Space rock is a rock music genre characterized by loose and lengthy song structures centred on instrumental textures that produce a hypnotic, otherworldly sound. It may feature reverberation-laden guitars, minimal drumming, languid vocals, and references to drug use. The term was initially used to describe the style of early 1970s progressive rock bands such as Hawkwind and Pink Floyd who explored a "cosmic" sound. However, it now refers to a "new generation of alternative/indie bands" drawing on psychedelic rock, ambient music, experimental/avant-garde music, krautrock, classical minimalism, and noise pop. This later style was pioneered in the mid-1980s by Spacemen 3, whose "drone-heavy" sound was avowedly inspired by and intended to accommodate drug use. By the 1990s, space rock became associated with shoegazing and post-rock.
Origins and emergence
Man's entry into outer space provided ample subject matter for rock and roll and R&B songs from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s. It also inspired new sounds and sound effects to be used in the music itself. A prominent early example of space rock is the 1959 concept album I Hear a New World by British producer and songwriter Joe Meek. The album was inspired by the space race and concerned man's first close encounter with alien life forms. Meek then went on to have a UK and US No 1 success in 1961 with "Telstar", named after the newly launched communications satellite and thus intended to commemorate the new space age. Its main instrument was a clavioline, an electronic forerunner of synthesizers.
Space rock emerged from the late 1960s psychedelic music scene in Britain, and was closely associated with the progressive rock movement of the same era.
Pink Floyd's early albums contain pioneering examples of space rock: "Lucifer Sam", "Astronomy Domine", "Pow R. Toc H." and "Interstellar Overdrive" from their 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn are examples. Their second album A Saucerful of Secrets contained further examples: "Let There Be More Light" and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" with explicit science fiction themes, and their third, More (1969) had "Cirrus Minor". In early 1971, Pink Floyd began writing the song that would become known as "Echoes", from the 1971 album Meddle. The song was performed from April until September 1971, with an alternative set of lyrics, written about two planets meeting in space. Before the Meddle album released, the lyrics were changed to an aquatic theme, because of the band's concern that they were being labelled as a space rock band.
The Beatles' song "Flying" (1967), originally titled "Aerial Tour Instrumental", was a psychedelic instrumental about the sensation of flying, whether in a craft or in your own head space. Jimi Hendrix is also an early innovator of the genre, with such tracks as "Third Stone from the Sun", "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" and "The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam's Dice". David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (1969) is, apart from "Telstar", probably the best example of a space rock song achieving mainstream recognition.
A major album in the history of space rock was Hawkwind's Space Ritual (1973), a two-disc live album advertised as "88 minutes of brain-damage" documenting Hawkwind's 1972 tour that included a liquid light show and lasers, nude dancers (notably the earth-mother figure Stacia), wild costumes and psychedelic imagery. This hard-edged concert experience attracted a motley but dedicated collection of psychedelic drug users, science-fiction fans and motorcycle riders. The science fiction author Michael Moorcock collaborated with Hawkwind on many occasions and wrote the lyrics for many of the spoken-word sections on Space Ritual. In Europe, Hungarian band Omega was the biggest space rock band with albums Time Robber (1976), Skyrover (1978), Gammapolis (1979) and the German band Eloy.
Apart from Hawkwind, Marc Bolan and his band T. Rex probably had the most success with space rock, mainly appearing on album tracks such as "Ballrooms of Mars", "Venus Loon" and "Spaceball Ricochet", although he characterised his music as "cosmic rock" (at the end of his first No 1 hit in the UK - Hot Love. Like Hawkwind's Dave Brock, Bolan used pentatonic guitar progressions to design riffs.
In the 1980's, UK band Mournblade, (permission for use of their name was granted by Michael Moorcock) cited in the music press as 'Hawkwind influenced' (sic) blended space rock with a harder, more NWOBHM edge and linked into the emerging 'grebo revival' scene of the late 1980's.
By the early 1990s, the term "space rock" came to be used when describing numerous American and British alternative rock bands of the time. Shoegazing, stoner rock/metal and noise pop genres emerged into the mainstream with the explosion of bands such as Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Slowdive, The Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Flying Saucer Attack, Loop, Ride, Shiner, The Flaming Lips, Failure, Year of the Rabbit, Cave In, Sun Dial, Hum, Orange Goblin, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Mercury Rev. The sonic experimentation and emphasis placed on texture by these bands led them to be dubbed "space rock", although most would more readily be categorized in other genres such as shoegazing or stoner metal.
In the mid-1990s, a number of bands built on the space rock styles of Hawkwind and Gong appeared in America. Some of these bands were signed to Cleopatra records, which then proceeded to release numerous space rock compilations. Starting in 1997, Daevid Allen of Gong, along with members of Hawkwind and other space rock bands, started to perform with Spirits Burning, a studio project created to celebrate space rock.
The Strange Daze festivals from 1997–2001 showcased the American space rock scene in three-day outdoor festivals. A Michigan-based space rock scene included Burnt Hair Records, Darla Records, and bands such as Windy & Carl, Mahogany, Sweet Trip, Füxa and Auburn Lull. This was a modern movement of the traditional "space rock" sound and was pinned Detroit Space Rock.
The first reported involvement of NASA and space rock came in 2009 when an off-duty worker from the shuttle program synchronised footage of a Discovery launch with the Flowers Of Hell's 'Sympathy For Vengeance' in an online video which became popular amongst staff at the Kennedy Space Center..
The band Starset resembles the presence of space related themes released from their debut album Transmissions in 2014 which featured samples such as radio communications between ground control and astronauts, the Doppler Effect, and even the exploration of space by Dr Edwin P. Hubble .