Rocking all over the world, from a room in Dollis Hill

`For our first gig, not only did we play to a million people, but it wa s really live'
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The Independent Online
THE future of rock and roll is to be found at the end of a telephone line - according to a band that plays its concerts over the phone and goes on tour without leaving home.

Future Sound Of London is the first group in the world to play all its live shows down the telephone. They have "toured" Europe and America without leaving Dollis Hill in north London and only talk to their fans through the Internet global computer network.

Last month, the electronic duo took their first step towards creating virtual reality concerts by performing to 500 people in New York while remaining in their tiny studio in north-west London.

The audience at The Kitchen art gallery in Manhattan watched complex, three-dimensional computer images sent to them through the Internet. The music they heard was of live clarity, played in Dollis Hill and converted into digital pulses at the band's mixing desk. The pulses were carried across the Atlantic by a digital telephone line and decoded at the other end.

"Cavorting about on stage is the Old Testament," says Brian Dougans, the quietly-spoken Scottish half of Future Sound (FSOL). His partner Gary Cobain agrees: "We're designing a space that's like an art gallery, arcade, cinema, rock and roll venue all rolled into one."

Instead of doing more long-distance concerts, the pair are planning greater control over the environment in which their music is heard. They're cagey about the details, but have already had computer-generated models of themselves created and have worked with the silicon graphics techniques used to create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

Cobain hints that small audiences in cinema-style venues will enjoy surround-sound, while watching co-ordinated 3D visuals combining film footage, computer graphics and animation. The duo's real movements will be echoed in this virtual reality landscape and members of the audience will be able to influence the visuals and music by using computer workstations.

"It's the rebirth of rock and roll," says Cobain. "Hendrix, Bowie and others in the great era of performance art and rock and roll were mixing medias. That's an analogy for what we're planning to do."

The pair have record and publishing deals with Virgin and Sony, and say they are working with "cutting-edge software and hardware houses". They have half a dozen collaborators, including a graphic artist called Buggy G. Riphead.

Fashionable in tweed flares and polo-neck, Gary Cobain could front any of the glamorous indie-rock bands that are currently in vogue. But FSOL are pioneers in an electronic music scene whose growth has been closely linked with the explosion of dance culture since the mid-Eighties. For all their ambition, they share that scene's values.

FSOL's single "Papua New Guinea" changed the sound of dance music in 1992. Their first single for Virgin was 30 minutes long and showed a change in their music, which now sits uneasily astride two genres: you can't always dance to it, but it isn't as soothing and low-key as some of the aural wallpaper sold under the name of ambient music. Their album Lifeforms, which was released last year, proved a much less rhythmic, more abstract, affair than expected and surprised everybody by going straight into the Top 10 on its release.

Future Sound promoted it by going on tour, without actually going anywhere. The guitarist Robert Fripp, a veteran of experimental music, joined the pair in their studio for a two-hour live performance which was sent over the phone-line to Radio One for broadcast. Fans with access to the Internet were also able to watch graphics.

"We made a nice little wry comment on rock and roll by doing that," says Cobain. "For our first gig, not only did we play to a million people but it was really live. Robert Fripp blew speakers. It was great radio, not like some broadcasts that just soundlike a live gig you're not present at. And it was free."

It was also free advertising for the band, which went on to repeat the "live" concerts down the telephone line for radio stations across Europe and the United States.

Big-name artists such as Peter Gabriel and Prince have used their huge budgets to produce interactive CD-ROMs, allowing fans to join them in virtual reality land and remix their music, but Cobain believes that they're little more than fancy advertising and only a hint at what could be done. Within 18 months, he says, the duo will be able to "revolutionise four mediums in one foul kick".

FSOL intends to offer free shows to television broadcasters, just as they did to radio stations. "Right here in this room we're doing everything: we're doing art, television, music, games, CD-ROMs, and they are all coming together into a glorious new kind of entertainment," says Cobain. "That is not the future, that is happening now."

Future Sound Of London can be contacted via the Internet on FSOL<>