Space Rock 101: The Basics
“Dark star crashes
pouring its light
the forces tear loose
from the axis
for faults in the
clouds of delusion”
– Grateful Dead, “Dark Star”
There’s nothing like blasting fine space rock music through some good speakers or headphones – hearing the layered instrumentation, voices, guitars and percussion can literally be a personal trip of your own that you can listen for yourself.
If you know Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, then it is safe to assume that you know what space rock is. Space rock is a genre of music derivative of progressive psychedelic rock. The stylistic character of progressive rock, which allowed musicians to stretch the genre’s musical boundaries, is what paved the way for the growth and success of space rock music. The rock music that you enjoy today has its roots in the psychedelic artistic trends that characterized most of the mid-1960s. During this period, folk and British bands were busy attempting to change the face of music by abandoning traditional tenets of songwriting and adopting a fluid song structure to write their music. As a result, the songs created did not follow the natural convention of writing where singers would write a verse then chorus then verse again. Additionally, these new age artists of the period also started incorporating elements of Eastern music such as Indian voices and instrumentation.
The Basic Formulation of Space Rock
Space rock music contained certain principles of jazz, which when incorporated into the psychedelic sound (think of the late 60’s heyday of the Grateful Dead) created aggressive and distinct expressions of rock music that you know today. Space rock also makes use of lyrics that are very cosmic-like, as well as loud reverberating electric guitars that made it addictive. Among the many changes brought along with the movement also includes the use of electronic devices that could alter the way a musician’s voice sounded, which you could say provided a platform for the development of new studio technology such as the auto tune that is predominant in modern music. You’re welcome, Kanye West!
The Link to Krautrock and Psychedelia
Space rock musicians incorporated krautrock elements that included recurring rhythmic beats that almost made the listener feel like they were on a musical high. The musicians tended to use synthesizers that supplied bubbling soothing tones and spacey progressions that provoked a smooth flow, making you feel like you were up in space. If you are ever at a live psychedelic or space rock concert today, you will notice artist incorporate cosmic elements such as light beams that may appear trippy but actually amplify the show.
Although the space rock movement only lasted for a short time, the influence it had on the face of music can still be felt today. An example of a song that accurately describes the movement is the late Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity.’ Bands that identified with the movement include Pink Floyd and Gong while popular contemporary bands that still produce space rock music today include Ozric Tentacles and Monkey 3. While the future of space rock music remains unpredictable, it is evident that its contribution can still be felt years after its inception. If you are lucky, the movement will revive itself, but only if the galaxy wishes it so.
Now that you’ve grounded yourself in the basics of the genre, you will be in a better place to relisten to your Captain Beyond and Wishbone Ash albums, they should be back in your list of tracks to enjoy – they deserve a second spin, don’t they? Cheers!