Saturday, January 05, 2008

Spectrum - tonight at Stereo!

In anticipation of tonight's Spectrum gig, Ian Macbeth pays tribute to Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom, co-founder of Spacemen 3 and king of the dirty dronerock boys.

Despite only having been open since October, the ‘new’ Stereo, as some of us will inevitably refer to it for at least another few months, is already becoming a regular feature in the discerning gig-goer’s diary. This weekend the city centre venue is playing host to a genuine British indie rock legend in the form of Spectrum, the recently reactivated rock vessel piloted by Sonic Boom, AKA Pete Kember.

For the uninitiated, Pete Kember spent the 1980s in tandem with his friend Jason Pierce as the creative driving force behind Spacemen3, one of the most original and exciting guitar bands to emerge from these shores during the preposterously fertile era of the early eighties. Initially the senior partner in the relationship, Kember gradually ceded creative ground to the increasingly confident Pierce, and while it was to the benefit of the band, it seemingly cost the men their friendship. By the time of their acrimonious split after four studio albums, the group were essentially operating as two separate entities: Pierce had assembled the musicians who would become Spiritualized under his stewardship, while Kember was already making solo records and would form Spectrum, taking the name from his own solo debut, shortly after the Spacemen finally disintegrated.

Though Pierce would go on to commercially and critically eclipse the achievements of his former band (and, it has to be said, bandmate) with the first three Spiritualized LPs, Kember continued to plough a furrow that was in many respects closer to the pioneering, maverick spirit of Spacemen 3 and the influences they idolised. In addition to Spectrum, Kember was recording, initially alongside fellow traveller Kevin Shields, later with BBC Radiophonic Workshop legend Delia Derbyshire, as Experimental Audio Research, whose name is as good an indicator of their sound as anything I’ll come up with. That an artist who cites listening to the rumble and drone of a washing machine through the wall as a formative musical experience should retreat from traditional songcraft into the world of layered sonic texture was perhaps inevitable, but it was a little regrettable. EAR made some great music, up to and including 2005’s excellent, underrated Worn to a Shadow album, but the songwriter who penned ‘Revolution’, ‘Honey’, ‘Big City’ and numerous others was increasingly missed from the British music scene. Kember himself blames public apathy, but with a revival in interest in the shoegaze bands that Spacemen 3 both invented and rendered irrelevant, a new generation are discovering the warped, one-chord garage rock and spaced-out narco-lullabies that made his name. Which is why the news of not one but two Spectrum albums in 2008 should be cause for celebration. Hot on the heels of On the Wings of Mercury, the first Spectrum long-player in nearly a decade and featuring contributions from Dean Wareham among others, comes the potentially even more exciting album recorded with Jim Dickinson, Spectrum meets Captain Memphis – Indian Givers. Dickinson, the man who played in Aretha Franklin’s backing band, piano on ‘Wild Horses’ and produced Big Star’s near mythical Sister Lovers/Third album, has produced countless acts that have fed into Kember’s own musical DNA over the years (e.g. Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, The Cramps) and so their collaboration promises to be a bountiful meeting of minds.

With so much exciting, new material to showcase, plus an embarrassment of riches to plunder from his own back catalogue, Kember and his band ought to be on electrifying form on Saturday night and the gig comes unreservedly recommended.

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