In Conversation: Black Futures
When first setting sights upon Black Futures, you could be forgiven for thinking arrogance is running the show. A duo who've immersed themselves in an idea thought up in the very garden in which I meet them today. They've turned it into a spectacle that's engaged audiences all around the mounting number of support tours, festivals, and gigs here and there. That's not to mention their mantras and chants.
But this idea couldn't be further from the truth. Black Futures, are a duo hell-bent for leather on trying to establish something positive and right in a world that doesn't always allow for it.
"We decided we wanted to make some immersive project which was a hideaway, but also a form of positive nihilism - party music for the end of the world," Space - one half of Black Futures, guitarist, singer and general master of electronics - says, before breaking into a smirk. "Or hopefully the prevention for the end of the world."
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With dry wisdom upon his tongue, during our conversation delving deep into what makes this band tick, he breaks out into studious laughter. Equal parts maniacal, and part inviting the world into the joke.
"It's also something that we could offload some of our dread and dark humour, and celebrate everything around us. We sat around that table up there," Pointing out of the window. "And pretty much conceptualised the whole thing before we'd even written a note."
An air of mystery clung to the smattering of music they released in 2017. There was no human form attached - just a triangular symbol and some songs; electro-tinged, fast-paced, punk with chanting mantras. An idea bereft of any ego, its beginnings were as pure as they remain to this day, just now, there are a few more people along for the ride.
Even when asked how the two met, a joking, cackle filled deflection of "That's a mystery…" immediately greets the question. The most that's understood is they're both producers. Having most notably having worked on Prodigy's 'The Day Is My Enemy,' as well as Idle's two full-length outings, it's now that they've decided to take a stand against those negative feelings enveloping both themselves and the world.
At the bottom of a garden, deep in the Guildford suburbs, Space, and drummer Vince - occasionally Vibes - conjured the world that now inhabits theirs. All the sensibilities were already there; mutually agreeing that the world can be a bit of a dark place, and getting darker. Reinforcing some positivity while never losing sight that there's always going to be an overarching nihilistic side.
Punk has always stood for revolution. It's music meant to fight the establishment - whatever shape or face that may take. It's a way of speaking up, holding fervent feelings deep within the raised, clenched palm of your hand and anchored deep in your heart.
For Black Futures, this was first instilled by the venue Space's wife manages, The Boiler Room, in Guildford. A community arts centre playing host to various projects, forming a central space for anyone maybe a bit lost or against the world. Feeding this directly into the Black Futures ethos, their shows are fast becoming explorative spaces, rather than just a couple of guys playing music.
"That was one of the rules we put in place," Space says, leaning back into his chair. "We wanted to live through the art and also make sure that we were following through on things socially because we wanted to create a culture and a community around a project. Something that people could feel a part of that wasn't, 'Hey, look at these guys' - If we could this thing wearing masks we totally would do. It was discussed!"
With the release of single 'Me.TV' featuring Bobby Gillespie, the band also offered a service via their website where you can find local community projects to get involved in Live shows are the explorative and reactionary pulse that beats deep within Black Futures. Never a band to do things by halves, their very first shows were showcases for labels and industry types, and certainly not beating around the bush. They involved blindfolds, transportation, and general mystery - another idea born from Space's own experiences.
"I was always thinking back to that first really pure experience of going to a sho. Being equal parts shit scared, absolutely fucking petrified, and in complete awe. Just so excited," he enthuses.
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To pander this feeling upon everyone, no matter the size of the show, they enlist the help of faceless, nameless and sexless beings affectionally coined 'Hazmats'. A handful of figures dressed in hazmat suits, often running into the crowd, cajoling, reacting to the audience. Never overbearing.
"We've seen it a lot, where people just stand there the first time and just go 'what the fuck is this', and the second time they turn up they're raging. We wanted to design something that gives the best opportunity to have that feeling of collective energy and excitement and fear," he explains.
Developing from behind the scenes guys to an unhinged, liberated and orchestrating duo has been a swift lesson. No matter the size of the show, indoors or outdoors, a community shall be born for the hour or so the two are on stage.
"The whole cocktail lets you lose your inhibitions and forget about what you're doing the next day or whatever the fuck you've got to do - life shit, or call the council!"
With more bursts of laughter ringing out around the wooden studio, the conversation turns to the meat and bones of Black Futures. Most notably, its sheer grandiosity that leans heavily into existential realism, which stems from once place.
"I think we're both reading New Scientist. A lot. Conceptualising it, not fully understanding it!" Space bursts with a chuckle. "But being in awe of the concepts and things being discovered at the time - gravitational waves, and all sorts of shit. Just the whole magnitude of existence and how unfathomable it is at times, but also how fucking cool it is."
It's all well and good taking these ideas, but implementing them, and putting a sound to them - they are a band after all - also received a basic blueprint. Predominantly fuelled by "A lot of dreaming," they both agree with a roar.
"We had a bunch of rules that we put in place because we're both producers for our profession and composers. We could take it anywhere we want to, but we set ourselves specific parameters," Space says.
Those parameters are quite possibly the most straightforward part of the Black Futures setup - everything needs to be massive, or Space puts it "maximalist as possible. And that came down to the lyrics as well."
"Initially the first few songs had 'A Mantra'. One or two lines that were so simple and stripped back that it was super direct. There wasn't a lot of interpretation needed which was again a part of what we were trying to do."
The most accurate form of this mantra is the title of their debut album - 'Never Not Nothing'. Three words that are as throwaway as they are filled with rhetoric yearning to be chanted during these upside down, darkening times. Time's in which we all seek solace on the internet and want to be something.
Another facet of the building Black Futures brand is the 'Existential Expedition club' they invite everyone to join. It's also the name of the literal journey the two of them set out upon to birth the realism and sonic landscape they've carved out.
Scraping together what they could, the first stop was Joshua Tree in California. Through the help of friends out in the unforgiving desert, they performed, explored the community, experienced the landscape and wildlife ("I was getting some sand out of my shoes, and a scorpion was right under my foot. It's the most adrenaline I've had before a show!" Vince laughs) and in most Black Futures act of all, built a large version of their symbolic monolith and just left it out in the desert for the world to reclaim.
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The next stop came in the form of bustling metropolis Tokyo, before finally landing in Germany where the two ventured for miles to an old Cold War Russian airbase. The one where the nuclear arsenal was aimed at the west - just for extra added existential vibes. Before heading back to Berlin for some more community immersion. These ventures are documented in the videos for 'Trance' and 'Body and Soul'.
It was as testing as it was rewarding, with "lots of sleeping on peoples floors, or not getting much sleep." But it merely plays into the all or nothing mindset of Space and Vince who plan to take a new expedition with each future release.
Of course, pouring yourself into a vision is dangerous business, especially when it's filled with a thousand potential landmines that could backfire at any moment. When something becomes an extension of you, any minor setback can be felt like the ferocity of a San Andreas earthquake.
Fortunately for both Space and Vince, there's never been any complete loss of faith, "Just loss of sanity!" the latter cooly says before they both burst into laughter.
"It's so ambitious…" Space agrees.
"Grand ideas in our little minds…" Vince quickly adds on.
"Because we have such ridiculous ideas sometimes," Space continues. "The actual pulling it off can be, on top of everything else you've got going on in your life can be…"
Vince interrupts, "…terrifying…"
"It can be brutal and…"
"It pushes us all the way, and pushes the patience of our loved ones, but that's just how we are."
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The face of being a co-pilot to a project so mammoth not being lost on either party. The realism with which they talk brings a nod to the reality of the situation.
"If we weren't doing it with Black Futures we'd be doing it with something else. Or someone else's record. We just feel really passionate about music and art as a conduit for culture and social change - it's communication." Space muses triumphantly before cracking out into some more laughter.
"It's necessity for us rather than a hobby. I just wait for Vince to turn around to be and be like," He adopts a gruff voice. "There's ambitious…then there's this!"
A genuine situation apparently, as he responds; "I can't even remember what that one was for!"
The partners in existential, positive yet nihilistic crime begin to bond once more over their shared appreciation for the ridiculousness and vastness of their project. One that was formed over a simple garden table a hundred yards from where we are now, and one that is actually paying off, Space finishes; "I think now we sit around and go - '"We haven't done something stupid and ridiculous for a while'. Yeah…" he laughs before loudly exclaiming, "Next!"
As our interview wraps up, it coincides with the debut of the last single before the album's release, 'Body & Soul' on BBC Radio One. Both turning to the computer, Space navigates to the webpage and, just as it is to millions of others, the Black Futures message is being broadcast loud and clear. Just as they always planned.
Ready to recruit more for the greater good, this image harks back to one of Space's earlier description of Black Futures.
"It's very inclusive. No manifesto - so to speak. It's not a religion or a cult…" He pauses, with a ludicrous smirk, letting it hang before dropping the final word.
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'Never Not Nothing' is out now.
Words: Steven Loftkin