Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To

The three most significant predecessors to the Shoegazing movement were the Cocteau Twins, Spacemen 3 and The Jesus and Mary Chain…”(1)

So Spacemen 3 were active from 1982 through 1991, when the two main poles of the band (Jason Spaceman & Sonic Boom AKA Pete Member) split – Jason took the other musicians in Spacemen 3 & formed Spiritualized. Sonic Boom performs under his own name, Experimental Audio Research, and Spectrum.

“What I’m trying to do,” concludes Kember, “is achieve with more abstract sounds is to touch deeper moods and feelings through the music and sounds. What I always aimed for, what we aimed for in the Spacemen, was honesty and purity. Those were the criteria that were uppermost. Something about music is very spiritual, and it can be very fulfilling. There’s few things better than to make music that can be spiritually fulfilling to people.”

I got to see Spectum play on Tuesday night. I don’t really understand what kind of taxonomic criteria he uses to decide when he’s Sonic Boom, when he’s E.A.R., and when he’s Spectrum.

Spectrum were more song-based than when I saw Sonic Boom perform solo – there ere vocals, and at one point there was a guitar, and the music would rise and fall in rough approximation of songs starting and stopping. Last time, it was just Pete (Sonic Boom), on stage, playing with weird noise manipulation tools.

Portland is also apparently ay more receptive than New York. I don’t know the relative population ratios, but I do think it’s comforting that the Portland gi had roughly five times the turnout that the New York one did.

They headlined a show which was totally perfect. To bands opened (Parenthetical Girls, Benjamin Starshine) and Matt Hollywood (ex Brian Jonestown Massacre) DJed between sets. The entire night could be seen as a measure of how absurdly influential Spacemen 3 were. Or are. More on that later.

The Parenthetical Girls are a kind of dreamy glam act – Zac Pennington has this great petulant Marc Bolan thing going, and the band shift instrumentation between songs – I feel I should mention I’ve been seeing a lot of violins and glockenspiels in bands lately. Not that it’s bad, just surprising. They’re everywhere all of a sudden. I really liked their set, and Zac did a good job in trying to explain how much Pete’s music meant to him.

Musically, they were all over the place – they ended their set with an OMD cover, which was awesome, and which involved at least three, and maybe even all four of them on drums.

Benjamin Starshine were next. While the Parenthetical Girls were all mod-dressed glam-influenced dream-pop, Starshine were, as their name might suggest, unabashed revivalists playing totally right-on psychedelia. What I’d heard of them before sounded like a Dandy Warhols / BJM cover project (and I don’t mean that to sound derogatory in the least), but the stuff they played live had a really great late Beatles it-is-not-dying vibe to it.

Then Spectrum played. Like I said before, he was playing songs this time, rather than just playing with noise, and while I couldn’t find a quote to support this, I described Spacemen 3 recently as the band that really ran with the idea of repetitive minimalist sounds inducing spiritual experiences. And it was great. Some people showed up looking to dance (I imagine because the show was at Rotture, which hosts really fun and sweaty dance parties on the weekends), and seemed disconcerted to find a nightclub full of people sitting down on the floor.

I was thinking about that – because there’s another kind of Ecstasy that comes from dancing, a loss of self that you can get through repetitive beats and overwhelming rhythms, where you’re lost in recurring motions and your world collapses to movement and breath and sensation. But seeing Spectrum was almost a polar opposite – same loss of self but in a totally inverted way; this music needs to be approached, you have to make an effort to engage with it. It’s comparatively easy to get lost in the surge of a crowd, while letting washes of noise and modulating frequencies induce the same kind of transport takes a certain level of commitment to the endeavor.

If rapture-through-dance music offers a Sufi-like sense of communion with the Transcendent, then sitting for a set of Spectrum’s experimentation is the kind of transport that Buddhist chanting gets – it doesn’t have the breathless exhilaration, but it also doesn’t threaten to overwhelm sense of Self. Self may be transported, quieted, transformed and expended, but it is not overwhelmed or subsumed. I want to go off on a Nietzschean Apollo/Dionysus tangent here, but I think I’ll save that for later.