Fila Brazillia: "Growing up, we were super analogue – guitars, bass, drums; proper bands. But as we got into machines, we used the best of both worlds"

fila brazillia
(Image credit: Fila Brazillia)

Fila Brazillia – the groovesome twosome of Steve Cobby and David ‘Man’ McSherry deserve their flowers. Over the course of a crate’s worth of albums, and a “skip-full” of singles and remixes, they helped shape, soothe and shock the UK electronic music scene. 

For their second LP, at the halfway point of the nineties, they were merrily mashing up the funny bits they saw poking out of techno tracks, hip-hop, house, Bill Hicks monologues, and dusty old classical records. If it amused or moved them, it was going in the sampler.

From the clap-your-hands-out-and-stomp-your-foot, pun-heavy title, through to the in-joke track names, it was all about their personal sense of humour and style. Pieced together in Cobby’s bedroom studio, the pair bashed out tracks that tickled them, live on the desk. Turning out unique versions and, “keeping the ones that weren’t shit”, for the album. 

“If you started a track, you had to finish it,” says McSherry. “We didn’t have automation or total recall. So, you’d have a tune on the desk for two days. And then stick it onto DAT, and then that’s it. You could never get it back. That’s why there’s mistakes, and some of the mixes are not quite right, but, you know?”

Yeah. That all adds to the fearless charm. Omelettes/eggs. These brave pioneers walked badlands barefoot so you could run in comfy shoes, young padawan.

Musically, grooves were inspired by the 16C swing of Underworld, the Dust Brothers’ brass swells and the straight up vibes of The Sabres Of Paradise. If inspired by anyone, of course. Fila almost didn’t have time to fully absorb the goings on of contemporary clubland, as they were running a musical sausage factory for Pork Recordings. 

“We couldn’t get that skin on quick enough,” chuckles Cobby. “We were working so fast. We put out three albums in 18 months. We were prodigious. And, you know, the planets had aligned.”

The celestial dance continues today, as them Fila boys have just dropped the 30-year deep Retrospective Redux 90 – 22. Enjoy yer flowers, fellas.

The studio set-up

“The studio was on the top floor of Albion Street [in Hull] at this time, in the small bedroom. It had a really distinctive drum sound. We’d bought a small Premier kit", McSherry tells us when asked about the space used to record Maim That Tune.

“We were also using an Atari ST and C-Lab. Then it was live samples, running through the mixing desk to DAT, with dub-style effects actually on the desk.”

“And then we just recorded arrangements by recording a pass on the mutes," Cobby says. "It would be different every time. I miss that. It was like you’re driving the mix, more.

I still think that the Atari was more solid than any sequencer that I’ve ever had since

“The Cheetah MS-6 was heavily used. The Korg M1 synth was used loads for its bells. Then the Korg DW-8000. We got that in about ’86 and every LP had a bit of that on. There wasn’t a lot of outboard. We had the Roland MC-101, and I probably had my Roland W-30 sampling workstation at that time," McSherry continues. "And a Juno and Roland JX-3P. And then all the sampling was done in the Akai S1100.”

“I miss that setup for making music," Cobby says. "I still think that the Atari was more solid than any sequencer that I’ve ever had since. Somebody did try and explain it to me, like, mathematically. But, it was [Richard] Dorfmeister who said that you’re never gonna get something as solid as an ST, because it was feeding parallel information rather than serial. But, that was the setup for about the first three or four of our albums.”

Maim That Tune, track-by-track

Dave Yang & Steve Yin De-Swish T’ Swish

Cobby: “The title came after we were doing the decorating and got paint on one of them swish curtain rails that glides, although the gliding had stopped because it was covered in emulsion. So, we had to ‘de-swish’ the rail by scraping all the paint off.”

McSherry: “And for the ‘Dave Yang & Steve Yin’ thing, you know, we just elaborated on us as two painters and decorators with a little van parked outside with them names on the side. We should have gone down that road.”

Cobby: “So, as we were de-swishing the swish rail, the name just came to us. You know what we’re like with coming up with titles, if it made us laugh. It ended up on the board. And then, when it comes to finishing a tune, you’d just be like, ‘What tune fits with what title?’”

McSherry: “And it just made sense for that track to come first on the album because it’s like a little gentle introduction.”

A Zed And Two L’s

Cobby: “It’s the most listened to Fila tune on Spotify, because it’s featured in the most chill out playlists. It was in Chris Morris’s Jam, too.

“It was mastered at Jah Tubby Sound. We used them for all the early stuff. Keith – what a top boy. It was in Tower Hamlets – proper ghetto. I did a couple of attended cuts there. Then realised it was pointless, and just left Keith to do it.

I remember making the track on New Year’s day because I’d been out at Room Nightclub. When I got back to the flat/bedroom/studio I didn’t want to go to sleep because of ‘sleep preventing substances’, so got into working on the tune

“I remember making the track on New Year’s day because I’d been out at Room Nightclub. When I got back to the flat/bedroom/studio I didn’t want to go to sleep because of ‘sleep preventing substances’, so got into working on the tune. Time just started to flash past, and everything came together. And then I got the idea about leaving the delay time exactly the same, but changing the tempo of the track so that the delay went from a quarter to a triplet, like a Fibonacci sequence or something.”


McSherry: “Leggy was a very popular track because it was kinda trip-hop, I suppose. It ticked all the trip-hop boxes. So, it was popular with everybody who had us down as a downtempo group as well. 

“Also, back then, we just used a pure sine wave for bass. On the Akai – just a pure sine wave. Which sounds brilliant, as a bassline, you know, on a good rig. But, when you play it on something that’s not that good, the bass just disappears, because there’s no harmonics. I realised that a few years ago. Like, it should have been distorted a bit…

“When I was doing a course in Salford in ’93 to ’95, I remember saying to one of the tutors that we did that, and he said that was insane.”

Cobby: “We were much more interested in what you’re not meant to do. That’s where the surprises are.”

At Home In Space

Cobby: “Ooh, lovely track, that. And that was Man, bringing them samples in – Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. The thing that we used to like doing was trying to shoehorn disparate elements into the same track, to see if we could do it. Like, why couldn’t we get Vaughan Williams in this one? Or Ramsey Lewis. Or whatever, you know? 

“That was a challenge that we liked to set ourselves, just to see if we could. That chalk and the cheese on the same track. But, the bulk of that track for me is the flute. That’s what sets the tone for that whole beautiful thing.”

McSherry: “The flute line is a flute sample played on a keyboard. We played that, believe it or not.”

6ft Wasp

Cobby: “That title was Man’s call. When we made it he said, ‘Fuck me! It sounds like a six-foot wasp’. Which, obviously, you know, had us falling about laughing.

“This is also the track with the most teeth on there, I think. When people used to say, ‘Oh, Fila is really chill out and downtempo’. I’d say, ‘Go listen to ‘6ft Wasp, and then come back and tell me that we’re a downtempo outfit’. I didn’t like the idea of being pigeonholed. 

“So, yeah. This one was the odd kind of muscular track. And I suppose that’s the nearest that there is to anything of that kind on the album.”

McSherry: “This is also the one sampling Bill Hicks, talking about advertising.”

Cobby: “God bless him. May his soul rest in peace. Yeah, that was not long after I’d seen him appear on Channel 4 in the middle of the night. He came on and just blew my mind, and he became an absolute hero, immediately, and I couldn’t wait to use him on stuff, to be honest.”


McSherry: “This is definitely influenced by Underworld. With the fact that it’s a long tune, and has that kind of 16C swing on it. It’s also the most techno track on the album. I think it’s the one that stands out as being odd in terms of the rest of the record. But, it’s got a Hossam Ramzy sample in it, for that sort of percussion tambourine thing? So, that brings it away from just being a purely techno track and gives it that organic element.”

Cobby: “Yes. Hossam Ramzy’s  Rhythms Of The Nile. We liked to get that balance between organic instrumentation and the synth world. It was like metric and imperial, you know? That was analogue and digital. 

“We were super analogue, when we were growing up – guitars, bass, drums; proper bands. And then, as we got into machines, we incorporated them. We always used the best bits from both them worlds. They were all colours to be used.”

Harmonicas Are Shite

Cobby: “I got a harmonica for Christmas. I played it, and we sampled it. The title is just us dissing it. I’m amazed we managed to use it, the first time. God bless samplers. 

“That was it. Just stand in front of a sampler and like, play a gob iron in for 10 minutes. And then you get things in there you can use. You know, pitch a few notes up. A bit of truncation.”

McSherry: “Then there’s live dub-style effects on the little guitar stabs in there. It’s super dubby, this one. It’s all getting delayed and reverbed and muted.”

Cobby: “I was listening to vast amounts of Studio One, because Porky, who I was living with, had a fantastic reggae and dub collection. And the thing I got from dub was this idea that the studio actually becomes an instrument, and you drive mixes, which I thought was fantastic, you know? That dub influence was always there, early doors.”

Extract of Pineal Gland

Cobby: “That’s the one with the least things happening on it, I think.”

McSherry: “I’m doing my best Keef impression on the guitar. And then it just goes down to just that. It’s like, massive chunks of silence. Actually, not silence. Desk humming.”

Cobby: “It’s one of my least favourite tracks. It just doesn’t sound finished. We took that out of the oven before it was baked properly.”

McSherry: “It gets there, though. It starts off unfinished. And then there’s all that sort of stuff from the [Korg DW-8000] DW. And that descending stuff. Like that Japanese vibe riff that comes in. It’s a lot longer than I remembered. It’s about eight minutes long. The second half of it’s good.

“The bassline is a sample. And the other thing I noticed is that it’s the first time that our signature drum sound appears. You know, Steve on the drums, in the next room, a small Premier kit, one mic. We’d then sample whole sections into the [Akai S1100] 1100 to construct a drum track.”

Subtle Body

Cobby: “I remember Man coming to the studio with these three chords. You had a piano at home, didn’t you? He played them and I was like, ‘Well, they’re exquisite. Let’s put them down.’”

McSherry: “From the Wurlitzer electric piano. That first appeared on Harmonicas Are Shite, then it was used on loads of tracks and remixes.”

Cobby: “Yeah, I bought that off [Be Bop Deluxe’s] Bill Nelson. He moved to Japan and sold a lot of his equipment. I got it for £150. It’s worth like two grand now. I think he regrets it, and apparently wrote Ships In The Night on it.”

McSherry: “I remember hitting the Wurli really hard, so it clunked. And then you grabbed it into an [Lexicon] LXP on a sort of infinite reverb/freeze reverb thing. Then there was the [Korg] M1 bell. 

“But, more than the bell thing was that loop. But, we kept adding an extra note. So, the loop gradually builds up and builds up and gets more complex, and then it goes off again. It was like a maths experiment, in a way. And it’s fucking so zen!”

Cobby: “And we always liked to finish an album off with something a little bit more ambient, as well.” 

Retrospective Redux 90 – 22 is out now.

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