Urbanature: how four surfers make non-surf music

June 6, 2019 | Surfing
Flow by Urbanature: non-surf music made by four surfers | Photo: Urbanature

They've been surfing for over three decades and making music together for 25 years. And yet, they sound like they have never ridden a wave.

Meet Urbanature, an instrumental electronic indie band that strangely doesn't allow chords to ride the waves that break near their private studio.

Francisco, João, Luis, and Nuno have all met in the early 1990s in a surf-rich seaside resort near Porto, in Portugal.

There were no smartphones, online chats, or affordable synthesizers. Life was slower, and summer holidays were spent outdoors, at the beach and chasing waves.

The quartet met during their high school years and discovered music together, even though they all had different music tastes.

"I still ask myself how can a metal fan, a British music lover, an indie guitar player, and a jazz and blues listener form such a unique band like ours," explains Nuno Camacho, Urbanature's bass player.

Urbanature: an instrumental electronic indie band from Porto, Portugal | Photo: Zalox

The Computer as a Musical Instrument

They all surfed together, enjoyed surf music, but the explanation for their unlikely connection was electronic music, the glue that eventually united their different edges.

After a highly acclaimed demo released via cassette tape - "Volume 1" (1996) - the band was immediately contacted to perform live and invited to record a debut album.

"We were one of the first instrumental bands to use a computer as a musical instrument in live performances and some of our country's most important venues," adds Francisco Cardoso, the drummer.

With the advent of MIDI interfaces and samples, the quartet found a way to cleverly combine organic instruments like guitars, bass, and drums, with the elegant and distinctive sound offered by synthesizers.

"When you're composing a song without vocals, your focus shifts toward the melody. Therefore, and in order to involve the listener, we always felt the need to do things differently," adds Luis de Freitas, the keyboard player of Urbanature.

After 1999's "Evergr33n," a record that highlights their electronic DNA, Urbanature initiated a new era. The Porto-based band added a cinematic, space rock aura to their unique sound.

"'Flow' is a very special album because it epitomizes what we truly are. I guess it's hard to find a band with such a broad spectrum of influences. Each song in 'Flow' is different from one another," says João Marques, Urbanature's guitar player.

Surfing the Outer Space

The first single - "Plug and Pay" - is a portrait of the modern world, and could very well be on the soundtrack of a James Bond, Star Wars, David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino movie.

Interestingly, the spirit of the song does not reflect the musician's surfing roots. And why is that?

"It's an intriguing question. We all surf on a regular basis, enjoy summer holidays by the sea, and rehearse just 30 seconds away from a fantastic beach break, but never felt the ocean, and the waves as a source of inspiration for our music," states Camacho.

There's even a wetsuit hanging in the studio's entrance, and smell of surf wax floating around the highly complicated music setup.

But the band will not impose a surf music vibe on themselves, even when a great surf session precedes a rehearsal.

"I guess our city-influenced lives and jobs ignite our subconscious more than the ocean. Recently, and curiously, our sound has taken us to outer space landscapes," adds De Freitas.

The band cites several influences: Underworld, The Young Gods, Chemical Brothers, Tricky, Prodigy, Brian Eno, Massive Attack, New Order, Kraftwerk, LCD Soundsystem, Suede and Warpaint are some of them.

Urbanature (left to right): João Marques, Luis de Freitas, Nuno Camacho and Francisco Cardoso | Photo: Zalox

Music for People on the Move

Despite being an instrumental band, Urbanature have occasionally used small vocal samples that help colorize their distinct sound.

In their latest work, you can listen to a few lines from a French movie, and samples from NASA's finest moments.

Urbanature believe that their sound is evolving to become movie theme songs. And judging for a quick listen, they might be right.

That idea was perfectly translated into "Chasing the Sun" and "Stellar Path," two mind-blowing tunes available in "Flow."

For now, the electronic indie music band is only playing live to a restricted number of people. They want to keep their sound encapsulated until the right moment, the right show, and the right venue align.

But that doesn't mean we can't hear them. "Flow" is the perfect album for the drivers, the runners, and the commuters.

The quartet stresses that it is not "a stack of songs for home or office listening." It's music for people on the move, whether you're inside an electric car, skateboarding, or dancing at the club.

One thing is certain: Urbanature are fired up, and already composing their third chapter.

The beach and the waves will have to wait. Maybe the surf and the vocals will only make their debut when they land after their upcoming space mission.

"Flow" by Urbanature is available on autographed limited edition CD and digital download.

Urbanature: their private studio smells of surf wax | Photo: Urbanature

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