New Bio courtesy of Warp
January 10, 2007
A good knowledge of North American TV shows of the late seventies helps in an understanding of the ideas and sounds of Boards of Canada. As children, Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin taught themselves to play various musical instruments whilst soaking up the American cathode-tube culture of the likes of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘Sesame Street’, as well as the bleak vision of movies like ‘The Andromeda Strain’, ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘Silent Running’. The duo was also picking up influences from the more synthetic exponents of new-wave pop of the time, in particular Devo and The Human League. For a few years Mike focused on creating a band, to keep himself anchored whilst his family relocated several times between northern Scotland, London in England and Alberta in Canada. By the age of ten, now based back in Scotland, Mike was making his own home recordings on old worn-out cassette tapes.
The sci-fi paranoia and flawed TV soundtracks of that era were a big influence on the duo, as were the early arcade videogames of the time. At the beginning of the 1980’s Mike and Marcus had begun writing tracks that imitated the warbling, damaged-sounding music found on the soundtracks of 16mm educational documentaries made by the National Film Board of Canada, and they later named their band as a nod to this early influence.
The band spent the early eighties near the beaches of north-east Scotland making crude multi-track recordings with friends, using borrowed tape machines, analogue synths and live drums. Around 1981 they had begun producing home-made movies on Super-8 cine film, and were creating the films’ soundtracks themselves. By 1984, aged thirteen, Mike was already visiting a local recording studio and making rough demos. Mike and Marcus were by now producing more structured songs with any instruments they could lay their hands on, as well as completely abstract tape collages of found sounds from radio and TV.
In the mid-eighties, now based near Edinburgh in Scotland, Mike recruited a few friends to form the first of several incarnations of a ‘proper’ band. Marcus Eoin was drafted in, initially as a bass player, but he soon emerged as co-writer and co-conspirator for what the band was later to become. At this point the band had a fairly traditional live set-up; guitars, bass, keyboards, drummer and occasional vocals, but the emphasis was on minimal, atonal electronic songs, a sound that easily stood out amongst the abundance of traditional rock and hair-metal bands the audiences in their local area were used to. The line-up of the group changed frequently, and Marcus was later quoted as saying that they had gone through at least fourteen other musicians during this period, a statistic Mark E. Smith would be proud of.
During the late 1980’s whilst working on a series of film and photographic projects, the group decided to create a studio of their own. Unrewarding day-jobs funded the purchase of audio gear and a variety of exotic acoustic musical instruments, and with the acquisition of samplers the band began producing do-it-yourself garage demos on their own label ‘Music70’ which they distributed mainly amongst friends. Soon the band was producing cassette EP’s and even entire albums of demo material, some of which have since gone on to become legendary collectors’ items. It was during this period that the name ‘Boards of Canada’, initially an EP project title, became the name of the band.
Around 1990 Mike and Marcus, frustrated by the traditional line-up and the lack of commitment of other band members, started to mould the band’s performances into something altogether more bizarre. Every summer Mike and Marcus collaborated with friends under the name ‘Hexagon Sun’ to throw late-night outdoor parties in the countryside near their studio in Scotland, where bonfires were accompanied by electronic music, processed television themes, films, projections and reversed speech tapes to create an exciting, if slightly threatening, atmosphere. These nights, which the band still occasionally organise to this day, became known as ‘Redmoon’ nights after an early event which was dramatically backdropped by a blood-red full moon.
In the summer of 1995 Boards of Canada recorded and self-financed a vinyl-only limited-edition album called ‘Twoism’. It was essentially a well-produced demo, and the intention was to mail it out to record companies and artists that the group were listening to at that point. The album was a breath of fresh air to those who had grown tired of the frantic and polished sci-fi studio acrobatics of jungle and drum&bass which were the predominant trends in electronic music of the time. ‘Twoism’ was a collection of spacious, gnarled and glacial tones and dissonant, melancholy melodies over sparse hip-hop beats, but with a curiously deliberate ‘broken-ness’ to the production. Every melody had been created to wobble and flutter slightly, like damaged music from an old worn-out cassette. In an era of clean, digital music, and with compact discs having largely replaced vinyl as the primary format for commercial music, this nostalgic, imperfect sound was to earn Boards of Canada huge respect as innovators in subsequent years.
At the beginning of 1996 a copy of ‘Twoism’ arrived at the headquarters of Skam Records in Manchester, England, and within a day of hearing it, Autechre’s Sean Booth had contacted Boards of Canada. Mike and Marcus recorded the ‘Hi Scores’ EP for Skam and it was released later that year. A string of live dates followed, notably including an appearance at the 1997 Phoenix Festival, where BOC brought their anachronistic sounds and Super-8 visuals to play alongside various luminaries of the electronic music scene.
In February 1998, amid much speculation, the announcement came that Boards of Canada had signed to Warp Records, and after a few remixes and single appearances, the band completed the album ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ which was jointly released between Warp Records and Skam Records in April 1998.
‘Music Has the Right to Children’ combined beautiful sparse melodies with off-pitch analogue synths and moments of unsettling fragmented speech, all produced with the band’s trademark ‘damaged’ sound. The record closes with the wry anti-censorship message ‘One Very Important Thought’ which pastiches the messages usually found at the end of 1980’s porno videos: a very ‘BOC’ moment.
‘Music Has the Right to Children’ received rave reviews in the international music press, and after landing a licensing deal with Matador Records in the USA it went on to become one of the most highly acclaimed records of 1998 and received multiple end-of-year awards. "Album of the Issue" - Jockey Slut, April/May 1998, "Album of the Month" - Wax magazine, May 1998. "No.16" – NME Albums of the Year 1998, "No.3" - Jockey Slut Albums of the Year 1998, "No.5" - The Wire Albums of the Year 1998, "No.8" - DJ Magazine Albums of the Year 1998, "No.19" – Muzik Albums of the Year 1998.
Boards of Canada recorded an exclusive session for the John Peel Show on the UK’s Radio 1 in June 1998, and performed live on the show during the recording of the session. Peel described it on air as an "excellent session." Warp later released the session as a single.
‘Music Has the Right to Children’ returned to the UK Independent Chart Top 20 in February 1999, and after staying around for three weeks it peaked at number 7. Simultaneously the Peel Session single hung around the Top 10 of the Independent Singles Chart for several weeks. Boards of Canada soon found themselves in demand for remix work and obliged with a handful of mixes for various artists, including the hugely influential Meat Beat Manifesto.
In May 1999 NME included Boards of Canada in its "Top Ten Nu-Psychedelic Bands," alongside Mercury Rev & The Beta Band. In the same issue, NME ranked Boards of Canada's debut album 'Music Has The Right To Children' in its “Top 25 Psychedelic Records of All Time”. 'Music Has The Right To Children' sat alongside other luminaries such as 'Tomorrow Never Knows' by the Beatles, 'Interstellar Overdrive' by Pink Floyd, 'The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice ' by Hendrix and 'To Here Knows When' by My Bloody Valentine to name but a few.
From 1999 onward various tracks from the BOC back-catalogue were being licensed for compilation albums, TV synchronisation and film soundtracks all over the world.
In the summer of 1999 Boards of Canada commenced work on their second full-length album for Warp Records. Meanwhile they contributed two exclusive tracks to Warp’s 10th Birthday celebration albums which were released later that year.
In November 2000, after a few more live dates in the UK, the band released a four-track EP called ‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’. It was a deceptively optimistic title for a collection of beautifully sad, melancholy tunes, especially as closer inspection revealed references in the artwork and titles to the 1993 killings by FBI agents of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult at Waco in Texas.
In April 2001 BOC headlined at All Tomorrow’s Parties, a festival on the south coast of England with an esoteric line-up including Lambchop, Television, Yo La Tengo, Tortoise, Broadcast, Sun Ra Arkestra, and many others.
In February 2002 Boards of Canada released ‘Geogaddi’, the long-awaited follow-up to ‘Music Has the Right to Children’. Described as a darker partner to the previous album, with its swirling psychedelic melodies and layers of dense ephemeral detail, it managed to be both beautiful and disturbing. ‘Geogaddi’ immediately entered the Top 20 Album Chart and stayed there for several weeks. In interviews, Mike and Marcus revealed that the album had included many so-called ‘easter eggs’, and that some of the music had been developed using number theory and equations such as the Fibonacci Ratio. This led to some of the band’s fans setting up entire websites devoted to decryption of the ‘back-masking’ and other hidden details on the record. Ultimately, BOC’s true intentions were written there clearly all along; in typically sardonic style they had even included a track on the album entitled ‘The Devil is in the Details’, as a kind of knowing ‘wink’ to the astute listener…
In September 2002 Boards of Canada produced a lush remix of US artist Boom Bip’s track ‘Last Walk around Mirror Lake’ for a single taken from his ‘Seed To Sun’ LP, and in February 2004 BOC created a giddy reworking of the song ‘Dead Dogs Two’ by US band cLOUDDEAD from Oakland. The BOC version brought in the whole gamut of retro psychedelic elements including reversed guitars, flutes, sitars and strings, and culminated in a wigged-out Beatles-esque climax reminiscent of ‘A Day In The Life’.
In the summer of 2004 Mike became a father. His daughter was born during the writing sessions of the band’s third studio album for Warp.
At the end of 2004 US artist Beck asked Boards of Canada to remix a song for his upcoming album ‘Guero’. BOC took the vocal lines of his beautifully wistful track ‘Broken Drum’ and created a whole new melody around them, with an epic, heavily layered crescendo. In an interview with Clash Magazine in the spring of 2005, Beck described the remix as “…my favourite remix I’ve ever had done … they brought out something that was there but then they just added a whole new dimension. I guess it’s quite an emotional song and they brought out something bittersweet in it that was kinda hippyish, but it doesn’t maim you with saccharin. It kinda gets you right in the chest.”
In summer 2005 Boards of Canada completed work on their third album for Warp Records. “The Campfire Headphase” was released in October 2005. Described as an ‘epic sci-fi western’, the album is a surprising deviation into 1970’s guitar licks and graceful, summery lysergic melodies. A video was released for the track “Dayvan Cowboy”, featuring a sky-diver falling from space into the ocean then surfing into the sunset at the song’s euphoric climax. This was the first publicly-available video to be released outside the band’s live shows.
The album was followed by the release in June 2006 of the “Trans Canada Highway” EP. Originally intended as a single release of the track “Dayvan Cowboy”, BOC took the opportunity to create several supporting tracks, and drafted in friend and collaborator Odd Nosdam for a cinematic remix of the single, thus expanding the release to EP status.
In the autumn of 2006 Boards of Canada began work on a new album.
Biographical details by PIC, S. Goderich & A. Wilson, 2007.
Has the Right to Children
September 22, 1998
OF CANADA: Michael Sandison & Marcus Eoin
The origins of Boards of Canada date from around 1976 when
Michael and Marcus were young children. They both learned
to play various instruments while moving and relocating between
northern Scotland, southern England and Alberta in Canada.
Around 1980 on the north-east coast of Scotland the first
version of the band was formed, not yet including Marcus Eoin
in the line-up. For the next few years Mike and his friends
created experimental music using borrowed synths, drums and
Around this time the band were starting to create home movies
with a Super-8 camera. Educational television documentaries
and film soundtracks were becoming a big influence on the
group and the crossover between their musical creations and
their film creations was becoming more blurred. The documentaries
of the National Film Board of Canada were regular viewing
for the young collective, and they were later to name their
band as a nod to this early influence.
By Spring 1984 Mike had produced various multitracked works
at a professional recording studio by his home on the coast.
Mike, Marcus and other friends spent the early eighties making
music near the beaches of north-east Scotland. They blended
real instruments and voices with the sounds of home computers
and found sounds from radio and television.
In 1986 Marcus joined Mikes band, as a bassist. They were
the only live band in their area performing hard, minimal
electronic music; (Showcase gigs in their rural hometown saw
them billed alongside an endless procession of glam-rock covers
bands who played New York Dolls and Poison). With frequent
line-up changes, Boards of Canada eventually had comprised
as many as fourteen different members.
In the late eighties the band and their surrounding collective
were making longer films and extensive photographic projects.
The films were soundtracked by Boards of Canada. The groups
work utilised brooding imagery and cryptic pictures and texts
to achieve feelings of nostalgia, confusion, and loss.
By 1989 Boards of Canada had reduced itself to three core
members, Mike, Marcus and Chris. With various collaborators
they embarked on the creation of their own studio. The trio
began putting on occasional outdoor happenings. They used
projections, films, monitors, and played tapes of bizarre
recordings including television themes with reversed vocal
messages mixed over the music.
From 1992 to 1994 various small musical and visual projects
took place, whilst the bands collective Hexagon
Sun began regular Redmoon nights at a ruin
near their own studio in Scotland. Large bonfires were lit
and guests found themselves listening to, among other things,
old childrens songs being mixed over steady electronic
pulses. In the summer of 1995 the band and their friends officially
christened their studio in the Pentland Hills Hexagon
Sun, and the collective have continued their work on
recordings, films and gatherings from this location. (Every
year in the spring and summer Hexagon Sun hosts various small
rural music gatherings, which attract many local heads.)
For some time Boards of Canada had been recording EPs
and albums by financing the manufacture themselves,
on their own label Music70, but the first of these to be released
outside the bands own circle of friends was Twoism,
a limited-edition collection of grainy, melancholy melodies
over slow, dry electronic rhythms.
In early 1996 Chris departed. Some time later a copy of Twoism
reached the headquarters of the electronic label Skam in Manchester,
England, and within a day Autechres Sean Booth had contacted
the remaining duo. Mike & Marcus recorded the Hi
Scores EP for Skam Records. BOC brought their full live
show including Super-8 and video visuals when they played
alongside Autechre, Panasonic & Cylob in London in July
Skam Records and Munichs Musik Aus Strom teamed up in
1997 to release a series of very limited compilation EPs
under the name MASK, the first of which included
an exclusive track by Boards of Canada. The second MASK installment
contained a track by one of the bands alter-egos, Hell
Interface. From now on Boards of Canadas music
was being licensed for appearances on compilation albums all
over the world.
At this time Boards of Canada gave a few performances around
the UK, notably including a performance at the Phoenix Festival
in July 1997, using onstage video visuals which cut from Super-8
movies to blipvert-style subliminal messaging.
BOC once again supported labelmates Autechre in Scotland,
and Seefeel in London, as well as headlining for Skam in Manchester.
Meanwhile they released new music under the pseudonym Hell
Interface, and obliged with remixes for a handful of artists.
In February 1998, much speculation preceded the announcement
that Boards of Canada had signed to Sheffields Warp Records.
In the spring of 1998, after a remix for Mira Calix on Warp
Records, and a limited edition 7" release of Aquarius
on Skam Records, the duo completed an album for a joint release
between Skam & Warp Records. Music Has the Right
to Children was released on 20th April 1998.
The BOC debut album received excellent reviews in many music
publications in the UK and Europe. Album of the Issue
- Jockey Slut, April/May 1998, Album of the Month
- Wax magazine, May 1998.
Boards of Canada recorded an exclusive session for the John
Peel Show on Radio One in June 1998, and performed live on
the John Peel Show, during the recording of the session. Peel
described it on air as an excellent session.
In July 1998 BOC landed a long-term licensing deal in the
USA with New Yorks Matador Records. Music Has
the Right to Children was set for a September 1998 US
release. That summer BOC commenced work on their second album
for Warp Records, while Music Has the Right to Children
was released in the USA. Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto
approached the band, and BOC remixed his single Prime
In January 1999 the BOC album Music Has The Right To
Children became one of the most highly acclaimed albums
of 1998 in magazine end-of-year polls; No.16 -
NME, No.3 - Jockey Slut, No.5 - The
Wire, No.8 - DJ Magazine, No.19 -
Muzik. In the same month Warp Records released a single of
the BOC Peel Session that had aired the previous year on the
UKs Radio One.
Music Has The Right To Children returned to the
UK Independent Chart Top 20 in February 1999, and after staying
around for three weeks it peaked at number 7. Simultaneously
the Peel Session single hung around the Top 10 of the Independent
singles chart for several weeks.
On the 22nd of May 1999 NME included Boards of Canada in its
Top Ten Nu-Psychedelic Bands, alongside Mercury
Rev & The Beta Band.
In the same issue, NME ranked Boards of Canadas debut
album Music Has The Right To Children in its Top
25 Psychedelic Records of All Time:
1 The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows
2 The Byrds - Eight Miles High
3 13th Floor Elevators - Slip Inside This House
4 Pink Floyd - Interstellar Overdrive
5 Electric Prunes - I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night
6 Country Joe & The Fish -
Electric Music For The Mind And Body
7 The Beach Boys - Vegetables
8 Jimi Hendrix -
The Stars That Play With Laughing Sams Dice
9 Can - Mother Sky
10 Happy Mondays - 24 Hour Party People
11 The Stone Roses - I Am The Resurrection
12 A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray
13 The Butthole Surfers - Hurdy Gurdy Man
14 My Bloody Valentine - To Here Knows When
15 Primal Scream - Higher Than The Sun
16 The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds
17 The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps
18 Mercury Rev - Racing The Tide
19 Spiritualised Electric Mainline - Electric Mainline
20 The Chemical Brothers - The Private Psychedelic Reel
21 Olivia Tremor Control - Dusk At Cubist Castle
22 Super Furry Animals - Radiator
23 The Beta Band - Three EPs
24 Boards Of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children
25 The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
In the spring of 1999 various tracks from the BOC back-catalogue
were being licensed for compilation albums and TV synchronisation
all over the world.
Throughout the summer of 1999 Boards of Canada continued to
work on their second album, and in August 1999 they contributed
two tracks to Warp Records 10th Birthday celebration albums,
for release later in the year.
In November 1999 Boards of Canada performed live at Warp Records
10th Birthday Party in London alongside Autechre, Squarepusher,
Aphex Twin and Mira Calix. The BOC live visual show, produced
by the band themselves along with contributions from Hexagon
Sun collaborators, was by now incorporating more finely-honed
experimentation with subliminal text and imagery.
Boards of Canada will release their second album on Warp in
the near future.
Biographical details by PIC & Goderich, 2000.