Dead Cities is the fifth album by Brian Dougans and Gaz Cobain, and the fourth under the name The Future Sound of London.
After an unprecedentedly long gap in releases between summer 1995 and autumn 1996, Dead Cities found the band making a strong comeback, with lead single 'My Kingdom' immediately becoming their highest charting single at this point. The more urban-focused sound of 'My Kingdom' is present throughout the album, and marks a striking change in direction after the more otherwordly, organic sound of the group's earlier albums. Opener 'Herd Killing', recycling the title but not the music of the Promo 500 track, makes the difference clear from the get go, with pummelling drums and samples of guitar and yelled vocals from Run DMC. The title track draws on the band's darkest side, with sinister synths and clattering drums, closing with Gaz singing words originally written for Bacteria From a Baboon's Stomach. 'Her Face Forms in Summertime' follows in a similar mood, featuring Gaz playing electric guitar. 'We Have Explosive' is a reworking of 'Herd Killing' with additional buzzing synths and electronically processed vocals, and is one of the heaviest and most aggressive sounding tracks in the band's Virgin catalogue. A similarly intense vibe is found on the drum'n'bass-tinged 'Quagmire', while the rest of the album focuses on darker sounds, with increasing melancholy as the album continues. 'Everyone in the World is Doing Something Without Me' features layered female voices and is as dark and hopeless sounding as its title; 'Glass' features echoing, melancholic synth arpeggios; 'Through Your Gills I Breathe' pairs together acoustic guitar and piano in a sombre tone; 'First Death in the Family' closes the album with a funereal march, only for the closing silence to be broken by a mix of hardcore punk and field recordings, recorded by Simon Wells of Snuff and spliced together by FSOL (the track is generally referred to as 'Dead Cities Reprise' due to the name appearing on the credits page, however it had the working title of 'Punk City' and has never been given an official title by the band.) Only the album's central track, 'Max', momentarily breaks the moment, a serene, major key piano piece co-written by Max Richter.
Sessions for the album began in 1995, and earlier recorded tracks retain a closer feel to that of ISDN's jazzy trip-hop breaks: the jazz horns and drum loops of 'Quagmire', eastern flutes and guitar loops of 'My Kingdom' and psychedelic 'Yage' all appeared in early forms during the band's 1995 sessions to the John Peel Show and Art Futura festival, alongside similar pieces '100 Baby Spiders' and 'Carlos'. Many of the other pieces on the album are more overtly electronic in sound, with clear use of synths instead of samples; at the time, Gaz bemoaned the larger focus put on the band due to their worldwide distribution, and how it made using obvious samples difficult. By mid 1996 the album was complete, and was delivered to the label in the form of a publicity stunt, in which FSOL hired actors to mock a terrorist takeover of the Virgin offices where the album was delivered. Although steering clear from describing Dead Cities as a concept album, Gaz did expand on this theme by pointing out that such events take place in urban environments, and that "for us it's a painful element of living in London. Rather than avoid it, we've covered it." This bleak vision of present day urban decay runs throughout the album and sums up its difference to earlier FSOL records: the environments that link tracks feature less in the way of synth squelches and exotic animals, and more smashing sounds and sinister city field recordings. The environments themselves cause some confusion, as two are distinctly 'musical', and are mentioned in the tracklist: for CD listeners, the rear tracklist has 15 tracks, the credits page mentioned 14, and the disc itself only had 13 index points (there are, it turns out, actually 16 tracks on the album.) The two short environment-like tracks listed, 'In a State of Permanent Abyss' and 'Through Your Gills I Breathe' are written in a different font as a hint to their whereabouts. Nevertheless, despite the correct tracklist being widely spread online for years, it is still easy to find plenty of references to a confused version of the tracklist featuring a track called 'Glass Yage Vit Drowning' online.
The album cover, featuring an old lady standing before the bridge at Poplar tube station in London, matches the sinister feel of the album. The rest of the booklet features other dark, urban environments, including pictures of the Berlin Wall scrawled with the graffiti that inspired the album's title, a geodesic dome, the derelict building from the 'My Kingdom' cover, as well as new shots of the 'Electronic Brain' spike model, Sheuneen Ta and Vit. The Crescents in Manchester, near Buggy's abode at the time, adorn the inside back cover and, along with an earlier image, feature further scrawled words from Bacteria From a Baboon's Stomach. The credits page features an almost undecipherable list of bizarre attributions and in-jokes that are sometimes clear, and other times maddeningly obscure. Keith and Martyn from Freedom Management, and Rob Manley, the group's A&R at Virgin, appear in the credits in particularly surreal roles. The tracks on the 2LP version are cut differently to the index points on the CD, and credits appear to be written for the vinyl edition; however, they are still unclear in places. For both ease and confusion, the numbering system used in the booklet is reproduced in the credits section of this page. The art credits split between Brian, Gaz and Buggy. The EBv logo appears on the rear, alongside the Electronic Brain Violence legend.
The album was promoted using the phrase "a 76 minute sonically satisfying head-blender" on posters. Despite the band's two highest-charting singles and a staggeringly positive response in the press, however, the album only reached 22 in the UK album charts. It is possible sales of the limited edition were excluded from the charts due to the deluxe nature of the packaging. As with 1994, FSOL took to the wires to promote the album via an ISDN tour that ran from October 1996 to January 1997, with the group often playing two shows a night to radio stations in the UK. An album of material from this tour was planned to be released as ISDN Show, but sample issues alongside changes in the band's interests meant the album only received a promotional release. Sporadic shows continued towards summer 1997, during which Dead Cities material was gradually pushed out in favour of new material which featured a similar heavy breakbeat sound, but also included live instrumentation such as guitars and organs. The album's second single, We Have Explosive, received a wide release in March 1997 following a promotional 12" release in summer 1996. A third single, Glass, was in the works in mid 1997, but never completed, as the group's musical direction was moving away from electronic music towards psychedelia. The first Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind show in July '97 featured a number of samples and environments from the Dead Cities era and tour, alongside psychedelic music, and closed the door on the era.
In the years following the album, the band - and Gaz in particular - looked to move a long way from its sound, and during interviews to promote The Isness, Gaz was particularly down on the era. "There was a point with Dead Cities where I was so ill in the mind" and "'We Have Explosive' was the track that caused the rupture in my life and my spirit, and I very much feel the world in its current state doesn't need an album that celebrates misery, technology, fear, all these things." are two key quotations from 1996. Ten years after the album's release, a re-evaluation was allowed, and Gaz made his peace with the album partially through revisiting his favourite tracks and re-contextualising them on the Teachings From the Electronic Brain compilation.
A 10,000 copy limited edition run of box sets featuring the standard CD and a 196 page book was produced. The book is extensive, and features all of the artwork from the standard CD booklet and LP sleeve, as well as a number of variations. A wealth of new photography, CG art and hand-drawn imagery is included, alongside a number of images from earlier in the band's timeline, including covers of earlier releases. Four stories, written by Gaz, feature in the booklet. The first refers to the concept of dead skin cells, earlier referenced in the track of the same name, and features a protagonist who collects and snorts dust like a drug, in hope of rejuvenating himself. The second story, Driving, tells of a man with a paranoia of speed cameras. The third story is about a man who becomes obsessed with his neighbours, obsessing over and copying their every move. The fourth story reproduces a short tale from the EBv website of the time about an encounter with a scam artist the band encountered on holiday. More Twitch-era lyrics are featured scrawled throughout the book. As ever, Sheuneen Ta, Vit and the 'Electronic Brain' spike model appear throughout, as well as photos of the band and some of their collaborators at the time, including Ritchie Thomas and Simon Wells.
- 1996: Virgin (CDV2814, 7243 8 42068 2 6 / CDVX 2814, 7243 8 42231 2 0 / V2814, 7243 8 42068 1 9 / TCV2814, 7243 8 42068 4 0)
- 1996: Astralwerks (ASW 6181)
Standard CD, CD & 196 page book, 2LP, cassette. US CD edition.
CDV2814 / CDVX2814 / ASW 6181 (CD) / V2814 (LP) / TCV2814 (Cass)
- "Herd Killing" – 2:36
- "Dead Cities" – 6:36
- "Her Face Forms in Summertime" – 5:39
- "We Have Explosive" – 6:19
- "Everyone in the World is Doing Something Without Me" – 4:10
- "My Kingdom+" – 5:46
- "Max" – 2:49
- "Antique Toy" – 5:43
- "Quagmire / In a State of Permanent Abyss" – 6:57
- "Glass" – 5:38
- "Yage" – 7:32
- "Vit Drowning / Through Your Gills I Breathe" – 5:32
- "First Death in the Family / Dead Cities Reprise" – 4:45
- All tracks written and produced by The Future Sound of London
- Recorded at Earthbeat Studios, London '96
- All tracks engineered by Yage
- 1+4 'We Have Explosive' and Herd Killing mix. Guitar stab, wah guitar and vocal yell soruced from Run DMC - LP Tougher Than Leather (J. Simmons / D. McDaniels / J. Mizell). 'We have explosive' vocal - B's processing tools
- 2 outro poetry from 'Dead Cities' by Dick Verbatim
- 5 'Everyone in the world is doing something without me' vocal by Cobain from 'I need re-calibrate' recorded at The Womb - London. Layered voices sampled from an improvisation by Rebecca Caine. Intro breath environment soruced from an orchestral re-working of Eggshell by Craig Armstrong. Pig - recorded and rendered at the electronic farm - Norfolk - by Yage on an 'Always' working holiday
- 6 Guitar sample swapped for Cubase with Ozric Tentacles - Taken from Pungent Effulgent. Flute sample - sourced from Once Upon a Time in America (Ennio MOrricone). Voice sample - from 'Rachel's Song' (Vangelis) from the film soundtrack Blade Runner - sung by Mary Hopkin. Drums - Richie Thomas 'caught with the DAT running'
- 7 Child's voice recorded 'Outside of the web' at Little Venice by 'The Bloke's a Nutter'. Piano fed through the machines - restructured and re-collaged from MIDI files written by Max Richter. Alto sax sample mechanically removed from a day's recording of Richie Thomas
- 9 Original samples collected and collated by Baker St. Mythology. Quagmire environment 'He thinks he's very funny' sourced from 'Childhood memories of Pin' from the Philip Pin archives courtesy of PA PIN
- 10 'In a State of Permanent Abss' environment from a lost recording of Max Richter's 'Ripple'. Girl crying in the park unknown - Hyde Park June 96
- 11 Moroccan flute by Yage recorded at sordid accommodation - London - 1989. 'Jane Jane' sourced from Shrine by Riz Maslen 1983. 'Some weird Greek instrument no one can remember the name of apart from the Greeks who are in Greece' - played by Byron Con. 'Regurgitated bits' - Leon Mar
- 13 Recorded and performed on an unscheduled Baker St-Dollis Hill day trip by B*14 Mouth whistle by inert armchair sample from The Best Selling Show. Laughter - 'honey sunshine' from a hi-8 'putts goes to Sri Lanka'. Dead Cities re-prise recorded by Simon Wells at Headstone Lane from Snuff recordings, 'The Disappearance of Troy Motherwell'
- Keith Webb - 'magic ashtray and the Brighton helpline'
- Martyn Barter - 'shuffling papers and guidance from afar on 'glorified psion'
- Rob Manley - 'construction and concept of felix
- Praying hands / ecuador / Dead Cities graffiti / eggs - Buggy G. Riphead
- Choked up / sunshine and brick - image Riphead / text Cobain
- Liquide / Dead Cities logo - B Dougans
- Human photography - Andrea Giacobbe
- Human computer manipulation - B Dougans
- City ruins photography - Riphead
- Overall image construction - Cobain
- Spike and dome / old woman / herd killing - art Riphead, concept Electronic Brain Violence / Riphead
- Spike modelling - Olaf Wendt