In the early '80s, Los Angeles was the site of a music scene known as the Paisley Underground, and the Rain Parade was its foremost, most psychedelic, shoegaze denizen. When I first heard them I actually had no idea if this music came from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s or aughts.
Justin Wright, a.k.a. Expo ’70, channels the deep-space kosmische kourier aesthetic of early psychedelic improv practitioners Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel and (perhaps especially) the pre-sequencer Tangerine Dream. His echoing soundscapes embrace the synthetic and the organic, from the otherworldly skirling of analog synths to the earthy rumble of distorted guitars. If you notice vibrations in your diaphragm or a distant hissing in your ears, do not panic, these are merely the first signs of imminent sonic destruction. Albuquerque dronesters Hedia and Luperci start this all-ages show at Winning Coffee Co. (111 Harvard SE); the doors of perception open at 7 p.m.
This episode we stay in Germany because the beer is strong, the women are beautiful, and the early electronic experimentation is as primal as it could possibly be. Florian Fricke’s krautrock project Popol Vuh (named after the Mesoamerican mythological tome) is probably best known for providing the crashing, guitar- and sitar-laden soundtracks for many of Werner Herzog’s deeply weird narrative films (esp. Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Heart of Glass), but this very early clip (circa 1970) shows them in an embryonic state, just a couple of holy technicians worshipping at a Modular Moog and another dude on tabla. This improvisation and others were released as Affenstunde, one of the dreamiest, most contemplative electronic records of all time (hell, it’s even name-checked by Mixmaster Morris).
Nope, not jazz, rock or fusion. But highly psychedelic.
Herman “Sun Ra” Blount followed his own weird vector through life and music, leading an “Arkestra” (as he deliberately misspelled it) variously prefixed with phrases like “Myth Science” or “Astro Infinity” or “Jet Set Omniverse” depending on the position of the heavens and other signs known only to Sun Ra himself. His music was as multifarious as his sci-fi nomenclature, embracing (among other things) big-band jazz, electronic experimentation, pure noise and show tunes. His straight-faced declaration to the world that he was an angelic being descended from Saturn was just the icing on the cake.
So what’s the rock connection? Well, the Parliament/Funkadelic inspiration is bloody obvious, MC5’s “Starship” is built around a Ra poem, Yo La Tengo covered the Sun Ra tune “Nuclear War” (as in, “Nuclear war, it’s a motherfucker.”), and in 1992 your correspondent was in the right place at the right time to catch the Arkestra sharing the bill with Sonic Youth at a free concert in Central Park. When they rolled Sun Ra out in his wheelchair (he’d had a stroke in 1990), the audience erupted into a standing ovation. Pretty cool.