On the April 20th 1998, electronic music was changed forever. Two childhood friends, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin (who were revealed years later to be brothers), debuted a record so significant and essential that you can still feel the ripples of its impact having an effect today. This record is Boards Of Canada’s ‘Music Has The Right To Children’.
Birthed at the duo’s Hexagon Sun Studio in the Pentland Hills of Scotland, Boards Of Canada’s use of field recordings, samples, vintage analogue synths, drum machines and reel to reel tape recorders would make sound so unmistakably iconic that this would make them musical pioneers forever. And whilst you can hear the likes of Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and early hip-hop in their genetic code, the way Michael and Marcus constructed and pieced together this collection of downtempo and ambient electronica felt unlike anything that had come before.
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‘An Eagle In Your Mind’ begins as a crumpled and jittery concoction of samples and anxious beats, until it slowly unfolds and spreads its wings like a freshly hatched chick breaking from its shell. ‘Rue The Whirl’ is where Boards Of Canada’s appreciation for hip-hop is felt strongest. Chopped and screwed, while still maintaining the utmost smoothness and flow, this is the sort of stylistics you’d expect from Madlib or MF Doom nowadays.
‘Aquarius’, usually cited as one of the album’s pivotal tracks, makes use of a slap bassline from the soundtrack of the 1979 film Hair and mixes them with a plethora of samples that encapsulates the universe of Boards Of Canada. ‘Open The Light’ also achieves this but through slow-building ambience of the utmost precision, taking the listener to another plane of existence.
Even tracks like ‘Bocuma’ and ‘Olson’, which may come across as small album vignettes when played out of context, add so much character and world-building nuances and act as more than just ambient interludes.
One aspect that makes a record like ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ have appealing longevity is how it dealt with nostalgia and childhood. And not nostalgia in the way your dad fawns over his first edition vinyl press of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ or the music itself, but how adults perceive their memories of never-ending summers and often dark and confusing aspects of growing up. Serving as one of the album’s key narratives, there are samples from Sesame Street littered throughout the project; with tracks such as ‘Roygbiv’ also using children as the main vocal sample.
Even the name Boards Of Canada is rooted in nostalgia as it’s taken from when Michael and Marcus used to watch films by National Film Board of Canada when they were children. Their adoration for the National Film Board is also seen on the track ‘Pete Standing Alone’, which is in reference to Albertan First Nations man of the same name that appeared in multiple NFB documentaries.
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But why children? Why was this such an important focus for Boards Of Canada? For most people, the introduction to music comes at a very early age. Through nursery rhymes to the music our parents subject us to before we even have the chance to walk, music is a core component to our DNA when growing up. What Boards Of Canada do is bridge that gap between these two aspects of our lives with perfect results.
As for how ‘Music Has The Right To Children’s legacy exists today, you need only to look at some of the key electronic releases from this year. The latest Daniel Avery album ‘Song For Alpha’, whilst it leans to the more techno side of electronic spectrum, you can feel it inhabiting the same emotional beats Boards Of Canada were exploring in 1998. Similarly for Mark Pritchard’s recent mini album ‘The Four Worlds’, tracks like ‘S.O.S’ and ‘Circle of Fear’ seem wholly indebted to the ambient side of ‘Music Has The Right To Children’.
The best electronic records are the ones that tread the line of transporting you to another realm, whilst still invoking an emotional response. And there’s no better album at doing this than ‘Music Has The Right To Children’. In a time where our exposure to anguish and delinquency is more commonplace than tying your shoelaces, it’s albums like this that take us away from this sea of meandering post-modernity and inject life and inspiration into the world for years and years.
We’ll now leave you with the monologue from the album’s original closer ‘One Very Important Thought’, a self-referential statement that eerily holds more significance than ever before.
"Now that the show is over, and we have jointly exercised our constitutional rights, we would like to leave you with one very important thought: Sometime in the future, you may have the opportunity to serve as a juror in a censorship case or a so-called obscenity case. It would be wise to remember that the same people who would stop you from listening to Boards Of Canada may be back next year to complain about a book, or even a TV program.”
"If you can be told what you can see or read, then it follows that you can be told what to say or think. Defend your constitutionally protected rights - no one else will do it for you. Thank you.”
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Words: Liam Egan
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