Spacemen 3 – History

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Spacemen 3 were an English rock band who formed in 1982 and whose career spanned from the post-punk to acid house eras. This highly influential group’s minimal sound, characterised by droning guitars, softly sung/spoken vocals and sparse or monolithic drumming would be adopted by the shoegazing movement that would eventually dominate the underground. Their sound also formed the basis for post-rock. Spacemen 3 consisted of the core of Jason Pierce and Peter Kember (Pierce sometimes credited as J. Spaceman and Kember usually known as Sonic Boom), who formed the group in Rugby, Warwickshire, having met at art college. Other members of what would become a fluid lineup over the years included Pete Bain (Bassman, also of the Darkside), Natty Brooker, Sterling Roswell (Rosco), Will Carruthers and Jon Mattock (also of Slipstream).

From the outset Spacemen 3 had a very defined set of aesthetic principles. They based almost their entire sound on their own concept of minimalism—droning guitars, feedback, as few chords as possible, pounding drums—with their motto “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”. Their minimalism bled into their stage show as well. Sitting down to play their guitars and covered in the spinning colours of a cheap psychedelic light show, their stage “act” was very anti-performance. Another striking aspect of Spacemen 3 was their willingness to share their influences. Song titles, lyrics and interviews were peppered with references to bands and artists they believed shared their “minimal is maximal” aesthetic. The Velvet Underground , the Rolling Stones , the Stooges, the MC5, early Captain Beefheart, out-there jazz legend Sun Ra, the Silver Apples, garage punk of the 1960s such as the 13th Floor Elevators, Red Krayola, and the Electric Prunes , the Beach Boys, Jan and Deanand o ther surf bands , ’80s rockabilly groups the Cramps, the Gun Club, Tav Falco , blues and gospel acts like Muddy Waters, the Staple Singers and John Lee Hooker ; and the production techniques of Joe Meek , Brian Wilson and Delia Derbyshire were just some of the names mentioned by the band.

After several years of local gigs and club nights, they recorded their first album in 1986 on Glass Records. Sound of Confusion attracted a loyal fanbase; its follow-up, The Perfect Prescription, expanded the group’s core of fans and is generally considered their masterpiece.

In 1989 Playing with Fire, which expanded on the psychedelic and drone themes of the earlier albums, was released. Its second single, “Revolution”, reached #1 on the UK independent chart. But soon after, a combination of personnel changes, drug problems and intra-band tension (especially between Kember and Pierce) began to break the band apart. Recurring, released in 1991, was their last proper album, though its recording reflected the split between Pierce and Kember as each recorded their own side of the album in different studios, with a cover of Mudhoney’s “When Tomorrow Hits” to separate them . It was their most popular release, but by its release Kember and Pierce had already formed new bands, Spectrum and Spiritualized, respectively. The final conflict that contributed to the split was Pierce’s decision to release a cover of the Troggs “Any Way That You Want Me” as the first Spiritualized single, which Kember had been wanting to cover for years.

Since the breakup there have been a stream of semi-legitimate albums, early demos and live recordings, many of which have been issued by the Kember-affiliated Space Age Recordings. Highlights include Dreamweapon: An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music, a 45-minute drone piece performed in front of a live audience; Forged Prescriptions, a collection of The Perfect Prescription demos and alternate versions (Kember claims in the liner notes that the alternate versions reproduce the layers of guitars they recorded but later removed because they felt they’d never be able to reproduce them live); and the band’s singles compilation, which is perhaps the best introduction to the breadth of their work.

Kember’s Spectrum has toured under the banner “Songs the Spacemen Taught Us”, while Pierce routinely includes their songs in his Spiritualized set. In 2004, US journalist Erik Morse published his account of the band’s life and work, Dreamweapon: Spacemen 3 and the Birth of Spiritualized.

Members of the band went on to form Spiritualized, the Darkside and Spectrum (AKA Sonic Boom). Spiritualized carry on, to critical acclaim, though they have largely discarded the dark psychedelic edge. Sonic has also been on the road, playing gigs in London and occasional tours in the US as E.A.R. (Experimental Audio Research), which features synthesizers heavily. The Darkside split, while Rosco (AKA Steerling Roswell) went on to form the Sterling Roswell Blues Band and now is currently in the Gimps.

Discography

Albums

  • Sound of Confusion (1986)
  • The Perfect Prescription (1987)
  • Performance (1988)
  • Playing with Fire (1989)
  • Recurring (1991)
  • Translucent Flashbacks – The Singles (1995)

Live, demo or unofficial albums

  • Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To (1990) (Sound of Confusion demos)
  • Dreamweapon: An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music (1990) (A live drone performance)
  • Losing Touch with Your Mind (1991) (A collection of alternate versions)
  • For All the Fucked-Up Children of This World We Give You Spacemen 3 (1995) (A collection of very early demos)
  • Spacemen Are Go! (1995) (A live album culled from Playing with Fire–era live shows)
  • Revolution or Heroin (1995) (A live album recorded at the University of London Union c. 1988)
  • Forged Prescriptions (2004) (Perfect Prescription–era demos and alternate versions)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Spacemen 3”.

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