Photos by Amanda Farah
It’s been a great few months to catch up with some lowkey musical legends like (This Is Not) This Heat, the Mekons, and Charlemagne Palestine, which makes the inclusion of Spectrum all the sweeter. Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember first began to stitch together the seemingly incompatible worlds of drone and pop music as guitarist in Spacemen 3, the ultimate British stoner band of the 80s, before embarking on his own solo voyages as Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research.
Tonight Kember steers a course through his more song-oriented work towards his more far-out, drone work. Although he has become known for his production work and interest in modular synths, his setup is very simple. Accompanied by a guitarist dishing out slow bluesy slide riffs, he has a couple of samplers, a Yamaha keyboard which according to my research he must have had knocking around for decades, and a strange little synth whose gentle burbling accompanies the entire evening.
For a few minutes it almost seems like the evening isn’t going to start at all, thanks to a faulty sampler. In the memoir of his one-time bandmate Will Carruthers there is a story about the performance and recording of Spacemen 3’s Dreamweapon: A Night of Contemporary Sitar Music, in which everything seems to go wrong: the gig is in the foyer of a cinema where most of the audience is just waiting to see Wings of Desire, they are under orders from Kember to play no more than a single note for the entire set, and after the ordeal, Carruthers realises his bass amp had been switched off for the entire set. Which is to say, Kember knows a thing or two about adversity, and isn’t going to let that stop him.
As the signature one-note synth riff of “Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name” begins, all is well. Even on a sampler the sound bounces straight into the diaphragm with its warm buzz, cutting through the sweet up and down of the two-chord refrain. Kember has made a career of cutting out as much as possible out of his music, but as the reaction of the crowd testifies, always to great effect.
But these days it seems like it is in the longer, instrumental pieces that Kember feels most at home, with his back to the multicoloured psychedelic light. A standout section is one that features a spoken word piece by Kember, a characteristically repetitive string of associations (“like fire, like sound, like…”), played and broken up by the sampler over a sea of his distinctive synth bubbling. I can’t find a recording anywhere, so get in touch with us if you have any leads!