When active, it did feel Super Furry Animals often amused themselves with hijinks at our expense. Confusing all by buying a tank was the big one but they tantalized as well with mentions of a mysterious band running silently alongside the main event. The Welsh legends hinted in interviews but offered scant detail of something they worked on whilst recording the Guerrilla album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, some 25 years ago. Was it true, one wonders, or mere mischief making on SFA’s behalf? Yes and no is the answer, as it turns out. ‘There is a degree of truth to it, but the actual stuff was avant garde. We started recording an alternate album at the time which has yet to see the light of day. And it never will,’ laughs Cian Ciarán, as we talk about new project Das Koolies with Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford, Dafydd Ieuan and Guto Pryce. They announced Das Koolies at the top of the year; the very flipside of the inaccessible, and instead wonderful and shiny techno–psych-glam-pop.
Musically and creatively Das Koolies go back even further than 1998. Debut album DK.01., out next month, was not decades in the making exactly but instead inspired by their younger selves and their engagement with early 1990s rave culture as teenagers and young men. It set the basis for friendships and relationships, and indeed birthed SFA. Cian shares stories of diving skull first into illegal raves across Wales. ‘We all shared that love of dancing, clubbing, music, that’s how Furries came about. We were all going to the same clubs. “What you up to, not much, well let’s start a band”. It all happened from that period really.’
It’s worth bringing up at this point that rural Wales would have been rather more picturesque and romantic – in the broader sense – than the North West England rave destinations of car parks in Warrington this writer was familiar with. Magic ingredients combining together, the right circumstances and place and all that. ‘I remember people coming from your neck of the woods to our part of the woods!’’ says Cian. ‘Sometimes I’d be going from house to another at half eleven at night. You’d come over this hill and red lights, tail lights of cars going back as far as the eye can see and it was “alright, let’s join the queue. Let’s see where this one’s taking us this weekend…”’
‘I was thinking this the other day, what I’d say the influences were,’ says Bunf as he joins us in our Zoom call, raving- of course – about Orbital and Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty’s The Orb. ‘I remember vividly going to raves and that was quite a big part of growing up. It was a big thing when you were 19, 20 until we were 24, 25 when you’re really influenced by everything. Your imagination is running wild, you’re like a sponge..‘
‘It was a seminal period, it just exploded,’ recalls Cian fondly. ‘Every new track that came out was like, I’ve never heard anything like this in my life. They’re still using the same drum machines as then but at that time no one had ever heard them so exposed and raw before.’
Both Bunf and Cian enthuse about tracks back then made of few elements, citing 808 drum machines, and the squelching sounds and deep basslines of a 303. It was the sparseness and attitude appealed. ‘Really minimal but really in your face,’ Bunf adds. And though the songs on the Das Koolies record are catchy goddamit and melodic, you can hear and feel these exact same sentiments. Yet although the album’s been germinating for a lengthy period, and its roots are decades past, DK.01. and debut EP ‘The Condemned‘ are no retro nor navel gazing exercises.
This is no look over your shoulder at what once was, with rose tinted specs firmly fixed on nose project. Anything but. They’ve taken ideas from back in Real World – one was stored on a ye olde world floppy disc – recovered and amended, developed for now.
‘It’s still valid and what you do with them today makes them new. That’s a healthy thing, you know? We’re not trying to regurgitate what’s gone on in the past and yet we’re influenced by our younger selves. Like a time machine, maybe! We’ve never been interested in copying or imitating in any style. But we gladly embrace and give a nod and wink to influences and references,’ says Cian.
When writing for SFA throughout, they’d always be coming up with and jamming stuff that didn’t necessarily fit in, he explains. ‘Some of those ideas might have infiltrated in sporadic moments, live-wise. They’d be incorporated into ends of sets, that sort of stuff. But most would get shelved, not appropriate. Then when we down tools in 2016 we were like, what shall we do now? ‘
They started rediscovering the old ideas which sparked them into writing new ones, and Das Koolies was born. Or reborn, more like. The name comes from watching the World Cup in ’98 and having a go at being the stadium band each time a goal was scored. Well, why not?
It’s that sense of camaraderie continuing in more recent times kicked off Das Koolies. The foursome had a weekly poker night where, notably, no poker was played. But music was. There wasn’t even a plan for a record, no agenda, just hanging out, making music like when they were 15. ‘It was fun, you know? Then after a year it was, “hang on we’ve got too much material and we’re not doing anything with it. Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t…”. At one point we had a triple album with a chill-out section. There’s a tape mix compilation feel to the album, I think. As opposed to writing something in a two week period then you record it in a six week period it’s all going to be a lot more coherent. Whereas this is more of a mish-mash,’ Cian continues.
‘By the end of the session you wouldn’t know exactly what you’d done,’ recalls Bunf with amusement. ‘Daf and Cian would go in on Friday morning and rescue the whole thing…’
The original version of Das Koolies was an instrumental project but Bunf changed all that, instinctively picking up a microphone one late night. That kicked open further creative floodgates; if someone had a lyric or vocal idea they just chucked it down. The adding of vocals from the entire band shifted it to another level. You get a real sense of a follow your nose, see how it goes vibe happening each Thursday night in what they refer to as post-industrial Cardiff docklands hideaway. ‘A Ride’ was originally electronic, but the fresh element pushed the song on. The key was working with an open mind, no prejudices. ‘A lot of the lyrics are repetitive as opposed to trying to write a poem ,and that migrated to other songs. Then you start delving into ideas you might not have otherwise.’ The approach was, says Cian, to treat the vocal like an instrument.
There is a definite pop sensibility to the album, but the lyrics bleak. Sad and confused, Bunf offers as a description. He views the lyrics as mantras, ones stressed over and over. On ‘Nuthin Sandwich‘, we get ‘A town called truth and consequence…I feel music in the air‘ while ‘Best Mind Fuck Yet’ repeated without mercy. On the latter, actor and old friend of the band Rhys Ifans reads the dark spoken word section. Bunf and Daf’s eerie freaky vocals originally intended for that segment didn’t go down well with everyone.
‘Cian hated it,’ says Bunf affably. ‘He was right actually…’ .
‘I didn’t hate it. It scared me. It reminded me of the Omen…’
‘He sent a red card for that one. It was a bit theatrical,’ is revealed with a grin. ‘We wanted something there a bit Vincent Price. We wrote a monologue, sent it to Rhys and he did it on his iPhone.’
Job done. A lifelong friendship saving the day.
The album has some truly lovely elements; take the beautiful acoustic guitar at the start of ‘Shakedown’. There was a focus on joining the tracks up, having mood changes, a soundscape. On ‘Pain Down The Drain‘, there’s a charming orchestral introduction, a reinterpretation of the 1958 film ‘The Vikings‘, in which Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis fall out violently over Janet Leigh. Amongst other things. Echoes of the past, again brought into contemporary times.
‘I used to be shown that film in history lessons in school. “Here’s your lesson today, watch this”,’ remembers Cian. The teacher wheeling a massive telly and VHS player on wheels into the classroom was always a joyful happening.
‘That’s what you call education!’ laughs Bunf.
‘Sorry Not Sorry’ is pretty funky. It went through a few reincarnations, many guises, another that shifted from its original form. The early demo had heavy guitars, for one. ‘The version that made the album, we slowed it down. It felt too fast, and we started adding more electronic elements to it then we discovered this funk formula we felt we should try out. But then peeled it off so there’s some left behind obviously,’ says Cian.
The trumpet at the beginning of ‘Holy Shit‘ is stirring. Magnificent song titles on this record, lads. ‘Daf came up with that one. I think all it was, was ‘holy shit’ at the beginning. Lots of things like that happened, for ages a song would have maybe one or two soundbites in it. Then you’d do a deep dive into it for a week. And sometimes it would still have a soundbite,’ Bunf explains.
So there we have it. Das Koolies, the secret band who are not the secret band we thought we knew. It’s safe to say that the Super Furry Animals never trod a linear, predictable path so it was never going to happen with Das Koolies, was it?
‘It was experimental, very organic, there wasn’t any “oh right I’d better write a lyric here because there’s a long bit of electro pop playing,’ says Bunf of the entire experience. ‘Sometimes we’d go, oh that’s cool, it’s a long bit of electro pop, let’s leave it at that.” No rules.’
DK.01 is released on Strangetown Records in association with Amplify Music on 22 September 2023
- Fri 22 Sep – Rough Trade East, London
- Mon 2 Oct – Rough Trade Bristol
- Tue 3 Oct – Rough Trade Nottingham