The apocalypse never sounded so good: a journey with Boards of Canada

On listening to the Scottish duo's new album "Tomorrow's Harvest".

My first proper listen to Tomorrow's Harvest, the new album by Scottish electronic music duo Boards Of Canada, was carefully planned. I decided to walk west along Brighton seafront from the mesmerisingly gaudy Palace Pier to the brutalist structure of the marina, pressing play on my iPod only once I was well clear of the crowds. This stretch of coastline is home to Volk's Electric Railway - a family favourite - and a few bars, but even on a swelteringly hot day such as this I knew it would be near-deserted compared to the central stretch of beach.

This solo listening party was in stark contrast to the high-profile gathering in the wide open spaces of the Mojave Desert, where Warp Records treated a gaggle of fanatics to a preview of the new album. I'd always considered brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin's hazy, vaguely menacing music a private pleasure. Watching a live video stream of the Mojave gathering, I couldn't help thinking it would have been a more effective statement for Warp to simply blast the new album out into the empty desert landscape. This would have been more consistent with the album's pervasive theme of catastrophe and depopulation, not to mention Neil Krug's eerie promotional video, also shot in the Mojave.

The further I walked along Brighton's Marine Parade, the more I was drawn into the music. The buzzing drones and spiralling arpeggios of "Gemini", "White Cyclosa" and "Reach For The Dead" were matched in intensity by the heat that caused the air to buckle and warp in the distance. The album's title and sleeve photography had already brought to mind the desert-bound dystopias of 70s sci-fi cinema such as Phase IV, Capricorn One and The Andromeda Strain. By the time I reached the marina, a concrete behemoth situated just ahead of a building site and a patch of incongruous scrubland looking out to sea, I felt as though I had voluntarily snagged myself in a similar sun-kissed apocalypse.

Eoin and Sandison instill a sense of unease not through the stereotypically "dark" sounds favoured by many current electronic acts but with a carefully maintained ambivalence. Their visual aesthetic is based around light and colour. Their melodies are frequently beautiful but subverted by deliberately damaged textures, such as tape crackle or electronic interference. Both bright and mournful, Tomorrow's Harvest speaks to survivalist fantasy of being the last on earth, while its scuffed sounds wordlessly evoke an impending collapse. As I sat looking seaward to the decaying strains of closing track "Semena Mertvykh", I found myself suspended between terrifying freedom and thrilling dread.

Tomorrow's Harvest has been the subject of a protracted and inventive promotional campaign involving codes, teaser videos, rumours and conjecture. It may therefore surprise those new to the duo's music to find that the album provides ample opportunity for immersion in smaller, yet more profound, ways. A consummate work of sonic fiction, its engrossing endtime narrative is best experienced at a distance from the polyphonic frenzy of the internet and the music press - perhaps even from the rest of humankind.

Joseph Stannard is chief programmer of Brighton's The Outer Church. A compilation album featuring 28 artists including Pye Corner Audio, Grumbling Fur and Hacker Farm is released on 5 August by Front & Follow. Pre-order here.
Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, aka Boards of Canada.
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Donald Trump's rise is a reaction to Obama's two terms as president

This week, from Barack Obama’s legacy to memories of Angela Carter.

My children can’t believe that I grew up in a racially segregated Alabama, or that I reported on the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa (for this magazine). One of their earliest memories is of helping a family friend sell coffee and hot chocolate in sub-zero temperatures to the crowds celebrating the inauguration of Bar­ack Obama in Washington in January 2009.

My past is ancient history to them. I strongly recommend that anybody who still feels that way watches In the Good Ol’ Days, the YouTube trailer for a documentary called 13th by Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma. It splices physical abuse of black people at Donald Trump’s rallies (and his taunts about how they would have been “carried out on a stretcher” in the past) with documentary footage from the 1960s. It’s chilling.

When Obama won the Democratic nomination for president, I went back to my old school in Montgomery to see how attitudes had changed. It was no longer segregated, of course, but it was still predominantly white. A former classmate told me that when he was five, the family handyman got chucked over a bridge and left for dead by the Ku Klux Klan. We never heard these stories in school. Then I met the progressive headmaster, who assured me that everything was non-discriminatory now. But, as I left, I was escorted to my car by the school bursar, who told me he didn’t trust Obama because he was a “Muslim”. The way he said it made it sound like the N-word to me.


Going South

There has been surprisingly little discussion about the extent to which the rise of Trump has been specifically a reaction to Obama’s two-term presidency. Yes, we have heard how Obama’s legitimacy has been questioned by the “birther” movement and we have listened to Trump crow about forcing the first African-American president to produce his papers (or rather his birth certificate). But when even a former grand wizard of the KKK – an absurd title – says that Trump talks “a lot more radically” than he does, it is impossible to ignore the racial dimension to this election.

The two big states that Trump still hopes to swing his way are Pennsylvania – memorably described by the Clinton adviser James Carville as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with “Alabama in between” – and Ohio, where my mother was born. She is from the northern Democratic stronghold of Cleveland; Cincinnati, she used to sniff, was the South. She didn’t mean geographically.


Bill and Hill

There are many good reasons to be wary of Trump but I have never felt comfortable with Hillary Clinton. The governor of Alabama in my day was Lurleen Wallace, who was in office because her notoriously racist husband was ineligible to run for a consecutive term. She didn’t even bother to disguise that she was a proxy candidate and ran as Mrs George C Wallace, while he became known as “the first gentleman of Alabama”.

Admittedly, Hillary Clinton is far more her own woman than Lurleen ever was but Bill Clinton, remember, is a former Southern governor, of Arkansas. Bill and Hill had the idea long ago of a “twofer” run at the White House – and they’ll definitely have known about the Wallaces’ example. Alas, it’s too late to dwell on how much better it would be if the first female president of the United States hadn’t already been its first lady and Bill Clinton hadn’t set his sights on returning as first gentleman. But it’s Trump v Clinton and, thus, no contest.


Granny knew best

Enough about the US elections, hard though it is to tear our eyes away from the car crash. Last week, I went to the launch party at Daunt Books of Edmund Gordon’s wonderful biography of Angela Carter, a literary heroine of mine. I was a young publicist at Virago in the late 1980s when I visited Carter at home in Clapham, south London, where she was living with her much younger husband, Mark, a potter, and their little boy. She looked like a magnificently eccentric granny to me, with her shock of thick, wavy, grey hair. I thought that she was ancient because she’d had a baby at 42 but, as ever, she was just ahead of her time.


Partial eclipse

I’d no idea until I read The Invention of Angela Carter just how many Virago novelists she had nurtured. Pat Barker, for instance, the author of the Regeneration trilogy about the First World War, was one of her protégées. The photographs, though, show Carter with the young men who eventually eclipsed her: Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro. She taught Ishiguro creative writing at the University of East Anglia and introduced him to
her agent, Deborah Rogers. He told me at the party that there were only half a dozen students on the course with him and the university couldn’t be bothered to find enough people to fill the places the following year. Yet it has since become the stuff of legend.


Lost treasure

Carmen Callil, Carter’s great friend and the founder of Virago, was also at the party. She told me that her joy in publishing faded when Carter was offered only £60,000 for her last novel before she died of lung cancer in 1992. By then, the men – Rushdie, McEwan, Amis, et al – were getting far bigger advances of several hundred thousand pounds, even though she was every bit as good as them (or better).

At the end of her life, her thoughts were on money and how her “two boys” – her husband and son – would manage without her. She told her literary executor, Susannah Clapp, to give permission to everything and anyone who wanted to use her work for commercial purposes, however naff or vulgar. Her last book, by the way, was to have been a fictional life of Adèle Varens, the vivacious young ward of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. How I would have loved to read it.

Sarah Baxter is a former political editor of the New Statesman and the deputy editor of the Sunday Times

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood