Fuck Buttons are Andrew Hung *and Benjamin John Power*. The pair creates music that’s been compared to the sound of God blowing his nose in slow motion, a tumultuous brew of primordial percussion and sci-fi laser sonics. Their debut album Street Horrrsing is released via ATP Recordings on March 17. It’s an experience, less a listen.
The band recently wrapped up a series of UK dates, alongside labelmate Alexander Tucker, to support the album’s release; they’re presently touring stateside, and will be back in the UK for ATP and a date with Battles in May, as well as a slot on the Primavera Sound bill. But back to the present: below is their diary of their most recent domestic travels in the name of super-amplified aural adventures.
Words from Mr Hung.
Video: Fuck Buttons on tour in 2006
Today is the start of the UK tour (technically). We’ve actually got a week before we head off onto the road, but our London date is today. I’m not sure if Ben was trying to hex me last night by saying_ “Hey, you nervous? Pretty important show though, it’s our first headline show... blah blah.”_ Nah he wasn’t, but I assume he’s feeling nervous. For the first time, I feel pretty okay. Which is more than I can say for the Friday night at ATP’s_ Nightmare Before Christmas_ when we played. Before the show (and throughout most of the day) I couldn’t talk to anyone. I remember feeling embarrassed because I was introduced to Barry Burns by John (Cummings, Street Horrrsing producer and fellow Mogwai member) and I felt like I couldn’t show any of my personality. Well anyway, I’m pretty happy today. Just about to pop off to the post office and send some picture discs.
I’m also looking forward to meeting Alex Tucker. When his record Old Fog came out a few years back, I remember thinking,_ “What the fuck is this man? It’s amazing!”_ So dark and ambivalent, from a guitar-based album. I had (and still have to a certain degree) lost faith in guitar music. But yeah, that was great. In fact, Ben and I were at the Mars Volta ATP (this was way before we got signed to ATP/R) and we saw Alex Tucker walk past us. Ben was a bit drunk and exclaimed “There’s Alexander Tucker!” as if he was across a room, whereas in reality he was about a foot away. So obviously he turns around and acknowledges Ben. Ben then had to quickly readjust and the first thing he said to Alex was, “Err… what you do is beautiful man, keep doing it!”… HaHa… I might tell Alex that story when we’re on tour.
What an amazing night last night. We got to the venue at four, because we wanted to avoid the rush hour (we had a lot of stuff to carry). We’d just found out that we had a preview in The Metro, which was pretty odd. They compared us to U2… In fact, I heard this wee Scottish voice, our friend Marner, heckle us in one of the transitions between our songs by shouting “Sunday BLOODY Sunday!”
We get to the venue and we have a little time to kill, so we have a cigarette and headed into The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square for a bit of warmth. Ben gets told off in the space of a couple of minutes for being on his phone and then for wearing his hoodie up.
We head back and do our sound check. Francis the sound guy puts us greatly at ease. And so we have four hours to wait until we play. Alex Tucker arrives and he starts sound checking. Declan (our friend and manager) also arrives and he’s dead excited about tonight. It’s good to see him happy. ATP provide us with a very generous rider. AND… a hot meal. I choose the grilled halloumi and rocket. Too many things have given me stomach aches recently - at The Big Chill (don’t ask), I passed out for two hours in one of the portaloos from a dodgy burrito - and I really can’t afford to be ill unnecessarily for the next few months. Everyone’s been telling me it’s going to be pretty difficult to eat well in America as well… hmmm… We talk to Alex for the first time around the dinner table. He’s a very sweet guy, and he shows us some artwork for his forthcoming Portal LP. It’s pretty good, very different from his last two.
We do a quick interview before the whole thing kicks off with Ian and his over-zealous photographer. Ian comes over like a Dickensian gangster-cum-gentleman and, quite frankly, he is more interesting than us. His questions mostly revolve around spirituality and religion. He’s a nice guy.
Alex comes onstage and his instrumentation is much more varied. I’ve seen him play at a few shows, and this was the best time I’ve seen him. His sound is cleaner and more varied, he’s got some interesting Steve Reich-y passages between his almost poppy (at least poppier than his Old Fog dark folk) twiddly guitar songs. Excellent.
I start to get nervous backstage before we go on. Really nervous. I’ve always been nervous before shows, but today I’d been excited. Up until this point…. We come onstage and the whole place is full. It had sold out the previous day. When I hit the first note of ‘Sweet Love...’ I can tell the sound is going to be good to us tonight. It’s a great show tonight and we play a new song at the end of the set which sounds great. We only get to practise in our houses, so we only really get to hear the true nature of our tracks when we play them live. We receive a very warm reception, so warm we come on for an encore of ‘Colours Move’. We play for just under an hour, the longest we’ve ever played, but it didn’t feel like it dragged. Quite the opposite. We had a great time.
The night is rounded off with drinks in the bar. Lovely.
Fuck Buttons live
I’m late already to meet Ros and Tracey at Europcar. I’d almost forgotten the hideousness of the early commute. People angry at each other and not at the late tube services. Reasoning gone out the window. Pretty soul-destroying.
We pick up the car and Ros is worried we’re not going to be able to fit everything in. I’m quietly confident it’ll be okay but I’m unable to reassure Ros to a satisfactory degree. I drive to Alex’s first.
He’s all packed up and gives me a brief show of his manor (I’m parked illegally outside). It’s a great little space, and his drawings are strewn all over the place. We load up and head to my gaff where I still have to pack.
Declan arrives, travelling very light. We have coffees and set off.
The venue is really fucking cold when we arrive. Eventually Matt the promoter arrives and he’s brought food! Amazing pie! Thank you Matt. Nigel the soundman looks peeved at us and we’re worried, haha. Tracey, Declan’s girlfriend, arrives. She very kindly bailed us out by stepping up to the post of being tour driver. Thank you very much Tracey! That woman is lovely, seek her out and meet her, your life will not be complete otherwise.
We play with an acoustic guitarist called the Horse Loom. He seems like a nice chap with banter between his tracks. Alex plays next and beforehand he said to us, “I fancy doing a doom set!” I think he’s joking until he starts playing. The usual intricate looped guitar compositions are serviced by great doom riffs! It puts a smile on my face to see how he can play heavy or light according to what mood he was in. And it feels very accomplished! I guess the guy’s had a lot of experience, already working with doom lords. He plays great, better than at the ICA in my opinion.
We played and it’s a good show.
We stay at Andy Jackson’s (House of Brothers) flat. We watch a bit of Curb Your Enthusiasm and head to sleep.
** 07.02.08 **
It’s about half-nine and Andy informs that we need to get up because workmen have come to change his windows. Lovely… We spend the majority of the day lounging until we have to head to Cambridge.
We’re playing at The Barfly tonight which, if I’m honest, I was apprehensive about. We’re put at ease by a helpful soundman and things seem to be all in place. Jo the promoter got to the venue pretty much as soon as we did. She put us on with Noxagt when we first toured around the UK and it was a great show for us back then. In fact she showed us some photos of that show, and it was so strange to see us back then. I didn’t even have my suitcase (which, out of interest, was my dad’s when he first arrived in the UK 40 years ago).
After soundcheck, we all eat in the pub opposite. Mushroom Stroganoff mmmmm… Ben’s dad and his partner come to say hi to us. They’re really lovely people. I remember after that Noxagt show, we came back to Ben’s dad’s house to stay and he had prepared a banquet on the coffee table for us, whereby everything had been mirrored, with Ben’s vegetarian sandwiches on one side and mine on the other, crisps, cans mirroring et cetera. So sweet. Anyway, our food tonight is good and we’re pumped for the show! (joke)
Latahs plays first and it’s like doom with sparse computer sampled beats. Alex plays next and, to be honest, the sound tonight for him is quite muddy. The ultraviolet light doesn’t help him see either. We play and the sound could have been better on stage, but Declan tells us that the sound out front is great so we can’t really complain. We’ve only started playing on the stage recently, so it’s weird to not hear the actual output.
We go back to Jo’s house and have a few bevvies. A very comfortable evening again. Jo is an amazing host and sweet person too. Thanks Jo! The next day we have a day off and spend the day in Cambridge and the night at my folk’s house in Kidderminster. My parents cook us all a curry and we all fill up to almost uncomfortable levels. That evening, el vino did flow… We stay up really late and wake my parents. In the process they find out for the first time I smoke as well. So I couldn’t sleep very well, haha.
Birmingham today and we’re really confident because it’s a Capsule show, i.e. super-organised. We played for the Capsule girls at Supersonic for the first time last year and I remember being very impressed. Anyway, we arrive and the room is a good size and we soundcheck to a very satisfactory level.
When it comes to playing however, the monitors cave in to static and I can tell it sounds different from the audience so this comforts me a little. We can’t really hear anything but we’re able to push through. The show actually gets a really good reception.
We stay at Rob’s house and, as Alex observed, he’s like this classic psych guy, his house is really quite a spectacle. Lots of old things, all keeping in the same fashion. Blue walls in one room, green rooms in another, orange floors. I get a really good sleep in this house.
** 09.02.08 **
Manchester today. We first visit Julie, a friend of Declan’s, who lives just outside of London. We’re greeted by her partner Rob at their amazing house. Julie had something to do with Factory Records and now she’s a producer, producing a lot of the Fence Collective stuff as an example. Right now, she’s working on the new UNPOC album. That first album was my soundtrack to a summer once.
We’re shown around the studio and Julie really knows her shit. I respect Julie, she’s very calm and has a head on her.
When we get to the venue we’re greeted by Chris the promoter and the soundman Ian. It takes us ages to soundcheck. When we finish Alex goes to soundcheck. It’s the first time I’ve seen Alex disappointed on this tour, he comes off from soundchecking, shaking his head. I say to him, “You okay?” He replies back: “Yeah... he’s just terrible. I had to go and EQ myself!” At this point I started worrying more…
Anyway, the sound in the venue isn’t proficient by any means, but at the very least, something was coming out the PA speakers. That’s something right? Alex does some good improv bits though, bright looping vocal pulses. Really nice.
We go back to Ben Pitman’s house, who put us on with Parts and Labor last time we were in Manchester. We drink and play Guitar Hero. I beat Ben (Pitman). I think Ben was a bit upset. Haha. I totally nailed him on DragonForce. Then bed…
Fuck Buttons backstage
** 10.02.08 **
We get up and go back to the Scream pub that was underneath the venue last night. I’ve been trying to keep a good diet but order a mixed grill. Pretty gooood… Stealing the university’s Wi-Fi as well. We get picked up by the rest of the gang (they stayed at Julie’s house) and head off to Liverpool.
We arrive and are greeted by the sight of a fight breaking out in a Subway when we pass in the car. Call me a fairy or whatever, but whenever I see things like that, I start getting disheartened. And yeah it’s melodramatic, but I get disheartened with the human condition. Do sandwiches really need to be fought over with fisticuffs?
The venue is on the same road and it’s a very odd mixture of slick and scuzzy. I think I like it, I’m not sure. Heroin chic.
Alex Tucker sounds great tonight and we have a good show as well. Al Youthmovies comes and pays an unexpected visit. I love that guy. His friend John is crazy. By the end of the night, he is wearing more beer than he drank and he’s loud loud_ loud_. Great fun.
We call it a night in the Parr St. Hotel. I don’t know who their decorator is, but he should be shot. It’s like an early ‘90s Beetle Juice nightmare. But it’s clean and it’s our own space, so we all sleep like babies.
** 11.02.08 **
We get up early to go to Glasgow. I’m really looking forward to this show. We asked John Mogwai to do our sound so we’re super confident it’s going to be great. Out of the whole world, he is probably the person who knows our sound most intimately.
We arrive at Sleazys and Grainne is already there. She’s so funny. Alex describes her as an ‘80s American kid and I can see that. She’s got an amazing giggle and enthusiasm. John arrives soon after and he’s looking tired. He’s just come from the studio where Mogwai have been recording. He tells us that they’ve just been laying down the drums first and he hasn’t had anything to do yet except eat, sit, smoke and drink. Haha. Anyway, as expected, soundcheck is great.
John tells us that Jane, his girlfriend, is here, so I look forward to meeting her. Grainne (who is married to Stuart Braithwaite) gets excited because all the other ‘Mogwives’ are out tonight. Haha, I love that. We meet Jane and she’s a great gal. It’s good seeing John with her.
I meet Blair at the bar, whose house we’re staying at. He’s a friend of a friend so I’m slightly apprehensive, but he turns out to be a super nice guy. Thank you Blair!
The show goes really great, and the reception is fantastic. We go up the stairs backstage afterward and feel guilty from not doing an encore. You know, we decided not to do encores, just because it’s not ideological fitting. But never say never, innit. We didn’t tonight though, but we were the closest to doing one over the whole tour. Glasgow, we salute you!
Afterward when we’re packing, Jane gets John to interview us for_ Impose_ magazine. Stuart joins in midway through and he’s quite pissed. He tells us that we need to update our equipment really because our little Casios are a bit old fashioned. Haha. It’s similar to the ongoing joke that Tucker makes after we play. He comes up to us and goes_ “I could hear the melodies, but it was really fuzzy and noisy...”_
We drink in the bar for a bit and then head back to Blair’s. John and Jane come back as well. Ahhh, it’s so good hanging out with John. We get pretty ‘loose’ (as Alex would put it) and it ends up just Alex, Ben and I staying up. We get the giggles and are informed the whole house were kept awake by us. Sorry guys! The neighbour downstairs even thumps against the ceiling with a broom. Great night.
Video: ‘Bright Tomorrow’
** 12.02.08 **
We get up early to go to Leeds. We arrive at the Faversham. There’s a barrier in front of the stage, so we decide to play on the floor. The soundcheck is good, but when it comes to playing, we find the mid and high tones are carrying over us and we are left with just the bass. We don’t enter into the vibe but it was okay.
Ben goes back to his girlfriend’s house and the rest of us stay at Julie’s house again. Lovely sleep!
** 13.02.08 **
We get up and again it’s a beautiful morning. The weather has been fantastic for the whole tour. We set off for the Welsh club.
We get there and learn we have the luxury of a monitors soundman as well as the main soundman. So the sound is great. It’s funny actually, the soundmen swap roles for us and Alex. So odd…_ “when democracy goes bad…”_
We go and have food in a Mediterranean restaurant just opposite. It’s Valentine’s Day and we have romantic food. Haha.
We get interviewed by a guy called Simon. He tells us that he teaches a media class and his superior is convinced phone videos are the future of film making and show his class a video on his mobile. Simon tells us that when he was researching us, he finds that the video is in fact the video to ‘Bright Tomorrow’!
Cardiff is a great show. Alex plays great as well. It’s a good sign when people are clapping in the transitions. We leave promptly to go back to London, Declan has work tomorrow. Poor Deckie. Haha.
Day off. Early night
We meet at Tracey’s house and are surprised to see Alex has got there before us. That little doomlord… It’s an early show, so we set off for thumping Brighton.
We arrive and soundcheck. Fish and chips on the menu and I am stodged up and ready to go. It’s a great show. There was a great variety of people that made up the audience, something that has been consistent over the whole tour. I do take this as a positive sign.
The end of the tour… Ros from ATP takes a Polaroid of Alex, Ben and I (see top photograph). I already start feeling nostalgia. It’s been an absolute honour to play with Alex, he’s been a hero of mine and Ben for a long time. The whole tour has been absolutely fantastic and we want to thank Barry, Declan, Tracey, the promoters, soundmen and the people who put us up. So much help, so thank you very much. Roll on the States!
One of several on-tour drawings by Fuck Buttons and Alex Tucker
Thanks to Ben for being kind enough to keep tabs on Fuck Buttons’ tour exploits. The band is, as indicated elsewhere, presently touring the States. The album Street Horrrsing is released through ATP/R on March 17. Review forthcoming. MySpace here.
Polaroid photography: Rosalynde Roberts