Boards of Canada (BoC) are the instrumental architects of my childhood. The Scottish band’s lush, analogue-drenched electronic music defined and soundtracked significant portions of it: falling on the ground from exhaustion and having a cold sip of water while I sat down with friends by the edge of ravine. The sun beat against my skin on my first hike. Lying on the grass staring aimlessly at daffodils while ants marched on outstretched hands on wet soil. Scenic road trips as I sat in the backseat staring out the window, utterly bewitched by the marvel of snow-drenched mountain ranges as they zoomed by. My first kiss later at night by a bonfire while a full moon beamed across the surface of still lake.
It was wonderful. My youth was a kaleidoscope of sensations and light from a life spent outdoors beneath the sun and moon. The mere thought fills me with such unequivocal joy. Except for one minor hitch:
None of that actually happened.
I’m 30 years old. I was born and grew up in Abu Dhabi, the textbook definition of a concrete jungle. I’m a child of the modern urban world: a loner nerdy kid with borderline non-existent friends who spent most his time listening to his dad’s jazz & Motown cassettes, reading comics and watching pro wrestling (for the record: all those activities I still diligently embark on, hah.) I’ve never been to a ravine. I’d never been on a nature hike, or seen a lake for that matter, until the age of 17 when I moved away to the USA.
It was wonderful. My youth was a kaleidoscope of sensations and light from a life spent outdoors beneath the sun and moon. The mere thought fills me with such unequivocal joy. Except for one minor hitch: None of that actually happened.
A minor hitch is an understatement. All the memories of my youth are fabricated figments of my imagination. Completely falsified, implanted memories. At best? Vague recollections of a dream, as if my brain simply turned into this radio antenna capturing a fuzzy transmission from another person in another time.
Even as I sit and type this, listening to BoC’s “Kid For Today” off their EP In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country. As the title implies, it’s an ode to an idyllic childhood, perfectly capturing that carefree ease when summer days seemed to stretch out forever as you lay on the grass still damp from the mornings dew. I’m instantly consumed, and transported to a laughter-filled hazy memory of myself being pushed on a swing tire attached to an oak tree by my brother. This never happened. There weren’t any oak trees where I grew up. My brother was 5 years older and we were never close growing up.
And yet here I am, certain without a shadow of a doubt that the individual with those idyllic memories is me. It’s all due to the profoundly altering experience that is BoC’s meticulously crafted, analog-inspired soundscapes implanting these visions within me. So despite them not being true, they aren’t a lie either. I genuinely feel that I’ve experienced those memories, to the point I can’t recall much of my very own. It’s as if a symbiotic creature has attached itself to my cerebral cortex, syphoning out my cache and replacing it with its own.
This led me to attempting to hunt down every detail possible about the band. I had to learn more of them, I had to investigate their interviews and dissect every utterance by them. How could they do what they do to me? Do others exist who went through similar experiences?
I found out they are siblings from Scotland. They are obsessed with analogue tapes, field recordings, and documentary films produced by the National Film Board of Canada (hence the name) that they watched as children. They began playing and recording music when they were 10 years old. They started a musical collective when they were 20. And that’s all that 99% of the world knows about them.
The band thrives in secrecy. Despite influencing everyone who is anyone in electronica, from Radiohead to Flying Lotus, they have somehow remained an enigma. They’ve played 10 times since their inception, the last gig being 14 years ago at All Tomorrow’s Parties (one of my most beloved festivals in the world, but that’s a topic for another time). Despite releasing 4 LPs and 6 EPs in a recording history that spanned 20 years, they’ve released merely 6 music videos, the bulk of which came to coincide with their last release in 2003, the critically acclaimed “Tomorrow’s Harvest”. This air of mystery surrounding them merely galvanized their fan base, who, faced with my peculiar problem, began creating their own videos to match their favorite songs in an effort to visualise the emotional whirlwind formulated in their minds when they hear the band’s music. The result? Nigh on hundreds of fan videos that share uncanny interlocked themes: idealised childhood and fabricated nostalgia. Almost every clip is from the 60s or 70s, featuring children in idyllic scenarios or technology ads featuring images of what the future may hold. All of these videos play out in washed-out hazy colours with trippy psychedelic undertones from salvaged VHS tapes.
Everyone had a similar vision, as we, through BoC’s music, became intertwined mentally and spiritually in a hive mind. I’ve spent years attempting (and failing) to explain this dilemma to friends and strangers alike who were unfamiliar with their music. But speak to a fellow fan and an instant bond is formed. As a festival friend so perfectly described it, “they’ve got a wire to my subconscious”.
My own efforts? Photography. I spent a year and half of my life in Malaysia, doing nothing but traveling around the country. BoC, as always, was my companion, never leaving my iPod. Through countless hikes through forests, nights spent on starry beaches, bus, train and boat rides, their music was my one constant. For the very first time in my life, I was in a setting that brought Boards of Canada to life. I was obsessed with a singular goal of capturing the spirit of their music through my lens. And the result? Just like the rest: drenched in nostalgia.
There is not a single other band that does that for me. Not a single one. I’m not even sure how I feel about it, or how to deal with it. Most of the time it just leaves me with this intense longing for something I don’t even comprehend, just this odd wave of melancholy that makes me feel a bit hollow inside, but I don’t want that sensation to end because it makes me so oddly alive, so I press replay. I’ve done that to “Kid For Today” for the past 2 hours and I have no intention of stopping.
Photographs by Moe El Amin Nogdalla for The Rhapsody.