Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Men of Music: Jason Pierce / Pete Kember


It's 1982. The year Duran Duran released Rio and Michael Jackson gave the world Thriller, but in a quiet middle class region in the British Midlands, a band are beginning to surface, a band so original they make Can look like Lady Gaga. The Spacemen was born in Rugby, a location not known for it's musical output. Surrounding areas of Birmingham, Leamington Spa and Coventry were home to Pierce/Kember's early gigs. They were unaware of the mark, they would eventually leave on music. Giving many bands an influence, a figure in which they could aspire to. 

They left behind four studio albums worth of studio recorded music, not to mention the heavy amount of bootlegs and live albums which is where most fans are interested. Both Jason and Pete play the guitar, they played repetitive single chord songs in there early career, expanding to layered and textured covers of 13th Floor Elevators songs, such as Rollercoaster which features on many of these bootleg and live albums. The impressive back catalogue and obscure position within the music industry attracted fans from all over the United Kingdom and beyond. Artists such as Mogwai, Low, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride all cite Spacemen 3 as an influence. The list is endless, it takes a deep listen to Spacemen 3 to clearly understand what the fuss is all about. They're not just a band, they were a movement. Both Jason and Pete had skill, their live performances included long Drone songs and avant-garde structures which they improvised on occasions. The sound was so intense live, that recordings are sometimes hard to come fully appreciate without being part of the audience.

What influenced Jason Pierce and Pete Kember was a mixed bag between 60's Psychedelic Rock and Proto-Punk artists such as The Stooges. They noted a key influence from No Wave artist Suicide, who they later paid homage with the track entitled 'Suicide'. I consider 87's 'The Perfect Prescription' to be one of the best albums of the 80's. The sound was just so different at the time, sure we had Melvins on the other side of the atlantic, but here in the UK this sound was only heard in the underground and nothing quite reached the excitement of Spacemen 3. Released on an independent record label and selling very little copies, The Perfect Prescription became a legacy. We cant forget those other key releases such as 'Playing With Fire' which featured the track 'Revolution'. The complete and utter devastating noise was enough to win me over on a first listen a few years back. The two chords played which form the base of the song only allow room for the layers to take hols and the drumming to explode into something which would make the queen of England curse. it included the inspirational opening lyrics of "Well I’m sick, I’m so sick. Of a lot of people, Tryin’ to tell me what I can and can’t do with my life". Time stops when listening to Spacemen 3, the single chord track 'D.D Catastrophe' showed an attitude which I admire within music. It's the whole discussion on structure, weather a song needs to have a verse/chorus/verse structure to be appreciated by the masses and played commercially. Spacemen 3 have no form of structure in their music, it's all about the sound they produce. Live performances are not a visual experience on stage, sure they had lighting, but they let the music do everything.

So Spacemen 3 began to tour constantly, playing their music to an audience of elitist dedicated music fans. Everybody wanted a part of the Spacemen experience and I'm jealous of those that has the chance to see them live during the good years between 86 and 89. In 1989, things began to turn sour between Pete and Jason. The atmosphere between both core members was at it's worse when they began to play the last few gigs, including  the bands only festival appearance at the Reading Festival, which was also the bands final live gig together. Without going into detail, the band released 'Recurring' which featured one half of songs by Pete and the other half by Jason, something that the mutually agreed on. Jason Pierce quickly acted to salvage the mess the two members were currently involved in. He decided to start a project with the other members of Spacemen 3 apart from Pete, he named it Spiritualized, who began recording material and released a single which Pete was unaware of, which prompted him to publicly announce his retirement from Spacemen 3. This left Pete with many options on how to continue his music career, it also allowed Spiritualzied to become a driving force for Jason. it was the end of Spacemen 3 as we know it, even to this day 23 years on, Jason and Pete still have an unhealthy relationship, rejecting any reformation rumours which float about.

Jason went on to great success with Spiritualized, releasing the Shoegaze albums 'Lazer Guided Melodies' and 'Pure Phase'. They were signed to Dedicated Records due to contractual agreement with Spacemen 3, who signed a 5 album deal with Dedicated before the break up. Spiritualized were picking up fans as the months went by, playing more gigs than ever before and taking in alternative influences. The decade defining 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' allowed Gospel influences to take hold of Spiritualized. With a line up change and an albums worth of strong material, Spiritualized took to playing bigger gigs, such as the 97 show at The Royal Albert Hall. promotional activity led to the members protesting over low wages, to which the were drawn up new contracts only to be fired weeks later. Jason Pierce

He is a great guitarist which is why L&GWAFIS was well received by music critics worldwide and was included on many best of lists for both 97 and the 90's. After numerous member changed, Spiritualized still perform, they released the emotive 'Songs In A&E' in 2008 to great acclaim. Then they began writing new music for a 2012 album, songs of which i have heard at a Spiritualized gig. The material is sounding great and Jason only improves as a musician. He is a fantastic lyricist and has an ear for great compositions, using orchestras to his advantage and his influences to strengthen his music. It would be wrong not to mention his increasing tendency to write songs about 'spirit' and 'god'. He is a very religious and writes the majority of his songs based around religion, if you have a problem with this lyrical content then just focus on the music. Jason was close to death in 2005 when he suffered from severe pneumonia, his experience can be heard in the album 'Songs In A&E', where he writes about his experiences from his illness.

On the other hand, we have Pete Kember. He already released his first solo album whilst Spacemen 3 were still active, this was entitled 'Spectrum'. it featured slower, calmer pieces of music rather than his vigorous stronger songs which he put forward for the final Spacemen 3 album 'Recurring'. Pete began recording music under the name 'Spectrum' backed by a band, he played similar material to late Spacemen 3. Under his name 'Sonic Boom', re released several EP's of Drone music such as the 1990 release 'Octaves/Tremolos' which has an eerie feel and heavy use of analog synthesizers.

He progressed as an artist releasing several experimental pieces of music in the 90's and early 00's. All of which were released to little knowledge of the music press and the world of music. Only his fans were keen and interested in more releases, he still performed live with his band under the name Spectrum, but he began to play different material than the Space Rock sound he had going under the Sonic Boom/Spectrum name. 'E.A.R' became one of Pete Kember's musical outputs, releasing over 10 albums under the name, many of which featured other Experimental/Shoegaze musicians such as Kevin Shields and the Electronic goddess Delia Derbyshire who was responsible for the Doctor Who theme music.

Pete has stayed active over the years, recently he has taken to producing rather than creating music. He produced the MGMT album 'Congratulations' in 2010, followed by the critically acclaimed and one of my favourite albums from 2011, Panda Bear's 'Tomboy'. He was announced as a support act for the Tomboy tour in 2012 under the name Sonic Boom. Pete will always have his name written in the history books with Spacemen 3, giving his detailed textures to the music just as much as Jason. Pete has a bright future ahead of himself in production, hopefully he can continue producing albums and making a name for himself so we can one day see another Sonic Boom release.

Both men have influenced many proceeding artists post 1990, they were underground rockers in the 80's and had a cult following, only playing to small audiences, but sticking together until their strongest commercial point, when they eventually broke up. Pete began his solid, solo career which exists still to this day. Jason gave the world Spiritualized who continue to create music, who are also one of my favourite bands. Both men shared a love for 'Suicide' and '13th Floor Elevators', they both have covered 'Daniel Johnston' songs at different points in time. 

Time has passed since the Spacemen 3 glory days, I'm sure Pete and Jason will look back at the time they spent together and remember those great early gigs of improvisation and friendship, rather than the drug filled later career and break up. They have both left a major impact on the music industry, leaving behind hours of great music and a list of bands ready to thank them.

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