British duo Fuck Buttons explores inner space

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When you name your band Fuck Buttons and specialize in a style of music that has been described as “noisegaze” and “brutish electronica”, you don’t do so with the goal of having your songs featured prominently in an event that also includes Queen Elizabeth II, Mr. Bean, and Paul McCartney.

Nonetheless, that’s exactly what happened to Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power two years ago. “We got a phone call from the guys in Underworld—who have a very close relationship with Danny Boyle—saying, ‘Can we use your music in the Olympics?’ ” recalls Hung, speaking to the Straight from somewhere on the road between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “At the time we didn’t really think much of it, because these things tend to fall through half the time.”

Not this time. Thanks to artistic director Boyle and music director Rick Smith (of Underworld), an estimated worldwide television audience of 900 million got a taste of Fuck Buttons during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, which kicked off with the Bristol duo’s “Surf Solar”. (The ceremony also featured a selection from Power’s side project, Blanck Mass, and a second Fuck Buttons track, the aptly titled “Olympians”, was played during the parade of nations.)

Hung says he didn’t quite apprehend the enormity of the event before the fact. “Then it actually happened,” he says. “We were watching it on TV, and then ‘Surf Solar’ came on right at the beginning. My phone just went mental with text messaging. I wasn’t with Ben at the time, but he said the same thing happened to him. So, yes, it was very magical.”

“Surf Solar” was presumably chosen for its surging, triumphant quality, and while that’s not entirely absent from the most recent Fuck Buttons release, the dark and brooding Slow Focus, it’s in shorter supply. The album opens with “Brainfreeze”, a swath of revving, droning textures underscored by a pounding, tribal beat. It sets the tone for much of what follows, which manages the neat trick of sounding monumental and forbidding while still leaving the door open wide enough for the listener to enter into its obsidian-walled space. If the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey had its own soundtrack (apart from the music of György Ligeti, that is) it might resemble the fearsomely buzzing “The Red Wing”.

This is music that isn’t explicitly about anything, but Hung says that what fans testify to hearing in it is frequently in tune with the imagery he and Power have in mind while they’re creating it. “I think people’s interpretations echo how we feel about the music very often,” he says. “It is often to do with space. Not as in the outer limits—although it can be as well—but more to do with area, like vastness. Very often our music kind of plunges into that for other people, and it certainly does that for us. There are very specific images that people have told us they’ve garnered from the music that have been quite strange in the past.”

When he’s pressed for an example, Hung conjures up a doozy. “There’s a comment on YouTube,” he says. “This guy was describing how he was lying on an icy riverbed. It was something to do with how he was lying in a bed of bones and blood, I remember. Which is quite odd.

“I don’t know what he was on,” the musician adds with a laugh, “but I would like to know!”

Fuck Buttons plays Fortune Sound Club on Thursday (July 3).

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