In Conversation With: Future Beat Alliance
Matthew Puffett doesn’t strike us as an underground techno deity. Warm and enthusiastic with an Oxfordshire accent that lacks the German twang you might expect from a relocation to Berlin, his unassuming character totally belies his unapologetically upfront sound – a sound that has called labels such as Tresor and Delsin home for the last 21 years. Even the name Future Beat Alliance stirs a certain amount of disdain from its owner (“I actually hate the name now but just carry on with it”.)
It’s no surprise, then, that the music featured in ‘FBA: Collected Works 1996-2017‘ defies pigeonholing in much the same way. Now now, purists, you’re right – it does says techno on the tin. But such a broad categorisation cannot account for the punch-drunk stargaze of Eon Link 500, or Calculated Notes‘ Final Fantasy-esque synth ode, or Lumiere‘s storybook spoken word, or or or. In other words, it’s a sound palette that casts its net wider than most.
For FBA, bringing together a compilation of this magnitude is as much a nostalgia trip as it is a window of opportunity. Where do you begin compiling material that spans movements, a plethora of labels and the best part of a lifetime? How do you find the time to do so alongside working with James Lavelle and scoring for film? And more importantly, what’s next? We spoke with the artist on one fine Saturday morning to find out.
Have you been stationed in Berlin for a while?
Yeah, I’ve been here since about 2010. A load of my friends moved out here before that so I was always visiting and clubbing quite a lot. That side of it has slowed down a bit these days! I still like to dip in every now and again but I’ve started making a swift exit without saying goodbye. Otherwise, next thing you know you’ve been roped back in and your plans for the week get delayed, let’s put it that way.
You lived in London for some time too. I take it you come back fairly frequently?
I’ve been working with James [Lavelle] on the UNKLE project for 3 or so years so I was travelling backwards and forwards a lot, 2 months at a time, with visits back to Oxford too to see the family.
How did working with James on The Road: Part 1 treat you?
It was amazing, and I learnt so much from the experience. James is a very old school friend and we’ve been working closely over the last five / six years on various film projects and UNKLE remixes. He then asked if I wanted to be on board with the new album, so yeah… It was an intense experience and I was definitely out of my usual comfort zone. As a solo techno artist I’m used to just shutting myself away and making my own musical decisions and this was a big collaboration with lots of heads involved. Super proud [to have been a part of the project] though, of course.
You were working on a film soundtrack too, right?
Yeah, this was during the same period. The film was called Shelter and that was another co-written project with James and Jack Leonard, who’s more of a singer-songwriter type artist you know… I had done some short films with James but this was a full length, scene-by-scene score which was pretty intense.
Would you say Future Beat Alliance had taken a back seat then?
Exactly. I was always ticking away with my own material but it had stopped during this period. These other huge projects took up most of my time. I guess as a result I had the idea to release a compilation roughly 4 years ago. It originally started as a 20 year anniversary but time was ticking on and suddenly it was 21 years since I’d had my first release. The UNKLE project gave me a lot of energy to dive into my own stuff again that’s for sure.
Does it feel a bit odd to revisit material that’s nearly 20, 21 years old?
Yeah it is, but it was quite nice too. There’s lots of memories attached to all the labels – Delsin, Void (which was the first label I’d released on with my old school friend). It became a much bigger job than I’d originally thought – the remastering, metadata… it opens up a can of worms. It’s basically like a big housekeeping exercise, but it’s starting to feel really good putting all my eggs into one basket. Now I can finally start moving onto the new material which is just sitting around on my hard drive.
Am I right in saying ‘Chemical Cloud’ is the most recent track from the compilation?
That’s right yeah. Technology these days allows me to have projects like ‘Chemical Cloud’ open for a long time and I was able to finish it just in time for the compilation. It’s good to pair it next to the older stuff just to see how they sound side-by-side.
The compilation covers a lot of ground stylistically I feel…
It crosses genres for sure but hopefully still retains that depth and soul. It’s a good representation of how cohesive my music has been over the years I believe.
I was really intrigued by the sample in ‘Lumiere’. I’ve been trying to get together a small folder of tunes that spell out the letters of the track title in the same way (like Special Request’s ‘Redrum’, for example). Where does it come from?
Ah, I know the one. When I was living in Brighton and buying a lot of records at the time, I used to go to a record dealer called Chris Galloway from Pure Pleasure (who now runs 1BTN). I’d always go to him to get records to sample from and he put this space adventure storybook for kids aside for me called ‘Lumiere’. It’s got some mind-blowing samples, the narrator just has the best voice. I’ve still got it somewhere… maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this but it’s archived and available digitally too. Ian O’Brien suggested I should start sending stuff over to Versatile and Gilbert [Cohen] loved it.
Having had the chance to look back over your extensive catalogue, is there anything you wish you’d done differently production-wise?
Well I’ve never stopped learning to be honest. I started out with very limited outboard equipment, an Atari and Akai sampler, but these days I work entirely within the box.
So you’re predominantly software-based at the moment?
That’s right, I am. I’m quite comfortable with it and I have a few techniques up my sleeve. I do want to get some more hardware for sure, I have a few bits and bobs but yeah, very happy in the box. I’ve been working with some top level mixing engineers and it seems in their world no one uses desks any more, even for final mix-downs. Plugin emulations are pretty much identical to the real thing but I’m sure the geeks would argue against that.
In light of that, what studio rituals and gear do you swear by?
The need to be spontaneous is a key factor for me. I’m still on Logic 9 and I DJ with Ableton and an AKAI APC40. People will argue that it’s all mapped out for you and it’s on the grid blah blah blah but I completely disagree, you can be so creative with it on the fly. You could have a set plan but I’d never stick to it.
It opens up a lot of possibilities, right?
For sure. I would like to explore the live aspect of it more – I get asked to play live a lot. For me as always, as long as the selection is good, I’m happy.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it…
That’s it, exactly.
And finally, what are your plans for Future Beat Alliance moving forward?
I’ve just aired a studio mix on Rinse FM and released a coloured gatefold triple-pack for the compilation which is exclusive to the Future Beat Alliance Bandcamp store.
Other than that, I’m really eager to arrange and finish the tons of demos I have lying around, with a view to a brand new FBA artist album. I found a lot of unfinished content as a result of sourcing for the compilation so I’m going to run a 3-part digital bundle series called Personal Data Selected with those and hopefully have the first part out a month after the launch of Selected Works on the December 1st. There’ll be some remixes coming too, including one from Kirk Degiorgio.
Future Beat Alliance – FBA: Collected Works 1996 – 2017 is out now.
Matthew Puffett portrait photography by © Markus Henttonen.