Future Beat Alliance: 21 Years of Techno

Future Beat Alliance has released his 21-year retrospective collection at the beginning of November. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight spoke with him about running a Berlin club night, Stylophones, and the curse of the creative mind.

For those who don’t know, Future Beat Alliance is the preferred artist name of one Matthew Puffett, an electronic artist whose career spans an impressive 21 years. In that time has worked with some of the most influential labels in existence, the likes of which include cult electronica label, Void and his own FBA Recordings imprint. Several of his compositions were released via iconic Berlin label, Tresor, which makes sense as he has been resident in Berlin since 2009.

The origin of FBA nomenclature probably isn’t something that will surprise fans of Puffett’s sound. His productions are steeped in the history of electronic music, so the fact that his alias comes from one of electro’s foremost pioneers will make perfect sense. Indeed, his influences from the electro and techno scene certainly manifest themselves as we move through his impressive back-catalogue.

However, it can certainly be said that FBA can be described as an influencer, not just an influencee, of the electronic music landscape. His music has a unique, haunting quality to it. Perhaps this is the ‘ambient’ side of his style. This assertion seems to be something that surprises Puffett.

Speaking to Future Beat Alliance, he strikes you as the type of man who you’d quite happily sit and talk to over a pint. He is an unassuming, humble artist and a person who lacks any pretence. He is a normal guy who is passionate about his scene and the music he makes, which makes a refreshing change in the current climate, where copycat techno and black clothing are very much the ‘de rigueur’.

This is something that Matthew Puffett is staunchly proud of. He talks about the scenes he inhabits with a nurturing pride, he wants to foster and protect the corner of the electronic music universe that he has been so involved in, as a producer and DJ, for the past 21 years. The popularity of musical styles can be cyclical, as we see frequently in the electronic music industry, with one style taking over another and then fading back into obscurity just as fast.

We can see that this has certainly been the case with the resurgence in the popularity of electro. Of course, the style never went away, but this is what seems to happen with different forms of electronic music, they ebb and flow. They seem to die out, only to be reignited like a phoenix from the ashes, rising back to glory. FBA agrees that this is electro’s time now – a fact that he embraces given his background.

Matthew released his 21-year retrospective work on November 3rd, which is available to buy now from digital and vinyl retailers. You can access the album in numerous ways, all of which can be located here.

We took the opportunity to talk to Future Beat Alliance about what the past 21 years have meant to him. Here’s what he had to say.

Waveform: Thank you Matthew for joining us. We’ll start at the beginning. For those who don’t know, tell us how you came up with the Future Beat Alliance name.

FBA: At the time, I was listening to a lot of early electro and I had a copy of a vinyl LP by Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force and, up in the top corner of the sleeve cover, was a small sticker which read “Approved by the Future Beat Alliance” so I decided to use that!

The Afrika Bambaataa cover from which FBA took his name.

Waveform: So, you describe your sound as ambient techno, can you tell us a little about where your influences came from at the beginning of your career specifically as future beat alliance?

FBA: Well, I think it was similar to many other artists around that time. I mean, back then my influences were early electro, but the more ambient, soulful sound. I believe it would have come from the early Black Dog productions and the early UK electronica scene.

Obviously, I also drew influence from the original Detroit material; Juan Atkins, Carl Craig. Again, the more soulful side of the techno sound. But the early Black Dog productions, I would say, had the most impact. Amongst all of the other early UK artists, they stood out, I felt, with a very unique and other-worldly feel.

Waveform: So quite an ethereal sound?

FBA: Yeah, exactly. I still often go back to it, you know? I believe it stands the test of time and it has a shelf-life.

Waveform: Yes, it is satisfying when you find an artist you can constantly return to that isn’t affected by temporality. So, you mentioned there that Black Dog where one of your early influences, but to move into the present, do you find that you are constantly drawing inspiration from alternative sources?

FBA: Absolutely! That is just me casting my memory back to when I grew up, basically. Through that sound you carve your own technique of drawing inspiration. It is that ‘musical cycle’ that goes around and around. You take your influences and often create your own interpretation and I think that was what a lot of other artists were doing when they were discovering the scene for the first time.

Nowadays I am inspired a lot by music for the moving picture, really. The way it sets that mood in film. Also, obviously from working on a few short films I realise it has so much more of an impact when combined with moving images.

Waveform: We would suggest that your sound has been influential to others. Would you agree with that sentiment?

FBA: (pauses) Erm…well, that is very flattering to hear, I obviously can’t answer that myself, though. It is always nice to hear good feedback. However, I think now, more than ever, over perhaps the last year or so, I’ve had more interest than before, I would say mainly in my back catalogue and my nineties material…from a younger generation as well, they seem to know all of my back catalogue.

I’m constantly like ‘whoa’, here’s a new wave of kids going out and discovering my music, which gives me encouragement. It has restored my faith in what I have been doing for the past 21 years!

Waveform: In that case, do you feel that your involvement in Tresor has been integral to this interest from a younger audience? Obviously, Tresor is a popular handle to throw around in techno circles, so do think that might have been what has drawn them in?

FBA: I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe. Maybe it has highlighted what I do, perhaps, and then people have gone away and done their own research and then went back into the old catalogue. It is a great label to be on. I am very proud to have been asked to jump on that ship.

Waveform: How did that come about?

FBA: Actually, it was the first year I moved here to Berlin and, ironically, it was an old friend from London, Simon Ashcroft, who is now in music management. He was brought into Tresor as a new A&R guy. The Tresor label went quiet for a year or two and he was brought in to revamp it and he was given the task of bringing some new artists in. So, he called and asked me if I wanted to be one of the new Tresor artists and I was like, “well…yeah” (laughs)

From that it was really interesting, an artist called Vince Watson contacted me and asked how I became involved in Tresor, so I put him in contact with Simon and he became involved too. Following this we were offered a monthly club night called Radio Drama, which ran for 16-17 nights every other month on a Saturday, inviting guests like Juan Atkins, Kenny Larkin, Kirk Degiorgio, Octave One.

Waveform: Would you count that as one of your personal highlights, then?

FBA: Club-wise, yeah, it was a very good period. For me it was in the first two years of me living in Berlin, so it was very exciting. Especially for an outsider who adored this music, who suddenly found themselves in the middle of it.

Waveform: So, it kind of helped you establish yourself on the scene in Berlin, then?

FBA: I’m not sure if it did actually…at least it didn’t feel like it did, to be honest. It didn’t boost my career, put it that way. It is a funny one to answer. Things didn’t rocket because of it, it was more of a status thing. A lot of people were like “Wow, you run a club night at Tresor!” but I didn’t go on to do crazy things because of it!

Waveform: Moving on, then, you have been involved in the production of the new UNKLE album, The Road: Part One. What was it like working with James Lavelle and to be part of the longstanding UNKLE project? What was your involvement in the process?

FBA: It was amazing. To give you a brief history, James is one of my oldest friends from my home town in Oxford, and we had always been in concact over 25 years, which is since I’ve known him. When I moved to London we started to hang out a lot more.

He asked me to be involved in his previous label, Surrender All. Then over the next few years we started working on other projects, I moved to Berlin, we kept in contact and he asked me to work on a short film he was producing, so we did some music for some short films, all of which culminated in James asking me if I wanted to be heavily involved in co-writing the new album, which became a three-year writing and production process.

I co-wrote a lot of the album alongside James and Jack Leonard, but my role was more as a programmer. There were a lot of people involved and they all had their own role, I was more at the controls. It was a very very interesting experience.

Waveform: In terms of production, then, can you tell us a little bit about your own production process and how you come up with ideas for your tracks and then how your ideas are converted into a more tangible sonic form?

FBA: It’s crazy. I tend to work on stuff all the time. Technology these days just lets you work on things forever, which has its advantages and disadvantages. There is no cut-off point. I have a folder full of incomplete sketches, which I sometimes dip into for inspiration or what have you.

If I hear a piece of music from a film or in a club, then I get back and might think to myself “Wow, I need to do a version of that!” you know? I think it is just in the blood now, I’ve done it for so long. It is that old classic of “Get up, make a cup of tea, switch the computer on, and start working”.

I like to think of it as more of a 9-5, although I regularly exceed that.

Waveform: Kind of like the curse of the creative. You will sit and start something, and the time sponge absorbs twelve hours of your day and suddenly you’ll be like “where has the day gone?!”.

FBA: Yes. They are really good days. The danger is, though, not knowing when to pull away. I tend to just get lost in it. Which can be good and bad. The whole track can have no ending. The UNKLE project was good for that, as there was a lot of people with defined ideas about when things should start and when they should end. A definite direction of where it is going and when it should end.

Credit: Markus Henttonen

Waveform: So, how do you go about creating your own sound?

FBA: At the moment I generally work within the box, within my Mac. Going back, a lot of the material on the compilation was recorded on outboard equipment. I’d say about 60% of it was sequenced on an Atari with Cubase. That would be connected via midi to my Akai sampler, which would be connected to my outboard synths like and Oberheim and a rack of effects.

Then I moved on into the 00s and it was ‘Wow, you can do everything really well, within a computer.” and I kind of stuck with that. I’d like to go back to using more outboard gear. In fact I’ve just bought the Stylophone which is really interesting.

Waveform: The new Stylophone has all sorts of added extras, doesn’t it?

FBA: It is pretty amazing, it looks exactly the same, but it has got feedback, delay, filter, cut-off resonance. It sounds so sci-fi.

Waveform: Will we see an all-Stylophone production coming from Future Beat Alliance soon, then?

FBA: (Laughs) Yes, definitely! I would love to get some more outboard gear, but alsoI’ve gained a lot of technique working with other people, sound engineers and such, regarding how to make your sound a lot ‘bigger’. I also like to very limited, I don’t like to have lots things around me that don’t work together. It is also distracting at times.

Waveform: I suppose that even if you do have a lot of equipment around you that does talk to each other you can end up using far too much.

FBA: Exactly. But again, there are classic devices. You need to know how to manipulate a lot of equipment and then go away and arrange what you have done with that. It is about organisation, structure, that kind of thing.

Waveform: In terms of your own listening habits, then, can you give us an idea of what you like to listen to?

FBA: Everything! Electronic wise I love the whole industrial, new-wave thing. I love soundtracks, folk music, dub, right across the board. I’m going through a huge process of genrefying folders. Which has become a huge job but I’m finding so much music I forgot I had. I’m listening to everything in my music folder. It is more like a data processing task.

I have a huge record collection back at my parents’ in the UK which I couldn’t bring over because of the shipping costs being phenomenal. I have the radio on all of the time. I love Weatherall’s show on NTS.

Waveform: Finally, Matthew, what news have you got for us in terms of what the future holds for Future Beat Alliance? What have you got following the release of your 21-year retrospective?

FBA: I’ve got a few remixes coming, some of which I can’t discuss just yet, but one is from Kirk Degiorgio, I can tell you that much. I’m going to be releasing a lot of stuff digitally, particularly over the next three months. I’m going to do two or three compilations of rarities from compilations I’ve worked with over the past 15 or so years.

Waveform: From the goldmine, then?

FBA: I hope so! There are a few tracks I had completely forgotten about from compilations. I’m really pleased with the first one. It’s really deep…really electronic. Then more of a dancefloor one. I’d love to do a new album next year, hopefully, that’s my plan. Brand new material. I’m excited about working on some new music. So, I’m looking forward to that.

As you can see, Future Beat Alliance is an artist whose involvement in the scene should be celebrated and the 21st anniversary of his career seems like the perfect time to do so. You can take a listen to his retrospective work, below. If you like it, buy it.

 

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