Fluke are an English electronic music group formed in the late 1980s by Mike Bryant, Jon Fugler and Mike Tournier with Julian Nugent as the band's manager. The band's conception was influenced by the members interest in the burgeoning acid house music scene and particularly the work of Cabaret Voltaire and Giorgio Moroder.
The band are noted for their diverse range of electronic styles spanning the house, techno, ambient and blues genres; for their reclusivity, rarely giving interviews; and for lengthy timespans between albums. Many listeners know of Fluke only through the inclusion of their music in many blockbuster film soundtracks--most notably The Matrix Reloaded and Sin City--as well as featuring prominently on the soundtracks to Need for Speed: Underground 2 and the Wipeout video game series. The film The Experiment uses their song "YKK".
To date Fluke have produced five original studio albums, two "best of" compilations and two live albums. Throughout their career they have made several changes to their line-up with credited appearances attributed to Neil Davenport playing guitars, Robin Goodridge on drums and Hugh Bryder as a DJ. When Fluke were touring for Risotto they were joined on stage by Rachel Stewart who acted as a personification of the band's official mascot, a character from the Wipeout series named Arial Tetsuo. Stewart continued as lead female vocalist and as a dancer for all of Fluke's live performances between 1997 and 1999.
After Risotto, Mike Tournier left the group to form Syntax with Jan Burton. Mike Bryant and Jon Fugler went on to produce Fluke's latest studio album without Tournier's help and the pair have subsequently engaged in projects under the name 2 Bit Pie, with their debut album 2Pie Island released on September 4, 2006. The musical activities of Mike Tournier remain unknown at present.
The Techno Rose of Blighty:
Prior to forming Fluke, Jon Fugler and Mike Bryant had previously played in two punk bands together named "The Leaky Radiators" and "The Lay Figures" respectively. The third member of Fluke, Mike Tournier, was introduced to the group when he undertook work on a collaboration with Jon Fugler entitled "Skin". It soon became clear that all three shared musical tastes, having a shared interest in the acid house scene and the more experimental electronic sounds of Cabaret Voltaire and Giorgio Moroder. Finally, with the casting of Julian Nugent in a managerial role, Fluke was born.
Fluke's first single, released in 1988, was a white label vinyl entitled "Island Life", pressed on a clear blue 12" vinyl record. Although a commercial failure, as well as being very different in sound to the band's later works, the group persisted and released a further two white label vinyls; "Thumper!" ( sample (help·info)) in 1989 and "Joni/Taxi" in 1990, a song that sampled Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi". The attention that these records received successfully gained the band a record deal with Creation Records with whom they released their first CD single "Philly" in the same year.
The following year saw the release of Fluke's first album, The Techno Rose of Blighty which was swiftly followed by the single "The Bells" and a live album entitled Out (In Essence). For the release of Out (In Essence) Fluke abandoned their deal with Creation Records and signed instead with Circa Records, an offshoot of Virgin. Along with the releases of these first two albums, Fluke also began their career-spanning tradition of releasing work of a different nature under various monikers. The first of these, the industrial single "All Aboard" was released in 1990 under the name The Lucky Monkeys.
The band realised at this early stage in their career that they would experience the greatest artistic freedom if they possessed their own recording studio. They therefore took it upon themselves to obtain their own premises. This was an asset which, according to Jon Fugler, proved invaluable in coordinating the "wider pool of people--musicians and friends--that we draw on to help."
Six Wheels On My Wagon:
After a two year break Fluke returned with what was to be a breakthrough into mainstream popular music when, in 1993, they released the single "Slid". This single became an instant club classic when it was picked up by DJ Sasha who liked it so much that he included three separate remixes of it on his Renaissance album. This burst of success was followed by a rush of two further singles, "Electric Guitar" ( sample) and "Groovy Feeling", and, in the same year, the release of the group's second album, Six Wheels On My Wagon.
This new album was a distinctly house production, featuring uplifting riffs and ambient effects, as opposed to the eponymous techno style of their previous release. The album was structured so that the more accessible 'pop' tracks were to be found at the beginning of the album and the more ambitious ambient works were located towards the end. Though this could have produced a stagnating effect, it was received favourably by critics, with Billboard magazine labelling it as "groundbreaking". Other reviewers went even further, with The Independent suggesting that Fluke were to become the next big thing in Europe:
Fluke's Six Wheels On My Wagon represents the current high-water mark of modern ambient-groove music, showing that although this mode has effectively become the future sound of Europe, it's rarely done as well on the continent as in Britain. Though born out of the groove, the pieces on Six Wheels On My Wagon have a melodic flow which manages to combine elements of surprise and innovation with a hedonistic serenity.
In 1994 Fluke released The Peel Sessions, recorded for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. This CD was a selection of tracks from two live sessions recorded on 18 November 1990 and 10 December 1991. The CD also included one new song, Time Keeper, and several tracks which had previously been released on vinyl only. Fluke were invited to perform two further, unreleased, Peel Sessions after this CD. One broadcast on the 10 November 1996 and the other performed live on the 8 December 2002.
Oto and Risotto:
The following year Fluke released their third album, Oto, which is the Greek for "of the ear". In terms of style, Oto was somewhat darker than Six Wheels on my Wagon, focusing on the downbeat ambient effects which were present in the second half of Six Wheels, and the band completely removed the uplifting house style that characterised their previous work. Owing to the decreased accessibility of the album as a result of this, only three singles were deemed suitable for release from Oto; "Bubble", "Bullet" and "Tosh". In spite of this, "Bullet" was chosen by Dominic Pride of Billboard magazine as one of his top ten picks of 1995. These singles were also the first of Fluke's releases to gain mainstream top 40 chart positions in the UK.
In 1996 Fluke released "Atom Bomb", a single that reached #20 in the UK charts. Originally created as a track for the video game Wipeout 2097 (Along with "V6"), it was to become the centrepiece of their next album, Risotto. The track was also released as a single from the soundtrack album Wipeout 2097 The Soundtrack, which featured tracks from The Chemical Brothers, Future Sound of London, Photek, Underworld, Daft Punk, Leftfield and The Prodigy. Of all their productions, it is Fluke's fourth studio album which is most widely known, primarily because it represented the pinnacle of Fluke's mainstream chart success with the singles "Atom Bomb" and "Absurd" ( sample). The album was named Risotto after the food dish of the same name because, like its culinary counterpart, it contained a mix of "ingredients". These included the pre-released singles "Atom Bomb" and "Absurd", new tracks "Goodnight Lover" and "Kitten Moon", the post-album single "Squirt" and reworked older tracks such as "Mosh", a remix of "Tosh" from Oto. Risotto was perhaps the most favourably reviewed of all Fluke's albums with David Bennun of The Guardian writing:
Risotto pushes forward Fluke's slick, sophisticated techno at a relentless pace. Sometimes, on Absurd, Atom Bomb and especially the top-notch Squirt, it takes a terrier-like grip on your concentration, with the muted vocals hissing in your head like Martian broadcasts arriving through your fillings.
At this stage in time the band also saw fit to re-use the Lucky Monkeys moniker for the release of "Bjango", a single which included a remix by Fluke themselves.
After touring for a year with Risotto on the American, "Electric Highway Tour", and having made two appearances at the Glastonbury festival in 1995 and 1998, Mike Tournier elected to leave the group to pursue a different project named Syntax, with the band's long standing friend, Jan Burton. The pair produced just a single album, Meccano Mind in March 2004, which in turn spawned two moderately successful singles and a live tour supporting Scissor Sisters, before the pair decided to go their own ways in 2005.
Progressive History X and Progressive History XXX:
With the group split it was seen fit to release two "Best Of" albums entitled Progressive History X, a compilation spanning their entire ten year producing history, and then in 2001, Progressive History XXX, a three CD box-set including many rare and hard to find mixes. Both releases were packaged with the artwork "Just Your Average Second On This Planet" 1997-1998 by David Bethell The box-set contained black, red, white and blue versions of the same original cover art, and also came with a poster of the silhouette image on one side and all other album covers on the flip.
2002 saw the formation of The Fluke DJs, a live-show pairing of Jon Fugler and Hugh Bryder. Bryder was a DJ who had assisted Fluke in their live performances since 1993 as well as working with other DJs such as Seb Fontaine while holding a DJ residency at MTV's special event parties. This seemed to indicate further rifts amongst the band as this DJ combination included neither Mike Bryant nor Mike Tournier. However, Jon Fugler denied these rumours shortly after they surfaced claiming that the band merely needed some time away from each other after their intense work on Risotto.
Even with the release of the "best of" albums, there were still signs of life in Fluke's production studio when, in 2000, they produced a promotional CD named The Xmas Demos. This included many of the tracks intended for the album Puppy, with only the track Liquid in the end being excluded. Speculation about a new album was furthered when, after a break of 6 years, the remaining members of Fluke put out two singles forming the basis of this next album. Though the aptly titled "Slap It: The Return" signalled a break from the past, with the writing credits listed simply as "Bryant/Fugler" under the Appalooso label, "Pulse" exemplified a much darker style and was released on the One Little Indian label. It was in 2003 however that Fluke finally demonstrated their ability to survive without Tournier when they released their fifth studio album, Puppy, six years after Risotto. The name of the album was inspired by Jeff Koons' fifty foot sculpture of a puppy that stands outside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. This album proved to be similar to the earlier Risotto tracks in tempo and mood, but with the introduction of some new ideas, such as the inclusion of a blues track, "Blue Sky" and the addition of a very dark techno orientated bonus track, Pulse.
The album was not received well critically with most of the criticisms labelling the album as dated. Andy Gill of The Independent wrote:
Surely the longest-serving of UK dance outfits, Fluke have been a fixture on the national house scene for more than a decade now ... With their endlessly cycling layers of fizzing synths and those big filter-sweeps that were de rigueur a few years back - when the music recedes to nothing, then surges back again - tracks such as "My Spine" and "Hang Tough" could have been made at any time in the past six or seven years. Maybe they were; whatever, they sound a tad cumbersome compared with the leaner garage beats favoured now. In "Snapshot", the juddering synth riff is the techno equivalent of the 12-bar blues, a standard form that has become all too easy for lazy musicians to slip into. Fluke may sing, "It's easy to change/ Go out and get a new name/ Forget yesterday" in "Switch/Twitch", but it is clearly not proving that easy for them to develop beyond their old house style, notwithstanding odd moments such as the freeway glide of "Baby Pain" and the soulful choir on the closing, chill-out number, "Blue Sky". It's Nineties music for a Noughties world.
The only single to be released from Puppy after the album's release was "Switch", which was put out in CD and vinyl format. The track was also featured on the soundtrack for the Electronic Arts video game Need For Speed Underground 2 but achieved nowhere near the critical or popular acclaim of the singles from Risotto, not even clocking an appearance in the UK top 40.
In late 2005, Mike Bryant and Jon Fugler teamed up with Jan Burton, Wild Oscar, Robin Goodridge, Dilshani Weerasinghe, Marli Buck and producer Andy Gray to form 2 Bit Pie with a limited release of "Nobody Never". This track retained the rough vocals and electronic feel that was by now characteristic of Fluke, but had a stronger emphasis on live playback and real instruments. In May 2006 there were club previews of two new 2 Bit Pie songs, "Little Things" and "Here I Come" ( sample). A further 2 Bit Pie song made its debut at the Afterhours club event at KROQ-FM on the 17th June 2006, entitled "Fly". Finally, on September 4, 2006, 2 Bit Pie released their debut album, 2Pie Island, in the UK to minimal critical attention.
Although Fluke has been producing music for the better part of two decades they remain relatively unknown to a large scale audience and the band members themselves are even less recognisable. Jon Fugler insisted in an interview with The Independent that the band's reclusivity was "less about selfish hedonism than the revival of 'a communal attitude that had long been forgotten'". The main sphere of influence where the band has had success is through their inclusion in advertisements, film and video game soundtracks.
Amongst the more prominent of these appearances was the 2003 film, The Matrix Reloaded, using the Fluke track "Slap It" renamed to Zion for compatibility with the film.
Fluke's 1997 hit "Absurd" was featured in the trailer for Get Carter, in the strip club sequence of the 2005 film Sin City and the 'Whitewash Edit' is included on the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider soundtrack which tied in with a commercial deal for Ericsson who sponsored the film and then went on to use "Absurd" in its commercials. In addition, it was featured in the video game series NFL QB Club until its discontinuation in 2002. The "Knight to King's Pawn" episode on the 2008 series of Knight Rider, the song "Absurd" was used by KITT to hide a secret message. Where possible Fluke's licensing agent, David Steel at V2 Music, tries to ensure that when their tracks are used in films they also appear on the soundtrack album:
Steel acknowledges that he "licensed the track for use in the film on the condition that it would also be included on the soundtrack." In this way, notes Steel, the song "earned significantly more money than if it had just been in the film".
This kind of exposure was welcomed by members of the band, as Jon Fugler said in an interview with Billboard:
A band's success is based on what they do, not what their music is used for. I can only speak for the UK, but I'd find it very surprising if anybody listened to an ad for any kind of normal piece of product and went, 'Oh, I'm gonna take that as being minus points against this band or this composer or this act, because they're selling out.' I don't think anybody views it like that anymore.
In 1997 Fluke's US sales totalled 14,000 which was modest compared with the 200,000 copies of Dig Your Own Hole that The Chemical Brothers sold. In an interview with Billboard magazine, Fugler stated that he felt that predicted figures for the US electronica boom were overhyped by people who were out of touch with the music scene; "The expectations came from the people who had nothing to do with the music, it came from the business level, people not involved with it." This lack of commercial success has not dampened the spirits of the band however, Fugler going on to say "It's not about being on the cover of a magazine".
Fluke's live shows are in many respects similar to the live performances given by The Chemical Brothers in that both these artists employ stunning visual effects combining lasers and projected displays. Furthermore, Fluke's performances come in two varieties of show; performances as Fluke where the shows consist of entirely original Fluke material and shows under the alias "The Fluke DJs" whereby a combination of Fluke tracks are mixed with others in the style of a DJ Set. Unable to attract major crowds, Fluke resorted to "festival-style" tours along with other acts to draw in a sizeable audience as was seen with their participation in the "Electric Highway" tour in 1997 where they were joined by The Crystal Method and the "Pukkelpop" festival where they headlined along with Metallica amongst others.
Contrasting with many other electronic acts, however, Fluke's members were never entirely relegated to standing behind consoles. This was due to their conscription of session musicians to play guitar (Neil Davenport) and percussive elements (Robin Goodridge) live on stage. From 1997 onwards their shows were further enhanced with the inclusion of the dancer and singer Rachel Stewart as a real-world incarnation of the band's mascot Arial Tetsuo. Originally a character from the Wipeout 2097 video game, Tetsuo was subsequently adopted as the band's "fourth member" following "Atom Bomb"'s inclusion in the Wipeout 2097 soundtrack. This also gave the perfect excuse to incorporate a female vocalist to counter Fugler's deep and somewhat monotonous spoken vocals. While Bryant and Tournier were indeed behind synthesizers, Fugler and Stewart were able to entertain the crowd visually with dancing and singing while Fluke's resident lighting technician, Andy Walton, provided a suitable technology-driven accompaniment to the music. In 2004, Stewart parted ways with Fluke indefinitely, instead focusing on a new project with ex-EMF band member James Atkin, named Beauty School.
We threw ourselves into being a live band, but it was always important for us to give people a real show rather than just stand there twiddling knobs.
The number of Fluke's live shows decreased significantly after the release of Puppy owing to their personal commitments to young families. However, in the few shows they have played since, they have opted for the Fluke DJs setup, which utilises "a battery of laptops and the odd deck" rather than focusing on their live stage band, an approach which Jon Fugler subsequently referred to as "good fun, but ultimately flawed for the dancefloor."
In 2009, Fluke began to perform live again, including all three members, with a show scheduled for the 10th of October, 2009 at The Tabernacle in London.