The Future Sound Of London’s Brian Dougans talks us through the making of his breakthrough track, Humanoid’s 1988 acid classic ‘Stakker Humanoid’
“I was a student at Salford College of Technology on their sound recording course, which was geared towards being an engineer rather than a musician or producer. It was all about how you fix a mixing desk or how you fix a synth. They had a studio, which of course I gravitated towards. I actually failed my course, but the college thought I had good motivation, so they took me on as a lecturer demonstrator. So I ended up working in the studio, taking students through how to do mixes and so on.
“I was massively into Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, ACR – very much the industrial, alternative 80s vibe. But there was a show on Piccadilly Radio, Stu Allan’s ‘House Hour’, that was playing all this crazy Chicago acid shit. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get into that’. So I started snooping around the college for a 303. It turned out there were two, stuck way down at the bottom of this big metal cabinet in the basement, so I grabbed one – the college knew I’d borrowed it. Borrowed it? Ha! – and I started making tracks.
“Around that time, Sean Booth, who went on to form Autechre, appeared on the course. He says he remembers seeing two guys in the studio with an acid track playing. He says he came in and said, ‘Is this yours?’. Apparently, I nodded and said, ‘Yeah’. I was in the studio with Garry [Cobain], who went to a different college in Manchester, but he used to come over and we’d spend our evenings cutting up video and messing around with acid tracks.
“We met at The International, where I worked as a pot collector and Gaz worked behind the bar. I remember seeing him and thinking, ‘That guy looks cool, I wonder if he sings?’. Did he fuck, but it didn’t matter. I thought, ‘He looks like one of the guys from Chakk. He’s in my band’. So we joined forces, and were doing a whole bunch of Chakk type songs just before acid came along.
“I met Buggy G from Stakker, a collaborative video project, at The Haçienda. A few days later, Bugs phoned and said, ‘I’d like to hear your stuff. Why don’t you come round?’. He was living in John Nash Crescent, a big council estate in Hulme. His place had monitors everywhere, a video edit suite and a Fairlight video effects processor. He said, ‘Do you want to stick some music on this?’. Boom. I was in.
“We did that for about three or four months and then Bugs started sending video tapes to record companies in London. A lot of them said, ‘Yeah, it’s good, but fuck off’, and then Morgan Khan from Street Sounds asked us to go and meet him. He really liked the music, but wasn’t keen on the visuals, so it was over to me.
“I did a deal with Morgan, I think it was £150 a track on a three-track demo deal for ‘Acido Amigo’, a compilation he was about to put out on his Westside sub-label. I did a few days in his studio and out popped ‘Humanoid’ and ‘Cry Baby’. I remember going back up to Manchester on the train late one night with my headphones on, listening to ‘Humanoid’ and thinking, ‘Right, I’m putting pianos on this now’. I tried to do it, but John Laker the engineer was like, ‘No. No, no, no, no, no’. So that was quickly removed.
“The track is one of those magic moments. I certainly didn’t realise that as it was being made, but I definitely knew there was something special about it when we finished it. I remember standing back, and John turned the volume up. I thought, ‘Fuck, now that’s good’. When Morgan first heard it, he got it straight on white label. Within a week, it was down at Shoom.
“A week after that, I was at The Fridge in Brixton and they dropped ‘Humanoid’ just as I happened to be on the dancefloor. The place erupted – strobe lights, people throwing their hands in the air – it was crazy. That night, John Peel shuffled up to me. John Peel! He said, ‘I’d like you to do a session for the radio show’, and then the whole thing really started taking off.
“I’m not sure why Bruno Brookes championed it on Radio 1. I think he just thought it was a great track, I don’t know. Pete Waterman wanted to sign Humanoid to PWL. We didn’t sign to PWL, as you know, because that wasn’t going to happen. It also got a screening on BBC2, right after the premiere of the new Michael Jackson video for ‘Smooth Criminal’. It was on a programme called ‘DEF II’. A lot of people had tuned in to watch Michael Jackson and then on came ‘Humanoid’. It charted the next week.
“I was still living in Manchester, trying to be a lecturer while ‘Humanoid’ was taking off. When I was in London, I stayed in a squat at 44 Albany Street in King’s Cross, which was an absolute shit-hole, full of rats. I got so ill there. I went back to that squat after doing ‘Top Of The Pops’, which was a bit surreal, to say the least.
“The Morgan Khan thing soon started to go a little pear-shaped. ‘Humanoid’ was massive across Europe. I knew there was money being made and that I was being shafted, so I had to walk away. Morgan and his team finished the Humanoid album in my absence, which fucked me right off. I liked Morgan. He was a very warm, engaging guy, and he was very enthusiastic about what I was doing. It was a shame it ended like that.
“I think ‘Humanoid’ resonated because it was more punk than acid, more Manchester than Chicago. It had a rawness to it. A lot of the music coming out of Chicago was squelchy, whereas ‘Stakker Humanoid’ was abrasive. I guess it’s a combination of that and the fact that it had Stakker visuals, which were fresh and new. It was originally called ‘Humanoid’ by Stakker. I wanted to be part of Stakker, but they felt they didn’t need an audio guy as part of their team and eventually they said, ‘You’re not part of Stakker and you can’t use the name’. So I changed it to Humanoid and ‘Stakker Humanoid’. Ha!
“I’ve always regarded ‘Humanoid’ as my baby. It was created and went out into the world… and it sends me back money. Which is how it should be – ‘Oi Dad, got a cheque for you’.”
Humanoid’s ‘sT8818r Humanoid’, with remixes by Autechre, Luke Vibert and Mike Dread, is released by De:Tuned on 4 December. Pre-order it at detunedrecords.bandcamp.com