones at the time, so he got Around the Fur from me, and he gifted me with Pavement’s Wowee Zowee. Shy of ten years later I dug out his album and played it, late as fuck to the party as usual, and I fell in love with it on a more profound level than anything I’d listened to before. I was a touring + session keys / drummer / violinist at the time, but it’s the first time I really engaged with the power of music production. The drum sounds on that record still fill me with joy now.

This guy who gifted me with Wowee Zowee was awesome. Such a kind, giving person at a time when life was a bit shitty for a variety of reasons. I remember idolising this guy, he was a bit older than me, and was devastated when he left. He passed away not too long ago, and I listened to ‘Pueblo’ in absolute floods. That record steered me towards doing what I do now.

B: When I discovered taping stuff off the radio, I think I was around 9, it blew my mind. I think many people who grew up in the early 90s will relate to the wonderful experience of creating a mixtape for yourself and others. I taped a lot for a while, and that was pretty much my early foray into music technology. It also made me a lifelong fan of songs as an art form. 

4) What was the first gig that you went to (as a member of the audience)? Where was it and what was it like?

S: Mighty Mighty Bosstones @ god knows where in Cardiff when I was in my teens. I loved The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I remember I went alone, armed with 60 Marlborough Lights for social lubricant. Think I made out with someone for the first time to ‘Sugar Free’ at that show, never saw her again after that. Think she was from Brecon. If you’re out there and reading this, for the love of Christ don’t get in touch, I’m hassle. 

B: My mum was a single mother of four boys, and money was extremely tight, so when at some point my brother Benedikt and I were gifted concert tickets to see an Austrian act called EAV, it was a really special moment. The band was famous for big theatrics, lots of costume changes, lots of humour in the songs and performances. It seemed like an insanely elaborate production to me back then, and the first time I heard music blasted through a huge PA. Through all the moving parts of the show I got my first distant sense of the realities of the music business, which in many ways also seemed much more adventurous even twenty years ago than it is now. 

5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned how to play?

S: Well, I performed as a concert pianist a lot as a kid, did tours, that kind of stuff. A little later, I started playing the drums to bypass getting two shits kicked out of me at school, played in a whole heap of bands. But neither really fall into ‘music making’ for me. Even doing composition at uni afterwards, felt like transcribing ideas but not necessarily music making. I learned how to play, how to perform, how to score, but in terms of creating music – that only really started with Benji. He got me my first ever synth, a Korg R3, still got it here somewhere. I loved it. Had no idea what anything did, but fuck around with these knobs and it goes blissful (usually the way).

We got to working together on material he’d put out as “Bensh”, he got me in recording drums on his debut album, and I loved everything about it. That then evolved into me taking cues from him on recording and producing music – both of my own and together, collaboratively. There’s so much music that informed that time, but Daft Punk was a big player if I recall. 

6) What was your first band/musical project? What music was influencing you at that time? What are your memories of playing your first gig and are there any recordings out there?

S: Don’t know what to tell you. Like most people, there were a couple of false starts. I’m a loyal hound, so I stuck with certain projects for way longer than I should have. You want to hear about Highly Flammable – we did one Wheatus cover then disbanded. I dabbled with funk metal. Gypsy jazz. Manx folk. R&B. So yeah, better I tell you about the first gig I did with Benji as Bensh – first serious group, with great love and respect to all previous, failed exploits. It was in Cardiff. We played a brewery festival, hosted by a guy who now owns Pipes Beer. Drink Pipes Beer. So we played a brewery festival in a small courtyard in Pontcanna, Cardiff, yuppy part of town. Benji and myself just opted to lose our shit on stage, regardless of who we’d be playing to. Stage on this occasion was made from pretty flimsy plywood. Came to an encore, stamped two shits out of the stage, all our gear went all over the place, the laptop sped up everything x4, some hero caught my keyboard as it bounced off stage, which I think we also broke. No live recordings sadly, but we’d usually go batshit over a track called ‘Bona Fide’.

B: It happened exactly like that. The best bit was that we kept playing along to the quadruple speed samples that the laptop bombarded us and the audience with. In my memory we fixed the whole thing by doing a quick reset in full view while Sion launched into an incredible synth improvisation. It was pretty mind-blowing, Sionski’s a real genius on the keys and many other instruments, gotta see it to believe it really. I think some kind of recipe was established there and then, something similar happened to us a few years later with a show at a venue called El Mocambo during Canadian Music Week – the laptop crapped out, and Sion blew the roof off the place with a 5 minute synth solo.   

7) What are your memories of forming Future Kult? What was your first recording and what do you think now when you listen back to it?

B: Sion and I have worked together for more than a decade, he’s an incredible composer for film and TV, I have long worked between the worlds of music and art, we played in various bands, toured all over the place, and basically worked our way into this from the ground up, learning everything we could by doing almost everything ourselves. Future Kult started organically. We came up with a couple of song fragments that seemed to be connected and related to each other, and then, through the music, understood that we’d hit on something that we really needed and wanted: a sphere of freedom in which we could work adventurously and come up with stuff that genuinely excites us. It sounds simple, but it was a real revelation. So we claimed that space for ourselves and got to work. 

We wrote and recorded much of the album in Mexico, and the first track that we finished, ‘Hidalgo’, also became the first single. Sion and I both write and produce, and we have very different approaches and individual flavours. What tends to happen is that we show each other new ideas that we’re excited about, sometimes just tiny fragments, other times already  pretty much fully produced songs, and then give the other space to add what they wish. If we both end up excited by the outcome, if we both feel that it’s fresh and relevant, then we know we’re on to something. In the case of ‘Hidalgo’, I had the verses and some general outline of the song ready and was super happy with where it was at, but then Sion came up with this unbelievable banshee-war-cry chorus, and he put down this crazy Led-Zeppelin-style vocal and also added touches like the distorted saxophones you hear in the beginning and the end of the song – and all of that catapulted the song into the stratosphere. Truthfully, listening back to it, I’ve never heard anything quite like it before, the song is its own thing completely, and there’s something about it that sucks you into an alien and exciting world every time you listen. 

8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?

S: ‘Sister Ray’ is huge for me, I think Benji enjoys it too. I love everything about this track. Velvet Underground just do exultation and wild swagger better than anyone else. I’m not saying they’re a direct influence necessarily. I’d struggle to pinpoint a ‘biggest influence’ situation. But I do know the joy of experiencing The Velvet Underground engenders the sort of emotions that fuel what we want to express. Tom Waits is a huge one for me as well. Again, not necessarily a directly perceivable musical influence, but he’s huge. Daft Punk I know is a big one for Benji too. 

B: Definitely influenced by Velvet Underground and Daft Punk, and I’d also mention Roxy Music as a band I keep coming back to. There’s a lot of other great stuff out there of course, I love Animal Collective, Tom Waits, I’m drawn to bands and musicians that find a special angle, and I love music that’s captivating without sounding standard. Also, I’m currently binging on Bach on the harpsichord and spinet, if that helps. 

9) Who are some of your favourite current artists?

S: Benji’s better at listening to music than I am. I don’t go in for it much, truth be told. I tend to listen to what I / we’re working on around the clock. Music is a bit more functional for me. If I need to feel joyous in the morning it’s John Lennon’s ‘Bring on the Lucie’. If I need to walk somewhere and the weather sucks, Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ ‘Places’. Karen Dalton if I’m sad. Driving cause I can’t sleep – Salem’s ‘Trapdoor’, Schubert / Pavel Haas Quartet’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ during a shower – I still find curating my life like this gives me a lot of joy. I don’t even know what’s current. I don’t go in for a lot of ‘current’ British stuff I’ve heard, which isn’t masses to be fair, but a lot of it seems a bit dour, like it’s revelling in its own sense of minimal angularity. Some of it is great, but some of it makes me pretend I’m enjoying listening to it because apparently it’s good. That said, I love FKA Twigs for exactly how she negotiates angularity and fluidity. I love Sleaford Mods, but not sure Benji’s keen. Suuns? Benji and I both love Suuns (…you still love Suuns Benji?). Let’s go with Suuns. And Action Bronson. I heard Emile Mosseri the other day, just a few tracks, but I loved the golden age Hollywood vocal melodies rubbing against the piano. Boy can play for sure.

B: More than happy with the Suuns, and most of the other stuff you threw on the pile there Sionski. 

10) You have a new album out this month – how has your approach to making music changed since you started out, and how has your sound developed over that time? Is there a particular song on the record that epitomises what you’re aiming to achieve or that is particularly special to you for any reason?

S: We set out to create what we felt with Future Kult. Uninhibited, whatever it ended up being, so long as it was honest. So the approach to the music stayed consistent throughout. Once we create it, we cast it out, and move on to the next as a vehicle to express whatever we want, however we want. There’s stuff on the album about the Hong Kong student protests, the 17th century thief Thomas Blood, war with the algorithm etc.. One representative track from this batch for me is ‘Red Sands’. It encapsulates the paranoia and fear we feel today, on the precipice of violent eruption in reaction to a barrage of hostile influences. How we’re barely one step away from abject dystopia. We might even be there. The idea stemmed from Benji telling me that in post WWII Berlin, the Berlin wall went up overnight in some spots. Some families left just on the back of hearing rumours it was happening. Do you upend your entire existence based on rumours – the excruciating tension of deciding when to act on a laser show of warning signs. Felt particularly relevant today. 

B: A result of the freedom we’re taking is that every song is an excursion into the unknown, in terms of song structures but also atmospheres, arrangements, colours. We’re on a trip that’s only semi controlled, we’re focused but we’re also driven. That’s the beauty of it. ‘Red Sands’ is a perfect example of it, such a fascinating song. Listening to it, I feel something unusual, special is happening from the first note, and then you go on a hell of a ride. At the end of the song you didn’t just listen to music, you experienced a world. 

Future Kult’s self-titled debut album is released on 25th February via Action Wolf Records/AWAL

Find out more on their official website

Article by Paul Maps

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