“It’s about an underlying optimism or faith in humanity. The quotes have a positive message, even if they’re said in a fairly ridiculous way”: Public Service Broadcasting’s first small steps that led to giant leaps

Public Service Broadcasting
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Public Service Broadcasting were aiming for the stars even in their earliest days. In 2013, following the launch of debut album Inform, Educate, Entertain, mastermind J Willgoose, Esq told Prog about a mission statement that’s served them well ever since.

“You are driving a little too fast and have a false sense of confidence.” Superficially, that sample, from recent Public Service Broadcasting single Signal 30, could describe the progressive electronic mavericks’ rapid rise since 2012’s The War Room EP. That would be unfair, though. 

The London duo’s debut LP, Inform, Educate, Entertain – released earlier this year to critical rapture – took “about four years from making the first song to actually getting the album out,” according to mainman J Willgoose, Esq.

He says their ego as a band remains tempered by “not having a singer” – nevertheless, they have a distinctive humanity, as Willgoose explains. “It doesn’t have my voice on it, but hopefully in the choice of the samples and the subject matter, and a little bit of the tongue-in-cheek humour, I think our personalities do come across.”

Watch On

Their deliberate and meticulous choice of samples, lifted from the BFI, StudioCanal and US public information films, reflects overarching themes as well.“It’s about an underlying optimism or faith in humanity, in a funny sort of way. A lot of the quotes we’ve chosen have a positive message, even if they are said in a fairly ridiculous way.”

Evidence of this abounds. Take Everest, for example: “As soon as I heard him say that line, ‘Two very small men cutting steps on the roof of the world,’ I was just like, ‘That’s it, that’s the emotional centre of the song!’” Then there’s Roygbiv, where one of the key quotes is, ‘I believe in this world to come; I think it’s going to be a pretty good world.’

As Willgoose enthuses, it’s not just about faux technological positivism, but “what humans can do when they work together and put their minds to things.”

Besides the samples, there’s a huge amount of complexity to the compositions. Willgoose likens it to the layered approach of Massive Attack, though Mike Oldfield would also be a fair comparison: “He does have a reputation for labour-intensive music. This definitely is that.”

Everybody had great big beaming smiles. I thought how great it would be to travel around spreading that sort of feeling

Evidence exists on Spitfire, where their krautrock tendencies are most pronounced, and there’s actually a functional reason. “I didn’t listen to Neu! before Spitfire was written – it was deliberate to base Spitfire on krautrock. That was an attempt to undercut any latent nationalism that people would try to read into it.”

Driven to their sound by a disappointing Animal Collective gig – “Pretty much the only gig I’ve ever walked out of” – and the desire to create electronic music that was “musically relatable,” where actions onstage reflect actual sounds heard by the audience, ultimately their motivation is simple.

“It’s about putting a smile on people’s faces,” Willgoose says. “I went to see the Flaming Lips about 10 years ago. I just looked around the crowd and everybody had great big beaming smiles. I thought about how great it would be to travel around spreading that sort of feeling.”

He adds: “Music is the purest form of connecting with people. I think that life without it wouldn’t be worth living.”