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Interview: Sam Potter Talks About The World Of February Montaine

Interview: Sam Potter Talks About The World Of February Montaine

Interview by Will Rattray / Thursday 14th March, 2019 2:37PM

Berlin-based expat "fantasy & ambient pop" imprint Fantasy Fiction Records recently unveiled a dazzling collection titled as late as the light that hides, released with the aim of showcasing previously unheard 80s / early 90s material by a UK DIY artist named February Montaine. Compiled by UK musician and author Sam Potter (previously of Late of the Pier) in collaboration with Montaine's step-daughter Suzy Lianza (aka Suzy Sleeps), the new album draws on "well archived stems to scraps of ideas recorded straight to tape" to present a smorgasbord of sounds encompassing synth-soaked rhythmic exotica, meditative proto-house, guitar-slinging hook-heavy cosmic pop and more. Fantasy Fiction Records label impresario Will Rattray (frontman of Thought Creature and Full Moon Fiasco) spoke with Potter about his mysterious historical project (for more documentation relating to the record see here), as well as his new Rough Trade publication Ecstatic Data Sets: The Chorismos Apeiron Scanner (2028 Edition), working with Franz Ferdinand on their 2018 album Always Ascending and more...

Hi Sam, congratulations on bringing February Montaine's music to the world. What led you to his life and music initially?

Thanks Will, and thank you for releasing it!

February’s stepdaughter Suzy had asked me to listen to her music a few years ago. I really liked it and we became friends. She then told me to check out February’s music and I was hooked. At first she sent me just a few songs, she had digitised just a few but told me she had a box full of various pieces, old tapes, some reel to reel and loads of notebooks. So I did what anyone else would and took a trip to her mum Amelia’s house to check it out.

Was it hard earning the trust of his family, I understand there was at first a reluctance to share the tapes with you?

I’m sure Amelia won’t mind me saying that this has not been straightforward. Even the first time I was there I had to leave in a hurry so she wouldn’t see me there. February lived most of his life through his art and his ideas so bringing them back into the world has been cathartic and fulfilling but also a little hard for Amelia. Gaining the trust of the family has been a long, ongoing journey but everybody is so moved to see the response and to be able to speak about February’s work is what he would have wanted.

February wrote in 1988, "I can see a future where we don't just listen to the music, the music listens to us." Do you see this prediction coming of age within our current modernity? Neural learning networks, for instance, seem to be making huge leaps at the moment.

I think he was saying great music already does this, but it’s not too far of a stretch to say technology will help even more so. He was championing a new type of music that is reactive to its listener. Can music have empathy for its user? As a father [who] had worked in what he called ‘the influence industries’ he was always speculating on how we can create art and experiences that push us to enhanced emotional states, doing what his father was doing but for art instead of commerce or propaganda.

You've just published a book entitled Ecstatic Data Sets: The Chorismos Apeiron Scanner (2028 Edition), described as a manual for a music-making machine of the near future. Could you talk a little about the premise of the book?

I should probably point out this book is directly taking February’s idea and reverse engineering it. I can also put my hands up and say the method of writing was very much inspired by February. It’s about a music system that listens to the listener and provides a constant soundtrack to help them journey through their spectrum of emotions. It used bio-feedback, machine learning and data sonification to become so effective many users experience deeply spiritual interactions with the machine. The algorithm that sends them there is either advanced science, perfect art or a prophet.

Do you feel 'pop' music has lost some of its potency in the modern world?

You can plot on a map how our lack of attention has resulted in pop music needing to be more and more simplistic. Without any complexity it becomes throw away and then the next piece comes along. The only way pop music can be interesting in this way is if it has an interesting emotional component, like Arianna Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’! Again channeling February, he thought of pop music as ‘sophisticated emotional technology’. Especially experimental pop music can do an awful lot in describing and then projecting what it is to be human. In his circles pop music was derided but if it can make you feel love or pain and everything in between it’s a lot more interesting than anything Stockhausen has ever made.

The ten year anniversary vinyl copy of Late of the Pier's Fantasy Black Channel, released last February looks fantastic. Was it nice to revisit the album and re connect with original producer and Phantasy label head Erol Alkan?

Music can be such a time machine. 10 years is long enough for it to seem ages ago (as the band and many fans were teenagers then) but short enough to have pretty crystalline memories. It’s been really sweet of Erol and everyone involved to help us remind people what a great record it was. So many scenes were meeting at that point and to describe that moment in time through the lens of a teenager was especially fun.

You recently did some work as a writer and creative consultant with Franz Ferdinand. What was your approach to working with them in the studio?

I went for a drink with Alex and we had a nice meandering chat about how so many things have changed in the 13 years since they’d first came on the scene as Franz. We consume music so differently, subcultures have all but faded, many don’t go out dancing no more, instead of day dreaming we scroll and scroll using the finite resource of our attention. But it’s not all bad and music has a part to play in helping us. Many musical movements come from reacting against situations artists are not happy with, some come from new drugs coming on the market, so we thought we would write for what was missing. 'Always Ascending' was written for a drug that doesn’t exist for the people who really need it. I’ll let you guess what the drug did as one thing missing in the communication of modern music is mystery! As the drug was imaginary nobody got hurt.

Haha! And last question, do you have a go to album that gets you up in the morning at the moment?

One of the best pieces of advice I got from February’s writing is to play happy music when you wake up. 'Boogie Nights' works especially well as an alarm clock because you wake with the dreamlike chimes and then in comes the boogie. Dancing is an undeniably powerful act!

Excellent advice! Thanks Sam! Enjoy the Berlin spring.

'as late as the light that hides it' is out now on limited edition cassette and digitally via Fantasy Fiction Records.

Sam Potter's February Montaine tribute band are performing at a release party at Berlin's Tennis Bar on Wednesday 17th April, which will also feature a seance to "collectively arouse the spirit of February Montaine."


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