FC Kahuna: ‘Hayling’
‘Hayling’ was FC Kahuna’s attempt at a bleepy ballad. Sounding like an experimental audio transmission beamed back from space it could – should? – have been a hit. It wasn’t. But that was just the start of its story…
FC Kahuna – childhood buddies from Leeds, Daniel Ormondroyd and Jon Nowell – first sprang to prominence in 1994 when they established the notorious shrine to debauchery, Big Kahuna Burger. Taking its inspirational cues from the Heavenly Sunday Social, Big Kahuna Burger was none more mid-90s: messy, energetic and imbued with the endless possibilities that acid house’s original spirit unleashed. Alongside touring America with The Charlatans, the club gave Daniel and Jon their production name and some early remixes. And then came the comedown…
Daniel: “I remember playing this Mary Anne Hobbs thing at Sankeys in Manchester – it was a Tuesday or Wednesday night and I had one of those records [big beat by numbers] in my bag. It was a choice between two records. I remember spending ages looking at this record thinking: ‘I know this is going to be massive and I know it’s going to go down really well, but I can’t bring myself to play it.’ The next morning we were like: ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ So we went really low key for a year and a half. Got into the studio and made this track which became ‘Mindset to Cycle’.”
The studio was The Depot in London’s pre-gentrified King’s Cross. It was here that FC Kahuna 2.0 was born.
Jon: “It was us being put in a room together. Previously we’d done our remixes with an engineer. This was us learning our trade. It wasn’t us messing around, but us learning what to do on our own with a load of records, a sampler, a couple of synths and without a studio engineer.”
Daniel: “The Super Furry Animals were always in there. We had a studio next to James from EMF. Then there was an Elastica studio where we never saw any of the girls, just the bloke. Bez would come in. And Joe Strummer. They’d get out of their minds all the time. I think Steve Mackey had one a bit further down…”
Daniel: “’Mindset to Cycle’ became one techno thing we had. So the next bit was let’s do the opposite end of the spectrum – the bleepy ballad. I was just learning how to use the sampler. I kept putting loads of stuff in: the bass loop that runs all through the track, and kept on adding. Synth sounds, the live drum loop – which came from a Steve White (Style Council/Oasis) sample CD – organ sounds… JC, our engineer, came in and I thought he can give me his assessment. He’s gonna tell me it’s a pile of shit. He was like, no, it’s great. And that was about 85% of the finished article. He put that bit of guitar on it, juggled the structure around a little bit, and that was that. He really liked it, which gave me some faith that it was OK.”
Inspirations and recording
Daniel: “People, even JC, were like: ‘Well, clearly Air are an inspiration.’ I can see why people thought that, but it would have been more a band that dance people wouldn’t have so obviously have liked. It sounds stupid now because most dance people like them, but it would have been The Beta Band or Super Furries. There’s a track by the Super Furries that we loved, ‘Some Things Come From Nothing’ from ‘Guerrilla’. It had this blossoming electronic soundscape and then just one vocal across the top which seemed to mean a lot but meant nothing.”
Hafdís Huld, formerly of Icelandic collective Gus Gus, was drafted in to do the vocal. By now, the duo had moved to a studio in Streatham, owned by Segs, the bassist with The Ruts.
Daniel: “We were upstairs in this flat on a crack estate. There were people getting knifed outside, in the Post Office, totally insane. But we had no hassle at all from the neighbours. People would knock on and go: ‘Sounds good, man.’ That sort of vibe. So we got Hafdís, this tiny, blonde-haired, Icelandic singer, totally wide-eyed and innocent, to turn up at this crack estate. There was this separate little room. We put her in there. We did ‘Machine Says Yes’, which she was also doing the vocals for, first. The first take for ‘Hayling’, she starts singing, we’re recording and she sang the line and I just went: ‘Alright, stop.’ JC looked at me as if I was insane and I just said we don’t need anymore. It was the perfect first line.”
Hafdís: “I heard a demo of the song before I met Dan and Jon so it wasn’t a traditional writing session in that sense, but that is quite common with this style of music. Words and lyrics are important to me and I like to work on that part on my own and with ‘Hayling’ the melody came to me quickly so when we met up I knew what I wanted to sing. There are many ways to collaborate on music and this worked well for us.”
Daniel: “As soon as it got to the end of that first line I was like: ‘Stop!’ And that was it. I don’t even know what else she had written. She’d nailed it. It was what I’d heard in the Super Furries thing that I liked. It was something easy to remember, something meaningful and that we could repeat over and over. Like a Beta Band-type of thing which they used on ‘Push It Out’. And you just build up everything else around it which anchors the track.”
Hafdís: “I remember having more lyrics written for the song, but sometimes less is more. That line says it all, and captures that feeling, so it made sense. It leaves the listener some space to think, make their own connections to the song.”
The line culled from Hafdís’ lyrics was plaintive, yet poignant: ‘Don’t think about all those things you fear, just be glad to be here.’
Hafdís: “At the time I was finding my feet after leaving my old band and moving alone to London. I was reminding myself to enjoy the journey and not let anxiety take over. It’s like a little mindfulness mantra about enjoying the little things in life.”
Jon: “I didn’t recognise it at the time, but the nub of it is quite deep. I see comments online about how the lyrics touched people. You see it on Instagram all the time – it touches people really deeply. People find real meaning in it. Which is mad. It wasn’t meant to be a grandiose statement – more just get on with it.”
The title came from a colourful weekend on Hayling Island, off the south coast of England.
Jon: “Carl Clarke, the promoter of Headstart [the night Dan and Jon DJed at after Big Kahuna Burger and another catalyst for the rebirth of FC Kahuna] was in this band Urban DK. His partner in the band’s parents had a house there – a real nice gaff. It’s a posh little enclave.”
Daniel: “We went down for a weekend to work on something for them. We took a boat out, played table tennis, did some handclaps, did some samples and it was all beautiful by the sea, going out in the speedboat and coming back. We were like you can do the return thing and help us out on a track. So when we were doing it, I was thinking we should get them involved so I called it ‘Hayling’ as a reminder. But by the time we’d finished it, it was done – it didn’t need anymore. The name just stayed.”
By now signed to City Rockers, the early-00s label du jour funded by Ministry, and with an album recorded, FC Kahuna were on a roll. The album, ‘Machine Says Yes’, was causing a buzz, but it was ‘Hayling’ that excited the radio heads.
Daniel: “There was a meeting with the head of the playlist at Radio 1 and they said: ‘If you release this record at exactly the right time you’ll have a top ten hit, you do know that don’t you?’ And we were like: ‘Oh right! Oh, shit.’”
Jon: “We’d decided that the title track was going to be the first single and ‘Hayling’ would come out after. Our radio plugger came to us and said if you switch it around they will A List ‘Hayling’. Obviously being the stupid young twats we were, we were like: ‘No, this is our art. And it will be presented like this.’ Stupid bastards.”
Daniel: “We released ‘Machine Says Yes’ and that got on the B List, but didn’t do as well as it needed to do. Then there was the whole breakdown – dance music died. Overnight it was dead. Ministry reacted and pulled the plug on the dance labels they were funding, so City Rockers had no power to release our music. We had to find a new home. And that dragged on. It was basically a year later when it finally got released properly (on Skint) and by then we’d missed the boat.”
Finally released in 2003, ‘Hayling’ fell just short of the Top 40, reaching number 49. By then it had become something of a chillout anthem and a permanent fixture on the glut of downtempo compilations that flooded the market in the early-00s.
Daniel: “I guess maybe that’s why JC brought Air up because they were playing with stuff against the grain. They were such an innovative band. We didn’t want it to sound like jazzy, floaty records. We wanted to go against the grain. Be a bit more interesting. But that’s as someone who’s written the music. If you’re listening to it you probably don’t pay attention to that. It has something that hits. So something slow and evocative obviously worked. I was probably overthinking it [it not being chillout].”
Jon: “We had no interest in that world - apart from The KLF. You wouldn’t find me and Dan in the chillout room at a club nodding our heads. It was a complete accident. But if you take it in isolation it does fit in. I guess it sticks out on our album to a degree as well. But there was no inspiration being taken from Zero 7, or Massive Attack.”
Either way, this bleepy ballad went on to have an inordinately successful afterlife, finding a home on all manner of TV shows, films, video games and ads…
Jon: “Yeah, it was amazing. I remember it appearing on ‘Six Feet Under’, which I genuinely loved, it was one of my favourite shows at the time. Being on a show that you loved and respected was great. There wasn’t much money in it. There’s not a huge amount of money for things appearing on TV, but it was a genuine buzz to see it on-screen.”
Daniel: “At the time it was largely the case that the record label sign you up to exploit you for whatever they can. I remember The Beta Band turning down lots of ads… if it had been something really awful, there would have been a discussion. It was never part of a Republican campaign or anything. I don’t know. It was all like ‘CSI Miami’, ‘Need For Speed’… none of it particularly terrible and it was getting the song out and about.”
Jon: “Being used in the opening of ‘Layer Cake’ (the 2004 film starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller) was a great marriage of sound and vision. It’s funny, Matthew Vaughn, the director, was on 6 Music talking about film and music. I was really excited to listen and hear him talk about our song. The story was they couldn’t get the song they wanted so ‘Hayling’ was the reserve. I assume they couldn’t afford the one they wanted. We were the super sub!”
Hafdís: “I think we captured some magic that day in the studio and I loved the finished track.”
Daniel: “I like what Woolly (Paul Woolford) did to it. He did a Special Request remix and he took it close to that ‘Testone’ bleep sound. I thought those vocals sound good and those bleeps sound good. And so I listened to the original and I remember thinking: ‘How’s he made it sound better than ours?!’ It reappraised my relationship with the song. Because it became something else over time. And he put it back in context. He’d taken it closer to that Warp bleepy sound.”
Daniel: “I think the reason for its appeal over time is Hafdís’ lyric. It’s a massive part of it. It’s like a wellbeing mantra. It’s almost before mindfulness was a thing - it almost encapsulates this thing that modern living endorses. A peaceful escape route from modern living. Without having a conversation about it, without giving her any instruction of what I wanted her to do she came in with something that I wanted to hear without knowing that’s what I wanted. And it’s a mantra that works maybe more now than it did then.”