|Third Eye Foundation|
by Howard Shih
You'd think that with America's fascination with conspiracy theories and secret societies (as manifested in the success of The X-Files, on-line speculation about TWA Flight 800 and CIA/crack theories) combined with the music press' fascination with music scenes, that people would have noticed that a lot of the best music of the 90s has been created by the residents of the British city of Bristol. Massive Attack, Tricky, and Portishead virtually define the genre of trip-hop; Flying Saucer Attack, Movietone and Crescent are among the best that indie/out-rock has to offer; and junglists such as Roni Size, DJ Krush, and the Dope Dragon label also operate from Bristol. And with the Illumanti-esque name of Third Eye Foundation, Matt Elliott would seem to be a prime candidate for being the thread that binds Bristol's musical mafia together. Indeed, the music of Third Eye Foundation marries the beat driven, sampledelic sensibilities of trip-hop and jungle with the distortion driven out-rock sensibilities of FSA and Movietone; witness the My Bloody Valentine meets drum 'n' bass sounds of "Sleep" (off of the Semtex album) and the Semtex/Science-Fiction 12" (Domino) as well as the twisted trip-hip of "Universal Cooler" (7" single on UK label, Planet). If you consider the fact that Elliott was a member of Linda's Strange Vacation along with Dave Pearce (FSA) and Rachel Brook (Movietone), not to mention that he also played in the latter groups, you get the feeling that there's either something in Bristol's air/water supply or that the Cigarette Man is running the city's musical affairs. Sitting outside Times Cafe on a pleasant June day, I ask Elliott if there's anything special about Bristol.
"It will always be my home, no matter where I am. But I love it and I hate it at the same time. It's in a basin of a valley so smoke just stays there and there's a very big student population which is a bad thing. They're sort of rich students that aren't really interested in anything except for maybe house music or just being a yuppie. So a lot of Bristol is keyed up for them. There's hardly anything for the rest of us. I mean there's so much music coming out of Bristol and it really winds me up that there's no venues that cater to just strange and weird music. It's a conducive city for doing that sort of music, staying in your bedroom 'cause there's nothing to do but sit there with your Akai and just churn out trip-hop or drum n' bass or whatever. I mean it's amazing when think that you can't sort of go out and walk around without meeting someone who's doing something. So it's really good for that but that's about it."
Elliott's latest album Ghost (on Merge) is his first without ex-partner Deb and broadens Third Eye Foundation's musical palette even further by twisting sounds out of his sampler rather than guitars. If Aphex Twin or Plug had grown up listening to Coil, Nurse With Wound, and the Fripp/Eno albums then they might have made something resembling the music on Ghost . On tracks like "What to do but cry?" and "I've seen the light and it's dark" what sounds like howling winds and anguished shrieks are draped over demented drum 'n' bass beats. It's as if Elliott constructed a soundtrack to his nightmares. Do the 'songs' have any personal connotation for Elliott? "They do but I don't know what they are. I can't really explain in words otherwise I'd write poetry. The main reason I do it [make music] is just to sort my head out; for therapy, give me something to do. I didn't really expect anyone to like it.
"The dark side just comes from the bad trips. I used take a lot of acid when I was a bit younger and I never had a nice fluffy happy trip, I always had intense dark really bad ones." However, Elliott doesn't rely on lysergic visions to feed his musical muse. "No, not at all. I don't take anymore trips 'cause I don't think my brain could handle it. I don't wanna be like a sort of Timothy Leary character wandering around. [Once you've had the experience] you don't really need it anymore. It's there to stay... it turns up in bad dreams. I mean just weird stuff happens. A lot of the time if I'm recording I don't need that much drugs... maybe some weed or something. Usually, it's [recording] so intense and so weird that I don't sleep and I don't eat properly so my brain is off anyway. I don't need drugs really."
The dark nature of Elliott's music may also arise from his interest in the writings of Sci-Fi writer Philip K. Dick, the man who's visions inspired anti- utopian futures ofTotal Recall and Blade Runner. "It's just an extreme of how we live now. In fact you sometimes see things like when in the dole [the unemployment office] and you've got these machines telling you what number you are and which counter to go to. And I think 'Fucking hell, it's just like Philip K. Dick!' and people don't even question these things." Not surprisingly, Elliott keeps an open mind about conspiracy theories and X-Files related topics. "I was into it [The X-Files] for awhile and then I just stopped watching it for one reason or another. There's a theory that it's actually a government thing to try and get people used to the fact that weird things go on and the aliens are actually gonna come down and say 'Here we are.' I dunno. I don't believe in anything but I'll listen to anything because my belief is 'How the fuck does anyone know?' I just don't know myself 'till I experience it."
©1997 Howard Shih
mail Howard @ email@example.com for feedback
orignally published by Smug Magazine in 1997