Finiflex is the Future
We chat to John Vick and Davie Miller of Finiflex, charting their progression from performing Peel Sessions in 1985 as Fini Tribe to their 2018 album Suilven as Finiflex
Finiflex Recording Studio sits behind a nondescript door on a quiet corner in Leith. You wouldn’t guess that it was there as only a discreet buzzer indicating its business. Yet inside sits a subterranean complex that's on most days a hub of activity, producing sound for an impressive roster of clients including the Scottish Government, Irn-Bru, and the Rubik’s Cube. It's also home to the newly resurrected music outfit, Finiflex.
“Finiflex is the future,” says John Vick, referencing the project’s plethora of previous guises. Originally six members, they played their first John Peel session in 1985 as a post-punk guitar band named Fini Tribe. Spurred on by a fascination with technology, a more electronic lean evolved in their music as audio production developed. They acquired a sampler early on, and used pre-recorded sound effects to create Balearic dance anthems like De Testimony and land collaborations with fellow electronic music pioneers Andrew Weatherall and Justin Robertson.
Finiflex was the label originally set up by the band to release their music, which gained its permanent studio home in 1989. When Vick departed from the group, then known as Finitribe, he inherited Finiflex and left Davie Miller and Philip Pinsky, the two members left, to perform together until their final gig in 1998. He's been here recording sound ever since, until Miller approached him, that is, with the suggestion that they re-release De Testimony.
“One day Trevor Jackson, who’s a producer, phoned me up and asked if he could license De Testimony,” says Miller. “And he went, ‘You know you should really re-release this because it’s an amazing track. It still sounds now.'”
“He pestered me to do some stuff for the old things,” adds Vick, who still had some of the samples used in De Testimony saved on floppy discs. He keeps the machinery to read them in his studio, switching it on rarely, but when he does it all still works. What followed was a dig through archives of recordings for the parts that had made up the original track. “We didn’t have the old tapes but we did have the elements,” Vick says. “So I put it together and all of a sudden it’s there. I said to Davie, I’ve got it. I know it’s not exactly the same, but I’ve got it.”
They ended up releasing two anniversary collections – one for De Testimony’s 25th birthday with remixes by Optimo, Justin Robertson and Robot84, and another for 101 on Record Store Day in 2015 via One Little Indian. From a digitised treasure hunt to hanging out in the studio to playing with scraps of unused samples – as you would expect when you put two ex-bandmates in the same studio, they began composing new pieces of music and playing gigs together again, this time as Finitribe with A Finiflex Production.
But this is where they ran into trouble. While Miller can still release music as Finitribe, Vick legally renounced his affiliation with the name when he took on the studio. “This record label who were keen for us to do stuff got a letter from an older guy saying under no circumstances could the name be used,” says Vick, “and it was like, 'you know what Davie? Let’s not visit there. We’re laughing and giggling and having fun. Do we really want to go down that route where we could end up having a legal case of some sort?'”
Discarding Finitribe and aligning themselves fully with Finiflex turned out to be a blessing. Vick can now take full ownership of a project where he previously felt overshadowed by the past, and it also better conceptualises the studio’s centrality to the music being made. Finiflex Recording Studio is the nucleus that a group of affiliated creatives orbit around. Some now involved in Finiflex are people that Vick met through his commercial work, which has also given him the knowledge, and the equipment, to record and master the songs in-house. “It’s an industry, you know,” says Miller. “We make the videos here, we write the songs here, we do the merchandise here. It’s all inclusive. It’s a cottage industry.”
This “cottage industry” has been devoted for the past four years to producing Finiflex’s first album, Suilven. In stolen moments between the studio’s day-to-day business, Miller and Vick are busy sampling, mixing and filming, often starting at six in the morning and working until clients arrive at nine o’clock. It’s been a long process, but the pair have enjoyed their creative freedom. “We’ve made it so it’s original,” says Vick. “There’s no outside influence, whether that’s good or bad. This is what we do, and not anybody else.”
It’s easy to believe when sat inside the windowless studio. Finiflex resemble hi-tech magpies in a bunker, removed from the outside and surrounded by the technology that they're so fascinated by. It's this world of numbers and cables that has shaped the music most. “I don’t have a music collection,” says Vick. “Davie does. I don’t. I have a machines collection.” Finiflex’s songwriting is driven by toying with these machines, starting with little nuggets of sound – what they call “ditties” – and then manipulating them and seeing how they could fit together. When Miller writes the lyrics, he often starts with a snatch of words that he will “sculpt” the rest around. It's more like gathering a digital collage than a linear process.
Because the pair have felt their way through each track, the album is not tied together by a single overarching concept, except perhaps the joy that they take from unbounded experimentation. And there is no limit to the styles that they osmose into their production, which makes them difficult to categorise under any genre. Vick and Miller relish this slipperiness. “God, it would be so easy if we just pressed the button and it instantly fitted into one scene and we could ride that wave,” says Vick, “but I don’t know if we would do that. I think we would probably tape over the button.”
What Finiflex are concerned with, more than likeability, is quality. Whereas before they worried about creating music that could be signed, now they focus on aural clarity. “If you want it, great. If you don’t, not a problem,” says Vick. “And that, for me, is the best thing. It might not be anyone’s cup of tea, but I know from the work I do that it’s good enough to present.” This approach has paid off – Finiflex’s single Bonus Freaks entered the Top 40 Official Vinyl Singles Chart in April.
It comes as a surprise that neither Miller or Vick are technically trained as musicians. Their knowledge of music-making is more intuitive, while also being guided by the science behind sound production. Vick compares it to his love of physics and maths: “I know that I would fail the exams, but I also know that I can dissect things and I wouldn’t fail there,” he says. “You’re constantly decoding the sound around you, and then working out why it was good and how to put that thing together again.”
He and Miller call it synaesthesia, which is a good summary of Finiflex’s creative vision. “The lights and the videos are as much a part of the show as the music is,” says Miller. “The package works together. The sleeves, the videos, and everything is a kind of whole.” Each song on the album has its own music video, which is edited from live recordings of the two performing and then mixed with a technicolour onslaught of graphics. It's intended as an immersive, stimulating multimedia experience rather than simply an album.
“Finiflex is the future” is a phrase that comes up multiple times through the interview, and could be a rallying call for the whole project. The aesthetic that the songs and videos conjure feels futuristic and it will keep adapting as the technology inside the studio evolves. Suilven, the upcoming album's title looks back to the past – it references the distinctive Scottish hill where Finitribe went to write material for Sheigra, the last release that Vick recorded with them – but only as a point from which to depart.
“Why is it called Suilven?” says Vick, going on to answer: “Because it’s such a fantastic mountain. Magical. Untrodden. Hard to get to. If you’re signed to a record label, you get to work on the record all the time, but you do what they want. If you do it this way, you do what you want but you don’t get paid to do it. But we have the facility to do it, and we have the knowledge to do it, and we have the up and go gump to do it. And we’ve worked hard on it.”
Suilven is released on 8 Jun via Finiflex Records