“It was Victorian entertainment, where people would go to see magnified images of exotic landscapes or far-away monuments…”
That was how João Branco Kyron, founder of Portuguese psychedelic outfit Beautify Junkyards, explained the concept of the “Cosmorama” when we spoke for Electronic Sound magazine in early 2021. The band’s beautiful, head-spinning album of the same name was imminent, released by the talismanic Ghost Box Records.
Now, João and his bandmates have made an evocative live film to accompany the album. Titled Cosmorama – Moving Images, it’s a hypnotic performance of selected songs, filmed in their native Lisbon and accompanied by suitably trippy interludes… including readings of selected texts by fellow Ghost Box alumnus Justin Hopper.
It’s always a delight to catch up with João, and – in the week of the film’s release – we chatted over Zoom, discussing both the film’s inspirations and a brace of recent spin-off projects.
Here’s how the conversation went:
Bob: The film is wonderful – is it a genuine live performance?
João: Yeah, we used a multi-track recording device, and the same engineer – Artur David – who recorded the album. He’s been working with us for many years now, so he knows us very well! The idea was to play an initial take of each song, just to warm up, and then to record a final version. So we did or two or three takes of each song, and picked the best ones. We went to a kind of black box room in Lisbon and we built everything from scratch. So all the surfaces where the films are being projected, the furniture, the plants… everything was made specifically for this movie. Then we had one day to film, so it was a really intense experience.
You look very much “in the zone” when you’re performing. Did the look of the room help to get into that headspace?
Yeah, we didn’t want to have just one wall with one projection. We wanted multiple surfaces, and for things to look… irregular! So, once everything was set up and we started playing, we were inside a magical place. It was so intense. It’s one thing to plan these things in your mind, but it feels totally different when you’re inside it all.
Did the film essentially come from your frustration at not being able to perform live during the pandemic?
It did… we had a beautiful album that we couldn’t play live. And we were asking ourselves – what can we do to channel our energy? Because we had so much energy at the time. So we had the idea of making a film, but we had to find the right people to help us. And when the guys from Maus da Fita joined us, they completely understood our ideas and our vision. And we also had the precious help of Justin Hopper! The idea was to complement the Cosmorama images with texts that would give people a more immersive experience. So we researched the writing of Mark Fisher… and of Christopher Priest. Have you read his sci-fi book, A Dream Of Wessex?
I haven’t! The one thing I know about Christopher Priest is the fact that he nearly wrote for Doctor Who in the 1980s. But ultimately, he didn’t…
Oh, I didn’t know that! A Dream Of Wessex is beautiful. People go to chambers where they become virtual characters in the future. There are portals in time and space – just like with the Cosmorama. And we also included readings from Picnic At Hanging Rock. Joan Lindsay’s book is wonderful, and when the girls go inside the cave… that’s also like they’re going into a magical place. So we thought all these things would provoke a more intense experience for the viewer, with psychedelic interludes between the songs. I think they make the film more complete.
So the film is very much about passing through portals into more magical realms?
Absolutely, that was our intention. It wasn’t easy to do, but we’re really happy with the result.
How did the collaboration with Justin come about? I know you both release music on Ghost Box Records, but have you actually met him in person?
Yeah, we met in person at the Midsummer Night’s Happening event at the State 51 building in 2019. And then, a few months ago he came to Lisbon with his family, because his wife works for a company that has a delegation here. So we had a few beers, and it was really nice to talk with him! We had lots of ideas about working together, and I think this might be the first of a few collaborations. I love the way he writes.
I adored his book, The Old Weird Albion.
Yes, and his voice, too. I have the album he released with Sharron Kraus, Chanctonbury Rings. It’s beautiful.
So are you planning on working with Justin again as your next project?
Not yet, we’re now focused on the next Beautify Junkyards album. And we’re playing concerts here in Portugal after the summer, so we’re also starting to work on those. We’re also planning shows in the UK – we’ll probably tour early next year. We’re very excited about things starting to heat up again.
The last time we spoke, you told me about writing and rehearsing your albums at your bassist Sergue’s country house. Will you be going there again? It sounded idyllic.
Yeah, I’m actually building a studio there. It’ll be a small wooden cabin! So that’s a place we can go… it’s near Lisbon, but we can be more focused there. We can breathe the environment, and the neighbours bring vegetables and wine. There’ll be a lot of wine! It’s perfect.
You’ve got the Hidden Horse project, too – this is you and Beautify Junkyards drummer Tony Watts making electronic music. You released an album called Opala earlier this year. Is it fair to say it has a more urban feel than Beautify Junkyards?
For sure. We hear a lot of music, and we take a lot of inspiration from different things. So from our youth, we have these urban influences. We’ve been able to explore them a little with Beautify Junkyards: Cosmorama has urban influences on songs like Dupla Exposição and Zodiak Klub. But we wanted more. We like artists like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, and we wanted to do something in that field. Tony and I both have more time now, because we’re both living exclusively for music at the moment! So we started to develop Hidden Horse between Beautify rehearsals. It didn’t take much time to create the album: it took about five months, from us beginning to the release date.
And we didn’t want to make a “perfect” thing – we wanted to go with the flow. A lot of the album was improvised in the studio, and we worked from there. It’s a more simple, more live approach in terms of composition. And it’s more about exploring the limits of the city – things like CCTV, and the parallel realities that exist in those environments. People living in the same space, without ever reaching each other. Maybe in a football stadium they might meet, but the rest of the time they live completely separate lives.
There’s a really interesting battle going on in the UK at the moment, centred around Brutalist architecture. A lot of 1960s and 1970s Brutalist buildings were hated when they were built, and a lot of people still hate them. But, now they’re being demolished, there’s a burgeoning movement to save to them. People are starting to appreciate them as an important part of our architectural heritage, and they seem to be inspiring a lot of music over here: artists like Warrington Runcorn New Town Development Plan, for example. Is the same thing happening in Portugal?
Yeah! Last week I visited London, and I went to Trellick Tower – it’s a Brutalist tower near Portobello. It’s an amazing structure. I know about the influence that Brutalist architecture has on cold wave artists… here in Lisbon, we don’t have so many examples of that, but in the past, me and Tony and Sergue from Beautify Junkyards used to live in the Oriental part of the city. Which at the time was an industrial neighbourhood. We used to rehearse there with our previous band, and it had a decadence… there were ruins, and factories that had closed, but it was also the place where the first rave parties happened in the 1990s. So it had that vibe of decay, but with new evolutions happening musically.
We rehearsed in a theatre where there had been lots of happenings, in poetry and music. So we carried that baggage from the past, and that’s something we apply to our music. To Hidden Horse and to Beautify… although Beautify has a more open field of influences. With Hidden Horse we wanted to focus on the urban.
You made a recent solo album too, called Ascending Plume of Faces. Inspired by the work of Austin Osman Spare, the early 20th century artist and occultist…
Yes, on my visit to London I was able to see some of his paintings at the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. It was the first time I’d seen his work in person, and it was amazing. I’m always researching people, bands, paintings, videos that can inspire me… and then can become part of what I am. I’m like a Lego construction! All these things keep stimulating me. I think there are emotional pieces of me that are missing, and I try to compensate for them with artistic influences. And positive artistic energy.
So during the process of getting inspired for Cosmorama, I became more aware of his work. I knew that bands like Psychic TV and Coil were fascinated by his work, and I already knew a lot about Aleister Crowley… but I started to find Osman Spare more interesting. Crowley is a huge influence on music and art in general, but there are aspects of him that I don’t like so much. With Spare, I identify more – not just with his work, but his life. I stared to read the biography of him, by Phil Baker… and I was fascinated. Some of the stuff I’d read about him before turned out not to be true when I read the biography. And Alan Moore, who I love, is a great fan of Osman Spare, so I read stuff that he had written about him. Osman Spare could have been a brilliant artistic character at the time, but he chose not to be: he wanted to work more in the shadows, painting people that were marginal to society at that time. I’m fascinated by he way he lived, and by the way he used magic to create his paintings. The automatic drawing: drawing with his eyes closed.
And I had time on my hands during the pandemic, so why not create some electronic work inspired by what I was reading?
I love the way you take onboard so many different artistic influences – it’s really inspiring. Do you really think this process helps to improve you as a person?
Totally. Since I was very young, it’s happened like that. And it’s not a question of searching for what’s being hyped – it’s the opposite of that. It’s trying to struggle through the hype! And to find things that can help me to be creative, and to be a better person, and to have better relationships with people.
At the same time, I’m losing some pieces on the way. Losing contact with people that I really love. But I have to continue with this quest. Cinema is something that inspires me a lot. It’s visual, it’s verbal, it has music – films are a really intense experience for me. The thing is to be challenged. To work outside my comfort zone. It would be easy for me to find my comfort zone and be very prolific, creating music for years and years, getting better. But I don’t aim to be an expert in a certain field of music, I prefer to be more open. Maybe I’m not making the best music in each field, but it completes me more.
I sometimes wonder if my career would have been more successful if I’d found one thing to be interested in, and concentrated on that. But I just can’t do it. I’ve always been all over the place, dabbling in all kinds of different things. There’s just no plan to my career at all.
Yeah, I totally understand – it’s how I feel! I’m more complete doing things this way. I’ve been making collages too, during the pandemic – I’ve been collecting old magazines both from Portugal, and from abroad, and I’ve mixed them together. So I mix Life magazines with paranormal magazines – there was a Portuguese magazine from the 1970s called Alfa, which had a lot of nice content! And there are encyclopedias about UFOs and the paranormal, so I mix those with fashion magazines and old advertisements.
I love chatting with you – you send me down so many wormholes! After we spoke last time, I ended up listening to Quarteto IIII, the Portuguese prog band. And even watching Professor Baltazar, the cartoon you saw on TV as kid…
Ha, that’s great!
Anyway, good luck with the film. Is it out now?
It’s out now, and we’re submitting it to short movie festivals as well. And we’re trying to give it a cinema screening in Portugal, too.
Thanks so much for your time – it’s always a pleasure.
Cosmorama – Moving Images is available to rent and view online from on Vimeo OnDemand at
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