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Ten Minutes Of Enchantment

June 6, 2011

I’ve just finished my zine Fulsome Prism #2, which is largely given over to an interview with the ace ultrapop team The Cuban Boys. Way back in 2004, when I was making one of my first zines called Drink Ink, I interviewed Skreen and Blu from the band when they were operating under a different name and different gameplan (but presumably the same manifesto) as The Beatbox Saboteurs. That zine is no longer available, but here is what the two of them said, in case you want to compare and contrast:

Drink Ink: Who is in the Beatbox Saboteurs and what is the role of each person?
Blu: B.L.Underwood is the Minister of Orchestration and Skreen B is Minister of Propaganda.
Skreen: Two toffs with too much time.

What is the history of the Beatbox Saboteurs? How did they form?
Blu: We formed during a moment of casual disregard, following the gradual demise of the Cuban Boys. There had been for quite some time, a drum and bass collage of  “I do like to be beside the Seaside” a song we hear everyday in Eastbourne. One wintry evening Skreen suggested I graft a human performance to the previous version and voilá! Twas done in a jiffy! It became apparent that the rest of our grandparents record collections deserved a similar treatment, a cross between history and cybernetics and before I could say “strike a light!” there was a whole bloomin’ albums worth….
Skreen: We actually have a very long history in showbusiness, our first activities started before the second world war – though, for reasons of national security, we had to remain fairly anonymous until quite recently. Having witnessed a steady decline in cultural values and artistic output, we decided to pop our heads above the trenches again to offer the modern audience our take on musical entertainment. Really, everyone should be doing their bit to fight the forces of musical fascism – jig for victory!

When and how did you discover The Pig’s Big 78, the influence that you have been most outspoken about? Do you have a particular favourite selection?
Blu: Cant remember when, but I can remember being bemused at times, thinking I’d tuned into a local station circa 1932.
Skreen: I am pretty sure it all started with the Peelenium broadcasts. Now Sheila (The Pig) has become an integral part of the John Peel Show. Not only do her regular contributions provide little packets of national sustenance, they also serve as a motivation for us as they highlight just how popular jolly good, yet old, music can be. Personally, I find The Pig’s voice quite sensual, almost erotic, like aromatheraphy for the lobes. My favourite selection would probably be George Formby’s Fanlight Fanny, though I always enjoy anything by Doris Day or Sir Hubert Pym At The Pianoforte. I like to cha-cha-cha at weekends.

How would you describe your music, in terms of both style and craft?
Blu: Its Beatbox Sabotage – plain n simple. We crash Granny’s party and stick 50 thousand volts up the gramophone. It is somehow expected that each generation rejects their parents’ cultural values and declares them naffo and passé. Eventually, when no longer weighed down by the “tyranny of cool” one can freely look back and discover a wealth of gems in the history of popular music. What we are doing is forcing the past, present and future together with little regard for personal safety. Young people don’t actually believe that their parents knew how to have a good time. Its a common error that “pop” music started in the late 50s….not so. It’s more daring to bridge the generation gap and embrace it.
Skreen: I would describe our music as “baroque and roll” or “the golden age of the burlesque”, but don’t quote me on that.
Blu: The craft side of the BBS is a rather unglamorous admin/clerical type affair with much computer work. A lot of effort goes into making the old recordings stay in sync, because prior to click tracks and midi most timing drifted in a very human way. Usually I spend a while snipping up the audio with digital scissors and nudging it around the screen but sometimes if I notice a tempo change I like, I make the electronics follow the change – Fred Astaire was an example of this. Sometimes a bootleg approach pops up – to combine disparate elements of contemporary tracks with golden oldies – the best example being the Beautiful Coconut People. This shows how current musical styles relate to older music especially rhythimcally. Rhythm is the main…limitation with any original recording and sometimes I deliberately impose a new beat on a track for the amusement of the contrast it makes – I find drum and bass particularly amusing for this. Often people cant tell what has been added since they cant recall the original when they hear the new version but I can assure you its always a considerable difference. So there can be a lot of digital manipulation of the source material which is followed by a more typical production process of building a track, somewhat like remixing although I usually have an entire orchestration to work around.
Skreen: I would describe our craft as “a brainstorm in a fine china tea-cup”.

How is your art received in Eastbourne?
Blu: By post, just like anyone else. Eastbourne provides the ambience but I’m not sure it has the….inclination to respond favourably to what we do – hence we aim ourselves at the whole country, the whole world rather and find a welcome.
Skreen: We are fabulously unknown within our locale, all that cult of celebrity is rather distasteful to us, and we especially would not want it on our doorstep. Empty cans rattle, artistes of true worth simply can because they can-can.

What influences other than Sheila do you uphold? Are there any newer, fresh-faced acts that you would like to recommend to us?
Blu: The entire musical past is an influence on the Beatbox Saboteurs, including classical music. Humanity has been partying since the dawn of time. These days I like a quick blast of V/VM and especially the Caretaker who’s album Haunted Ballroom is a cousin of our own ouevre. Also Marilyn Manson, Autechre, Harold Budd, Venetian Snares and The Darkness. And many more…

Skreen: I am more influnced by manners and decorum than musical ability, a shabby personality will always produce music of a loose and contemptible nature. Bearsuit seem very well-mannered. Start with Victor Sylvester, Frank Chacksfield, and Henry Mancini, then investigate Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hyper Kinako, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, Judy & Mary, Astro-B – and finally add a dash of Gary Numan, Ronnie Ronalde and Melt Banana. That should give you the correct balance for life.
What is Ronnie Ronalde like to work with?
Blu: He’s a breeze. He sends us a CD – job done. We haven’t actually had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie, due partly to the fact he lives in New Zealand but he and his wife have always been very congenial on the old electric email.
Skreen: Ronnie and his wife, Rosemarie, are two of the loveliest people we have ever dealt with. They were so warm and enthusiastic that it almost felt like they were from a different world. People in the music industry today could learn a lot from them. Thesedays, if I am feeling a little down, I often give our remix of Ronnie’s The Buccaneers a spin – it never fails to raise my spirits.

Will there ever be a Beatbox Saboteurs live experience, and how would you imagine the stage to be set up?
Blu: We daydream about this regularly, whilst sipping a Pimms. ‘Twould be a cast of thousands, Busby Berkley meets Zoo TV – The “Good Good Old Days” on Acid.
Skreen: In the olden days we used to compere tea dances at the Savoy, along with the odd performance on the White Star Liner. So, any live shows would simply have to include showgirls, dwarves dressed as penguins, The Winsome Losers, and the amazing backbending routines of Tabatha ‘Double-J’ Hornblower. Not forgetting the incredible beared-man. Naturally it would have be televised on the BBC, though maybe after the water-shed?

How is [their then-recent album] ‘The Hour Of Enchantment’ a progression from your other works? 
Blu: The Hour of Enchantment is a kinda concept album, based on the idea of falling asleep on a sunny Sunday afternoon by a cricket pitch after having several too many G&Ts. The ensuing dream is formed by the music emanating from the nearby wind-up gramophone. It began as an attempt to broaden out the possibilities but to a large extent the nature of the tracks is decided by them in an almost predetermined manner. There is a bit more guitar on THOE and a wider pallet of found sounds which add to the overall ambience.
Skreen: We re-defined ourselves slightly by not aiming for an album crammed full of obvious hits, it is much more of a tease than previous albums, you could say the approach is like that of a neglige.

Do you consider it greater than your other long-playing records?
Blu: Not necessarily. Each record tries to offer something different.
Skreen: Entertainment should not be judged, it should simply be witnessed.

What era of history are the Saboteurs most likely to feel doe-eyed and nostalgic about, and why?
Blu: We grew up during the late 70s early 80s so the new-wave/new romantic era was all the rage, followed by goth in the later 80s – (to this day Skreen will never resist a chance to shout “Bauhaus!” in a public gathering). Actually I dont feel much nostalgia for that but Ive always fancied the roaring twenties, where girls wore beads and men wore hats and enormous trousers – Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Skreen: For me it would be happy hour, just after happy hour had ended. Admittedly, I do tend to dream in sepia.

What is the Beatbox Saboteurs’ manifesto?
Blu: All tunes are equal. Nothing is sacred.
Skreen: It used to be ‘We’ve had one big hit, we really do not want another’ – that was mainly to put off any labels who came sniffing around as we have never really been interested in a recording deal.

What is the next plan of action for the Beatbox Saboteurs? Where musically are you planning to go?
Blu: Everyone who hears a BBS track suggest something else we could do and so we have a considerable backlog of possibilities within the 20th century alone. There are many, many possibilities for us including our Relax remix on V/VM test records. Also in the pipeline is the BBS vs the Ovaltineys….you heard it here first folks! Musically I am, on one hand, tempted to take things in a more challenging direction whilst still holding onto the starting post with the other.
Skreen: I am hoping for something a little more risque, something to make all the grandmas blush with recognition of their past acts of decadence. Bloomers and shakers!

Is there anything you’d like to add at this point?
Blu: Treasure the elderly. Kiss your parents. Viva España!
Skreen: Kiss the elderly. Treasure your parents. Vauxhall Viva! Noel Coward once said that it was “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is” – we would like to say “our potent music is extraordinarily cheap – and it is exclusively available from our website at www.beatboxsaboteurs.co.uk” 😉
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