Gold Sounds: Fuck Buttons return with Slow Focus

Having had their music played to almost one billion people across the world, cosmic dance outfit Fuck Buttons are about to return to normality with third album Slow Focus. Andrew Hung plants his feet on the ground to discuss the benefits of not talking

Feature by Darren Carle | 03 Jul 2013
  • Fuck Buttons

It may have been less than a year ago, but it’s easy to forget the collective sense of pride that followed the Olympic opening ceremony last July. Though the indefatigable Danny Boyle was at the helm of the ceremony itself, general issues with the games’ security and typical British indifference to the international sporting event meant many were expecting, even hoping for a false start right from the off.

Yet, almost unanimously, Boyle’s Isles of Wonder spectacle was declared a success and became a water cooler discussion of some repute. Talk of the historical, political and cultural significance of it all was poured over from Twitter to the Telegraph for weeks to come. But, although equally enthralled, a smaller section of society were at least as impressed by the choice of music for the event. “Hey, didn’t they play a lot of Fuck Buttons!?” was The Skinny's initial response.

Indeed they did, with Surf Solar sound-tracking film prologue Journey along the Thames whilst, more obviously, a reworking of the duo’s epic track Olympians accompanied The Parade of Nations. Then, during the raising of the Union Jack, The London Symphony Orchestra covered Sundowner by Blanck Mass, the musical side-project of one-half of Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power. Quite a hat-trick.

One year on and the other half of the proto-futuristic duo, Andrew Hung, is able to take stock of effectively having had his wares showcased to 900 million people. “Physically, I haven’t seen any benefit from it,” he laughs, indicating that copies of Tarot Sport haven’t been flying off the shelves in any greater number since the event. “But from a mental standpoint, it’s been extremely beneficial. It’s built my confidence so much, thinking that we can reach out that far. It’s evidence that our music can go anywhere.”

Putting that theory to the test is third album Slow Focus, which is due for release this month. Though hewn from much the same audio equipment and tools as its predecessor, it’s a somewhat darker listening experience than we’ve had from the duo in the past. Those ethereal chimes may still sound like sunlight pulsing through a kinetic meteor belt, but it’s levelled by descending, atonal keys which are more likely to invoke a dystopian cityscape where technological beacons sit atop the underbelly of societal decay. And where the likes of Space Mountain played out like an ever-ascending flight fantasy, album finale Hidden XS sounds more like a sun-bleached day melting and swirling into a storm drain.


"Our music can go anywhere" – Andrew Hung


“That’s important for us,” agrees Hung on The Skinny’s rather florid hypnagogic reactions. “I guess at the time of writing, the music is doing those things for us too. Ben and I don’t talk about it, but I’m pretty sure we have a similar kind of imagery conjured by our music, which is why we’re on the same wave length so much. Everyone gets their own kind of ideas of what it sounds like, so it’s all valid in that sense. Whatever anyone gets from our music is valid.”

This is one of several occasions during our conversation where Hung attests to the wordless interplay he has developed with his band mate, leading The Skinny to wonder if this lack of verbal communication has influenced Fuck Buttons in being a largely instrumental proposition. “I’ve never considered that until now,” he laughs. “But I think that may actually be the case. There is a language to the music but it’s not a verbal one. So maybe it has been easier for us to communicate via that language rather than actually talking. You might be onto something there.”

We’re happy to offer our pop psychology services anytime. On that note, it seems prudent to ask about the subtle shift in tone of Slow Focus, from invoking sprawling vistas in the past, to charting more turbulent inner realms now. “It’s a palette of emotion that we haven’t really explored in our work together,” explains Hung. “It’s new to us in that sense and so it was very exciting to explore, but it’s not really a reflection of ourselves. We’re relatively happy people but we’re not afraid to indulge those emotions when it comes to our music. For me, music is a short-term experience in that sense. I don’t tend to feel depressed after listening to a depressing album.”

To be clear, Slow Focus is certainly not a depressing listen and the sense of wonder and ambition imbued in the final product is matched by its creation. “When you make music on your own, you have a strong understanding of what your limitations are,” says Hung. “But I’m always surprised at the music Ben and I make. It’s music that’s just so striking to me and not something either of us could make on our own. For me, all of that is down to our relationship.”

That relationship also entered the next phase during the recording of Slow Focus as Hung and Power embarked on production duties for the first time. In the past they had worked with Mogwai guitarist John Cummings on debut Street Horrrsing, followed by legendary producer Andrew Weatherall for Tarot Sport. This time however, all knob-twiddling was down to the duo themselves as they realised a long-fermenting desire to get behind the mixing desk.

“It was a natural and logical next step for us,” explains Hung. “We’ve worked with amazing producers up until now, and it had become clear to us that production was one of our own considerations during the writing process. Often we start by finding a texture that we both enjoy and then we embellish it. That’s normally a production consideration but it’s something that’s very important to us in the music. We were thinking like producers without actually realising it.”

With that final stamp, Slow Focus is now shimmering on the horizon, with anticipation among their followers already stoked high. Is the eventual reception of their music a pressing concern for Hung? “Not really,” he claims. “This interim period is super-busy for us, so for the moment we’re just concentrating on getting out there after months of writing music every day. With criticism, even with compliments, I don’t think it’s possible for me to accept them outside of my trusted circle.”

However, the compliments flowed in when taster track The Red Wing was released in May. “It felt like a song which had the potential to be a single I guess,” is Hung’s answer to why it was given such a leg-up. “There’s a melody there that’s very quick to the attention.” However, as you may expect, Fuck Buttons – whose very name threatened to derail The Skinny's distribution when they appeared on the cover in March 2010 – are not a group who actively pursue palatability for the masses. “With regards to the music, definitely not,” agrees Hung. “Our music has zero compromise – that’s the way I understand it.”

Yet that lack of yielding, the often abrasive and unconventional sounds they make, and even that troublesome moniker have not stopped the duo from reaching a somewhat astounding global platform, no matter what the eventual outcome. If the Olympics were ever to stage an event of progressive and uncompromising music making, Fuck Buttons would surely take home the gold.

Slow Focus is released on 22 July via ATP Recordings. Fuck Buttons play Gorilla, Manchester on 9 Sep and SWG3, Glasgow on 10 Sep. http://twitter.com/FuckButtons