They turned up at the requested train station at the requested time, thirty A&R men, promoters and label reps armed with only a password: ‘skull emoji’. Outside the station stood a man in a full North African berber outfit, beneath a rusted metal effigy, a logo the industry types recognised from the 30-second clip of psychedelics and noise that had been surreptitiously distributed earlier that week. When approached with the password, the man pointed silently across the road to a pub - the natural habitat for A&R, a safe space. Nice gimmick.
Inside the pub, a contact gave them a second password and a blindfold. Then, in the street outside, two unmarked vans screeched up and the thirty sightless victims were bundled in the back by suited heavies in shades. For ten minutes, all they knew was the thrum of the engine and the sound of Black Futures Radio pumping Utopian mukaz through the speakers presented by computerised DJs. When their masks were removed they were on an industrial estate, where a procession of faceless figures in hazmat suits – the “masters of ceremony” - ushered them into a waiting area where experiments were conducted on them – a Pavlov’s Drink test whereby a bell was rung to produce a cocktail from the black or the white vat.
Then sirens blared, warning lights spun and a door opened onto the Viewing Platform, a ruined laboratory where hazmats worked a control panel and, through the glass of the Containment Chamber, the two chief collaborators of Black Futures – Space and Vibes – roared out their superhuman sonic anarchy in a blitz of strobes and mania. They knew they were witnessing the birth of a tech-rock legend; what they didn’t know was they were also watching the first spark of a revolution. The Never Not Nothing era was upon us.
This was Black Futures Experiment #1: A Total Display Of Love (2016). And it was a phenomenal success.
“We basically orchestrated a kidnapping of the music industry,” says Space. “How do we pull these people as far away from reality in the middle of their working day as possible? Thirty minutes after that every single label that was there called for meetings.”
Though Black Futures seemed to beam into our dimension fully formed, theirs had been a long and gradual regeneration. Space had been training Vibes in the ways of explosive industrial electronica from an early age, like a kind of stage destroying Jedi master. When he came of age, Space inducted him into his musical world by flying him to Beijing to play a gig in a stadium, “a baptism of fire”. From there, Vibes was drawn into the Space Station, the hub of a creative community hidden in the darkest corner of Surrey, where a movement was building.
At the Space Station, Space was bringing together a family of artists, craftspeople and creatives with a common philosophy – Positive Nihilism. “We wanted party music for the demise of the human race,” Space explains of their fantastically fatalist approach to the encroaching end of humanity itself.
“It’s finding the humour in it and being in awe of how inconsequential our self-importance is… On a surface level, when you’re looking out at the cosmos and looking at time in a cosmic or geographical sense, that’s when you get a true sense of how little we are and how we’re all animals. The freeing nature of knowing that you’re completely insignificant and getting away from this culture of ‘me’ and ‘you’re special’ and ‘you’re important’. Our culture is more like ‘you’re not special, we’re not important, so let’s shove as much love out into the world as possible in spite of it’.”
Black Futures were born to lead the Space Station’s revolution to what they call Newtopia. “We have no love for the capitalist system,” Space declares. “We’re oddballs having to shoehorn ourselves into a way of living that is very difficult for us, we’re just not driven by money in any shape or form. You’re always battling, and that’s part of the ethos of the band, building a home for like-minded people where its alright to feel this way, it’s alright to have a bit of despair at your surrounding and rebel against it and not fit in.”
As they learnt their craft by writing with The Prodigy and producing Idles, Black Futures grew an army of hazmat family members called the Black Futures Expedition Club, each striving to earn a series of patches to prove their devotion – every fan is an honourary member: “you don’t have to do an initiation or go out and perform tasks, you just come and do it in your own particular way.” They came up with a slogan, Never Not Nothing - “It means absolutely nothing but absolutely everything at the same time,” says Space. “It’s all encompassing”;“Infinite nothingness,” Vibes adds. And they created a monolith for the club to worship at, a five-metre logo cast in metal and seeping neon and CGI, culled from dozens of others symbols so that it’s purposefully familiar, but enigmatic. A vortex into the black future of mankind.
Their ethos was one of revolt, wit, immersion and adventure. An early, pre-BF project saw Space record a score for a film about nuclear destruction in Chernobyl, all of his equipment strapped to his body to avoid picking up any radioactive material from the ground. “I didn’t have to write any titles because they’re very good at making up names for stuff like the President Of Heroes for the guy who led the guys in for the clean up and they all died heroic soviet deaths.”
Once Black Futures launched with debut single ‘Love’, a gritty slab of industrial rave featuring US rapper P.O.S. and accompanied by a video designed to brainwash – “repetition of the logo, repeating it into people’s eyes” - everything was art and ritual. A procession of hazmats led a suited man with a briefcase locked by passcode into the lobby of every label that requested music, handing the A&R a pixelated photo of themselves at the first show to gauge the response from potential Black Futures team members; fear, laughter, embarrassment. When they settled on Music For Nations, a twenty-strong procession of hazmats marched down Kensington High Street on the day of the signing playing a specially recorded track from a boom-box; in the signing chamber, everyone present was tattooed with the Black Futures logo. “It was a ritual,” Space says. “If you’re becoming a member of the inner circle, we dreamt up a whole ceremony.”
Then, Black Futures embarked on Expedition #1 – to circumnavigate the globe in one trip, making videos and performing immersive live events as they went: “the idea was to join the worldwide club together,” Space explains. First stop Joshua Tree, where Space had recorded at Josh Homme’s Rancho de la Luna studio; “it was the logical place to start and build the first totem to our art in a new alien environment,” he says. “The environment there is incredible and mystical - almost Glastonbury-like weirdness, ley-lines and shit.”
They played a gig on an open-air stage, surrounded by hazmats, at the Palms dive bar in the middle of the desert (“There’s a space commune down the road with metallic teepees”), made a video for euphoric epic ‘Trance’ and planted a monolith built from junk with local off-the-grid anarchist sculpture artist Bobby First, “like those neon signs in the desert that you drive past, half in the sand,” says Vibes, “a Mad Max old motel sign” (its GPS location will be made available to Expedition Club members).
Next they flew to the metropolis of Tokyo to reconnect with the garage rock scene Space had worked with, make a second video and play a show in tropical heat. “It was raining that day,” he recalls, “it was so Blade Runner.” Finally they hit Berlin for a video shoot and guerrilla gig inn abandoned Russian Cold War nuclear bunker two hours out of the city. “It was where the Russians had all the armed nuclear warheads pointed at the west,” Space says. “It’s a good couple of hours’ trek into the woods through some of the biggest mosquitos you’ve ever seen and a thunderstorm. It goes to the source of things with the idea of bringing actual space and historical stories of abandoned spaces and the acoustics of places into the music. Rather than being conceptual, we want to be actual.”
Back home, the cult and concepts grew. Experiment #2: Pure Rapture (2017), transformed Hackney’s Bloc club into the quarantine scene from ET, all plastic sheeting and meat flaps leading the fans out of their reality and into a shrine to the monolith, filled with 150 strobes. For their third experiment, Newtopia (2018), they filled the Hangar club with an intimidating hazmat rally and for their fuorth, themed around Joy (2018), they turned Electrowerkz in Islington into the Expedition Club HQ, with hazmats playing fussball, dancing in the crowd and offering fans the choice to push a red or black button to either receive a balloon or watch one released into the rafters.
“It looks like a really ominous button that’s been sitting around rotting,” Space says. “One’s red and one’s black and we were using it like a museum display where if you press the button one of our characters will start doing the running man. That evolved into a game of disappointment. And joy when they got their balloon.” It was all to lure the crowd into a false sense of security before they’re led into a chamber where the monolith lay on its side, as though the venue had been built around it, strobing like an alien brain-frying machine to Black Futures’ barrage of brutal yet melodic punktronica.
The intention? Vibes talks of “that climax of escapism in that musical experience you have. That’s why the hazmats work, they break down the barriers and help people escape. Each production we do, it helps people get to that place without taking drugs or getting fucked up. It’s just you, the music and the art around it.”
“They’re a vehicle for losing inhibitions and feeling a part of something,” Space adds. “They’re completely faceless so they embody the fact of being nothing, like ‘it doesn’t matter, let’s just have a good time and throw as much love out there as possible’.”
Tours with Skindred and Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes and a plethora of festival dates throughout 2018 (2000 Trees, Handmade, Live At Leeds, The Great Escape, Reading & Leeds), taught Black Futures to create such intense events with far less preparation – hazmats paraded across stages waving flags of some futuristic revolution, lined the backdrop like stormtroopers or crowd-surfed on “pony-sized” inflatable unicorns. “If we come up with a stupid idea we’ll probably make it happen,” says Space, “but only once.”
Meanwhile, their single releases gradually unveiled their manifesto. ‘Love’ was based on that idea that “if it’s end of times, you’ve got ten minutes left, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go around and tell everyone you love them, then get weird.” October 2017’s mellower, more psychedelic ‘Karma Ya Dig!?’ was an anthem of solidarity, a tribute to friends Space had lost to suicide: “It’s the idea of holding the best of the people you lose in your mind and letting them live on through that.”
At the dawn of 2018, the NIN-meets-MGMT ‘Riches’ laid bare their dismissive disdain for all things financial, complete with mid-song infomercial, and later that year the sonic meta-rock bliss-blast that is ‘Trance’ hit a stunned radio, accompanied by a website encouraging club members to “tell me all your secrets”. Gathering control material - the next step in creating a cult?
“I did read a book once about how to start a cult,” Space admits. “I can’t remember if there was a bit saying ‘tell me all your secrets, then you will be mine forever…’ We wanted to pack as much euphoria into one track as possible, to make a song that felt like staring at all existence all at the same time.”
Then, early in 2019, came the corroded Kasabian garage glam of ‘Me. TV’, a call for social revolution to overthrow the modern me-me-me mindset and what Bobby Gillespie, in his guest speech, “hyper-capital zombification”. Gillespie’s rap arrived the day after he made his legendarily stony-faced appearance on This Week. “We’d written the manifesto of the song,” Space says, “we wanted someone to punctuate it with something really visceral, a call to arms. He was at the top of the list.”
The track was part of a campaign called Do-it to encourage members to “turn down your Me. TV, turn up for your community”, a forebear of Black Futures’ forthcoming charity Newtopia, intended to help struggling musicians around the world with health care support and instrument sharing schemes, among many other projects. But first, the Club celebrates its first successful Expedition with Black Futures’ debut album ‘Never Not Nothing’, a further insight to their vision of a crumbling world, inhabited by a cast of random reprobates and shot through with a sardonic British humour (“we’re not Trent Reznor”).
Here we find the sci-fi dystopia of ‘Youthman’, a metaphor for our own social and ecological collapse. ‘Gutters’, a window into Black Futures’ lives in the creative underworld: “it’s being alright with being on the edges of society”. Next single ‘Tunnel Vision’, a love song to both family, future, nature and artistic obsession: “you’re creating something and in love with something so much,” says Vibes, “you’ve got this one track mind, this overwhelming need to get it done.” And finally ‘Power Drunk’, a satire on the arrogance of world leaders driving us screeching into Hell. “We think we’re looking into a black mirror,” Space intones, “but we’re just looking into the black.”
It’s monumental, maximalist and magnificent music, laser-honed to conquer what’s left of the world. Already they’re laying plans for Expedition #2, talking in hushed tones of African adventures, Icelandic ice caves, VR planetarium shows and monoliths firing psychedelics, strobes and pyro from their eyes. Just how big can Black Futures see their cult getting?
“The Pyramid Stage,” Space grins. “It’s the right shape.”