Space - Space


Released 1990 on KLF Communications
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 28/08/2000ce

This is one album that blew my head off in those E-heavy raving days. It’s also where ambient house cut its teeth. The Orb and The KLF didn’t exist when this album was released, but both groups were spawned from this lunar egg. Space was the brainchild of Alex Patterson (who would go on to form The Orb) and Jimmy Cauty (who would go on to form The KLF). The story goes that the duo were mucking around in their studio squat in South London making some of that dance music that kept us jumping around all night in our baggy, hooded tops. It then occurred to them to take the rhythm track off what they had been recording and listen to it without. It worked, and hey presto! Ambient house was born. I remember seeing this record in a record shop not knowing what was inside, but the sleeve was so good I bought it on the strength of that alone. When I got home and played the contents I was struck by the themes and the, well, spacey music. It wasn’t until coming home to the squat I was living in at the time with a group of friends after a night of over-indulgence that this album really worked. Everyone in the room had their eyes popping out of their heads to this record, and all were desperate to know what it was. I showed them the sleeve, which held bugger-all information. But the record was played over and over again.

Now, having heard this album I found the later ‘Chill Out’ by The KLF a bit of an aimless drift with too many references to and samples of naff records which no doubt was the idea of Bill Drummond, who must have thought it all a total hoot. I mean, Acker Bilk for fuck’s sake! This album, however, doesn’t have the sloppiness of ‘Chill Out’ and is darker than ‘…Ultraworld’ by The Orb, with a consistent theme, oh OK ‘concept’. Simple concept, though: A journey through space. The track listing is basic. Side One: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter. Side Two: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. It’s also pointless, as the whole thing flows from beginning to end.

The classic NASA countdown sample starts the whole thing off, and the blast-off is a huge rumble which subsides as high-tech engine noise increases our speed and we’re out of Earth’s gravitational pull. Whooshing and spinning sounds float past as do sampled operatic voices, disappearing into the distance. Silence is an important part of this beginning. It builds a tension in the listener as each distant sound zooms past with a Doppler effect. Suddenly our boosters are propelling us further out and timepieces clang their bells in a flashback to ‘Run Like Hell’ from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Then trancey synths whizz by punctuated by engine bursts and cinematic orchestral sweeps. An occasional high hat is the only drum sound used. This is a trance track with no bass and no drums, just the constantly modulating sound of an arpeggio. Distant sampled voices drop in and out and the whole thing twists and is modulated so far that it all disappears into a worm-hole as ‘The Blue Danube’ floats past (Oh yes, the ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ allusions are splashed all over this record) and those opera singers drop in out as a slowed down and chopped up sampled voice tells us “There’s only a brilliant light in the night sky…four million miles away…unimaginable cold” as very stoned Orb-alike synth lines meander past. High pitched morse code synths are then interrupted by the most daftly Orb moment on this record as a speeded-up version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is sung to relieve the tension, only to end with an unnerving sinister low tone.

Side Two surges in as choral samples are looped, and beautifully evocative space synth propels us further on our voyage. This is then replaced by sequenced synth lines straight from Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’, which then fade leaving distant samples floating past our portholes. A sampled and cut up raver’s take on Holst, complete with house rhythm crashes in, but doesn’t outstay its welcome, this is only a rocket boost to get us to the languid planet of the next section, which samples and loops a guitar sound from Eno’s ‘Apollo’, adding a lolloping synth sound and a high-hat rhythm. Those choral voices are here again, surging in and out. This is the prettiest part of the album, and it just makes you want to melt. We are slowly pulled away from this, the largest of the planets on our journey into the darker realms of our solar system as our rocket boosters kick in again. We’re in dark emptiness as high-pitched noise, almost to the level of inaudibility, dominates. The soundtrack to ‘The Mission’ fades in (literally). We then somehow get sucked into a noisy black hole, faster and faster and faster only to be dropped back into our own windy atmosphere. We then plop into the ocean, resurfacing to the sound of the sea and gulls. The whole thing then just slows and grinds to a sleepy halt.

At only 38 minutes this album is as long as whole tracks by The Orb would later be, but this gives the whole thing a conciseness which means you never get bored. It is the soundtrack to a raver’s half-hour attention span tourist trip round the solar system. Here Patterson and Cauty made an electronic E-head’s version of Holst’s ‘The Planets’ in a threesome with Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ all jumping around on a bed of Kubrik’s ‘2001’. The whole thing is definitely a product of its time and sounds far less mysterious than it did when it was first released (It contains many ambient-house clichés, but remember this is the record which created those clichés.), but it’s still my favourite record made by either of the two people involved. You can hear that the ideas were fresh in their minds and Bill Drummond’s absence is all for the better. Unfortunately vinyl copies of this album go for £30 a pop now, due to its history and unsung-ness at the time. Even on CD it ain’t cheap either, as it fell victim to the KLF deleting all their past product a few years ago, but if you do come across an under-priced copy in a second-hand shop snap it up. This is superior space-collage every bit as evocative as the cover it sits in.

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