An Interview with '80s Influenced Synth Artist Futurecop!
Futurecop! (Manzur Iqbal) is a British composer of electronic music who creates soundscapes inspired by '80s synths, nostalgia, fantasy, Eastern mysticism and sci-fi. In an emailed interview, we talked about his career, how he creates music and how he recharges his creative batteries.
Karl Magi: How did you first start making music?
Manzur Iqbal: If I really go back to the first time I was interested in making music, it was in high school. Me and some friends started a band in which I played bass. It was very short lived and we just played Blink 182 songs. At university, my interests changed a lot from punk music to more electronic music. It's also where I met Pete who is still one of my best friends. He was in Futurecop! ’til 2016, although he’s not in Futurecop! any more. After uni, I started experimenting with making music with synths and a laptop. The music came from the love of ‘80s nostalgia, the start of MySpace, the music bloghouse era and the beginning of electronic music done on a laptop (I got most of my ideas via Mylo interviews) plus my love for music by bands like Justice, MGMT and Cut Copy.
For a long time, I made really bad music using pirated versions of Reason, Cubase and Logic. Most of the music came from ideas sent back and forth between me and Peter which I uploaded to a MySpace page. I even bought a Juno 106 but never understood MIDI well enough to get it to work properly.
I created the initial music on Reason, so everything thanks to that platform. We got blog attention and it started from there. That was a long time ago! I created songs like NASA and Transformers in 2007. We also got our first gig in 2007. When I asked Pete to join me, the truth was that I was far too scared to go on stage on my own, I also thought, “What better way to tour and be in a band than with one of my closest friends?” I didn't think it would last so long.
KM: What is it that drew you into making synth-based, retro-influenced music?
MI: I wanted to recreate the sound of my childhood which was mostly cartoon intros, Rocky 4, Karate Kid 2 and Stan Bush tracks from the 1986 Transformers movie. As the years went by, I realised Futurecop! was more than that.
KM: Who are the artists who have been most inspirational to you and why?
MI: The Goo Goo Dolls might not be the most obvious one, but they really got me into seriously thinking about music and how it can uplift a soul. To this day, I still listen to their music and always go to their shows when they are in town. I just love the spirit in their albums especially Superstar Carwash, A Boy Named Goo and Dizzy Up The Girl.
I don't listen to them as much anymore but Weezer was my teenage years. The Blue Album and Pinkerton especially. The first thing I used to do when I came home from school was to go on their website for news on what they were doing and news on their next album. I was obsessed.
Pavement was also a part of my teenage years. I would search music stores high and low to find their albums. I’d save lunch money to walk to a music store miles away on my lunch break at school to find their albums. This was before the Internet!
Stan Bush and his soundtrack for The Transformers because it's so uplifting and beautiful. How can anyone not love it? It goes so well with the film too, especially when Optimus Prime is battling the Decepticons or Hot Rod is riding with Spike. It was my dream to be that boy.
I was inspired by the Polaris song The Adventures of Pete and Pete. I just love it, it puts me in a great spirit.
Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard with Now We Are Free from The Gladiator soundtrack. What can I say? It really puts me in touch with something spiritual and divine when I listen to it. It’s the most beautiful song that I have every heard. A few years ago, I watched Hans Zimmer live and it was the first time a live song made me shed some tears.
I simply love the feeling you get from Enya’s music. She really puts the spirit back into a human being. I only got into her few years ago. The production, the lyrics and the mood of her music is so beautiful.
I love Enigma’s Return to Innocence. Again I love the atmosphere and the lyrics. I feel a certain warmth when I listen to it.
I love all of Lata Mangeshkar’s old music because it’s so heartfelt and innocent.
I love Bruce Hornsby’s music because it’s so uplifting and heartfelt.
I love Angels and Airwaves’ music and how it makes me feel. Their guitars inspired a lot of the songs on the new Voltrana album.
There are more bands and music but they’ve all been inspiring at certain stages in my life (like The Strokes, Justice, The Libertines, The Smiths and The Cure) whereas the list above is truly who I am and will stay with me for all time.
KM: Tell me more about how you create new music.
MI: It’s usually via Ableton Live. I have lots of plugins and not as much reason to use them as I used to have but I still use some of them. For the new Voltrana album, I used a lot of orchestral sounds, big percussion, lots of guitars and Eastern instruments mixed together with the usual Futurecop! synth sounds. I wanted to really take the musical idea and project it onto the deep feeling you get from Futurecop! music, so it was less to do with the sound but more to do with the feelings. Futurecop! always had something uplifting, warm and heartfelt about it. By using more epic drums, percussion, orchestral elements and synths, I think that I managed to bring that feeling out.
That feeling is also coupled with my recent love of Eastern mysticism and spirituality. I first explored it in my previous album Return to Alvograth but this time it came out more. It really fits the feelings that you get with Futurecop. There's lots of concepts around Taoism and Zen Buddhism. There’s a lot about living in the present, finding a balance in life, mindfulness and meditation. It’s all in there.
In many ways, it is the opposite of the ideas of looking into the past or dreaming which I concentrated on in my first albums. It's more to do with living in the present and looking at the world as magical. My favourite track is Shinjinmei which is the first track I’ve recorded in a foreign language (Japanese) There's also a few tracks that are influenced by ‘80s Chinese and Japanese pop culture, Studio Ghibli and even Shaolin kung fu.
KM: What does the future hold for your music career?
MI: No idea.
KM: What is your assessment of how the synthwave/retrowave scene is doing these days?
MI: There's good and bad parts of it. The good part is that it’s a community and many people have discovered Futurecop! through it. It’s also nice appreciation for a sound that we created even before synthwave. It’s bad because it's limited and I feel that there's no scope for evolving it into the future. For instance, I released a track entitled We Belong and with a video shot in India with little kids and more hints of Indian mysticism. I wanted to do something similar to the Fairytale album videos but in India. Many fans loved it but there were a lot in the synthwave scene that did not. A lot of people were confused and really thought it was not synthwave.
For that reason, I would rather distance myself from a genre like this. I grow as a person and an artist and so do my influences and so the music that I make will also evolve. Futurecop! isn't a thing that is here to impress anyone but more of a diary of my thoughts and feelings.
It can be tough going through life but with Futurecop! I feel free. I feel that I can express my inner self completely or try to do so at least. It is bound to change and not attach itself to genres. The essence of Futurecop! will always be there but the ideas in synthwave will not match Futurecop! all the time.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
MI: By going through the roller-coaster ride of life.