When you are a child, you tend to accept things for what they are. Your own circumstances have no benchmark and it is generally only much later that you have the data to be able to compare and contrast (as test papers would have it) your position in life. My own hideously middle class upbringing did not come into focus until I met fellow students at university that lived either in a house the size of a small park or a matchbox depending on circumstance.
So it can be with music. In the early 1990s I was introduced to the band, Stereolab and in particular their ’94 album ‘Mars Audiac Quintet’ and whilst it hung around my CD player longer than many of its contemporaries, it has since sat neglected in my collection for at least 15 years. Or until now. I’m not sure what prompted me to give it another spin but it has come back into my life with a vengeance and with its second coming has materialised a new understanding of its worth.
In the lull between Shoegazing and Britpop the mid nineties was a bit of a mish-mash of styles but none more individual than Stereolab who were essentially a vehicle for songwriter Tim Gane and his girlfriend Laetitia Sadier. Where do I start? Imagine the relentless space-age boogie of Hawkwind and then update that sound to the age of the synth – only using ancient analogue Moogs, Vox and Farfisa machines – and add in French female vocals. Finally douse in Kraftwerk cool detachment and Asian-style synth drones and you have Stereolab. Simple! At the time none of this complexity really registered, I just liked the sound, but now it is all too apparent not just how odd they really were, but how different they were from their contemporaries. And I like both odd and different.
Just for the record, I also bought the limited edition ‘Music For the Amorphous Body Study Centre’ EP, a collection of music used to complement
sculptor, Charles Long’s exhibit, just to up the oddity factor. However, by 1997 and their ‘Dots and Loops’
album, enough was enough and they were consigned to the ‘not played anymore’
section of my collection.
Nevertheless, ‘Mars Audiac Quintet’ is back on my iPod and its unique mix of uplifting space-pop is quite refreshing in today’s world. It has the same ambience of innocence and adventure that pervaded the 60s space-age music, epitomised by ‘Telstar’.