The classic Spaceman sound made by Jason Pierce, Peter Kember and Will Carruthers was augmented by a series of quickly discarded drummers, borrowed liberally from Velvet Underground, The Stooges and The Silver Apples and pointed in the direction of shoegaze and beyond toward Madchester. Expressionless and hidden behind sunglasses, Spacemen 3 took drugs to make music to take drugs to. Theirs was the drone, the two note non riff, a sound narcotic both in origin and intention.
These days Pierce is rock royalty with the symphonic Spiritualized whilst Kember is amiable and relaxed as he prepares for a solo spot with a wobbling table of electronics.
What was that made the American psychedelic music of the late sixties so compelling in England in the eighties?
Partly because a lot of the music that I really, really like is based in a Blues, R&B tradition however far you want to take that back, to Africa – to it being quite cyclical, at the most with one chord change, that’s was what we were really all about.
I always really liked rock and roll with that Blues, Rock & Roll basic Pythagorian thing. Basic mathematical changes that were around for a thousand years- what we think of as being rock & roll. Changes that sound naturally right – you can almost feel them coming – but then mixing it with the pyschedelic thing, something potent, really motoring, being able to elevate that even further really take off with it.
Bands that weren’t necessarily psychedelic, like the Yardbirds, that whole rave-up thing where they would suddenly go into double time freak out things. Generally it encapsulates different drug experiences but in the case of the Yardbirds it was probably speed. That feeling of emotional acceleration or an emotional rollercoaster or whatever.
It was the first music, in the sixties, that blended these very simple primordial forms which you could almost trace back to Hebredian plainsong and Mali, this very hypnotic thing. There is really hardly any difference between Ali Farka TourÈ and John Lee Hooker really, just where they grew up but in principal there is no real difference as to what they sing about, their process … so yeah, I always like music forms that were able to elevate a little bit.
Dorfdisco: I heard Genesis P-Orridge say in an interview that he thought all really good music was ultimately psychedelic, there is something of a theme of Transcendence running through your work?
P.Kember: I think all great music is great in a fundamentally psychedelic way. I think that is possibly fundamentally true because psychedelics are only about the intensification of emotional states. The first time I did psychedelics it was like, I know this from when I was a kid. It was like dÈja Vu, nothing that I hadn’t already experienced before it was just that it was all happening at once.
Dorfdisco: There is a spiritual aspect to psychedelic use, a craving for transcendence and spiritual religious metaphors recur in a lot of your lyrics?
P.Kember:To be conscious as a human being you have to have a certain amount of spirituality, whether its related to, God forbid, organised religion, or just a kind of general spirituality. The belief in a certain right and a certain wrong. A lot of the precepts of most religions are just common sense, kinda like, just try to be nice to each other, love thigh neighbour, don’t kill everyone.
Dorfdisco: Hoffmann was asked whether he regretted the collateral damage caused by acid…
P.Kember:Like he was responsible!
Dorfdisco: his reply was that the original context of the use of psychedelics was under shamanic discipline…
P.Kember:Yeah but I would also say that culture has been far evolved rather than receded by acid. There was this experiment in the sixties where they gave fifty or sixty priests acid , some of the were eighty some of them were sixteen and the one thing they could all agree on was that it was the most religious experience of their lives. So that says quite a lot in itself I think
Dorfdisco: I am curious about that and its relationship to discipline, particularly in relation to your music. The idea of repetition, these very long durations…
P.Kember: It’s partly the whole minimal maximal thing. If you can get something down to four brilliant elements like Kraftwerk. There are rarely more than four elements. Each one is superb. Fits its bandwidth, fits its rhythmic job perfectly and it’s really concise, astute minimalism and it has the most maximal effect. You can have 128 tracks of every genius in the world but you have to know when to shut up sometimes and play the spaces.
If you look at something like Suicide, its just two people, three things, drumbeat, keyboard, vocals and its effects are so overwhelming. For years I listened to something like Frankie Teardrop, it really used to sort the men from the boys….
Dorfdisco: So you liked the rougher cuts?
P.Kember: Yeah, yeah. Lots of people didn’t like it but it was so fucking intense.
Dorfdisco: You could here in 22minutes over Brussels that sense of inducing riot..
P.Kember:The original one which they never seem to release is a promo album, its 221/2 Minutes over Brussels, 23 minutes over Berlin and they only ever release the Brussels part, the sets a little different, but it’s a similar outcome – general mayhem.
Dorfdisco: It almost as if riot is a possible transcendent conclusion.
P.Kember: Whenever I have seen Suicide and they have been good, the audience have hated them. We played on a bill with them once with Hawkwind. You can imagine what the Hawkwind fans thought of them and Suicide were the best I had ever seen them, they were like fuck you, “check this out!”. They did one 20 minute song and just walked off.
Dorfdisco: I have this rather lame pet theory that there were a few months in the sixties when Hawkwind could have become the English Velvet Underground – of course then it all went wrong.
P.Kember: Yeah, they became the English Grateful Dead. But there are a lot worse bands out there than Hawkwind, Hurry on Sundown is quite good as a folk song and Orgone Accumulator….
Dorfdisco: Dik Mik and his oscillators…
P.Kember: Yeah he was pretty early to be doing all that back then.
We drift onto the subject of digital versus analogue, and the many virtues of his EMS synth, a study in the use of limited resources to produce infinite combinations of sounds. We talk about how dance and rock were a false dichotomy and the conversation turns again to drugs and politics.
Dorfdisco: Watching Revolution on TouTube their was a sense of a political as well as a chemical context…
P.Kember: Well I could see that what we had been talking about, I mean it was pretty harmless really, not exactly Urban Gorilla, was beginning to happen anyway with the Hacienda and Ecstasy. The way that in the space of one or two years the whole youth culture and drug culture were intertwined.
We did Ecstasy Symphony in 1987. We played one of the first of the X-parties in Hackney. They were the first and I think we played X3 and X5 and it was not just dance music, in fact it was predominately not dance based but they mixed up different psychedelic stuff and you could see very quickly that a lot of these guys that had been wanting to throw glasses at us were coming up and wanting to hug us. It wasn’t the worst way to be going.