In 1998, two Scottish producers with a disdain for modern electronica but a love for innovation retreated to rural Scotland to record 18 atmospheric soundscapes, anchored with trip-hop beats.

That record was Music Has The Right To Children, the debut offering from Boards of Canada.

The record was truly a game-changer, influencing all manner of genres, from EDM and hip-hop right through to post-rock, due to their fusion of electronica with blissful soundscapes.

Subsequent LP’s Geogaddi and this writers favourite, The Campfire Headspace, would go on to be classics in their own right, but it was MHTRTC that put the group on the list of musical innovators.

To celebrate, EMC Play, as part of the Electronic Music Conference, is teaming up with Classic Album Sunday’s (CAS) to present the record in full at World Bar in Sydney on November 18th.

In true O.G fashion, the record will be spun on vinyl, in audiophile hi-fi, no doubt transporting attendees back to the 90’s when a sense of both excitement and existentialist dread heralded in the 21st century.

You can buy tickets for the event here.

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Set aside an hour and let yourself be immersed by the full record

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One of the DJ’s for the evening, a music journalist called Jim Poe, has penned an essay commemorating the record, reminding readers of that it “belongs in a league with transcendent sonic pioneers like Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk & My Bloody Valentine.”

“I gave it a miss when it first came out because both as a DJ and a music fan I was already tired of the trip-hop and big beat that was so dominant back then,” writes Poe.

“Though I admired the experimental electronica of BoC’s Warp Records brethren Autechre and Aphex Twin, the pranksterish noise that defines much of their work often left me cold”.

“MHTRTC doesn’t follow any trend…it’s far more beautiful and warm and human than Autechre or Aphex have
usually managed in their later work.

Music Has the Right sounds like a hip-hop jam in a remote highland meadow, with golden sunlight casting long shadows on the wildflowers and birds singing along. If you were on mushrooms. And if there were mecha dancing with you”.

Read the full essay below. It’s a biggie.

Check out this fan-made video of the song Roygbiv

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Boards of Canada- Music Has The Right To Children-Jim Poe

Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children is without question the album I’ve listened to the most in the past 16 years. The runner-up isn’t even close. I don’t get tired of it. And there’s a particular way I don’t get tired of it that’s unlike most other music I love.

I believe that has something to do with the uncanny sonic experimentalism and painstaking studio craftsmanship that went into it. Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison deliberately eschewed dance music convention and set out to create a timeless sound with their debut LP, a sound that affects mind and body differently than other music, working on a deeper level, creating an almost meditative effect – despite how dark and eerie it can also be. For me it’s not just listening to a collection of tunes; there’s something about it that’s more like a kind of practice or therapy, if that doesn’t sound too New Age – BoC’s music is much more epic and expansive and emotionally full than New Age. Listening to it always makes me feel a little better and helps me reset – makes me feel more like myself.

Music Has the Right is also one of the best sounding albums ever made, in its depth and swirling, cinematic layers of sound. There’s an amazing clarity to its hazy, shoegaze distortion if that makes any sense. Like a monument carved out of rare stone that’s been polished to a sheen, and then carefully scratched and scored to give it an unforgettable texture. Its distortion shimmers.

Music Has the Right is the album I always test a new set of speakers or pair of headphones with – in particular “Telephasic Workshop,” with its colourful whirling synths and its huge playful thumping low end. So let’s just say I’m looking forward to hearing it on the Classic Album Sundays Sydney soundsystem at our listening party celebrating its 20th anniversary this Sunday. I’ve owned the album in various formats for years but I’ve never heard it on a hi-fi system like my partner J.P. Ducharne’s. We tested it out the other day and “Telephasic Workshop” sounded so good it made me laugh out loud with delight.

I came to Music Has the Right to Children late, in 2002, four years after it was released in the spring of 1998. I gave it a miss when it first came out because both as a DJ and a music fan I was already tired of the trip-hop and big beat that was so dominant back then. And though I admired the experimental electronica of BoC’s Warp Records brethren Autechre and Aphex Twin, the pranksterish noise that defines much of their work often left me cold.

Despite the incredible buzz the album generated as soon as it dropped I made the mistake of assuming it would follow those trends. Later I would learn that Music Has the Right doesn’t follow any trend. It’s too grand and visionary to be filed under any dancefloor-based subgenre, and it’s far more beautiful and warm and human than Autechre or Aphex have usually managed in their later work. It belongs in a league with transcendent sonic pioneers like Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk and My Bloody Valentine.

The album was recorded away from the usual clubbing epicentres, in the pair’s stomping ground in rural Scotland. I’ve never been to Scotland, but I’ve always thought that seemed about right. Music Has the Right sounds like a hip-hop jam in a remote highland meadow, with golden sunlight casting long shadows on the wildflowers and birds singing along. If you were on mushrooms. And if there were mecha dancing with you.

Eoin and Sadison worked hard to make electronic music that was organic in feel, saturated with melody and deeply personal, and to avoid predictable breakdowns and obvious samples and other cliches of dance and electronic music. The pair has said they weren’t even fans of contemporary dance music and were more influenced by psychedelic innovators like the Incredible String Band and Mike Oldfield. But the beats on Music Has the Right are still tight, and the bass is buttery and deep and funky. Even though its head is in the stratosphere, the album still bangs, in its own lazy, earthy way. Tracks like “Aquarius” and “Sixtyten” top almost any trip-hop released in that era in terms of bumping bass and head-nodding dopeness. Much like DJ Shadow, whose classic debut LP Endtroducing was released a year and a half earlier, Eoin and Sandison were nerdy studio perfectionists who still knew how to swing a funky beat.

In both cases, the combination of that funk with obsessive experimentalism resulted in unclassifiable music that still sounds fresh and exciting compared to the work of their peers. Music has the right to children. I’ve always loved the title of the album and I go over it in my head often.

At first, it makes no sense like it’s been cut and pasted from two sentences. But it takes on warped meaning the more you think about it. First of all, it’s a declaration, a mini-manifesto and I love the boldness of that. The brothers definitely had something to say, despite how esoteric their music is, and the fact that it largely lacks a human voice (other than the sampled vocal snippets of documentary narrators or kids playing that constantly bubble and buzz in and out of the soundscape like friendly ghosts). To me, the title has a dual meaning: first, electronic and experimental music should be played for children. It shouldn’t be limited to the domain of dark clubs, it should be for everyone. (That’s especially poignant to me as a dad, though as it happens my three-year-old son is more into Autechre than BoC.) And music should have descendants, it should have offspring, it should grow and change and evolve into the future. We as fans deserve that – we have the right to that.

I say BoC’s music lacks a human voice but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound like it’s singing to you. Synthesisers are the epitome of music that’s mechanised and subsumed by technology, but there’s also something so eerily organic and natural-sounding about them too. (I won’t get into the philosophical bits – like when you get down to it an acoustic guitar is a machine just the same as a Roland 303.) In the right hands, analogue synths can sound like insects buzzing or whales singing, or a big cat purring; or they can sound like bodily functions, like your stomach grumbling or your ears ringing – like the sound is coming from within you. This is true of a lot of synth music, including more dancefloor-oriented sounds like techno and electro, and that’s surely one reason for its enduring appeal. But on Music Has the Right, BoC foregrounded that analogue viscerality, and imbued it with a wonderful narrative quality.

Take a track like “Bocuma” – its ringing, soaring synth lines, clearly influenced by experimental classical composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, sound like angels singing. It’s strange and ecstatic, 96 seconds of pure bliss. (I very often play it three or four times in a row just to soak it in more.) Or the gorgeous droning tones that open the album on “Wildlife Analysis” (also short, just over a minute long), sounding like a cross between birdsong and some extraterrestrial monk’s chant. Or the climactic beatless track “Open the Light,” with its aching, tingly, elegiac mood that makes you picture some ancient heroic tale. Throughout the album, these gorgeous analogue melodies blur and blend with the cascading choruses of samples so that you often can’t tell the difference, like the vocal snippet on “Pete Standing Alone,” so distorted it doesn’t sound human anymore.

The flickering tones and wobbly distortion don’t just sound great; they’re central to Boards of Canada’s aesthetic. The band’s eccentric name was inspired by the National Film Board of Canada, the prolific government-funded studio that produced many of the short films and documentaries that were shown in schools throughout the English-speaking world in the ’70s and ’80s. BoC’s music relates to those educational films on several levels. Childhood is an important theme for the band (Sesame Street is also sampled on the album); as are science, maths and nature; along with a complex sort of nostalgia for the ’70s, far more nuanced than the usual retro vibe.

Then there are the reminders of watching the films themselves in classrooms. I recall it well. The wonder that would overtake you when the teacher turned out the lights and started the projector. The motes of dust in the flickering light; the hypnotic clattering of the reels; the tinny music on the projector’s little speakers, the soundtrack warped from being played so much. The colour of the film, all desaturated reds and greens, which we would later associate with cinematic dream sequences and psychedelia; and the ’60s fashions and outdated lingo of the actors. The stories were often lighthearted, with corny humour; but many had a sense of dread too – macabre depictions of car accidents and fire disasters or apocalyptic warnings about future environmental devastation. The mood these films created was powerful for a young mind, as influential on me as the knowledge they imparted.

BoC’s music is an overt tribute to the retro-futurist synth music of those films; a noodly track like “Kaini Industries” is an obvious nod to the little stings that accompanied title sequences or segues. But it’s also intended to recreate the weird dreamlike state of watching them, the wonder and the dread of it all – as well as the movies and TV of the era in general. That haunted nostalgia in combination with the album’s otherworldly sound creates quite a surreal atmosphere of distorted time and space, a spooky immediacy; listen to it enough and it takes on the feel of the soundtrack of your life. That’s true of any music you love, but BoC seems to have discovered a more powerful and direct method of physically doing this to their listeners.

Simon Reynolds’s terrific 20th-anniversary essay about the album for Pitchfork affirms this: “Like many others,found that Music Has the Right had an extraordinary power to trigger memories. Partly this was a side effect of the wavering off-pitch synths, redolent of the music on TV programs from my ’70s childhood. But in a far more profound, fundamental, and deeply mysterious way, BoC seemed to be tapping into those deepest recesses of personal memory. Blending intimacy and otherness, the music put you back in touch with parts of yourself you’d lost. This was their gift to the listener.”

When I think of the album, I’m struck by intense memories of the neighbourhood in Queens I lived in when I was first listening to it. Taking a walk by the baseball field behind the mall beneath overcast skies; the ugly concrete parking garage that loomed over it with its spiral onramp looking like a brutalist sculpture of a UFO; the 7 train platform in the dying amber light of winter. Other memories of that era come back to me in association with the album – a particular cool drizzly morning in May; a particular road trip to Boston in the summer. BoC’s music came from rural Scotland, and it sounded like it came from another galaxy, but somehow it seemed to be about the alienation of life in New York, and of our neoliberal capitalist society in general, and about my childhood in Oregon, and the first dandelions of springtime, and many other things that matter to me; and it helped me cope with it all. It’s hard to explain. But if you know the album maybe you know what I mean. I have a feeling anyone who’s listened to it a lot has had similarly vivid and personal recollections of it imprinted on their own lives.

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