How Found’s machine music discovered its soul

Kev Sim and Ziggy Campbell, Found's core founder members, recorded their new album at a derelict Highlands primary school and Edinburgh University's linguistics department
Kev Sim and Ziggy Campbell, Found's core founder members, recorded their new album at a derelict Highlands primary school and Edinburgh University's linguistics department
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ACCIDENTALLY deleting their album after months of work was a blessing in disguise for Kev Sim and Ziggy Campbell

AS PART of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in 2012, the gallery installation #Unravel saw Edinburgh art-pop ensemble Found build what was essentially a robot band to accompany spoken-word vinyl recordings of the voice of Falkirk musician and writer Aidan Moffat. Before that, in 2009 they captured imaginations around the world with the Scottish Bafta-winning device Cybraphon, a diva-like autonomous instrument cabinet which scoured the internet for reviews and comments about itself and celebrated or sulked depending on what it found.

In some ways these projects were to prove eerie future echoes for the band. Once a five-piece, Found have now downsized to just vocalist Ziggy Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Kev Sim, the group’s core founder members who first met and started making music together while studying at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen in 2001. After amicably departing for a variety of professional and personal reasons, the rest of the line-up have effectively been replaced by machines.

New album Cloning sees the brittle guitars of 2011’s Factorycraft ditched in favour of analogue synthesisers – sudden and unexpected shifts in direction being pretty much par for the course for Found (“We seem to lose half our fanbase whenever we release a record, and I take that as the ultimate compliment,” says Campbell). Arpeggiators bubble and buzz, filter sweeps scan the horizon, drum machines hammer out motoric beats with metronomic precision. Campbell’s heavy Scots burr of a singing voice often feels like the only identifiably human element in the mix. Inspired by library music composers such as Alan Hawkshaw and Keith Mansfield and electronic pioneers like Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Vangelis, it all brings to mind a specific sound of the future past in the form of a classic era of heavily synthesised sci-fi and dystopian movie scores of the late 1970s and early 1980s, from Assault On Precinct 13 to Blade Runner and The Terminator. Indeed, with song titles such as End Sequence, Main Title and Credits, the whole concept of Cloning is a soundtrack for an unmade film.

Is Found’s ultimate ambition to one day become an entirely automated band à la #Unravel or Cybraphon? “I would love it if we could get to that stage,” jokes Campbell. “I could just sit in a sandpit, write the songs, go mental and send some machines out to do the work. I’m not sure how the rest of the band would feel about being replaced by robots, but I’d be quite happy.”

When Found play live these days, they grow to a six-piece, with four players on synths, the machines having proved not as reliable and user-friendly as you might imagine without able handlers. “We were just getting a bit fed up with lugging these big heavy old things around and them sometimes not working,” Campbell says. “Humans are pretty much the same, mind you. You still have to pick them up, drop them off. Nobody seems to have a driver’s licence.”

It’s a slippery slope if you’re into synths. It’s sort of life-changing. You become obsessed

Ziggy Campbell

Campbell and Sim’s synth obsession dates back to 2009, when Found were on tour in America and had received money from a publishing advance. “I remember going into a shop in Brooklyn called MeMe Antenna,” says Campbell. “It was a little Japanese synthesiser shop. And we all just blew our advance on whatever synths we could carry back with us. It’s a slippery slope if you’re into synths. It’s sort of life-changing. You become totally obsessed with it and that’s what happened to us.”

You can derive a hint as to where Found were headed next stylistically at the end of their last album Factorycraft, in the shape of its hi-watt surge of a closing track Blendbetter, made using those new toys shipped back from America. After taking some time out to work on solo projects, Campbell and Sim released an EP each in 2013 under the respective alter-egos Lomond Campbell and River of Slime, both via Chemikal Underground Records (who had released Factorycraft and will release Cloning). When the pair began to share ideas towards collaborating again, they quickly learned that, influenced by their new gear, they were both making music on a similar retro-futuristic electronic tip. Following recording sessions at such unusual locations as a derelict primary school in the Highlands and Edinburgh University’s linguistics department beneath Appleton Tower (“Quite fitting,” says Campbell, “because that building looks like something from a dystopian Blade Runner-esque film”) a new Found album, the band’s fourth to date, looked set to be released.

That was until Campbell accidentally deleted it. The unlucky combination of a careless drag of a mouse over his desktop and an unusual lapse in his typically fastidious care for creating back-ups led to Campbell one day coming to the horrible realisation that he’d unwittingly wiped months of hard work. After breaking the news to a mercifully understanding bandmate (“Kev’s a very even-tempered guy,” Campbell says, “he was standing smoking a cigarette and took a slow considered puff and just shrugged”), he was left to scrape together a salvaged version from old rough mix downs and orphan sound files. But the accident proved a happy one. Faced with a new set of enforced parameters, restrictions and limitations, Campbell reckons he was forced to create a revised version of the album that’s ultimately more characterful than the lost original. “I couldn’t do any more to the album, I couldn’t tinker with it, I couldn’t bring the vocals up or edit down the tracks that are a bit meandering,” he says. “It’s given this re-pieced version its own dreamlike quality which I would probably have produced out of it given another six months.”

To borrow a robotic concept from Terminator 2, throughout this process Cloning in effect seemed almost to become sentient and self-aware. “I’ve really come to like this version of the album, I think because it took certain decisions away from me,” says Campbell. “It feels like the album wanted to be this way.”

Cloning is out on Chemikal Underground on Friday