Sonic’s Boom Boys
With the release of a new single(!), ‘Transparent Radiation’, which leaves the listener scant change from a 45-minute cassette, SPACEMEN 3 are prime purveyors of what they term hypnomonotony. ROBIN GIBSON gets hypnolobotomised in a Camden Town pub. Spaceshot GREG FREEMAN
“Well come on, and let it happen to you/Well come on, and let it happen to you/You gotta open up your mind and let everything come through…”
‘Rollercoaster’ as written by the 13th Floor Elevators and performed by Spacemen 3.
Somewhere in Roky Erikson’s addled brain, there might be a picture of a perfect group.
These four shadowy figures, you see, one behind a drum kit, the others hunched over guitars. They’re onstage, but by anyone’s usual standards of performance they’re in another warped, watermelon universe. These guys are sitting down, for Chrissakes!
A psychedelic bubble when casts multi-coloured light on the event via the back wall. The figures are surrounded by womb-like walls of amplifiers. They all appear to be turned up to eleven.
Oblivious to their surroundings, entranced and wrapped in a camouflage net of feedback, distortion and wah-wah, the four deadbeats churn out a maelstrom that might be a wordless trip through the MC5’s ‘Starship’. The electricity supply is on mainline from their veins. The number goes on forever. And then is stops.
“You’ve done acid, haven’t you? You must have!”
I’m not saying.
This is Spacemen 3 (Spacemen because they’re spacemen, 3 for the third eye) and they don’t do anything by halves. Except, that is, drink a murky brew called Mann’s Brown, which comes in half-pint bottles. No, these guys have just released a single – single, mind – which leaves the listener scant change from a 45-minute tape.
‘Transparent Radiation’ is a Red Crayola song which floats ethereally for all of ten minutes, its two sections interrupted by a length, abstract night flight entitled ‘Ecstacy’, and finally degenerates into the howl of their own ‘Things Will Never Be The Same’ and that version of ‘Starship’. By the end, awesome is not the word, and 12-inch time has become far from regular.
In the late ‘80s, regression is on. But if we’ve gotta have it, then give me this strain every time. At the forefront of a small, deranged task force (Loop being the other most obvious contemporary exponents) the Spacemen take their cues from the Stooges’ heaviest grime, the featherweight delights of prime Velvets, the screwball philosophy of the likes of Erikson, and a host of other psychedelics – records and substances!
They touched down from Rugby last year with a debut Glass LP, ‘Sound Of Confusion’, and 45, ‘Walkin’ With Jesus’. But it’s only with this new epic that they’ve properly caught the delicate subtleties of their art alongside the full-throttle ‘Funhouse’ fervour of their early recordings.
The five demos I’ve just heard – including a svelte acoustic version of ‘Walkin’ With Jesus’ – bode more than well for their upcoming second album and compound the feeling that there are still myriad dimensions they haven’t begun to explore.
Why are Spacemen 3? That’s the question which will be hurtling profoundly from a lot of enquiring lips before too long. The answer might, of course, be in another cosmos entirely, but at the moment it’s in a pub in Camden Town – being washed down by Mann’s Brown and regurgitated by Sonic (guitar, keyboards, occasional vocals, short hair) and Jason (guitar, often vocals, long hair). These two have nurtured the growth of Spacemen 3 for nigh on five years, on a diet of ancient sonic nuggets tempered by an odd foray into the ‘80s to catch the simplicity of The Cramps or the tremulous sex beat of The Gun Club.
Live, especially, Spacemen 3 can be brutally physical. But their philosophical drift is not at all brutal. Ask Sonic what ‘Transparent Radiation’ is all about.
“Well, it’s about the world! It’s about a whole… thing, y’know, what’s going on around us that shouldn’t be. The way we’re destroying the ozone layer, for example, and… ah, there’s just a lot of people around who don’t really care much more about their existence than where their next pay cheque comes from. There’s no spiritualism in those people. They’re void.
“OK, you’ve gotta know how you’re gonna eat tomorrow, but – ha! – that isn’t the end of my life…”
What are the attractions of this kind of music?
“It suits our lifestyle, is about the coyest way of putting it, I suppose.”
You take a lot of drugs?
“All drugs are worth trying in a way, really.”
I love a man with a responsible attitude.
“To be frank,” admits Sonic, “we’ve tried everything that’s come across our path. Or, um, that we’ve laid our paths in front of, so to speak.”
The first Spacemen 3 attraction I pinpoint is volume.
“Volume can be important. For loud stuff, I think it’s important to use quite a lot of volume,” he agrees perceptively. “We have extremes of volume. Very loud, or very quiet. Though there are a few songs that come down the middle.”
The second attraction, I venture, is monotony.
“Hahaha! Hypnomonotony… that’s important. The most monotonous thing at the moment, I suppose, is hip-hop, or chart music. Our stuff is monotonous in a different way.”
Jason: “It’s monotonous in the way blues were, or very early rock ‘n’ roll.”
The third might be squalor.
“Squalor is, um, inevitable,” says Sonic cryptically.
Do you live in it?
“Sometimes. Hahaha! This is getting pretty personal… I think what we can afford is squalid. But as people, we’re not squalid. We do bath every day. But we don’t live in the Hilton.”
What I mean is that music like yours hints at squalor insamuch as it lacks upwardly mobile aspirations.
“Oh, no,” he protests. “Not at all. We’re upwardly mobile squalorists. We’re taking squalor on to new levels. No, look, we live in Rugby and the worst house in Rugby is alright, you know? But it’s a pretty naff, redneck type of town.”
I’ve heard it said that if you live in Rugby, you’re either in Spacemen 3 or you beat them up.
“That’s roughly about it, yeah.”
Music for misfits, then. But do you feel like misfits?
“I don’t think you feel it. It’s just something you end up being…”
“We’re not exactly misfits,” points out Jason somewhat literally, “because we don’t go uptown and mix with people who’re gonna beat us up.”
“No,” adds Sonic, “we live a sort of hermitic existence. We don’t conform to anything, and we don’t particularly rebel against anything. Though we have done in our youth…”
Both Spacemen in front of me are only 21! When I suggest that they must have had a remarkably speedy decline into what their elders and so-called betters might term “the gutter”, they hotly deny that it’s been a “decline” at all. Spacemen 3 prefer to see themselves as “searching for other levels of consciousness”. Which, perhaps, is where I should leave them.
Spacemen 3 do plunder the past. Luckily, they have the intuitive ability to carry it into the present, into the relevant. But do they have any eyes cocked at the future – third or otherwise?
“Plans? As regards what?” asks Sonic incredulously. “I intend to have a good time ‘til I die. Hopefully. There are gonna be bad periods in that. There have been in the past, there will be in the future.
“I hate these little questions, where the answer is so big.”
That’s the problem with life, I guess. The best thing to do is get hypnomonotonised! You never know, you might even find the answer…