I still have the 12″ vinyl copy of the ‘On The Air EP’ mentioned in this piece, one of the better promo items I received whilst interviewing for the Big Issue.
Carl Finlow is a fan. Of music, technology and Star Wars. I know because the creative core of Leeds-based electro outfit Random Factor is talking to me via a bleeping, head-spinning R2-D2 phone. This love of gadgetry stems from Finlow’s childhood in Liverpool, when the house rang to the sound of electronica that his father borrowed from Widnes library, including Japanese boffin Isao Tomita.
“He re-orchestrated classical pieces by Ravel and Stravinsky in a studio full of Moogs” enthuses Finlow. “From an early age I remember listening to this weird music. My dad must have realised because in 1983 for my 13th birthday he got me this little Moog synthesiser”.
The warmth and raw textures of analog sound are a constant throughout Random Factor tunes. Finlow agrees it’s the ‘human’ element of analog synthesisers which explains their enduring appeal.
“Each machine is so individual, with its own characteristics and because it’s a beautifully simplistic sound; you have to work to get the maximum out of it”.
Moving to Leeds in 1989, Finlow arrived in the city at the height of the rave scene. The results of “trying to sound like Tomita” began to emerge under pseudonyms like Silicon Scally, Voice Stealer and Il-ek-tro. along the way he lugged his gear to techno gigs and played keyboards with Leeds baggy merchants Bridewell Taxis, before returning to commune with his machinery.
“To be honest, I’ve been a hermit in the last few years, the Mike Oldfield of electro” he laughs. “But the way things have been going with the music, it seemed like a sensible time to get back out on the road”.
It’s a wise decision. The new On The Air EP showcases Finlow’s loose-hipped electro, with harder-edge beats and spartan Moog riffs which demand you shake your bones. In particular the groove of ‘Lockdown’ conjures up a picture of Kraftwerk on pay-day, strutting through downtown New York. [Message to my 90s self: actually, the track in question is ‘Disconnect’ – AM] It’s both uptight and laid back, and delivered – unusually – with live keyboard performances.
An affable, regular-looking bloke sporting an Imperial Storm Trooper sweatshirt, Finlow isn’t exactly Keith Flint. How does he view bands like the Prodigy, who forsake the old rave nation idea of ‘the audience are the stars’ and return the spotlight to the stage?
“In a way I think it’s good because it shows an underlying confidence in contemporary electronic music” he says. “I’d rather it be on stage and on TV than not even spoken about”.
It seems ironic then that Finlow lives removed from all this culture, out in the countryside in Rothwell, just outside of Leeds.
“It’s a Pink Floyd vibe” he says gleefully. “My neighbours are 500 yards down a dirt track and the silence and beauty of the countryside is just great. We’re surrounded by cornfields, rhubarb and cabbages in an old farm house, with the studio in a barn”.
Here, Finlow can let the world pass him by if he chooses. He admits that given a spare moment, he’d rather compose in the studio, than check out other people’s work. Is it wise for a happening techno type to be this far off the beaten track?
“I quite like the idea of remaining quite pure about what I’m doing” says Finlow, “surfacing for air every now and then to see what’s going on”.
With this slightly out-on-a-limb perspective, it’s no surprise that waving ideological banners around holds little attraction. “The majority of music is for people to sit on sofas and relax to. I’m not into direct messages”.
“It is ironic” he muses. “The amount that people are using computers is accelerating out of control. Human beings and culture can’t cope with how fast it’s going, but I’m right on the edge of it and I’m really enjoying it!”.
You’re a strange man, Carl Finlow, but we like you.