Scratch the Surface: Children of the Bong – Sirius Sounds



If you’re of a certain age, you’ll have heard Children of the Bong somewhere. Taking in techno, electronic, and psychedelic music, they released three demos and one, brilliant album, Sirius Sounds. Meeting at Harrow College, Daniel Goganian and Rob Henry never quite hit the heights their music perhaps deserves, through luck and circumstance, but this album remains a beacon of 90s electronic music. We were delighted to speak to Rob about the build up to the record, his reminiscences of each track on the record, and after the album had been released. Here’s what he has to say

BACKGROUND:

I met Daniel when we were both 17 at College studying performing arts. I was in a band playing bass and we needed a singer so Daniel came to audition and we got on really well from then on. One night we went to a club called Whirl-y-gig and spent the night madly dancing and intensely listening to the music that spanned every genre of electronic, psychedelic, world and ambient music. We ended up in an after party in a squat in Primrose Hill where someone slipped on a cassette of Ozric Tentacles and a musical door was permanently opened in our minds!

Most of the tracks for Sirius Sounds had been demoed over the next 2 years when we had a small studio with an Atari, Sampler and some analogue synths set up in my bedroom in Harrow, which we grandly named Entity Studios. There was a spare bed in there from when I used to share it with my older brother but when he moved out, Daniel unofficially moved in so we could make music all night and all day. Literally. 

My mum told me later that the neighbours had a noise abatement order out on us, but because we were on headphones after 11pm they couldn’t do anything about it! Musically, we were absorbing everything we heard when we went out to parties and clubs from Acid, techno and trance to Dub ambient and psychedelic rock. Artists like the Orb, Aphex twin, Pink Floyd, King Tubby, Dub Syndicate, Eat Static, Augustus Pablo, Tangerine Dream, Steve Hillage/System 7, Brian Eno, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, the Prodigy, Jimi Hendrix…but literally any music we heard would be devoured and fused with the music we grew up with like Electro and early HipHop!

We then both moved to a shared house with very like minded people in Stamford Hill where we had a room for a studio and wrote some of the later tracks. We had started to do a lot of live shows by this point so we weren’t writing as intensely as before but we were developing new skills and improving recording techniques all the time.

By the time we were ready to record Sirius Sounds in February 1995 we had done a Peel session, got some good reviews in the press, completed a tour with Banco de Gaia and sold about 1000 cassette demos along the way! 

Photos: Studio set up courtesy of Toby from Banco De Gaia


The recording budget from Planet Dog was not very much and certainly didn’t stretch to a professional recording studio so we decided to buy a few new pieces of equipment and rent a cottage in the middle of nowhere in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Micheal Dog suggested we take someone along to be a 3rd ear and keep us on track with the recording schedule and this turned out to be Andy Guthrie who did a lot of work with Banco de Gaia and his own music as 100th Monkey. To make this a really worthwhile recording session, Andy felt we needed some more equipment and was able to persuade Toby from Banco de Gaia to lend us his set up while he was on holiday. We had one more important member of our crew to come with us and that was Derek (Dhubba, Dibs) who lived with us in the Stamford Hill house and was an excellent chef. He offered to cook for us and generally keep us sane with his amazing collection of 7” Dub records!

Daniel with co-producer/engineer Andy in Wales

TRACK BY TRACK:

Polyphase

I think this started from a backwards 808 loop we made to try and copy the beat from Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys! Once the 808 is out, it started heading down the Electro route with a deep bass drum and solid bass line not a million miles from the first record I ever bought: Paul Hardcastle’s ’19’! All the pad and arpeggiated synth melodies add the psychedelic and ambient layers to this track which gives an overall positive vibe. We recorded an alternate mix which strips out the synth layers to give a nice electro dub mix which will hopefully see the light of day some time soon….

Ionospheric State

We started this one with a sample of a throat singer from unknown origins. The sampler allowed us to rhythmically trigger the sound and move the start point creating a DJ cut effect, mixing this in with our favourite Korg MS20 synth. As the rest of the song developed we used the synth to ‘sing’ melody lines, (a common theme through all of our tracks). This track was originally recorded for the Quadruped Vol.1 compilation on Planet Dog in the bedroom studio and was such a complex set up, we could never recreate it as good as the original demo so we left it as it was and has always been!

Interface Reality

We recorded lots of interesting sounds that we manipulated in the sampler for this track. The percussion comes from sounds made with a scaffolding pole and the main lead sound is from a children’s toy that you turn upside down to make a gurgling noise. The chanting is Daniel and I singing something but I’ve no idea what and there’s also a Native American prayer and the worlds funkiest breakbeat. The full on sections were a nod to the track that ‘turned us on’; ‘Kick Muck’ by Ozric Tentacles. This was also probably my favourite to play live and was released as a 12” with 3 remixes in the US.

The Veil…

The baseline to this track came to us on the way home from a night at the Dub Club at the George Robey in Finsbury Park and it developed from there. The Veil vocals were a quote from ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibranand read by an actor (now director) friend, Rupert Jones. We added the baby noises as a point of purity or clarity that went well with the quote and also because they made us smile every time we heard them! During the recording Daniel started singing this really nice ethereal line so we recorded that in place of a synth. Probably has the most vocals of all the tracks!

Underwater Dub

This started life in a recoding studio in Harrow I was working in making hiphop versions of Bollywood classics in 1992. During the recording session in Wales, we remixed this track 6 or 7 times utilising the King Tubby method of dropping tracks in and out adding effects on the fly. This would require all 3 of us performing the mixing desk live as we recorded the mix. The underwater feeling from this track is from the heavily echoed staccato synth that always reminds me of Dolphins swimming. The vocals are recordings of  Daniel talking saying ‘music and roots get together’ and ‘Guys you know, music is music’ but you probably wouldn’t be able to make it out as we added really for texture more than anything else!

Life on Planet Earth

The chord stabs at the start of this track were originally an attempt to get a sound like that in the Orb track – ‘U.F.Orb’, but like all things we did, it got subsumed in to its own thing mixed up with a more of a band feel with the drums and bass which is quite different from the other tracks. I think if we had the ability for multi tracking it would have been good to record live drums and bass on this one! The name comes from the feeling it gave us, like looking  down on the earth and seeing everything objectively. Probably my favourite track!

Squigglasonica

One of the last tracks we wrote for the album, based around the crazy squiggling sound made with the MS20 using the pitch bend wheel in an unusual way… We had started listening to a bit of Jungle and quite liked the beats, but the speed was too fast for our stuff so we tried it a bit slower and got this vibe going that worked with a funky dub and electronic mix. We always loved the otherworldly sounds Eat Static used and probably had an influence on this one! We did some interesting stripped down dub mixes during the sessions for this track too.

Visitor

Over the time, Daniel had become quite a proficient drummer and really wanted to create something that was more like a live drummer and although we couldn’t record a drum kit we had this set of drum pads and got him to lay down various beats as a drummer would play them rather than a drum machine. I then recorded a bass part, which together gives this track a bit more of a band feel. The keyboard solo was probably the hardest part to get right and definitely took a few goes. Fun fact; the original demo version had key change section that we removed for this recording!

Underwater Dub (Full on, drums and bass, all hands on deck roots mix!)

Underwater Dub (analogical roots mix)

These versions appear on the 10” Dub plate given away with the first 1000 copies of the double vinyl version of the album. My copy got nicked along the way and haven’t really seen any around so they’re pretty rare!

As described before, the process of mixing this track involved a lot of bringing sounds in and out and adding effects, often involving all three of us at the same time e.g. all hands on deck!! We also recorded Daniel playing hand drums and me playing Melodica which you might hear in these mixes that didn’t appear in the original track… 

RECEPTION:

From what I remember, we had some pretty good reviews and featured a few times in the Vibes section of the NME and Melody Maker too. There’s a section on a website of the press cuttings my mum kept at the time! We started to play bigger venues and had some great nights all around Europe, always getting a great vibe from the crowd. Often we were playing club nights like Megadog and as we weren’t full on techno, we were put on near the start of the night, but a lot of people had come to see us especially, so we always had a good crowd! 

The album was released a year later in the US and was really well received by all accounts; the album cover had to be changed for Wal Mart stores due to pro-life concerns so a lot of people in the US didn’t recognise the proper Sirius Sounds cover designed by Emerald K Mosley!

LOOKING BACK:

I think the one thing I realise now that I didn’t recognise at the time, is how naive we were! And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think that it really helped us by not overthinking things and going with the flow wherever that took us; like travelling 6 hours in a transit van to play in a pub in Wales to 100 very happy hippies or turning down a deal with Andrew Weatherall to go with Planet Dog because he didn’t like the band name! 

Unfortunately when the naivety wore off as we got older and experienced more ‘life’, it drove us apart and want to pursue different things, musically and otherwise. This realisation happened just as the album was taking off in the US and after talking to Micheal Dog recently, I realise we missed out on touring there and capitalising on that success. (Meanwhile in a parallel universe…..)

Weirdly, I think some of my most favourite moments were in the bedroom studio, experimenting and discovering new sonic possibilities and the feeling that we’d discovered this whole new way of making music without being taught or the aid of manuals or even without YouTube! Then when it ends up released on a great label alongside great label mates and a great album cover, that’s got to be something to be proud of!

NOW:

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sirius Sounds and it has inspired me to create a website that celebrates all things bong-like: www.childrenofthebong.com and even got me out there on instagram too @children_of_the_bong 

An expanded digital version of the album, including previously unavailable tracks and mixes, has just been released on Planet Dog via Cherry Red Records here: http://cherryred.co/ChildrenOfTheBong Physical releases will follow soon!

It is very possible that there will be some other interesting releases happening soon too, although nothing finalised yet, but get yourself on the mailing list or follow us and we’ll keep you up to date with it there! 

After we split up, myself and DJ Marin (who used to play with us at our live shows), went on to form Euphonic and released the self titled album in 1998. This featured a bit more of the electro, funk, jazz and hiphop flavours that are present in the Bong style and a bit less of the psychedelic elements. Interestingly, this is set to be re-released this year on Banoffee Pies Records over 10”, 12” and digital releases. Keep an eye on http://www.banoffeepies.co.uk for all the info!

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