|"Music makes the fear go away."
A historic quote. Bounced around this site for a wee while. Now it's finally
managed to climb to the top of this page. Why? Because to Tom Berlin, founding
member of Blue Flux, his erstwhile words ring truer than ever. "Few things grab the core
of human consciousness as readily as a catchy, snappy or haunting
tune," he says. "The music, not the lyrics. It bypasses most of our
input filters and goes straight for the jugular. We don't even need to
make an effort to listen - like a daydream, music flows right through us.
Or we through it. Blood on air. Feelings made tangible."
To Blue Flux, music has always been about feelings. First and last.
Expressed initially by instruments alone. Only in more recent times joined by
words. "I don't know... I just found my inner voice," says Tom when
asked why. "Lyrics can be so much more definite than textures and
timbres. And that's what makes them dangerous. It's so easy to overcook
it. Vocals ought to be subtle at times, ask questions and add subtext
rather than permanently steal the limelight. But that's bloody hard to
pull off. Then again, millions of X-Factor worshippers would disagree
such qualms in the clubbing nineties of course, when music was far
less about the right voice and all about the right beat, and when Blue
Flux first launched its inimitably ignorant brand of UK-based
instrumental post rock. The first five albums bubbled up in quick
succession, eagerly, and within clear sight of each other. Driven by
newly emerging synthesizer and sampling technology, they certainly
showed that Blue Flux was unafraid to experiment.
Tom agrees. "At that time I was inspired by bands like Dead Can Dance,
This Mortal Coil, Aphex Twin, Art Of Noise… Anyone who made you sit up
and spill your tea. Computer-based recording was in its infancy then and
most of the cool and slinky stuff was still done using relatively
expensive outboard gear. So that limited the number of bands doing it."
|1999. The Beach,
Blue Flux's kick-starter album, hits the racks. Something had changed.
But what? "Confidence. Guts to go with bigger ideas. Gill [Appleby –
keyboards and percussion] had recently joined the band and we somehow
decided to let it all hang out. Maybe the looming Y2K angst helped to pull
The latter is in ample evidence on the album's six-part title track. To some extent prototyped by its predecessor The Riddle, The Beach bristles with tales of ecstasy and excess at the turning point.
Another turning point was soon to follow. Six months into a new
millennium the band finally left Wales and moved to Germany. "Tough
choice. Fifteen years… But it all worked out." Not immediately, though.
Studio-less and strapped for space, only two guitars and an 8-track
recorder stood between Blue Flux and oblivion. And so their instrumental
album was born. Minimal equipment. Maximum fun. "I lived within sight of a sugar factory.
Fantastic views at night; lit-up chimney stacks puffing out candy
floss… I loved making that album!"
|Fast forward to 2008. Tom's new Groundhog Studio has long since been built and put through its paces by the moody Just Dreams, Blue Flux's revealing 2004 introspective. But now the sun is out again. As is the band's next album, The Agenda. "It was a step change, vocal-wise," says Tom. "I'd scribbled down lyrics for Skinchange
a few months earlier. More like a poem, really. But the microphone
guzzled it up with gusto. After that there was no turning back."
Propelled by wave upon wave of new-found lyrical intensity, Blue Flux's
songwriting took to the air. Not at the expense of instrumental payload –
if anything, their musical arrangements became more intricate still.
But merging the two ushered in a new and exciting phase for the band, a
fuel upgrade that soon sped them to their follow-up album Shooting Star, and beyond…
so fast! Remember my gap year?" True. Tom had, on
occasion, professed his longing for a musical detour. To revisit his
instrumental roots, where notes once again speak louder than words. And
in 2012, just months after the release of Shooting Star, that 'wrong turn' was taken at last. His collaboration with a landscape art project spawned Pulse, a three-months multimedia exhibition in late 2014 which featured Tom's
original atmospheric soundtrack and video. "That's right – video. So much
for notes speaking louder than words! Hard graft, yeah. But an amazing ride too."
Even while the Pulse exhibition still flashed its message of hope across long winter nights, Tom felt restless. "Pulse
was what they call a 'critical success'. Opening night press interest
was highly encouraging, as were their numerous reviews. But one month
into its run, there wasn't much more for me to do than watch the
inevitable decline in visitor numbers."
|And so Blue Flux jumped at the chance to get back to work on their next album, Don't Let Go. Its observational theme had already been defined by those songs recorder prior to Tom's Pulse
sabbatical, and he was eager to continue in that vein. "This album is
all about clarity," Tom confirms. "There are times when I loathe
ambiguity, unspeak, scaremongering, the deliberate blurring of human
values. Only keen scrutiny of motive can remedy that. Some call this
cynicism. I wonder who put them up to it."
Released in July 2015, Don't Let Go is the band's eleventh album.
Will there be a dozenth? Tom nods. "I'm sure there will. But it'll be
different. By way of straight lyrics, I've said what I needed to say.
I'm beginning to look for a new language now."
copyright © Enthalpy Music 2015