Spaceman Free

A Drone State Of Mind

Kyle Silfer
3 min read
Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom
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"One chord best, two chords cool, three chords OK, four chords average."

—Pete Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom

To tell the story of Spectrum, you first have to tell the short, furious story of Spacemen 3, the British band that reworked and re-presented psychedelic rock as a tranced-out mix tape of fuzz guitars and dreamy melodies—and produced at least two genuine masterworks,
The Perfect Prescription (1987) and Playing with Fire (1989). Their sound was an intense blast of noise and howling feedback tempered with the flavor of candy-colored pop, a tasty antidote to the moribund this-one-goes-out-to-the-one-I-love college rock of the late ’80s.

The Spacemen gave props to their sources through covers and overt homages—their epic 17-minute-long version of The 13th Floor Elevators‘ "Rollercoaster" and a swirling, symphonic rendition of The Red Crayola‘s "Transparent Radiation" being perhaps the prime examples—so it’s only logical that when S3’s Jason Pierce and Pete Kember could no longer stand to work with each other, their individual follow-up projects, Spiritualized and Spectrum, would also heavily reference What Came Before.

So, yes, Pete Kember’s Spectrum sounds like Spacemen 3, only sparer, and even his electronic/improv ensemble E.A.R., which is several steps away from "rock," shares S3’s orbit around the hypnotic pulse of the drone. The pioneering minimalist musician La Monte Young, whom Kember cites as an influence (on his MySpace page no less), claims drone music can "set up a drone state of periodic composite waveforms in the nervous system … Once this so-called drone-state-of-mind is established, the mind should be able to embark on very special explorations and in new directions, because it will always have a fixed point of reference to come back to." Young takes this fairly brain-frying concept to the extreme where his performances, already of massive length, are supposed to be mere portions of a single eternal composition, and Young himself sleeps and wakes in greater-than-24-hour periods in order to stay within the cycles of some gigantic pulsing vibration. Spectrum, on the other hand, produces this drone state of mind through pop songs.

The current U.S. tour is the first in five years, and sets will feature material from a forthcoming Spectrum studio album (the first since 1997’s Forever Alien ) as well as selections from the Spacemen 3 canon. Press material implies this touring version of Spectrum will be a tight combo: Kember, armed with guitar, vintage organ and "mind-melting electronics," will be accompanied by Füxa’s Randall Neiman. Don’t think it won’t be loud, though. Play twice before listening.

Spectrum will play the Launchpad on Tuesday, Sept. 18, with Blumenkraft, Death Valley Days and DJ Eve. Advance tickets are $10 at Natural Sound (plus service fee). 8 p.m., 21+.

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