Radiophonic 1 days
Ageing musical technology is at the heart of Stereolab’s sound. Fiona Shepherd donned her white coat for a closer look at what makes them tick.
Tucked in beside the playground scribblings of
Voodoo Queens and Blood Sausage and the
haphazard montage ten-inch sleeves of a host of artpunk bands from the fertile American
underground, there were a few aniculate record
covers on show at the recent Flight Paths To Each Other exhibition at Glasgow School of Art. One of
the best was from London's weird science collective Stereolab. The sleeve for their The Group Played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music album depicted what i looked like the Redifusion logo, embellished with
liner notes extolling the wonders of hi-fidelity stereophonic sound. The music on the LP reflects the inﬂuence ofthe BBC Sound Effects Units ofthe 50s and 605 as much as its cover. In short. a sleeve to conjure with. Then you looked at the vintage sleeve beside it and realise it’s all been ripped off an old American label which released a series of classical favourites. Ho-hum.
‘I think there wouldn’t be any point in breaking out and doing eclectic music. I don’t think I could do it very well.’
Stereolab are quite happy to admit their debt to the early days of musical technology. And you excuse their religious adherence to instruments of the time — Moog. Fariisa and Vox organs — because their glorious. squidgy, electronic sound is far more accessible than its trainspotter roots would suggest.
Stereolab are a pop band who dress their Velvets- inﬂuenced pop in distinctive robes. Their combination of aforementioned gloopy sounds with Laetitia Sadier’s smoky French monotone and her incongruous politics essay lyrics is utterly singular. Once you‘ve heard them, you‘ll never fail to recognise their trademark sound.
‘I think we‘re more varied than people assume we are,’ says Tim Gane. songwriter, guitarist and master of many vintage keyboards, sounding remarkably chipper for a man who’s just returned from nine weeks touring in America. half of that on the alternative travelling musical circus Lollapalooza. ‘Every other week I see reviews saying “they‘ve only got one song but it’s a good song“ and the fact is. we've got two or three songs at least!‘
I can count three. There‘s the pure 60s pop one (‘Ping Pong'). the Velvet Underground drone one (‘Contact') and the space rockabilly stomp one (‘Transona Five'). And they‘re all good ones.
But Stereolab are a very proliﬁc band, releasing material on a variety of independent labels including
their own. Duophonic. and making some releases
available through mail order. By the time their latest
album, Mars Audiac Quin/er. was released a few months ago. these three songs were appearing in 1 rather less involving guises. Tim. we’ve had too
much ofa good thing it seems. ‘The problem is the music you do can only be effective if you really love it. if it has some power
: over you.’ he says. ‘and for some reason I‘m drawn to certain tendencies in music, certain sounds and I
couldn‘t really write a song like other bands because 1 don't feel it. Even though the type of music you do may be quite narrow I think there wouldn't be any point in breaking out and doing eclectic music. I don't think I could do it very well.
‘We would like to explore things and do it organically. not just decide to do some other type of music because we‘ve done this enough. To me it's about exploring certain themes that come in and out of records, exploring a certain idea to its fullest extent really. It's going down a narrow alley but trying to get the most out of a small restricted area.‘
This ‘small, restricted area‘ is still larger than that
l occupied by a lot of bands who trumpet their
1 ambition but never deliver the widescreen goods. Stereolab have forged an idiosyncratic identity and for Tim the desired option is to keep striking while
the iron is hot.
‘Every other week I see reviews saying “They’ve only got one song but It’s a good song” and the fact is, we’ve got
two or three songs at least!’
‘I think one ofthe best things about doing lots of music is you learn from it.’ he says. ‘The very fact that you‘re recording songs all the time means these ideas lead you to more ideas. lfyou only release an album every two or three years and you're precious about it. you only ever do twelve songs in two or three years.‘
Which sounds like Room ID] to Tim.
Stereolab play The Garage. Glasgow (in Wed 2.
The List 21 October—3 November I994 31