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Destined: Fuck Buttons

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Dusted's Matthew Wuethrich gets intimate with Bristol's Fuck Buttons.

Destined: Fuck Buttons

  • Download "Bright Tomorrow" by Fuck Buttons

    “I’m not sure that there was any particular catalyst that caused the progression from abrasive noise to something more hopeful and euphoric, it just happened somewhere along the line,” writes Benjamin John Power, one half of UK-based ecstatic-noise duo Fuck Buttons. He is discussing how the pair’s sound has shifted over their three-year existence. “I think maybe we were ‘getting something out of our system’ when our sound was more bleak,” he continues. “It’s great to make that kind of noise. But then we started to refine that sound into something embracing.”

    Noise forces us into decisions, forces us to come to grips with what it is and what we think of it. As a musical form, it can be tiring as well as cathartic. It’s no surprise, then, that many musicians who start out making “Noise” end up in a less extreme territory, one populated by more comfortable ideas of melody, harmony and rhythm. After three years together, Fuck Buttons has arrived in such a place.

    Andrew Hung, the duo’s other half, describes the evolution in more psychological terms: “We were consciously drawn to noise, which led us unconsciously toward melody. We still have aesthetic substantiates to do with the music, but everything else involving the decision processes is pretty much unconscious.” Questions about how they build their pieces elicit similar responses, Hung saying that “we don’t discuss what we want to make prior to jamming, for example.” When asked to describe their tools, Hung keeps his answer similarly open: “We pick up anything and everything, if it makes a sound.”

    The pair has taken an equally open-minded approach to their career arc. After three years of jamming, practicing and gigging, the duo is ready to take the next step. Fuck Buttons recently signed to ATP, which will release their debut album in March 2008, and a two-month tour of North America will follow. The tour then culminates in a slot on the ATP festival bill in May.

    “It’s been a dream come true,” says Andy, “and we feel like a justified response to the luck and chance we’ve been given is to fully commit.” Full commitment, in this case, means quitting their day jobs and throwing themselves into touring, playing and recording. This both-feet-in, no-regrets attitude feels like a hallmark of the duo and their music.

    When speaking of their roots, Power echoes this idea. “We both went to art school in Bristol,” he recalls, “where we rapidly discovered that our interests were so similar that we started to make sounds together with pretty much anything we could lay our hands on.” This open-minded dialogue began in a Bristol pub where Hung was working, and their common ground soon led to them jamming in the attic flat above the pub. Gigs and a show-only CD-R, Let’s see if there are any ghosts in here, yeah?, followed.

    The pair’s common interests extend to their engagement in visual arts. Power is an illustrator and Hung is a film-maker. Such an interest has naturally led to the duo taking responsibility for Fuck Buttons’ visual identity. “It’s pretty satisfying that we’ve done everything for the album,” Hung writes, “like Ben’s done the artwork and I did the music video and website.” Neither of them goes out of their way to list influences, Hung saying only, “I guess we’re both inspired by anything we encounter and enjoy.”

    Because Hung and Power seem to leave themselves open to various experiences, it keeps their music as well as their influences loose. Their debut album is titled Street Horrrsing, the title being a reference to the somewhat controversial sport of the same name. “Street horsing is a type of urban show jumping,” Power explains. “The album title isn’t celebrating the sport itself (which I think is a little cruel), but the actual concept. I think the idea itself of street horsing draws comparisons to the Fuck Buttons sound. Like, taking this grand beautiful creature that belongs with nature and rural surroundings and placing it in an urban, built-up arena. It conjures up some incredible imagery.”

    The juxtaposition of dissonant elements is at the core of the Fuck Buttons sound. “Sweet Love for Planet Earth,” the lead track from Street Horrrsing, begins with the rustling of pastoral bell-tones and a gentle bass figure, but a menacing buzz soon enters. One expects the aggressive blast to overpower the more fragile melodic movement, but as the two streams start to converge, the contours of the lighter sounds point out the static’s subtle harmonic shape. In the end, what makes the piece work is not just the tension of square pegs in round holes, but the dialogue that makes one somehow fit the other.

    The key to this dialogue is that in a Fuck Buttons piece, there are no pretensions to “songs” and all the ingredients are simple, almost elemental: primitive rhythmic chugs, two-chord harmonic movement, unbroken waves of distortion and static, writhing nests of babbling voices. “[The record] was actually extremely easy to record,” Hung explains. “It’s basically the set we play live.”

    Hung and Power don’t force structure where there is none, but instead try to discover what structure might naturally occur. What kind of rhythm, for instance, would grow out of a crunch of white-noise? Probably a thick bass-drum kick, so the intro to “Bright Tomorrow” is just that: a bass-drum thud and nothing else. What would go best with that? How about a grand, nearly victorious-sounding organ progression? Throughout the piece the duo hints at a pay-off that never really comes. Fuck Buttons music is all ascension and no peak.

    While the dense, driving distortion that powers much of the Fuck Buttons’ music still forces listeners to position themselves within it, there is a forward motion to their pieces that is irresistible. It means their music is more positive, and has none of the rejection and refusal that noise as a musical form brings with it. It is more smile than snarl.

    They only refuse, it seems, to limit what they do. Rather than have set roles within the group, Hung instead says, “It revolves around ideas that we both have.” In Hung’s view, what links them is not a concept or set of influences. “The common denominator,” he writes, “is us.” So what started in a Bristol attic as a purge of energy has turned into a surge of momentum, and this surge seems set to carry them through 2008. Characteristically, Fuck Buttons is open to what’s ahead. “Although the past three months have been the craziest since the birth of Fuck Buttons,” says Power, “I’m actually too excited to fear anything at this stage.”

    By Matthew Wuethrich

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