|Third Eye Foundation|
by Nick Talbot
Bristolís Matt Elliot, a.k.a. the Third Eye Foundation has created some of the most consistently innovative and challenging music of the last decade. The Wire magazine recently devoted a whole editorial to praise of his latest LP "You Guys Kill Me", a genre- defying melting-pot of urban and global rhythms, arcane textures and sinister atmospherics. Fiction Magazine spoke to the man himself about the music industry, millennial uncertainty and the myth of lo-fi. Interview by Robert Borstal.
Music Journalists seem to find themselves grasping at straws when trying to describe your
music. A lot of them resort to talking about drugs as an angle on the creative process.
"He smokes dope...yeah, and so does everyone else."
That seems to be the best they can do. Well instead, letís go back to the beginning. Your
first album, "Semtex" was released on your own imprint, "Lindaís Strange Vacation". Tell
me about that.
"Well, it was a band before it was a label. It was me, Brooks (Rachel Brooks-Movietone) and Kate (also in Movietone). We all met on a bus after a gig, and we got chatting, and I was like "Iíll be your Bongo player for your band" because they wanted to get a band together. So we just sort of....went into a shed...we had, like, nothing. Probably just a Dictaphone, or something. and we built our way up from there. I managed to get a drum kit from somewhere, which was such a crock of shit; then Kate got a guitar. We just borrowed stuff. we used to meet every Sunday and just jam around, and do all sorts of weird things. It was fucking good fun, probably the most fun Iíve ever had in a band."
Did it all get too serious after that?
"Yeah, it did all get serious. Dave Pierce (Flying Saucer Attack) joined the band, and he wanted to structure everything, which we werenít really interested in. We were just interested in having a bit of a jam. Weíd get into a nice little jam and Dave would go "Stop! Do that bit again!" and weíd be like, "Nah....". It all fell apart after that really."
Is that when you decided to work on your own?
"I was doing all sorts of different things then anyway. I got a bit involved in political activism."
Tell me about some of that....if you want to....
"Umm...no, not really. I just ended up living in a fucking road camp place, which was probably the worst experience of my life."
What sort of period was all this happening?
"Very early 90ís. We were all still at school."
That seemed like a really exciting time in music, more so than now, particularly with
groundbreaking records such as My Bloody Valentineís "Loveless" coming out.
"It was definitely more interesting, which is ironic considering how cheap recording equipment has become. It should really be the most exciting time ever now, as any fucker can go out and buy a studio."
Unlike most of the musicians in your circle, youíve embraced digital technology. Whatís your
attitude towards analogue purism?
"Well, Movietone say that they donít like digital because itís really sort of Ďclinicalí. But that attitude is pretty pointless when they master all their stuff onto a D.A.T. I heard Hood recording their new LP, and they mastered it all onto half-inch tape for vinyl, and D.A.T. for the C.D...... If youíre going to be an analogue ponce, youíve got to go the whole way."
Itís a little annoying when you buy a C.D. and the inlay card tells you that the recording was
Ďmeant to be listened to on vinylí.
"I donít even buy vinyl anymore, to be honest. Music is Music to me, and it doesnít matter what itís been recorded on. This is where people get lost, I think. They get too much into the process of how, why and where it was recorded, instead of the actual sounds coming out. But then again thereís this big debate over whether I should do more of a live show. If I did more on-stage Iíd have to compromise the sound, and Iíd rather it sounded as good, and as big and loud as I intended it to sound rather than cobble something together for people to look at."
There might be ways in which you could embellish it without doing anything extra on-stage
"I could just get a film show going. All these things will eventually come around. But anyway, yes, as soon as I could get away from doing Ďlo-fií, I did. Now iím just about happy with my set up. Well more than happy, actually. Especially when I get this hard drive recorder. Iíll have everything...."(Mattís now using a Roland V.S. series Digital Multitracker-Ed.)
Your first album, "Semtex", was recorded on a four track. It has an incredibly spacious sound
for something recorded on such rudimentary equipment.
"I literally just had a Boss PS-2 Pitch Shifter/Delay pedal and a Microverb reverb unit. I didnít know what a compressor or a gate did. I just used to plug everything in and see what happened. The thing with four tracks is that you can only make something which is obscenely noisy. Thatís all you can get away with. I never want to work with a four track again. "Ghost" was done on a Yamaha sampler-workstation thing, which was a real crock of shit as well. Ten seconds of memory or something, really low resolution. I regret ever buying the thing."
It sounds like you embraced the equipment you had and used it to its full potential.
"Well...itís a really thin sounding record. It was the first time Iíd used a sampler and a sequencer. It was really me learning the ropes."
Whatís the source of the eerie, female vocals on your records?
"The female vocal on "Semtex" is all Debs. (Debs releases records on Bristolís Swarffinger Label under the name of ĎFoehní. She is currently working on her second LP- Ed.) On "Ghost" itís all from Vietnamese, Egyptian and Turkish records. For some reason Iím really into Turkish music."
Noone else is; it seems to ensure the originality of your work.
"Itís really expressive music, Turkish music. Domino are going on about, ĎOh, you should get yourself a vocalistí. I donít want a fucking vocalist! People make tunes, and just because everyone else has got a vocalist, they get one as well, and most of the time they talk a load of shit over it."
Tell me about Planet Records.
"Planet Records was set up by Richard King. He wanted to put some new music out. It was a dream of his, and it happened. For various reasons, financial troubles and other shit that was going on at the same time, he couldnít support it any longer. Domino Records gave him an offer for all the bands on Planet (Third Eye Foundation, Movietone, Crescent, Flying Saucer Attack-Ed.) and sort of took him on board. Planet was a real sort of community. I did a lot of work for him, engineering and other stuff, which is what I like doing."
The music that has come out of Bristol is quite idiosyncratic. But in a way, your records have
straddled the divide between the DJ based music culture and the more lo-fi, experimental
contingent. None of the other Domino/Planet artists have really embraced the beats side of
"I think itís just because Iím the only one who really has any interest in that sort of thing. Iím more into Hip-Hop and Jazz, although Movietone like their Jazz, and old-fashioned music. Iím into all sorts of music, I guess. I donít know if itís got anything to do with Bristol. Bristolís shit for music really."
Thereís no explicitly supportive network of musicians.
"No, exactly. There is no musical community. There used to be one in that weíd all talk to each other; thatís why Planet was good, it was definitely more of a community than a record label. Lots of people were helping each other out, lots of music was being made and there was someone to sort it out and hold it all together."
Was there anyone else involved aside from the four bands mentioned?
"No, not actually from Bristol. There was Light and all those other sub-F.S.A. bands who moved down, and then it all started going a bit sour. If you want to do music youíre probably better off in Leeds, or somewhere like that, somewhere thatís actually up and coming. Bristol has definitely peaked. Itís a good DJing town, basically, but then thereís a million D.J.s walking around. I kind of resent it when I play a gig and Iíve lugged all my stuff there, and someone else just jumps in with twenty records and gets paid three times as much. Thatís the whole nature of Bristol. It is such a student town. most of them just want to listen to House music. They probably think Massive Attack are cool, but thatís about it."
Isnít that the problem with students everywhere?
"Well, not so much up north Iíve found. Leeds is a wicked town. Dublin is a very good place as well. Students have always been the ones who should get on and do stuff, put nights on; there are the odd ones who try to get involved."
Most students tend to treat Bristol as a three year holiday from real life.
"I suppose that if youíre going to become an accountant for the rest of your life youíre going to have to get that out of the way first. And it is just a big trap because all that happens is that you end up getting eight grand in debt so you do have to become an accountant to pay it all off. But anyway, Iím not even sure about London. (Mattís moving to London-Ed.). Iím only really going there because it makes sense, being on a London based label. Itís the place where it all happens, sadly enough. Planet Records was good for Bristol, someone was putting on gigs and thatís what Bristol needed. When Richard was here it would be Tortoise at the Thekla one week, and then Palace or someone the next. It was really him who was bringing them all here. No-one else could be arsed to do it. He did have help from various other people though. He went to London to work for Domino, and now theyíve sacked him, which is fucking cheeky really. They took him and all his bands, and then two years later itís just Ďfuck offí. The album which Hood released through Domino was actually recorded for Planet."
Do you think theyíre both myths then, the cool surrounding Bristol, and the cool
"Well, thereís definitely a cool surrounding Domino, but Iím not fond of any record companies, to be honest."
You canít be as an artist, can you really?
"Really; you always feel like youíre having the piss taken out of you and most of the time you fucking are. Thatís something you have to deal with. The only thing that I really hate about these people is that they think that I donít know that Iím being fleeced when I fucking do. But itís the only way to get on unless you put out records yourself. This is what I say to people if they ask about the best way to get their music out. Itís to put it out yourself. It is hard but you get to see the results yourself and you know youíve really worked for it. I think thatís definitely the way forward. And apart from anything, when music has Ďdiedí, like everyoneís claiming it has now, the only thing thatís kick-started it again has been small independents. Punk is the first classic example, and the only reason that died was because the majors jumped on it straight away and killed it....but I guess it needed killing anyway, because it wasnít really going anywhere. Then when Rave happened; some builder gets made redundant so he puts out his mateís record."
Creative spirit born out of adverse and unexpected social or economic situations.
"Exactly, and this is exactly why musicís dead at the moment, because major labels hold all the cards yet again. Theyíve bought into everything and nobodyís really interested in it; you need alternative music to give everything a fresh perspective."
There seems to be two extremes in the emergence of new music: people like yourself
whoíve taken the DIY approach and worked within your immediate means, and those who
con the majors out of large, usually unrecoupable sums of money.
"There are definitely more players; musicians are getting wiser."
There have been a lot of mistakes to learn from.
"Yeah, exactly. They do now tend to take the piss, which is something Iíd love dearly to be able to do, but I donít have a manager, for a start, and I donít have the confidence or go-getter mentality which you need to play them off against each other. The thing is, I donít think there will ever be silly money to be made in music, which is where the majors fuck up so badly. They think everything is going to turn over millions, so they spend millions of pounds on it and itís just a ridiculous waste."
A doomed industry?
"Well, itís doomed because of the lack of imagination. They just donít know what theyíre doing. Thereís noone who works for a major label, really, who is passionate about music, I donít think. There have been in the past; I always say even to this day, that Island have the most interesting selection of bands."
Itís a shame that itís now part of the Polygram/Seagram take-over. Lotís of people are being
"But they do that every five years anyway."
You donít think itís anything particularly significant or omenistic regarding the industry in
"No, they just have a clean sweep. Someone gets promoted and says ĎIím going to do some troubleshooting and sort this outí. Itís just the way it goes."
The cover to "You Guys Kill Me" utilises the bizarre artwork from sinister Jehovahís
Witnesses pamphlets. Your depiction of Christ with the head of a big cat seems to hint at
ideas of false idols and crises of faith. The album as a whole seems to reflect world chaos and
uncertainty. Do you think itís all coming to a head with the millennium?
"I think everyoneís freaked about everything, whatever industry they work in. Thatís why Iím going to take off to the fucking country I think. I donít want to be in the middle of a town, itís going to be fucking insane. I will actually shit myself, wherever I am, because I know that somewhere there will be a weapon that didnít get its chip changed. Somethingís bound to go off in a nuclear power station somewhere."
The advert for the millennium bug is nearly as sinister as your music. (I describe it to him).
"That sort of thing just reminds me of Brasseye. When people say that someone is a comedy genius, Iíve never really believed it. You know, Eric Morecambe, or someone.....But Chris Morris is one. He knows exactly what to say. He does it so fucking well."
Donít you think that heís too disturbing to ever be celebrated on a large scale?
"In ten years time he will be seen as a fucking master."
This generationís Lenny Bruce?
"Exactly. It will be seen as too extreme at the time. Half the people I talk to love it, and the other half really hate it. Itís interesting that he elicits such extreme reactions. And Iím always impressed when someone has questions asked about them in parliament. I wouldnít want to be on the wrong side of him, though."
He must be in permanent exile, with so many people wanting to sue him.
"But who would actually be bothered too? If he did that to me, Iíd probably just think, Ďyou got one over on me, so fucking what?í. I just think itís harmless."
But he picks on really ridiculous people, like Paul Daniels or Noel Edmonds. Itís actually
embarrassing seeing them be so gullible.
"Youíre kind of embarrassed on their behalf, but only because you hate them so much; thatís why heís getting those sort of people on. That geezer from Babylon Zoo. Thatís what made me laugh. He ruined my life for six months with that fucking song. Once it got in your head it never fucking left. Total revenge....what a twat. But you do think that they have to be fucking stupid to be wound up like that. Theyíre suing him because theyíre so embarrassed and ashamed at how greedy they are to want to be that famous. These people will do anything to get on T.V. .........This interview is going to consist solely of Brasseye sketches!"
Weíll move onto Joy Division or something.......
"That one about the builder who goes swimming and it heals all the sick children...."
(At this point the interview does indeed descend into a relay of Brasseye quotes)
(Regaining the thread) Do you think that what heís doing could be understood Stateside?
"Well, itís interesting that you say that because I showed it to some American friends and a French friend and they thought it was hilarious. When I watch something with someone else I try to put myself in their shoes, and I think you can laugh at it even if you donít really understand who heís talking to, just because itís someone being made a complete cunt of. And the US brought us the Simpsons which is one of the most popular things over there as well as over here, so....it probably could work stateside. I just love that sort of humour, the idea that the only thing you can do with life is laugh at it. I find myself becoming more and more like Homer, which is kind of disturbing............"
The Third Eye Foundation has released four albums. His debut, "Semtex", and "In Version", a collection of music by Amp, Crescent, Hood and F.S.A remixed by the Third Eye Foundation are both available through Lindaís Strange Vacation Records; "Ghost" and "You Guys Kill Me" are available through the Domino Recording Company. All four LPís can be found in any half decent record shop.