Smirkoff

Edit of the sleeve to We Have Explosive (Remixes)
“We Have Explosive”: The Outsider Story

Today, I'd like to focus not on one the many figures I'd been planning to, but instead a complete bolt from the blue. Hand to the forehead, it just came to me. This is a figure whose very identity is a mystery, linked only to one remix for a track by The Future Sound Of London, a remix that didn't appear on the single for the track it was remixing. In fact, the remix never even saw official release — never appearing on CD nor 12" — it was instead offered up as a RealAudio1 file available for streaming on the Astralwerks website from '97-'98. I'm talking about the “Smirkoff Mix” of “We Have Explosive”.

The Future Sound Of London Far Out Son Of Lung And The Ramblings Of A Madman Electronic Brain Violencee

But who was this Smirkoff? In truth, it was none other than The Future Sound Of London themselves. Or was it? As the website put it:

astralwerks and the future sound of london bring you an exclusive mix of "we have explosive". re-worked by the future sound of london in march of 1997, this version can only be found on the web. you'll need the real audio player and about 5 minutes. we've also provided a little eye candy in a medium bandwidth mode.

Reading the track as a way station between the world of Dead Cities and Papua New Guinea Translations, it soon takes on a life of its own, as a sound with few analogues, an utterly unique cacophony all its own. Perhaps Smirkoff was as much a figure in the Electronic Brain Violence world as Vit and Yage, some shadowy aspect stashed away amongst the Chile Of The Bass Generation, Lifeforms, My Kingdom, and the Far Out Son Of Lung And The Ramblings Of A Madman. The fact that it wasn't included on the We Have Explosive singles certainly puts it in stark relief. The figure is the remix, the bio's in the sound.

The Future Sound Of London We Have Explosive Electronic Brain Violencee

So what is the sound? Opening with a fast-forward take on the slap bass drawn from “Part 3” — locked in with those Tougher Than Leather guitar stabs — culminating in a sharp stab of a whole new kind, the track is almost completely built on their angular framework. Congas roll straight out of some Lalo Schifrin OST, filling the spaces between, while synths breathe tension all around. Then, a whole other guitar enters the picture, cutting out a nagging, practically atonal riff that's as catchy as anything I can think of.2 Then, the rhythmic engine of the whole thing revs into place, those Tackhead beats chopped into fast-forward shapes in lurching lockstep with everything else, before paring it all down to just the beats and the bassline, machine sonics replacing the sharp edges already in place.

Mental Cube Chile Of The Bass Generation Debute

Suddenly, it all cuts out — with a car literally screeching to a halt — and the guitar's back with a vengeance for what the more-conventionally minded might call the chorus. That voodoo flute from Chile Of The Bass Generation — and reprised in ISDN Black’s “Hot Knives” — is back as well, punctuating every bar to give the whole thing an of-the-moment “dusted” flavor... albeit one chopped into Art Of Noise oblivion. Machines grind in the spaces between while the beats writhe and wriggle through the track's ad hoc architecture, as if weaving through the blocks in a building as it's being constructed. In a roundabout way, I'm reminded of DJ Spooky’s “Peace In Zaire”, that same sense of intense tightness that seems to barely hang together, as if it could all fall apart at any minute.

DJ Spooky Riddim Warfare Asphodele

Then it all cuts out but the sharp stab and the congas, with some vintage vibraphone's resonance rolling off into oblivion, a breakdown that brings the Mission: Impossible shades of the original(s) back to the fore. But then, the barrage continues, and the vibes are just another piece of sound fed into the machine, locked in with the mad clockwork perpetual motion and the tune lurches on. Taking all the elements of the original five parts and putting them in a blender — and spiking it all with a couple more tricks up its sleeve — the “Smirkoff Mix” manages the feat of making a track that sounds even more like “We Have Explosive” than the original, without a single bleep or robotic voice in sight.

The Future Sound Of London ISDN (Limited Edition) Electronic Brain Violencee

The whole thing plays like a demented take on jungle — working out a strange deconstruction of the start-stop dynamics and half-time riddimatic logic of the sound — it nevertheless sounds nothing like it, as if it were an 8-bit reconstruction of the sound. Little Computer People, indeed. For my money, the “Smirkoff Mix” is also the absolute greatest version of “We Have Explosive”, tearing the track down to its foundations and rebuilding it into a blissful cacophony, a stunning alternate vision of 21st century pop and the road less traveled. In a parallel world, this would've been tearing up the radio waves right up to the present day.

The Future Sound Of London We Have Explosive 2021 FSOLDigitale

It's the final word in the statement that is We Have Explosive, and possibly an even more precise glimpse at a particular moment in time than the single itself, capturing the sense of collision between analog and digital worlds, the ordinary and the otherworldly in motion, all locked into the pulse of a staggering beat and a skewed rhythm. It's pure Terminal Vibration music. And that — so it seems — is what Smirkoff was all about. Here in the present, the sound is bang up to date (FSOL even released a set of “re-imaginings” of the track earlier this year), a sharp reminder of the possibilities thrown up by the interface of art and technology... and we've only just scratched the surface.

Footnotes

1.

RealAudio was an early stab at streaming technology that emerged in 1995, which could transmit heavily-compressed audio and video information over dialup due to it's relatively small file size. The trade off was that the sound quality was rather poor,

2.

The effect reminds me of those zig-zagging atonal guitar figures in Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers”.

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