Take an old jungle producer with an obsession with Mr Kipling, add in lost, near ancient family archives recorded to magnetic tape and Super8 film footage, and stand back.
The result is one of the most understated yet interesting electronic projects of the year. Future Loop Foundation is one man. Mark Barrott, a man whose career has been bubbling under the surface of the music industry for years.
He was the first person to play live drum and bass on Radio One as well as having produced four albums over the last decade from ambient breakbeat to jump-up jungle floor fillers to Kruder and Dorfmiester inspired down-tempo beats.
We are in the age of bollocks where our leaders are straight out of the Bruce Forsyth School of Bad Game Show Hosts.
However it will be for his latest album that he will be remembered. ‘Memories From A Fading Room’ is an album borne straight from the soul of his family but which reaches well past these genetic and generational boundaries and uncovers facets and insights about societies, races and relationships on an epic scale.
Mark, now over 40 years old, had thought he had made his last album. It was a scratch and sniff concept album with Mr Kipling on vocals. Some would argue that SHOULD have been the last album he was ALLOWED to make. Then the postman brought a parcel steeped in destiny - something which was to impact more than anything yet on his musical career.
“I got this CD through from my cousin who is a bit of boffin; he helped design the scroll wheel for the iPod for example. Back in the ’70s the same cousin was an electronic geek so recorded a lot of interviews on reel to reel tapes with all the family. He’d found them 25 years later so he sent it to me - and I thought that I must be able to do something with these.”
These tapes had sat collecting dust in his family’s attic for the last 30 years. Meticulously trawling through them he found interviews from his older cousin in the 1970s deeply detailing his grandparents, parents and cousins. Barrott could perfectly see how these seemingly irrelevant family anecdotes could become something much bigger.
“It just happened… so quickly,” he remembers. “I have never written tracks so quickly. There were only two outtakes from the whole album. The album seemed complete in that all the vocal samples that I had were used – it was a very natural process from start to finish. From phone rings to door bells …”
“I started listening and knew that this could be an album, rather than just using the odd sample - it could be a collection of whole tracks in the way that Brian Eno worked his concept albums; where music was put to the world and the words just become another instrument. I don’t believe in lots of secrets - and if someone wants to know my influences I would tell them that I was listening to a lot of Sigur Ros, Brian Eno and a lot of Boards Of Canada when I was making this.”
The result has been an album opening the door to a lost society based round family life, dodging Hitler’s bombs and summer holidays in the ’70s in sepia seaside towns.
“Obviously I was limited in my material,” continues Barrott. “I couldn’t go back and get my cousin to re-vocalise a bit. So the album just grew up from there. It just became really interesting to use the vocals to illustrate this period of time. In the ’70s, World War II was only just over 20 years old and still ingrained in people, especially in Sheffield where the steel was worked and got so heavily bombed.”
“It was very, very different and it’s nice to submit this audio museum to put it into a small context. I want it to become a little treasure people can find in a junk shop and take home and treasure and when you put it on for an hour it transports you to another world; not just in terms of the voices but all the wobbly electronics.”
He has certainly achieved this; within its triangulated mode of Ulrich Schnauss, Boards Of Canada and Brian Eno you can probably get a feel for the depth involved in the arrangements but the way in which he mixes his samples and family voices which does suggest a timeless recording. And it was a very personal journey for the once prolific Jungle producer, as he confesses.
“Music can amplify emotions. So when I first heard my granddad’s voice I got quite upset, but hearing it set to music was a whole different affair. If he was talking about something which involved pathos then my music would have been surging into that. On his song he’s talking about bombs getting dropped on his village. He died 22 years ago. Grandmother was 11 when the First World War happened. She has never left England. My cat has travelled more than Mad Alice has!”
Barrott admits that certain members of his family had reservations about opening up the family archives to such a degree. Some skeletons must surely have been loitering? Well yes - on one side of his family, a titled heiress from Lincolnshire was disinherited after eloping with a stable boy, another ancestor came back from the Boer War with brain clearly frazzled and committed suicide in the bathroom. But such details happened far too long ago to be included in his older cousin’s daily interviews with his close family nearly 30 years ago.
I want it this album to become a little treasure people can find in a junk shop and take home and treasure and when you put it on for an hour it transports you to another world.
But it did deliver shards of knowledge and insight via its broader themes. These archives were from a tight family, with interviews and filming dating from between 1972 and 1979. A lost era of British society. Locked onto tape and now digitised it’s a fascinating archive, as Barrott explains further.
“One thing it did highlight was a parable in today’s society of the absolute stupidity of war. If you look at my family, my grandparents were talking about the Germans dropping bombs on us and then you look at my girlfriend whose grandfather was a German soldier who came back from the front with no toes or fingers because of frost bite – what a bag of wank!”
“It was all based on totally pathetic drives, jingoistic nonsense and a waste of life and energy. We are in the age of bollocks where our leaders are straight out of the Bruce Forsyth School of Bad Game Show Hosts – in fact that’s unfair to Bruce because he was a good game show host. I got quite angry when I was dealing with the passages about the war because my family can now see it from both sides; both sides suffered just as badly so who was right and who was wrong? Well the answer was no one was right and no one was wrong! The eternal definition of insanity is doing something twice and expecting different results each time you do them but still going to war at the drop of a hat.”
As an electronic producer working over the last decade Barrott has been round the block. He had all but quit the coal face of production. His first LP’s informed by Bukem era drum and bass yet taken under the Planet Dog / Megadog wing he produced three LPs. The first he was pleased with and admits “that it stands the test of time”, the other two seemed now to be dwarfed by the integrity of the latest project.
However his fourth album was a ‘scratch and sniff’ affair, for which he had enlisted the help of a session with Mr Kipling. At £400 per hour it wasn’t an affair for the faint hearted, especially with the incredibly high-maintenance and interactive packaging. It sold out and was critically acclaimed yet Barrott aligns such success in the same mode as New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ where they lost money on every copy due to the packaging.
He admits to learning a lot from that release yet seems so much more excited and invigorated by his latest work, as he admits: “I realised a lot about the family unit, and how important it is now, more so than ever. To the Italians’ credit they still have that. I also learnt that England in the ’70s and the place it was is now GONE. England seems to be adopting the worst traits of Americana; idiotic reasons for doing things that are now beyond me.”
“It would be interesting to sort of use it as an illustrative document between family life and family life now… because it has changed so much. The world and family life has moved on, every generation does. I am a great believer in that the strength of things comes from the family unit. In human terms, population terms, community terms where you do show your elders respect, you do use your family as a positive security when you need it. And a Playstation 3 isn’t a substitute for a mother or father.”
The release comes as a CD/DVD double package with all the family’s Super8 footage being spun into a mesmerising music video by BAFTA nominee Annie Watson. Her work on this project is captivating as she animates still photography into grainy moving film footage, slowly bringing to life Barrott’s ancestors in the same fascinating way in which Bagpuss slowly woke up discovered a new world around him.
The producer also has a fine roster of remixes to take the project well passed the boundaries of his own fanbase, with reinterpretations from Tunng, The Go! Team, Ashley Beedle, Padded Cell and The Beauty Room. Barrott now seems reinvigorated and hopes that ‘Memories From A Fading Room’ can transcend your average electronic music and speak in more universal terms, as he rounds off in inspirational fashion:
“It’s got that nostalgia; regardless of the fact the words are from my family; that’s irrelevant, it’s set a mood and it’s set a scene and a degree of positive gravity and positive pathos to make people look within themselves.”
“If we look externally all the time we can never achieve all the great things we CAN achieve because if you are always looking externally - at the next car, the next house, the piece of clothing or the next fucking Gucci handbag - rather than looking internally, then we will never achieve our full potential – and I think one of the great things about this record is that it makes people look inwards … Even if it’s just for a short time.”