Space rock

"Space metal" redirects here. For the UFO album, see Space Metal (UFO album). For the Star One album, see Space Metal (Star One album).
For other uses, see Space rock (disambiguation).

Space rock is a subgenre of rock music; the term originally referred to a group of early, mostly British, 1970s progressive and psychedelic rock bands such as Hawkwind, Gong, and Pink Floyd,[1] characterised by slow, lengthy instrumental passages dominated by electronic organs, synthesizers, experimental guitar work and science fiction or outer space-related lyrical themes.

The genre regained attention in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the rise of alternative rock bands such as Failure, Hum, Flying Saucer Attack, Orange Goblin, and Spacemen 3, that drew from earlier psychedelic and shoegaze influences to create a more ambient sound, with some also being influenced by contemporaneous stoner rock or desert rock bands.[2]


Origins and emergence

Ozric Tentacles live in Zagreb in 2004

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.[3] 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",[4] "Astronomy Domine",[5] "Pow R. Toc H."[6] and "Interstellar Overdrive"[7] 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.[8] 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),[9] 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.

1990s revival

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.

French band Air released albums Moon Safari and Le voyage dans la lune.

21st century

Space rock bands such as Hawkwind, Gong, and Ozric Tentacles continue to perform live and produce albums in the 2000s, and have produced numerous offshoots and collaborations with their former members.

An increasing number of space rock bands have been forming in recent years, basing their sounds on the classic space rock of the 1970s. A number of these emerging bands have collaborated with former members of Hawkwind and Gong, including Acid Mothers Temple, Earthling Society and the Øresund Space Collective.

Influences from space rock can be heard in UK bands Radiohead, Muse, Amplifier, Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Kasabian, and Mugstar as well as American bands Angels & Airwaves, Autolux, the Boxing Lesson, Nebula, Cloudland Canyon, Hopesfall, Lumerians,[10] the Mars Volta, the Secret Machines, Starset, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Tool, Voyag3r, and Zombi.

Star One's 2002 Space Metal album mixes space rock and progressive metal, and many of the songs are linked conceptually by having cult science fiction films or television series as their subjects.

In the past decade a space rock theme has swept through the indie music scene Hongdae of South Korea. Bands such as Rock and Roll Radio, Galaxy Express, Apollo 18, among many others, have 'spacey' elements in their music. In South Korea such bands with a spacey sound and theme are referred to in the media and among fans as Space Rock or '스페이스 락' in Korean.

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.[11][12] In May 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield created the first music video filmed entirely in outer space, with his YouTube video of himself singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on board the International Space Station".[13]

In 2011, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Andrew Osenga launched a Kickstarter campaign for his concept album Leonard The Lonely Astronaut. The album raised nearly $19,000 and in early 2012 the album was released. The album is written entirely from the point of view of Leonard, the sole passenger on a space ship, who has recently gone through a divorce. Osenga, for the recording of this project, built a set in his studio, resembling the interior of his character's spaceship. From the set, he recorded the entire album.

In 2014, Starset released its debut album Transmissions. The band's self-described style, cinematic rock, is largely built on the styles of space rock.

In 2015, steampunk group Steam Powered Giraffe released the album The Vice Quadrant: A Space Opera, featuring prominent science fiction themes.[14][15]

See also


  1. Richie Unterberger, Pink Floyd biography AllMusic
  2. Space Rock Archived April 23, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., AllMusic
  3. Joe Meek: The RGM Legacy Archived October 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. A.Robbins "The Trouser Press record guide" (Collier Books, 1991), ISBN 0-02-036361-3
  5. Bruce Eder, Astronomy Domine song review, AllMusic
  6. Nicholas Schaffner, "Saucerful of secrets: the Pink Floyd odyssey", (Dell, 1992), ISBN 0-385-30684-9, p.66.
  7. Richie Unterberger, Interstellar Overdrive song review, AllMusic
  8. Allmusic Review by Richie Unterberger
  9. Wilson Neate, Space Ritual review, AllMusic
  10. Ian S. Port (Apr 22, 2011). "Lumerians Talk Video Projections, Recording in a Church, and "Space-Rock"". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  11. The Flowers of Hell blast off
  12. Archive of Sympathy for Vengeance + Space Shuttle Discovery mashup
  13. Chris Hadfield (12 May 2013). "Space Oddity". Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  14. Goodwin, Sara (29 December 2015). "Steam Powered Giraffe: A Folk-Vaudevillian-Comic-Rock Opera Experience for the Whole Family". The Mary Sue. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  15. "Steam Powered Giraffe - The Vice Quadrant CD". Steam Powered Giraffe. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
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