Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #4 Boards of Canada


The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until we unveil our #1 artist of the decade!

Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.

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#4 Boards of Canada

Undoubtedly one of the most groundbreaking groups in the world of electronic music, Boards of Canada inhabit a vivid and surreal world all their own. Widely respected and vastly imitated, these pioneers of ambient, down-tempo, and IDM seamlessly blend the past, present, and future into one beautiful synthesis. Their haunting, evocative sound is the fruition of a childhood spent tinkering with old tape recorders and projectors. Ushering in a new era of music production, in the midst of the analog-to-digital revolution, Boards of Canada have blurred all boundaries. Utilizing recording techniques spanning across decades, multiple layers of audio-visual media are interwoven into something wholly new, fusing the old with the new - both conceptually and quite literally.

Brothers Michael and Marcus Sandison were born in northern Scotland and later moved to London, then Alberta Canada. The two grew up playing music and tooling around with classic tape recorders and synthesizers and all kinds of analog gear. At ten years old the two were making home movies with a Super-8, as well as the soundtracks to go with them. By thirteen they had already seen the inside of a pro recording studio. Mike was set on starting a band inspired by the new wave sound of groups like Devo and Human League. Soon he recruited his brother and the two explored many creative avenues experimenting with various recording techniques. By 1980 the band was making bizarre audio collages and tracks embracing the wobbly, damaged sound of old tape and film. Soon they found a vast resource of material in the faded, ghostly soundtracks of 16mm educational documentaries produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

In 1995 Michael and Marcus financed and pressed a vinyl-only limited-edition album entitled Twoism. About a year later a copy ended up in the hands of Sean Booth (Autechre) at Skam Records in Manchester. Sean contacted them immediately and shortly after they began playing shows alongside Autechre with their surreal Super-8 visuals projected behind them.

Their debut album Music Has the Right to Children was released to unanimous critical acclaim and was awarded “album of the year” by countless publications, and subsequently earned them a reputation as pioneers of a breakthrough sound. Beautifully sparse and darkly emotive, the album is a nostalgic dream-like journey, possessing a vibrant purity, resonating with the feel of a distant yet familiar era. Voices are deconstructed into indecipherable rhythmic elements (a modern twist on the ideas of the Dada movement). Where as the typical electronic music of the day was slick and polished, Boards of Canada’s wobbly lo-fi style offered something more profound on both an aesthetic and a cerebral level.

Boards of Canada almost immediately gave up performing live, and instead prefer to remain in the studio. The group has earned a sturdy place as one of the most influential groups in electronic music with virtually no advertisement or radio play. Their influence can be easily detected in a vast number of new artists and performers throughout numerous genres. Their brilliant body of work is full of secrets. Listeners and producers alike will be listening very closely for some time to come.

- Michael Charles

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Boards of Canada - Chromakey Dreamcoat

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Boards of Canada - Skyliner

Check back tomorrow for the next artist! To see the full list of the Top 100 Artists of the Decade, click here.

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