New Music Of The Day: Soccer96 – ‘As Above, So Below’ (NME Album Premiere & Track-By-Track)

Eleven days ago, Dan Leavers and Max Hallett were at the Mercury Prize ceremony, shortlisted for their album ‘Channel The Spirits’. They are, of course, two-thirds of The Comet Is Coming, who blew away the audience at Hammersmith’s Apollo with a blistering live performance on the night. On Friday (September 23), just over a week after the ceremony, the duo have put out a new album, ‘As Above, So Below’, under the mantle of their other project, Soccer96. Aka Danalogue and Betamax, the pair have produced a cosmic trip that they’re describing as a “two-man mission through a time-travelling tape machine equipped with an armoury of synths and drums.” Take a listen below, and underneath that, read their track-by-track introduction to the album, written exclusively for NME.

Soccer96’s track-by-track to ‘As Above, So Below’:

The concept of our new record is based around an exploration of human perception of reality, and the dissolving of boundaries created by our senses. Our senses are deeply tied into our evolution as a species, and our need for survival. The limitations of our senses is that we tend to focus us on our immediate physical surroundings and ourselves, creating an illusion that we are isolated individuals, or visitors in an alien world, when in fact we are the latest model of DNA creativity, a further expression of our ecosystem’s output of organic novelty, and a direct result of our planet’s place within our solar system. Through music, we seek a pathway to breakout of the essential but mundane space of the everyday problem solving part of the brain, delving into other dimensions and ideally into a transcendent state.

The phrase ‘as above so below’ itself is an ancient, non-religious, hermetic phrase well known by occultists, that seeks to express the similarity and unity between all things at a macrocosmic and microcosmic level, and that it is impossible to study the universe without studying man, and conversely that it is impossible to study man without studying the universe.

In this fascination with life cycles and the energy transmitted from the Big Bang, the construction of the record is an attempt to mirror a life cycle; from the rawness and bombastic beginnings in ‘The Swamp’, all the way to ‘Brutal Deluxe’ which represents death in a celebratory, orgasmic return to pure consciousness.

The album has captured us coming to terms with being human, making peace with ourselves and working through human psychosis and existential crisis and taking courage from those around us to celebrate being alive and hopefully moving toward redemption. Despite some of these potentially lofty ideas, the record is still basically two best mates, jamming and experimenting with sounds and studio effects, working both collaboratively and sometimes competitively, kind of how we played two-player computer games growing up – games like Soccer96.

There are recurring central themes, usually to do with looking outside ourselves to a different scale or dimension. “In Starlight it’s Alright” from ‘Megadrive Lamborghini’ is about looking up at night, if there’s not too much light pollution, and feeling pretty good about what you see, as well as being blown away by the fact we are suspended on a tiny speck in the vast infinity of space. Looking at stars is something that you can guarantee all humans have done at some point, and it ties us together with our ancestors all across the world.

‘Sirius (Twin Star)’ references the Dogon Tribe from West Africa, where they claim to have known of a twin star hidden behind Sirius, since way before telescopes were invented to eventually confirm their knowledge in the 1970s. They have cave paintings depicting its existence. Sirius is an extremely bright star that is heralded in ancient mythology all over the world from Iran to Scandinavia to Ancient Greece and Egypt. The idea that previous, ancient civilisations may have known far more than we do now, but that their knowledge has been lost in the sands of time is pretty mind-blowing.

‘Up and Down’ links our human moods to our earthbound oscillations, and their connection to the continuous cycles we exist within, day and night, yearly seasonal cycles, and great cycles of the solar system. We were also experimenting with how wonky a beat can get, we can play that tune first in our live set and people think we actually can’t play in time until we drop a straight beat later.

At the time of making this album, we were playing at warehouse parties around east London a lot, breaking out of the regular venue circuit and playing sweaty, smoky, ecstatic midnight raves with chunky homemade sound systems. We played longer sets, improvised tracks at gigs, morphing the sound with the feeling of the audience dancing, going into hypnotic trances of Betamax’s polyrhythms. ‘Feels Right’ and ‘Let It Come’ are born out of that era, and were written at dance parties for dance parties… they are also tracks in a state of becoming – when we recorded them that was just how they came out that time, but they are endlessly changing and shifting live, kind of how people think about jazz tunes.

‘Spirit Wobble’ is a tune from the same recording session we did with Swannhunter, who featured on our tune ‘Flight Formations’ which was edited by the legend NY house producer Danny Krivit two years ago. The lyrics came after watching a lecture by Graham Hancock, where he described stories of South American Shaman who have done so many Ayhuasca trips that they have wives and even families in the spirit world. This got me to thinking how the spirits connected with UK druids may have noticed a distinct drop in the number of visitations since psychedelics have become illegal, and how a spirit might be longing for human nourishment and imagination.

‘BBBBBang’ is an example of the kind of thing we have found on our tapes and we have absolutely no recollection of making! Sometimes we go in deep at night and record in kind of dreamstates and then lose the tapes, only to be dug out three years later… we’re like, ‘Nice one, past versions of us!’ Same with ‘Manga’, although I vaguely remember being half-naked and painted surrounded by burning incense for that one, I think you can probably hear that.

‘Ancestors’ is a similar situation, but is also a reference to the eerie otherworldly choir sound we managed to make through a variety of effects units late one night, and the idea of speaking to our ancestors through the fog of the spirit world.

A lot of the record came about through improvisation, and through a kind of surrealist abandonment of rules that a lot of producers, managers and engineers attempted to bestow upon us through our years playing together. The same guys who tried to convince us, with the best possible intentions, that we shouldn’t be called Soccer96. That the industry would hate us because it didn’t sound like a band. So we were like: ‘Cool, lets definitely call our band Soccer96’. It was that moment where we decided to do exactly what we wanted with zero compromise, when we felt most in our element, most like ourselves. Distorting tape machines, recording music without writing it first, recording almost everything first take, using the wrong microphones, combining drum tracks from different songs – all that made us feel in our zone. Using the studio like another instrument is another big part of the sound. We spent hours and hours experimenting like a couple of nutty professors surrounded by reams of tape and cables, sometimes not knowing what we were doing.

In terms of recording, the LP is a jigsaw puzzle of music recorded over around four years, while we were continuously playing live, both in our group and with other artists (Henry Wu, Melt Yourself Down, Rozi Plain, Sons of Kemet, Archie Bronson Outfit) and also recording and producing different artists in our studios too. The tracks are from a combination of our own home bedroom reel-to-reel set up, from the Total Refreshment Centre in Dalston (tracked solo or with the enigmatic wizard Capitol K engineering), and also at Slowfoot Record boss’ Snorkel Studio in Forest Hill. One track is from Brighton Electric Studio with Dan Swift on the dials. Our dear friend and co-conspirator Rob White who spearheaded our first release is never far away in spirit and added some glitchy touches to ‘Up and Down’. Simbad was also a real helpful spirit guide near the completion of the record.

We are very proud of this record and have been through a real journey with it. It feels great to set it free.