soccer96 music


Hardware hugging duo Soccer96 on the making of their ace new LP and what it’s like being two-thirds of Mercury Prize nominated cosmic jazz trio The Comet is Coming…

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 13 Sep 2016
  • min read
Hardware hugging duo Soccer96 are Brighton-based best mates Danalogue (Dan Leavers) and Betamax (Max Hallett).

Together, they’ve been surfing the primordial soup of electronic psychedelia and improvised analogue jams since their lauded debut self-titled album back in 2012.

The duo, better known for being two-thirds of cosmic jazz trio The Comet is Coming alongside Shabaka Hutchings, also have their fingers in many pies outside S96...

With the latest Comet album Channel the Spirits currently the outside favourite to win the Mercury Prize this week (15 September) and collaborations with the likes of Rozi Plain, Henry Wu and Simbad on the go – there’s been plenty keeping them busy of late.

Hence the four year wait for the follow-up Soccer96 record As Above So Below.

Released on 23 September through Slowfoot Records, it’s a riotous romp around the outliers of analogue improv and late-night electronics, and was inspired by Brian Eno’s no-holds-barred ‘studio as instrument’ philosophy.

Here, Danalogue lets us in on the existential thinking behind the record and what’s it’s like to be one third of fast-rising jazz trio The Comet Is Coming…

What’s the premise behind Soccer96?
About seven years ago we were in a group called A Scandal in Bohemia - it was a six-piece multi-instrumental orchestral post-rock group with something like 26 instruments on stage at once! It featured our pal Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, and a group of anarchic beatnik types. It was a wild group.

Long story short, it was beautiful but was also an unwieldy juggernaut of a band that eventually had to supernova. At one of our last gigs we played on the same bill as Seb Rochford and Pamelia Kurstin, a drums and theremin duo. We watched in awe as Seb tore it up on the drums to an ethereal soundscape of soaring theremin loops and noises, a full sound and just two of them! We kind of looked at each other and thought, ‘hmmm, we could do this!’

We are both into bombastic, raw, energetic live shows, so the notion that the drums could be LOUD and the synths also LOUD when there's no other instruments to contend with was pretty exciting.

What attracted you to build a hardware kit and eschew laptops?
First off I love my synths dearly. I have had the same Juno and SH-09 for over 10 years, got them both on killer deals from people who didn't know what they had, and I've developed such a bond with the sound and mechanics of them, I have eyes for no other synth!

I revel in the limitation of the sound palette too, knowing that I only have these two synths in front of me frees up a bit of my mind somehow.

I have never thought of a laptop as an instrument. It's a powerful tool with many applications, but as an instrument to me it just isn't sexy. There's nothing sexy about dragging and clicking on a mouse pad on stage while peering into a screen. Not to say it doesn't work amazingly for other artists, it just doesn't turn me on. I like being able to switch on a keyboard that has its sole function as an instrument and nothing else.

How do your tracks generally start life?
We work in many different ways, sometimes we immediately start jamming something at the beginning of a rehearsal and are like, 'woah record this!' and don't get around to actually rehearsing as we get in deep with a new track.

Sometimes we are just soundchecking a drum sound onto our tape machine and perhaps pushing it a bit hard into the reds: Betamax kills a three-minute drum take and we decide to just start laying overdubs on top.

Sometimes we are experimenting in the studio and we might lose a whole drum track and use the synths for something else or vice versa. I love happy accidents when working on things and trust them as much - or more - than my own ideas.

Most of what you hear is first take, even some overdubs or improvised vocal takes. We are kind of obsessed with bottling the immediate energy you get when coming up with an idea for the first time.

How does your music-making process differ to The Comet is Coming?
With Comet we improvise and compose as a trio, so there's an extra personality, energy and melodic element from the get-go. Shabaka brings a lot of expertise to the party, but actually the fundamental act of creation is very similar.

Betamax and I had worked in many different ways with different engineers and producers before finally realising we just had to do it our own way. We recorded with Comet having just finished a bunch of Soccer96 recordings at the Total Refreshment Centre, and had really honed our engineering and production style, which is to follow our instincts and disregard most advice people give us!

There are so many ways to record, so many ways to write music and each way can yield amazing fruit, hi-fi or lo-fi, composed or improvised, it really doesn't matter. We found a way of working where we feel ourselves and hyper creative. Shabaka came along at just the right moment and we made the absolute most of our time together.

We always want to offer thanks to the generosity of Capitol K lending us some mics and wisdom, Master Jack Eveleigh lending us his tape machine, William Superlative for his Alice mixing desk and Lexus Blondin for allowing us to make the Total Refreshment Centre our second home.

What’s the thinking behind your new record As Above So Below?
We mostly make music subconsciously, through improvisation and spontaneity, disconnected to a rational or logical perspective, so it's hard to say the exact thinking! It was quite freewheeling and revelling in a playful, surrealist nonsense that led us to the final LP.

In my late twenties I went through many changes, like everyone, and surfed waves of psychological extremes, went through spells of intense highs and lows, and delved into philosophy and various systems of esoteric thought to keep me on an even keel. The record is partly like a documentation of that period and an expression of those headspaces.

As Above So Below as a phrase is an old, non-monotheistic hermetic phrase that expresses the similarity between all things at a macrocosmic and microcosmic level, and that it is impossible to study the universe without studying man, and conversely that it is impossible to study man without studying the universe.

Sometimes the limitation of the human senses, born out of evolutionary survival, creates a level of direct focus on ourselves, like isolated individuals, visitors in an alien world, when we are in fact a product of our planet's place in the solar system, and ecosystem. We are going through the same lifecycle of all the universe on every level, from microscopic cells, to flowers - all the way to the creation and supernova of stars.

The construction of the record mirrors a kind of lifecycle, from the bombastic, raw energy of The Swamp, the primordial birth, through toexplorations in astronomy, human psychosis amd into redemption through mantra, an autumnal period through Spirit Wobble/Ancestors and all the way to Brutal Deluxe, which represents death in a celebratory, orgiastic, orgasmic return to pure consciousness.

Looking back retrospectively, the album has captured us coming to terms with our own place on the planet, our interconnectivity to all organic beings on the planet, the thread running back to our ancestors, and exploring the kind of dream states that can take us out of the mundane everyday situation into a transcendent state.

I know this sounds a bit lofty: essentially the record is also two best mates hanging out and making sounds, working both collaboratively and occasionally competitively - kind of how we played two-player computer games growing up, like Soccer96.

Where and when was it recorded?
The record is a jigsaw puzzle of music recorded at various studios over the past four years or so. The tracks are a mixture of recordings made on our home reel-to-reel set up, in the Total Refreshment Centre in East London with either ourselves or the mystic wizard Capitol K engineering, and at Slowfoot Record boss' Snorkel Studio in South London. One track is from Brighton Electric Studio with Dan Swift engineering. Our friend Rob White is never far away in spirit, and he added some spice to Up and Down.

How do you feel about it now it’s ready to be released out into the world?
It feels great to set it free, and exciting that to some people it will be their first experience of our tracks, some of which we've been sitting on and playing live for a few years.

Do you have an essential bit of S96 kit?
Simmon's Clap Trap quarter inch eight track reel-to-reel.

Where does your music sound best?
I think perhaps in the headphones, when getting around town or in bed. Megadrive Lamborghini is like a summer thing for blazing up in the hazy afternoon festival atmosphere. But, in general, it’s a home listening kind of record, with a few tunes you could drop later on.

What do you look for in other people’s music?
This is a really good question, and I’ve thought about it a lot, not necessarily working it out. It seems that with music I tend to know almost immediately whether I really dig it or not. Occasionally songs are growers but on the whole, its instinctual, like the first 10 seconds I heard Flying Lotus, I was like 'BAM! I LOVE this'.

For me it doesn't have to be a particular style or genre or whatever, just a feeling that I believe in the artist, that they are coming from an honest place, and are making exactly what they want with no compromise. There needs to be an integrity there. Something new and ideally not too pastiche (or at least they've covered up the footsteps in the snow), and something where I can't work out how the hell they did it. This is gonna sound weird, but I also love music that sounds like it cannot be taken for nefarious misuse by the capitalist power elite - music that David Cameron couldn't have on his iPod.

Soccer96's sophomore LP As Above So Below is released on 23 September. The album launch party takes place at The Moth Club, London, this Saturday (17 September).

Picture credit: Bruna Amaral