The UK at the end of the ’90s was an awful time for music. Brit-pop had died — some would argue the death was deserved — at some point during 1997 and unfortunately had taken with it all the interesting characters that filled the music magazines of my teens. In its place we now had a new boring. In what felt like a coup performed on behalf of tedious people everywhere: all of the fascinating and funny POP STARS I’d been regularly reading about — people like Jarvis Cocker, Luke Haines and Lawrence from Denim — had been replaced overnight by no-personality, boring, ordinary blokes, people like Chris Martin from Coldplay, whatever his name is from Travis and the hobbit from Muse.
It was dreadful.
Don’t forget also this was at a time when people — well, me, especially — had very little access to the internet. With the music press in the UK only covering boring, long since forgotten dross like JJ72, I had very few opportunities to discover new music. In fact, I had to resort to buying records based solely on whether or not the covers looked cool and if the band had an unusual or intriguing name. I always hoped that, when I got these random records home and played them they would freak me out, that the music would sound like it was played on strange new instruments by intergalactic spacemen. I was nearly always disappointed.
Imagine my joy then upon discovering Man or Astro-man? I’d found their 1996 seven-inch EP Deluxe Men in Space at the back of a dusty second-hand record store. It ticked both my criteria: unusual name and cool front cover — a ’50s image of spacemen carrying out experiments on the moon. I dutifully bought it and excitedly took it home to listen to.
IT BLEW MY MIND.
It was literally the sound of intergalactic spacemen (who called themselves Birdstuff, Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, Dexter X the Man from Planet Q, and Star Crunch) playing surf-rock whilst utilizing a mix of unusual, and new to my ears, instruments: a Tesla coil and a theremin, to name just a few. It wasexactly what I’d been looking for. It was as if the record had been beamed down into the record shop especially for me to find.
Nearly 20 years later, I still feel exactly the same about Man or Astroman? It’s as if their songs have been beamed to earth from a distant star just for me. Everything is in its place. In fact, I was surprised at just how happy it made me to know that they are still out there exploring space with a fizz and a pop and a surf guitar — sometimes taking the occasional break to sound like a late ’90s incarnation of the Fall.
Of course it could be that the record isn’t being beamed to me from outer space but is in fact being beamed to me from the late ’90s — the songs on their new album Def Con 5… 4… 3… 2… 1 do often share stylistic ticks with the sort of guitar music I was discovering for myself back then, guitar music that I now miss and haven’t heard since the end of that decade. Could it be that my love of the new Man or Astro-man? album is in fact just some sort of nostalgia kick? I can’t honestly say, it is impossible for me to figure out. However I would like to think that despite new music being easier to find these days, a 16 year old stumbling around the internet looking for something new and interesting to listen to would be as blown away by these intrepid intergalactic surf guitar explorers as I was all those years ago.