Our sound is usually described as dark, swirling, dirty, electronic, and bass-heavy. I reckon that's fairly accurate. We've been referred to as 'dark shoegaze' on a number of occasions. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'd never considered the Shoegaze thing at all until it was mentioned in a review somewhere. The likes of My Bloody Valentine weren't on my radar - for better and worse.
My early teens were spent latching onto a small but adventurous number of acts (Public Image Limited, Cocteau Twins, David Sylvian, Curve, Magazine, Tricky, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, Leftfield, Autechre and Hawkwind) as well as random snippets of unusual sounds old and new recorded off of radio shows by Gilles Peterson and Saint John Peel. Hawkwind were the first band I got into that hit the spot for me. And I feel very lucky that I found them. They opened my eyes, enabled me to look beyond genre and just appreciate music, sound, noise...
So the Shoegaze thing seemed kind of derivative (and a little bit snooty) to my ears. Indie guitar scenes are like that, unfortunately. A major factor for me was that I was never able to afford stomp boxes, big amps, or guitars that stayed in tune as a kid. Fuzz? Delay? They sounded like sex aids.
Of course, when I eventually got hold of a delay pedal (and a knife...) - it all started to make sense. And a world of sound revealed itself. But things like our treasured white-noise guitar sound was a happy accident generated by a noisy power supply putting a lot of hiss through a cheap wah pedal. We don't always use it because it doesn't always happen. Same with the medium wave radio signals that sometimes creep into the mix (via the combination of a cheap guitar cable and a DOD compressor pedal). Happy accidents, generated by a couple of cheap bits of kit. It doesn't have to be all about vintage Fender Jags, huge amps and 200 quid a time fuzz boxes that sound oddly similar to what happens when you plug a guitar into an old (and much cheaper) tape recorder.
We don't use a lot of stomp boxes at all anymore. Over time you find that most of them aren't really necessary, and all you're really doing is reducing your signal down to noise (and there are far cheaper ways of doing that than spending thousands on vintage equipment).
Just give me a bit of reverb on the guitar and we're good to go. The swirl and intricate little fractal harmonics tend to happen without the aid of effects, if you let them. The fetishism of equipment by some music scenes is a sign that maybe they are less interested in making music, and more interested in buying shiny stuff.
|Look at all our shiny stuff.|
Anyway, back to influences. Having had songs like Psychedelic Warlords, Back in the Box, Images and Wings (see vid links below) on my playlist on a daily basis for months recently, it finally hit me just how much we owe to Hawkwind.
The 'often misunderstood Hawkwind': a grimy, narcotically moody, sci-fi tinged bunch of sonic explorers; fond of pulsing synths, swirling yet gritty guitars, urgent bass riffs, chaos and groove; drones, electronic noise, motoric beats and anthemic dirge. Sound familiar? Remind you of anyone?
Tense, dystopian ( a word you'll be seeing a lot of in this post), anarchic, blissed-out soundscapes... Getting warmer? I type this out and it all makes sense. Where would we be without them?
Eventually I began to recognize that sound and music are a kind of foodstuff. They can be (potentially) nourishing. But almost everything around me just sounded that little bit too macho, aggressive and egotistical. So it took me a while.
Long before I had any interest in music or music making, I was lucky enough to have read Michael Moorcock's Cornelius books (a heady cocktail of experimental writing, gender politics, sex, psychedelia, anarchism and anachronisms), where the likes of Hawkwind, Lemmy and The Sex Pistols made appearances alongside a cast of intriguingly enigmatic ficitonal characters.
I found Hall of The Mountain Grill in a second hand vinyl store sometime during the mid 90's (either Piccadilly Records in Manchester, or Mike Lloyd Music in Hanley or Wolverhampton). I recognized the band name from the Cornelius books and figured I'd give them a go. I soon went back for more.
I got hold of more recent albums like Palace Springs, Space Bandits and Electric Tepee (terrible titles, great albums): slick but also kinda edgy rock with an organic-exotic dash of electrickery, all radiating a kind of dark dystopian psychedelia.
There was a lot of surging bass end pumping away up-close in the mix, and a sense of near-chaos, but that grimy minimalist drone-rock guitar and pristine drumming held it all together. And there was a lot of space left over for the listener's imagination. This was exactly what I'd been looking for and I lapped it up.
It was angry stuff in places, but not in a macho, conservative Metal way. The presence of Bridget Wishart's urgent vocals, Harvey Bainbridge's lush synths and Simon House's violin (sometimes plaintive, sometimes unhinged) added a sense of depth to these Post-Everything sonic explorations.
I found a VHS tape of a gig from around that time (Live Legends?) and was fascinated by the contrast between the musicality and the sense of chaos on-stage. There was nothing Prog about this stuff. It was all about a manic, surging Punky energy. There was none of the lumpen, horribly dated 'we're classically trained and must play a million notes a minute' daftness of Yes or whoever.
The surreal-bordering on downright nightmarish theatrics, smoke machines and video projections definitely made an impression on me too. We've had a few gigs where we've delighted in swamping the crowds in smoke, strobes and video footage hehe. People seem to either go completely mad or become filled with hatred over this stuff. Which is great. The last thing you want is a passive audience that just stands there stoney-faced, politely applauding when it's safe to do so. Seriously.
Hawkwind was definitely music to get lost in, and with a dark 'everything is not going to be OK' undercurrent that made total sense to me (I was looking for music to escape into, from an environment that was pretty damn bleak: happy trippy hippie music wasn't what I was looking for).
The way that 'Awkwind didn't restrict themselves to conventional song structures (a track like Images goes from an amphetamine-urgent surging, to a sudden 'fallen off the edge of the world into dreamspace' and then back again); the way they can take a one churning riff (or no-riff) and make it groove made total sense to me.
I loved how they were unafraid of technology too. I needed that because even early on I found myself wanting to hear and make use of non-musical sounds in a musical context. And I didn't care what I needed to use to realize that. The snobbishness of the musicians around me early on was a real drag. This is the 21st Century - this isn't the goddamn 1960's!
It was years before I found out that the drums on albums like Space Bandits were actually programmed (by the excellent drummer Richard Chadwick on discovering that he couldn't face having to play live drums in a studio environment); something that obviously had a subliminal effect on me.
I love drums AND drum-machinery and I don't see why you can't have both! We now use programmed (and de-programmed) drums, acoustic and electronic drums AND a load of exotic percussion instruments. Give me more drums!
|Mechete-style shakers (spot the cowbell)|
It was disappointing as a kid when I eventually connected with local outsiders on the alternative scene, to find that the majority of the Techno heads, Goths and Metallers alike all thought Hawkwind (and Pil) sounded like unlistenable noise. You'd think these people would love a bit of chaos. Hell no. Hawkwind were far too multi-dimensional for that lot.
Looking back, they were just your average small-town small-minded people, merely shopping in different places to their leisure-suit and white trainers counterparts. A band that wasn't on TV or on the cover of certain magazines wasn't acceptable. It still pisses me off to this day the way that so many people can't decide whether they like something until a certain magazine or TV personality says so first. Like you need permission to simply enjoy music?
Discovering Hawkwind whilst still in my teens broke down some barriers in my head, so when I eventually heard some decent electronic, dance, Post-Punk, Dub and experimental music - I was ready for it, I recognized it, it made sense. And as you grow up and go further afield you meet other people that see no problem in being a fan of both electronic and rock music, and bands that play a mash-up of both. Sometimes you even meet musicians that like that too.
I can see now that we owe Hawkwind a lot. So I'm forever singing their praises. They are one of my obsessions, along with obscure / overpriced analog drum-synths and the equally underground sonic heaven-and-hell explorations of Kevin Martin (The Bug, Techno Animal, King Midas Sound).
Synths + guitars + a load of delay + spoken word bits...
How many bands that have been going for... five decades can honestly say they have embraced - and been embraced in return by - everything from Punk, Metal and Dub Reggae to House, Alternative Rock and Techno (the darkness AND light of the psychedelic drug - dance -trance experience) and beyond?
I think the later-day Electronic / Underground / Alternative scenes owe more to the likes of Hawkwind then they realize. Pounding beats, a sense of impending doom and a generally grimy approach to production values... Hawkwind were on that groove decades before the mainstream was even capable of perceiving such a thing was a possibility.
Like any band with longevity they've gone astray, their sci-fi inspired antics can sometimes end up horribly one-dimensional, and I've got no time for anything resembling a 12-bar blues. But these are momentary glitches and the good albums far outweigh the bad.
I'm playing people Back in the Box and Psychedelic Warlords (along with things like Scorn, Techno Animal, and more recent acts like Blindness, Hollow Press, King Midas Sound and The Bug) alongside new songs of ours like Stargazer and Matchmaker in an effort to prove that hey, we're not operating out on a limb, we're a part of the underground tradition of not giving a fuck about genre, and you CAN have a sense of dread AND a groove in the same mix!