Thursday, September 12, 2013

STASIS: THE U.A. YEARS 1971-1975
Melody Maker, 1990? 

by Simon Reynolds

In the early Seventies Hawkwind did for mystic elation what  Black Sabbath did for downered despondency, i.e. provide a naff but effective soundtrack for the great provincial unwashed.  And in the name Hawkwind they found the perfect signifier for their  particular buzz. Their sound simulated the air-rushing vertigo of  the bird-of-prey, soaring above the petty constraints of mundanity.

Another emblem of rootless liberty/libertinism for Hawkwind was the  biker. Bikers deliberately set up their saddles and handlebars not  to improve streamlining but to increase drag, the rush of air full   in the face accentuating the impression of speed.  Hawkwind's  minimal-is-maximal wind-tunnel of phased and flanged guitars, was both an unacknowledged ancestor for the trance-rock of Loop and  B.A.L.L., and, in its own day, a not-as-hip cousin to the motorik/autobahn rock of Neu and early Can.  

This compilation,  including hard-to-obtain, "original versions" of their early singles and live tracks, is terrific. The only embarrassing obstacle  to Hawkwind's rehabilitation is the lyrics.  The sword'n'sorcery  drivel is bad enough, but worse is when they come across as a cissy version of the MC5 on "Urban Guerilla".  "I'm society's disrupter/A  potential bomb constructor... Watch out Mr Businessman/Your empire's about to blow... Time to do it in the road." 

Thankfully,  the words are mostly inaudible. Hawkwind were "Born To Go"  (nowhere, fast), and their cosmic biker boogie bombs along an expressway into the furthest recesses of yr skull.

2013 footnote: Today I would be far less restrained and qualified in praising Hawkwind, one of the most impressive phenomena of their era. But in the late 80s/early 90s, they were considered still to be uncool c.f. the then obscure-r option of Can/Faust/Neu!/Amon Duul II/Ashra Tempel. I recall Loop, for instance, being quite adamant in an interview (with me, or one I read, not sure) that they had nothing to do with Hawkwind and peevishly miffed that reviewers and interviewers kept bringing it up as a reference point.  Probably Hawkwind, through not stopping but persevering through the Eighties and beyond, had tarnished their brand considerably. But even the Seventies, cosmic rock close to home never had the exotic allure of kosmische overseas for UK music critics. But at the end of the day, it's all longhair space rock via United Artists and Virgin innit.  And that's actually the thing that most interests me: the way Hawkwind straddled the overground music industry world of major labels/Top of the Pops and the post-psychedelic underground of free festivals, to which they were idealistically and ideologically committed and at which they consistently played for free.


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