There's an uncanny quality to Greeen Linez' music: it conjures impossible, fictional places and spaces. It's lush, luxurious, easy, but that glossy surface is deceptive. Things That Fade flickers between being utopian and dystopian, but perhaps more accurately it's a-topian: a nowhere place, disappearing into an intercontinental, trans-oceanic Bermuda triangle sketched out between Tokyo, Cambridge and Miami. The weirdness continued when I sat down to review Things That Fade (one of Slackk's albums of the year) a few months back and, thinking it was a little like Oriol, googled them and found, like Oriol, they had a Cambridge connection – and that one half of Greeen Linez, Chris Greenberg (above right), I was already following & chatting to on twitter. Chris also has a group, Hong Kong in the 60s. The other half of Green Linez is Matt Lyne (aka A Taut Line). Matt put the city pop top 10 together here, and they both found the time to have the following
Can you tell me a bit about how Greeen Linez started?
Chris Greenberg: Well, me and Matt have known each other for a very long time, probably getting on for twenty years, we met at primary school, and we've kind of been doing music on and off all the time. Matt moved to Japan seven years ago and eventually we got technology up to a level where we could do it remotely. And also we finally got to where we could have a go at making the music we wanted to make.
So is this a sound you've had in your heads for that long?
Matt Lyne: Some of it is I think, especially with this album, like the 'Cubic Mentality' tune, that's a sound that Chris and I were definitely into twenty years ago [Chris laughs] and we were trying to do that. We just couldn't when we were making music when we were about eleven, we had one Yamaha keyboard, a family keyboard with a really primitive sampler on it, and you'd pick up this tiny little mic and sample something for about one second, and obviously that wasn't any good...
CG: We'd be trying to do something similar [to Greeen Linez], but we'd loop a second of a beat from some track, play a bassline on the keyboard, then play the piano, an out-of-tune piano in my mum's office, and then be like why doesn't this sound the same...? Basically it is something we'd always wanted to do.
'Cubic Mentality' sounds different to the rest, or is that just me? More of a pumped-up house vibe.
ML: Yeah, we both agree that is a bit different to the rest of the tracks, and if we did it again, we're not even sure we'd include it on the album, but a lot of people like it, so we're still happy with it I guess...
CG: It's just whatever, at the time – we had a pretty strong idea of the vibe we wanted for the album, but it just so happened that at the time we were making the album i was revisiting a lot of things like Future Sound of London and things like that and you think oh, I want to do something along those lines, so the tracks are different styles, but the same vibe and same production. The way I was thinking was one track might be in the style of FSOL or Quincy Jones, but they're all done as if Japanese muzak composers were listening to that style of music
I wondered how much that Japanese influence was there from when you were much younger – it reminds me of my own remote childhood glimpses of Japanese culture.
CG: Yeah, it's really only in the last year or two that we've become aware of the actual artists doing this kind of thing, but it has a really strong effect on you. You hear it accidentally as a kid and that's the thing, you're watching a cartoon and this incidental music really resonates with you and sticks with you, you kind of obsess over it for years, you have this vague idea in your mind of this particular vibe and eventually you discover what that style of music is. Consciously, it's a recent thing to have that as an influence, but yeah, things you hear as a child.
Matt, you live in Japan?
ML: Yeah that's right, so just to add to what Chris was saying, when I was a kid I was the same, I'd hear these things in animation or on Teletext or Ceefax, they had that kind of fusion in the background, and that stays in your head. You're using Teletext and you ignore the music, but unconsciously it's in the back of your mind somewhere. So when I moved to Japan, my wife's family took me on a road trip for a weekend and her dad was playing this kind of Japanese fusion cd in the car, and I was like, ah, all this music that was unconsciously in my mind, but I didn't know – this was seven years ago now, you couldn't get on Google and be like, that music in the back of my mind what is it? But then it was like, ah, this is Japanese fusion, these artists making this sound in the 1980s...
So the specifically city pop references sort of came from your researches while you've been living in Japan?
ML: Basically. I mean the fusion and the city pop are quite similar a lot of the time, the main difference is that city pop has vocals, the fusion is usually instrumental. They're perhaps a little different but there's a massive overlap in the two sounds. I didn't know what city pop music was, I just was listening to this music, going to youtube and finding old Japanese stuff on there, and a Japanese friend came to stay and said oh what music are you listening to nowadays, trying to get some new electronic music ideas. I was like I'm constantly listening to only Japanese '80s stuff and I played him some of the youtube videos, oh that's city pop – what's city pop? That was about a year and bit ago and since he said that, suddenly this city pop thing is increasing around the internet and other people seem to know the term, but i didn't know it was known as that until recently.
Some of it sounds very self-consciously futuristic, but is it more of a dad's thing now [in Japan]?
ML: Yeah to be honest it is a kind of dad's salaryman thing, but recently there are lot of young Japanese djs, younger than Chris and I, who have started playing this city pop stuff in clubs – not salaryman bars – and that's interesting. This one young guy especially, called DJ Notoya, he put up a mix called Tokyo 80s Nights Groove, and it was amazing, all this city pop and fusion, or Japanese groove, as I've also heard it referred to, was in there, and I was like, this is awesome!
CG: Yeah, it's not futuristic per se, but it really reflects the time it was made in, which was a very optimistic, prosperous period, people really feeling like society was moving in a positive direction, and embracing the technology and things like that, and to look back on it now, I feel like the music has a really melancholy tinge and I think that is inherent to it, but I think it' s added to by the fact that that's not really how things played out.
ML: Yeah, it's like this dream-like state and during that bubble era – everyone still remembers that bubble era, everyone still talks about the bubble era, cause they haven't had the same economy since the late eighties, early nineties – when the bubble burst it was bad. Things were picking up a little bit, but then with the global recession it's gone back down again, and this kind of dream-like haze of people having a great time, spending money, going to parties... And as Chris says, it is also that hidden melancholy that I really like about it as well.
When I listen to it, it's ambiguous, that turn between a really blissful, almost utopian vibe and then like you say, there's an undertow that's more sour maybe. There's also something elusive about the way it's not a pastiche necessarily – but an interpretation of something that was an amalagam of a load of other things, a version from outside that version...
CG: I think that's something that's compelling about it, that it's not quite right. It's something I was aiming for in the sound, where it's perfectly produced but it's not quite right, that outsider perspective, the chords or the melodies are just a bit different you know? And the vibe, it'd be a similar thing to like in a TV movie soundtrack, when they've got a track in a disco or r&b style, and it's not quite the same – but its more compelling.
Some of it is at an angle to what you imagine the original city pop is like, but do you see Greeen Linez as a dance project too? Could you dj it out?
ML: I think hopefully it could work as either. I've played it out at some clubs and its gone down fairly well.
CG: I imagined it as like muzak or something, but muzak you could play in a club. Produced so it would sound ok in a club. But I'm totally a home listener, I don't go to clubs or dj or anything so its just the music's ability to transport you, so it's transporting you to an imaginary club or something.
Elevator music but the elevator's big enough for a mirror ball and PA. Do you ever think have we made something bland?
CG: You do sometimes think, is this just way off? Will people just go what the hell is this. There was a funny thing, it got played on the radio and Matt had told his dad to listen out for it. He sent a text to Matt saying oh I didn't hear your song, the dj said something about 'Dream Line' but the track just sounded like muzak! Er, actually that was our track...
ML: But in some respects, that is exactly what we were trying to do, so that people could possibly confuse it with muzak.
Well there's a long and distinguished history there, going back through Eno et al.
CG I appreciate some people could say it's just background music, it's very mellow, even bland, but for me the appeal of music like that is that perhaps it's not designed to be listened to closely, so that when you do listen closely, it really sounds strange, cause there's so much going on but it's not in your face, its not grabbing your attention, so the more you listen to it, it becomes very more compelling I find.
Yeah, the slickness, whether it's too slick or whether that's what's interesting/great – that reminds me of Steely Dan at times.
ML: Chris is a big fan of Donald Fagen.
CG: His solo album is a total touchstone for everything I want to do. You know The Night Fly?
I know the cover but I've never got round to buying it.
CG: Can't recommend it enough, 'Green Flower St' . . . The concept of it is really fascinating, returning to the music of his childhood, but the fifties, early sixties, Cold War era, when there was this sheen of contentment and prosperity, and muzak was quite emblematic of that but underneath it there was all this unease about the Cold War and communism and all these different things and the music kind of reflects: it's very produced and very sheeny and very dream-like and seductive, but at the same time it's kind of uneasy. So that album is way up there, that was sort of a touchstone for what we wanted to do. Their whole thing of taking their music always smoother and sleeker and more produced, but it's unsettling. I like the fact that the slicker it gets it's almost too much, it's almost psychedelic, just weird.
ML: Almost sickly, uneasy.
CG: If you listen to it too much you feel weird.
ML: I was at a party yesterday and a friend brought this up – Things That Fade's really blissful, but you can definitely feel this tension at any time, it could it break, and the fact that it doesn't – we coud have had one tune in the middle that goes grgggrgrgr but it doesn't, it's...
When I reviewed it, it reminded me of American Psycho: the eighties pop sections.
ML: Funnily enough I read American Psycho in my first few weeks in Japan and I was kind of obsessed with it
You can never listen to Huey Lewis in the same way again
CG: Exactly, it sounds creepy, and off. A lot of the music from that era does now and it's really weird. I didn't experience it firsthand but I tried to imagine what it sounded like then, whether it really did sound aspirational or upbeat, cause so much of that music does sound creepy or melancholy, yeah, I think maybe your colleague Joe Muggs called it Patrick Bateman funk? We're not trying to subvert that stuff, I know the hypnagogic people are trying to subvert a lot of those sounds, but we're just obsessed with it, and maybe cause were not right in the head it comes out odd; we're aiming for that feeling where it's all a bit too much...
Do you know the Specials muzak record?
CG: That's one of my favourite albums, yeah, it's another huge inspiration for me, cause it's one of the creepiest albums ever, the melodies are so brilliant but its just so... It's an album where the Cold War is in the background and Thatcher and that is particularly amazing cause it was right at the tie doing those things, it wasn't looking back and thinking oh that Eighties music is a bit odd, right at the time he was taking muzak and showing the underbelly. I would totally recommend that album, and the one after it, the Special AKA, goes even further, so it's actually quite hard to listen to, it's the one with that track 'The Boiler'? It's too much, you feel queasy listening to it. Total genius, amazing.
What's next? More tracks?
CG: We've been doing a few remixes which has been enjoyable, we've been finding a lot of people out there on a similar wavelength. We've just done a remix for Seahawks – the artist Pete Fowler who did Super Furry Animals covers and stuff and John Tye who runs Lo Records? They call it deckshoegaze? [laughs]. Yacht rock but totally monged...
ML: Really psychedelic.
CG: Really great stuff, and we've done a remix for an American guy called Sorceror who's coming from a similar MOR/disco type vibe.
ML: He had a big track out called 'Surfing at Midnight', quite a big 12" with a Prins Thomas remix on the other side, about 5 yrs ago? On Trk. I'm not sure how he's heard the album but he got in contact fairly recently and I just decided it would be cool to put out some of his music, so I've started up a sublabel of the main Diskotopia label, called A Kind of Presence, which'll be a bit more, I dunno, cheesy? A bit more Green Linez-affiliated if you see what I mean.
A lot of your sources are very remote from the UK – all these Japanese scenes – but it does plug into this big boogie revival thing...
CG: Yeah, I went through a long time where I wasn't feeling the music people were revisiting, and there'd been all these waves of eighties revivals and they just weren't doing it for me, but i'd always been a fan of eighties soul. I knew it as eighties groove.
ML: I just noticed a new Ministry of Sound tv ad while I've been [back in the UK] for Eighties Groove, Vol 3, you should try and get that Chris! We used to listen to those Mastercuts compilations all the time, Chris had them on cassette.
CG: Yeah, Classic Cuts and Classic 80s Groove [youtube playlist of which is here].
ML: We used to dance round Chris's parents' living room.
CG: It sounded – even though some of it was from when we were barely born, it still sounded so futuristic and otherworldly, and still does I think... I think it's great people are getting back into that side of things, because people for a long time thought it wasn't soulful or it wasn't authentic cause it was very produced and very electronic. People were all about – especially in hiphop sampling – people were all about James Brown and dusty grooves... Now so many people are doing great things inspired by that.