There’s something familiar about Edinburgh Leisure, the duo formed by visual artist Keith Farquhar and Tim Fraser, whose debut album, Die Gefahr Im Jazz, was recently released by Tenement Records. It’s not just their civic-minded name, which conjures up images of public swimming pools and soon to be demolished leisure centres. Neither is it the band’s logo, which appropriates that of a well-known high street bank.
Rather, it’s more to do with the record itself, which showcases a laconic series of skewed thumbnail sketches of modern life in all its first world problem rubbishness, from broken iPhones to being trapped in Ikea. Scorpio Leisure makes a fleeting but troublingly insistent musical reference to The Police’s song, Roxanne, with Get a Good Job doing something similar with Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd’s own cash cow, Money.
“These little kitschy type appropriations break the ice a little bit,” says Farquhar. “There’s a lot of appropriation in my art, and Tim was interested in that as well. That’s driven by need, because I’m not a musician, and I’m sure Tim wouldn’t mind me saying he’s a limited musician, so there’s a naïve desperation to use what you can, which is a lovely thing. I’m a big believer in art like that, which comes from a great economy of means. I’m definitely drawn to that kind of art.”
Die Gefahr Im Jazz utilises a palette that moves from the garage band electronics of early Cabaret Voltaire on Call the Number to Fraser’s Syd Barrettesque vocal style backed by what sounds like DIY era Scritti Politti on Mammals and Birds. The sound of nature documentaries, supermarket check-out tills and an Apple Mac start-up permeate throughout. The result is a pick and mix sonic collage that still manages to sound tuneful, albeit in a bleakly funny way.
“The album’s actually quite old,” says Farquhar, “and has probably been done and dusted for about two years now. I think we started this in 2016. We’ve done another album since that which hasn’t been released yet, and is quite different. There’s no real instrumentation on it. It’s much more mechanistic.”
Edinburgh Leisure formed after Farquhar and Fraser got talking at an exhibition. Best known as an artist, Farquhar also teaches on the Intermedia course at Edinburgh College of Art, where Fraser had been a student. Fraser was a fan of The Male Nurse, the band Farquhar played in during the 1990s.
“Tim asked me if I wanted to do some music with him,” says Farquhar, “so we met up, and
decided to give it a go, without knowing at all what it would be like. We would meet, and for the first three or four times, we just played each other stuff we liked, music, art, anything, and that was a really nice breaking of the ice.”
This approach fed into the recording of the album.
“We’d walk around with our iPhones on recording everything,” says Farquhar, "and we would just sample all these things, kids playing bells, the checkouts in Lidl. We were like magpies, sampling all this stuff in our immediate surroundings. Then we would just load them up on Logic, and a lot of the rhythms on the record came out of that. It was a very organic process. We didn’t have any preconceptions. We jokingly called the genre iPod shuffle, because it’s genreless, and skips around.”
Live Edinburgh Leisure performances have seen Farquhar wielding a staple gun and masking tape.
“Using art materials is quite deliberate,” he says. “These things are what painters use to stretch the canvas, and we’re sampling them and using them live as percussion instruments.”
Farquhar may be talking about the physical action of stretching a canvas, but it’s also a perfect metaphor for what Edinburgh Leisure do.
“Maybe,” he says. “I hope so. Of course, most things have been done before. It’s not like what we’re doing has come out of nowhere. I remember reading Mark Fisher talking about popular modernism in the 1960s, and Pete Townshend smashing a guitar, which came from Gustav Metzger’s idea of auto-destructive art, and that was about working class kids taking what they could from avant-garde art. There’s a big element in what we do of taking from the avant-garde and playing with it.”
While there is an archness to the record, there’s a grimness too.
“It’s dark and its comical,” says Farquhar. “There’s this recurring guitar motif that runs through several songs, and there’s something tragic and sad about that. We both like Chris Morris, so there’s some comic bits, but it’s quite gothic.
The album title, which translates roughly as The Fear in Jazz, comes from an exhibition Farquhar did with German artist Thomas Hellbeck in London in the 1990s. The exhibition title, Deutsch Britischer Freundschaft, referenced German post-punk duo Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft, another duo who worked in provocatively experimental but still tuneful ways.
“The music isn’t jazz,” says Farquhar, “but there’s a looseness to it.
This looseness has affected Farquhar’s visual art work as much as that has informed his work with Edinburgh Leisure.
“It’s all very connected,” he says. “I suppose it informs my art, but also expands it. I don’t see it as something different. Edinburgh Leisure has been great for me, because it’s given me the chance to collaborate, and collaboration is never easy, but when you find someone you can work with it’s a great thing. A lot of stuff can go unsaid because you know you’re on the same page. It’s great for me as well to work with someone younger, who has that sensibility.
“There’s so much play on the album. On a song called Dada’s Boys we’re both playing the guitar at once, with me doing the fretwork and Tim strumming. There are a lot of strange untoward techniques on that record. It was very joyful to make. The second one maybe not so much because there was a lot of looking at the computer screen, but I don’t know what the next project’s going to be. We’re totally free to do what we want.”
Die Gefahr Im Jazz by Edinburgh Leisure is available now on Tenement Records. Edinburgh Leisure play Jupiter rising at Jupiter Artland, August 23-25.
The Herald, July 5th 2019