A is to B as B is to C: The Timelessness of Boards of Canada

What’s to say about them? Honestly, there’s not too much to say. Not traditionally a “band,” but they operate in the same way as one – each member bringing something to the table, approaching the content from a different angle with a different viewpoint. But what about them that sets them apart? Well, the best way to become an object of obsession, is to give yourself some shade of mystery. Not knowing too much about an artist is key to feeding this fire. You look at Aphex Twin who people say owns a tank and a submarine and used to live in a bank vault. Whatever you don’t know about an artist, your mind somehow magically fills in the missing spaces. And that’s where Boards of Canada’s image comes in.

We don’t know too much about the Scottish electronic duo because they choose to shroud themselves in mystery. The brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin (note the different surnames), rarely do interviews (and if so, via email), they never perform (haven’t since 2001, and never in the U.S.), and rarely put out new music.

But why? Why shy away from all these things? Because the absence of what we know about them is the key to their success. The demand for context and content has far exceeded their actual output. But, like magicians, they don’t produce or perform when called upon, but choose when and who to call upon.

For their last record, 2013’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, they sent fans on a wild goose scavenger hunt after a tease of what might be a new album on Record Store Day. Pressing only six records, Warp Records sent each one to a record store around the world. However, on these records was not actual music, but code, a set of numbers that contributed to an even greater set of numbers. Eventually, this series of numbers found its way onto the internet via fans, and just as the band had planned, the fans took it upon themselves to hunt down each number in the phrase, piecing together a series of numbers that they weren’t even sure what it led to. (Interestingly enough, only three out of six of these pressed records were ever found. The last three have yet to be publicly discovered.) Eventually, when put together, these numbers led to a webpage with an official album release announcement and a link to pre-order the record.

Boards of Canada performing at the Warp Lighthouse Party

It’s unorthodox if you think about it, how so many bands and artists nowadays have to make a living by publicly branding themselves. It’s no longer just an album cover in a record store. Now it’s all about social media, having a presence, building an image… and yet two dudes from Scotland have built a worldwide cult following just through staying silent and mind games. But through these unconventional methods comes an oddly personal interaction between the fans and the band themselves by breaking down this wall of privacy, one that social media interaction could never achieve. They know their fans too well, almost to the point where they’ll do exactly what the band expects them to. They interact with their fans through their fans’ own self-motivation, giving them an almost intimate encounter by leaving behind clues in the form of a scavenger hunt. Unlike proper album roll-outs, Boards of Canada don’t aim for the broadest audience possible, nor do they aim for any type of audience at all, but aim for a passionate following.

It’s funny how, considering themselves a “band,” they built an empire by not touring at all. They’ve become the very anti-thesis of how bands make a living today, which is mostly through live shows and royalties. However, playing shows and going on tours would go against the very idea of what’s behind their music. Yes, you may find yourself dancing to a few of their tunes, but that’s not what they aim for. Their music is meant to be listened to in a personal, private space. It’s not meant to be listened to in a live setting because all the resources and energy that that would go into the shows wouldn’t justify the music. It’s about solace and having a stationary state-of-mind, as if you’re sitting in a nature reserve where time stands still, where the past, present, and future occur simultaneously. Such music is hard to listen with other people because it requires a deeper understanding: there’s no immediate payoff with their music, no formula. Just an ebb and flow of emotional electronic sounds.

And as for new music, I have a feeling they’re making some consistently, whether we hear it or not. They probably have the same mindset as Daft Punk, taking their time when making new music to see how it sits with age, to ensure that each song is truly timeless. It’s not like they’d choose to not make music out of a vacuum. Somewhere on the rural northern coast of Scotland, two brothers create in comfort in a cabin, where there are no deadlines or reservations. Just them and time.


Leave a Reply