Neon Indian x John Foxx

Personality Clash
Neon Indian.png
In the red corner: Neon Indian.

Real name Alan Palomo, Neon Indian rummages through the dustbin of electronic music. Prime retro-Futurism, his startlingly original productions reached a new level with the release of second album 'Era Extraña'.

In the blue corner: John Foxx.

A product of the English art school tradition, John Foxx was amongst the first English producers to make forays into electronic music. Helping to spearhead Ultravox, Foxx then went on to have a dizzying solo career.

Now leading John Foxx & The Maths, ClashMusic put the maverick producer in touch with Neon Indian. What followed was like an elderly university professor putting his favourite pupil to the test...

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Neon Indian
I’ve recently been reading a lot of cyber punk literature and I’m finding that has an effect on my music. I was wondering if you read sci-fi, and if that influenced you when you began making electronic music?

John Foxx
I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a kid and in England it was pretty circumscribed, it wasn’t as good as the American stuff. It all became mixed up with Film Noir and science fiction, and when I did ‘Metamatic’ in 1980 it wasn’t deliberate and conscious but all that stuff emerged. I remember thinking when I was making it that it was like a lot of short science fiction movies that I’d sort of distilled over the years into this form. When I made them they weren’t so much songs, as in my head they were playing as movies. I think ‘Metamatic’ is actually cinematic for me.

Neon Indian
Do you generally like to work with these film concepts? I know you’ve done film work for Antonioni. Was that second nature to you? Had you been looking at music from a visual standpoint?

John Foxx
Yeah I think so because I started off as a painter in art school in Britain – most of that generation did, from the 60s onwards. It’s interesting too, Alan, as some edges of your music seem to be based very much on that 60s psychedelic, very British art school movement too. I liked it particularly in ‘Sleep Paralysis’ where you had an interesting mix of different elements: Pink Floyd, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – which is one of my favourite ever tracks. That’s where studio music first came alive isn’t it? It made an entire new world to investigate for everyone who heard it and knew what was going on there. It was the thing that launched me, really, because it had just about everything I would ever need for the rest of my career, I think, that record. So when I see people of your generation using it I’m excited because it means that people have picked up on those messages and acted on it in a different generation and in a different way. I find that really exciting and inspiring.

Neon Indian
It’s funny because ‘Sleep Paralysis’ was inspired by the somnambulist in Dr Caligari and it was fascinating to me to find this character known only as a sleep walker. I actually have kind of had a couple of issues with that in the past. Now when I look at tape music and try to draw influence from there it feels like some sort of scrapbook. I guess I grew up making a lot of mixtapes for friends, putting stuff down on cassette and it wasn’t even really rooted in just a collection of songs. A lot of my friends would throw in their own recordings, or just little samples from films, TV shows and it seemed like this really strange amalgamation of all these different mediums. At least when I’m writing records I get pretty immersed more in cinema than music actually, I’m able to enjoy music more when I’m not recording and I can look at it in this enjoyable, objective way. When I’m recording I’m looking at something and listening to myself.

John Foxx
When you make music do you see it visually?

Neon Indian
I think so. I studied film at college and eventually that’s something I would like to get into but I used to write scripts to music, or make like a playlist of songs and it would be the soundtrack to this film. I would play these songs on repeat and start writing scenes around it, and now I do the opposite. With this one I was recording it in Helsinki and I watched ‘Blade Runner’ at like three in the morning. I’d see it my whole life, screwing up, but I don’t think it spoke to me in such a potent way as it did now. It’s strange as when I see it now it doesn’t seem that far away from what Los Angeles kind of is now. Flipping into these sci fi futuristic films which are discussing the era we’re talking about.



John Foxx
The best kind of music doesn’t predict so much as take what’s happening and extrapolates it into a form which you will recognise. Often – if it’s well done and not stupidly done – that’s how things actually become, isn’t it? I’m thinking about JG Ballard whose a very English writer I used to read a lot, especially when I was making ‘Metamatic’.

Neon Indian
Sounds like there’s a bit of ‘Crash’ in your song ‘Underpass’.

John Foxx
That’s right. He sort of visualised a world that seems like science fiction but when you think back that’s how the world actually was at the time it’s just that no one else had caught up with it. No one else had realised that we were there already. I think Phillip Dick did that with Los Angeles as the scenes were well planted before he wrote that but no one else had recognised it because they were all too busy living in the past and imagining we were living in some other era that is fed to us by the media. So we don’t always see where we are at the moment. When I hear your music I think this is interesting as it’s a positive music of the near future. You can imagine a neon jukebox, putting some money in a bar somewhere and having your music come out of it. It feels like five years from now that will be the dominant mark in music. Do you ever write for that sort of thing, do you visualise it that was yourself?

Neon Indian
It’s strange. I was touching more on it in this latest record as opposed to the first one. The first one was meant to be this very sort of collage feel, anything that I sampled on the record I feel that a lot of my motivations for doing it was that those were the bands I was listening to at the time. I think for this record, it’s interesting because I have this image in my head – I remember the film ‘A Boy And His Dog’ and that actually left quite an imprint on me because it seemed that the idea of the teenage narrative were the same things driven on a primal level: girls, fun, that kind of feeling of irresponsibility that you have as a teenager. The idea that no matter what happens to the world that narrative will still be alive. I wanted to write songs that at the core felt like teenage love songs but they were kind of in this mutant, Futuristic environment. Or at least express this tone in some manner that the future might not be what we expect it to be. At least those core elements will still be alive in the human narrative.

John Foxx
‘A Boy And His Dog’ oddly enough is one of the things that I kept right from the beginning when I first read it back in 1969 or 1970. That’s an important story. I haven’t seen the movie but I guess it stays true to the story. When I saw the video that you made for ‘Mind Drops’ I was really excited by that, especially since you do it live, don’t you?

Neon Indian
I always kind of envisioned – at least one of the things I like to think about when I’m getting immersed in Futurism, the whole idea of cyberpunk and what that means in the internet age – is the idea that you can build your own electronics. You can take obsolete equipment and create new contexts and build new equipment; the idea that the average person will be able to do this in the not too distant future. Like taking Atari video music and modifying it to have these visual ramp waves or LFOs, having this immediate interaction between audio / visual artforms was totally mind blowing to me. The idea that you can have your modules set to encapsulate the music and the video in one show.

John Foxx
There were moments in the development of Atari for instance when those visions were being realised but then they sort of got discarded later on. Your work seems to be a development of this. As always, when technologies get discarded if you look back at them then there are entire areas of possibilities which have been discarded with them. It’s great to retrieve that if you can possibly do it.

Neon Indian
It seems that a lot of electronic music now seems to reference itself, more than anything. I feel like in a weird sort of way bogged down by its own lineage. I get the feeling that when you started making music – especially since you were associated with the New Romantics and drawing influence from painting and cinema – did you still find that to be the case?

John Foxx
You’ve got to be careful, haven’t you, with the legacy. There are always too many masterpieces in the way for you to make stuff. I used to have this phrase written above my door which is ‘Detroy All Masterpieces’. When I was young and full of it. But I think it’s true, you have to get around those things otherwise they’ll kill you. You have to dominate that, you can’t let it dominate you. It’s essential to find your way through all that stuff and not be dominated by it. I think every generation always has that problem, there are so many masterpieces in every department – guitar music and so on. There’s always someone you think is massively better than you but that’s not the point you have to re-make it for yourself and not be dominated by it. I think that’s a big challenge.

Neon Indian
It’s like that quote from Degard: it’s not where you got it from it’s where you take it. I completely subscribe to that. You can celebrate someone’s influence and imitate their persona as a musician but at the end of the day it’s one thing to say that you’re influenced by these things it’s another to re-define it. I feel like as far as what I would like to do I’m still very much at the beginning.

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