LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER
Sam Battle AKA Look Mum No Computer, is part musician, part mad professor who has made a big splash in the YouTube community with his whacky musical installations.
Some of his creations are pretty out there, and include an electronic organ made from cobbled together Furby toys. It truly is the stuff of nightmares!
We find out more about the man, the machines he makes and the music he creates with them.
I’m not really sure how to introduce you… What can you tell us about what you do?
Yeah, I’m Sam. I’m a musician and about two and a half years ago, I decided to try a different venture, and I started putting up videos with machines that I built, whilst I was in band, for tour, and I didn’t really expect anybody to really give a crap about it, because it was just weird stuff that I built in my house.
And yeah, that kind of flourished in to some more interesting machines, because people liked the machines that I built and figured I’d just keep on pushing, building things, and whilst I was writing music and still being a musician. I just couldn’t help myself, but build silly machines, really.
No, absolutely. It’s amazing what level you’ve taken it to. What got you to where you are?
Oh man, that’s tough. I’ve been a guitarist since I was a kid. Always playing guitar. I think the first thing I ever found, stumbled across a pedal, effects pedal design, I think, when I was 14 or 15 and I spent a year trying to build it.
It was magical, the feeling of being able to play your guitar through something that you built yourself but made it sound questionably worse, because it wasn’t very well built; it was pretty bad, but I learned a lot through that. It just took forever to build I remember and it was the most simplest pedal design you could imagine but, that’s what got me into it really. Before that, I loved… I always tried to build rubbish robots for robot wars.
Did you ever compete?
Hell no! No these were just for fun. My best effort was like an old ricochet remote controlled car, the ones that go upside down and stuff. I just put a box on top of it, to make it look like a robot, but, yeah.
Obviously, they were rubbish, I was a kid and I thought they were amazing. I’ve always been fidgety, so I’ve always wanted to do stuff like that, and it wasn’t necessarily the sounds that these machine made, it was just the feeling that you could do it.
And that ended up just building more into that so I’m in pretty cool, kind of situation. Not the other way round.
No absolutely. You’ve made some pretty creative… I wouldn’t know what to call them really, because some of them are so abstract, it’s hard to really put them in a container, but what’s your favourite creation?
Ah man, that’s tough. I don’t know… really tough. They’re not all finished, I kind of get so bored of them, that I go onto the next one. I don’t really think about them. So I don’t know, they’ve just served their purpose, and then they continue… I don’t know, it’s really tough to say!
I don’t really look at them and be like, “I like you, or I don’t like you.” It’s just, they are what they are.
No that’s fair enough.
My favourite things tend to be what I’m working on at the time, I most excited by that. Right now, I’m working on this big machine that’s taken me forever to build, it’s called a game boy mega machine, and it’s slowly killing me. It’s pretty pointless.
I think my favourite is your oscillator mega drone, that is awesome.
Oh yeah. It is cool. I’ve got to build another one like that. And I was actually planning on, upping that one too, maybe getting a lot more, a lot more!
Yeah, why not, you can never have too many!
A massive oversight that I did with that machine. I built it, it took about a week to put together all-in-all, and when I finished it, I realised, oh crap, I couldn’t tune them all separately because they were all in banks of six, two oscillators they’re in banks of three. So I wish I put new switches on them all, but I didn’t. it’s a nightmare to use.
No, and I suppose that’s all part of the journey as well. I guess what you’ve learned on the way, you adapt into your build process on new projects, and you probably learnt many painful mistakes like that. So just to talk a bit about your music as well. Do you use your inventions when you’re producing, when your creating, or do you adapt your music, with your… I mean, do you use, for example, traditional sequencing software, musical production tools, Ableton, those sorts of things, or is that just too easy for you, and you’d much rather use nothing with a MIDI clock anywhere near it.
I don’t know, I mean, I like pop music so I’m not particularly a purist, but what I do is I usually have the song that I’ve written and sequenced on a BeatStep Pro or something, and I use logic as a tape machine.
I would just go in and then sing over the top of it, and then mix it. So it’s like the computers merely “look mum, no computer!”, but the whole name was because of making this music and performing live and stuff, but when capturing the music, you’re into a whole other kettle of fish.
So I use it as… lay down the music that I make.
Absolutely. And does your equipment let you down much? I mean I’ve spoken to many music producers, the one that comes to mind, is orbital, who have nightmares, because of course, they want to bring their full analog rig with them for live performance as well, but they have had problems where they need to have backups and second backups because the stuff that they using is just so unreliable.
I think every gig. I mean, I think there was two gigs where it wasn’t 100% the whole way through but, most of the time it’s like, you go and you’re not really sure what’s going to last until the end of the gig. One of the days, I can’t remember which one, it was Germany, where the one sequencing modules that I use, and at the start of the set, it died. So I had to completely, make up a brand new set on the fly. All of the things that I was planning to play, were not there. It was, it was fine, because I’m quite practiced at doing that kind of thing, but it was very scary.
Absolutely, so do your live performances have a similar sound to your music and I was going to come on to the tracks that I’m familiar with in a minute, but do they follow that feel, is it a quite pop sort of vibe going on, or does it become a little bit more exploratory into the world of surreal?
Yeah, well I haven’t really… not much music’s out yet, but a lot of it… it’s funny, the way you do releases and stuff, a lot of, it’s usually the more formatted, 40 minute ones that come out first, really.
There’s a lot of random stuff going on, it’s not all like polished pop, polished electronic 40 minute songs, but there’s a lot of instrumental parts and very strange bits. And there’s a lot of bits where it’s just free rein to make up what ever.
I made up a song about Crocs, was that weird as, out of time, 15/4 beats and it was, and I started singing about, “you’ve got your Crocs on, this is the Crocs song.”, into a vocoder, so yeah.
Right, awesome. I think I should come to one of your gigs!
It might be a bad one.
So are there any new influences that have brought you to where you are? I mean, I hear little nuance of people like Adam Freeland inside what you doing. I don’t know whether you’ve come across any of that sort of stuff, but is there anything which has created you on that way?
Adam Freeland, who’s that, first?
He’s a music producer, yeah, no, I’ll hook you up.
Yeah, I’ll have a look-
He’s also got quite an anarchic vibe to it. He’s done songs similar to things like Modern Gas, where’s it’s just a reflection on. I think one of his tracks is about America and just people plugged into technology and being mindless drones and the rest of it. It’s really cool you would get on quite well with him, from what I’ve heard of your stuff.
There’s a lot of people like to sing about love and all that stuff, but it’s just like, “ahhh!”, to me, love is just a fond tolerance, really, but, feelings and stuff, is just like, I don’t like thinking about that stuff, but I just sing about what I’ve been thinking really.
And I like, my favourite kind of music is more like the Elvis… it’s not even electronic, I really like Elvis Costello’s early stuff – It’s vibrant and colourful with his lyrics, and what he’s talking about is just completely odd but on point. And then, I love the Human League for their sounds and stuff. Quite close together,
So the lyrics of “Modern Gas”, it sounds like you’ve had the shittest job in the world, and it’s scared you for life. Was that a real experience there, or was it just a reflection on the modern call center world?
No, I kind of… well, when I wrote that, I was in a really, really low rent situation in London, my idea was, pay as little money as you possibly can on food and stuff, so you don’t have to earn as much money, and then I had to spend the time busking and stuff.
Which, okay, is not the shittest job, because I only had to earn about 400 pounds a month to get by; which is insane in London. I ate lots of noodles. It was a miserable place, but at least the most priority I had was having time to create things.
Removing the money things, and… so yeah, it was getting monotonous, because I didn’t go out, I couldn’t see people or anything because I was just skint. So it just all, in a creative way, it just became the same… and I just found it was funny, because I used to work in Halfords, and I just remembered that thing that I wasn’t very happy doing, I was just getting through the day.
I think it’s very poignant. I mean, everyone’s done some sort of shit job in their life, and I’m sure it resonates with everyone who’s had that experience.
Yeah, it’s a… job’s a job. A job is a job, is it’s like, if you need it, you’ve just got to do it.
So what’s next for you then? I mean, you obviously ripped up the rule book and just went, Fuck it, I’m going to do my own thing. You gained some traction with YouTube, and just making mad inventions, and people have really bought into that, and people are buying into what you doing musically as well. So must be starting now, sort of thing, where, okay, this is actually working, and where next? What’s the plan?
How do I make this work… Well, it’s a lot of work, working against the norm of… I’m working to try and not have a standard thing going on. The problem is that my working days have… so I’m basically trying to get to the next point, is that I’m working seven days a week, usually in the studio from about nine in the morning, until midnight.
I mean, in order to get to this point, it was a long, long time…
Yeah, I can imagine. You’ve taken a pretty difficult path to get there.
Yeah, I wanted it, because I wanted to look back and be like, “yeah, fuck yeah! I really pushed it.”, but the next steps… so the problem is I keep on having to try and build these machines that I’ve built. Which means that I have to work harder than… and hence why I’m at this point where I’m trying to build this machine that’s just the biggest machine I’ve built, and I think it’s on par with a development of…
I can imagine a team in the 50’s trying to design a computer. It’s kind of, that moment that I tell them that I’ve already done it before, and it’s just an absolute nightmare. But after that, there’s going to be… I’ve got this machine that I’m also building at the same time, with a demonic pentagram. It’s got loads teletubbies dancing. I’ve got 30 toes, 30 Tele tubby toes that are all responding to a guitar. It doesn’t make sense, but it will.
And then, I don’t where I want to go with it all. All I know is that I just wake up in the morning and I have an impulse and I need to create it.
You dice with pretty dangerous stuff as well. Some of your inventions have got flamethrowers and all those sorts of things. I don’t, well you must be aware of Colin Furze who’s a similar YouTube nutter that likes to create ridiculous things and seems to have no regard for his own welfare either. I’m amazed he’s actually managed to stay in one piece, really.
A funny one about that. So I built a flame-throwing organ once, which… well, that video did pretty damn well on Facebook. I think it got, like 10 Million or something, it’s pretty good. And I built that on my mum and dad’s driveway. I spent two weeks making it. I went back to my mum and dad’s house, because they were on holiday and it was the only place I could really do it. And they didn’t know. I didn’t tell them I was building it.
One of the couriers that was delivering an electronic part for it, turned up, and, it’s because Colin Furze lives about 30 miles away from my mum and dad’s house, and he’s like, “aw, my next door neighbour will like this, his name’s Colin Furze”.
I was like, “oh, please don’t tell him this, because it’s going to take a month to build, and he’ll build it before me!” It was fine, it was perfectly fine, but yeah, I like Colin, I’ve had a chat with him before, on the phone, about different projects, but nothing’s come of it.
And are you running out of stuff? I mean, obviously, the modern world is all digital chips and very intricate circuit boards. Are you going to have to start digging up old Russian submarines and stuff, to get the analog gear that you need, or, is there still an abundance of it?
Luckily, right now, there is still quite an abundance of the chips and the components. You can either get new old stock or, most of them are still produced, but I mean, I reckon, give it 10 years and it’ll be pretty low on the ground. So, actually, I don’t even know what can happen in 10 years. It’s very hard to say, and probably going to be putting all my concentration into more energy producing means, or something, instead of music, I don’t know.
Pedal powered, wind instruments or something that’s totally analog, yeah. Yeah, totally analog. Maybe electricity going to be rationed, and then I’ll be screwed.
Well, we’ll all be fucked as well. The modern world will cease to exist.
Yeah who knows what’s going to happen?
Cool, so where are you playing next? Where can people catch you, if they want to find out more?
Oh man, I’m trying to remember. I’m deep in the creating zone. I’ve made… to months of… that sort of so I’m struggling to remember what I’ve got next.
Yeah, I got to make a way of making it a lot more reliable, but inevitably it won’t be.
I like to inspire people. Also, another person, I can’t remember his name, shit, Andrew Duff, or somebody, said something that resonated. I was at a talk, and he said, because I learn everything from the internet, so, you know, I felt obliged to give back, basically.
I’ve very lucky that i’ve managed to turn it into something which I can live off.
Hopefully, you can expand your £400 a month budget!
I’ll let you get back to the shed, or wherever it is, that your mad inventions are created, and then good luck getting your machines finished. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what you doing.