The Moonlandingz were never supposed to exist – the entire thing is a game of double bluff gone too far, a hoax that turned into a cult that became a band.
Eccentronic Research Council released their concept album ‘Johnny Rocket, Narcissist And Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan’ back in 2015, and the production duo – Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer – needed someone to take the central role. Given his onstage magnetism and his propensity towards rock ‘n’ roll mythology, Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi was an obvious choice.
“We certainly never expected it to take off the way it did,” says Adrian, his Sheffield drawl interrupted by blasts of incredulous laughter. “It was kind of a joke, really. I thought we should send it to some people at the BBC and see if they play it, and it got playlisted! And the next thing we got asked to do gigs all over the world, asked to do sessions… it was like: oh shit! Turns out people actually really want to hear this.”
“I think (6Music presenter and erstwhile Fall bassist) Marc Riley supported us for a little bit, and we ended up doing a session for him. We put a band together, turned up and it went down really well. So it proved that there was some legs in it, so we thought: let’s see what happens.”
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Retreating to their Sheffield base, Adrian and Dean began blasting out instruments – strange blasts of cosmic pop that lurched in from the left field with Yorkshire mud on their boots. But then the stars aligned: The Fat White Family played SXSW, and ‘Johnny Guitar...’ ended up in the hand’s of Sean Lennon. Adrian and Dean quickly invited the producer to remix one of the tracks, and the results sparked off an unlikely collaboration.
“We really liked it!” he says. “And I like that kind of American psychedelic music anyway, so I thought it would be cool to bring the electronics to New York and add loads of live instruments to it. So it’s a mixture of the Sheffield sound and the American sound… and I think it works.”
Flying out to Sean Lennon’s studio in up-state New York, the ad hoc group hurled themselves into lengthy, lung-bursting recording sessions… and loved every minute of it. “Basically, Sean’s studio has got amazing stuff in. It’s like a rock ‘n’ roll museum, it’s like this old fairground. Really cool. Really inspiring place to make music.”
“There was no one watching the clock and going: this is going to cost you £500 while someone mics up the drum kit. There was none of that. It was just: stay up as long as you want, go to bed when you want, work really hard at it. And we did. It worked really well. Sean’s a very talented kid.”
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It’s a mixture of the Sheffield sound and the American sound…
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The results are the sort of sonic documents that could re-wire minds should they find themselves enmeshed with the native water supply, the sort of signals that could inspire flying saucers to descend upon Sheffield purely to see what the racket is about. Out now, ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ is an unholy mess that somehow pulls itself together, a fusion of crunching fuzz rock guitars and clattering analogue synths.
“It’s the way we usually work,” he admits. “That’s all we have. Dean (Honer, co-conspirator in this journey to the outer limits) bought a lot of his equipment when it was cheap… about 20 years ago when you could pick up a really decent synthesiser for £100 or from a car boot. Those days are long gone.”
“All the studios replaced them with really shit computer versions that just don’t have the same warmth, really. I don’t know what I’m doing with them half the time, and eventually I get this eureka moment and this sound comes out of it.”
A mixture of accident and design, ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ took almost two years to complete – in part due its cast. “You’ve got to remember we were dealing with members of The Fat White Family,” he laughs. “Not just because of their reputation for being late night people, but more about them just touring relentlessly. Really punishing tours. They didn’t have any money, they would sleep on floors, they would travel around the world with hardly any sleep.”
“It was always very difficult to fit in sessions, but I think last summer Lias decided that rather than stay in London and become a drug addict he would come up to Sheffield for the summer. So he basically did Monday to Friday, 10 to 5 in the studio. Which was completely new to him. Alien to him, I should say!”
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The record is also peppered with guest slots. Hugely varied, The Moonlandingz welcomed Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor into the studio, for backing vocals and a showstopping lead spot. The Village People’s Randy Jones – y’know, the cowboy – also loaned his vocals, while The Human League’s Phil Oakey also stopped by their Sheffield sonic laboratory. “I did a record with him about eight years ago under my solo alias King Of Long-Johns. I did this one off seven inch, a track called ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Dead’. We put it out ourselves.”
“He’s absolutely lovely, he’s a really lovely bloke,” Adrian continues. “He came up to the studio and said: oh, I’ll give it a go! He’s great. I think he’s on the Yoko track - it’s nice to have five generations of art school, I guess, on the last track on the album.”
Yoko? Which Yoko, we hear you say? Oh yes. Yoko Ono – master of the avant garde, a pivotal figure in visual art and music – also lends her vocals, buddying up alongside two vagabonds from Yorkshire and a drug-addled frontman from South London. It’s a heady brew, but it works.
“We’d already gone back to Sheffield, and then Dean got an email off Sean saying: check this video out! Sean video’d his mum singing on the top of the tune in the studio. Which obviously is pretty mind-blowing and surreal.”
“That thing doesn’t tend to happen to people in Sheffield!” he laughs. “Just coming out the local boozer, getting a message saying ‘check this out’ and it’s Yoko bloody Ono doing her thing over our tune! Pretty spectacular.”
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Maybe this is the time where people are looking for something that speaks to them.
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Featuring five generations of art school noise-philes on one disc, ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ is – by Adrian’s own admission – a celebration of the outsider. It’s a clarion call to those on the outside, a moment of union for the fragments pushed to the fringes. It’s perhaps made all the more remarkable, Clash offers, by the fact that this simply doesn’t happen any more. “I don’t know why that is, really...” he says, his voice drifting off into a pause.
“It’s strange, isn’t it? I can’t really put my finger on it… why this is successful and people are going mad for it. We’ve not even put out our first album yet, but people are already turning up to the shows. Maybe this is the time where people are looking for something that speaks to them.”
The Moonlandingz are certainly speaking to people – each live show feels less like a standard ‘gig’, and more a full blown aural experience. New material is in the works, too, with the essential dynamic – odd though it is – simply pushing the project to fresh levels of sonic weirdness.
“Onstage it tends to be anything goes,” Adrian says at one point. “But I think the difference between the Fat Whites and us is that you’ve got a couple of members who are a lot older than they are. Who’ve seen it, done it, and are quite happy to go to bed with a cup of cocoa before midnight.”
And with that we leave The Moonlandingz (or one aspect, at least) to put on their slippers, slide up the stairs and leave their synths to power down, their gentle analogue wheezing rushing out through the Sheffield streets and out into the world.
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'Interplanetary Class Classics' is out now.
For the latest Moonlandingz tickets click HERE.