Dearest Gumbooteers! It’s been a while – but thanks to a few simple tricks involving time travel, weapons of mass destruction, a wide range of none-canonical haiku-literature, black magical incantations and poutine (yes, poutine!) I am back in the ring. And since John and Kurt kinda promoted me to European correspondent, I am glad to give you and the world… Amplifier! (as in: Space Rock-Band from Manchester, UK). So, buckle your seatbelts, prepare for warp-speed and don some hearing protection – because you ain’t ever heard the likes of this before. This is what happens, when Space Pirates get their hands on guitars…
I still remember being introduced to Amplifier by my friend Mart down in Karlsruhe near the French border last year. It was around the same time of the year, and it was… mind-changing. You know, I’m kinda your average German indie-music nerd, so… I’m past 30 now and that means I’m also kinda disillusioned with music. It’s just not as fresh as it used to be, just as Robert Smith put it in that old Cure-song: “Everybody’s jumping everybody else’s train…”
Amplifier were different. Right from minute one. It may sound cheesy, but they gave back to me my firm belief in rock music and its power to save the world. You know, when you get that feeling you used to have as a teenager about music? It completely draws you in, becomes a pathway to a new dimension… Nah, needless to say, we were thrashing Mart’s living room furniture to this strange sound from Manchester – the loudest three-piece in the world, as the lads like to describe themselves. And furthermore, needless to say, I invested into the available Amplifier-back catalogue as fast as I could, which as of today comprises three albums and one EP.
Anyways – just to get some data straight. Amplifier are Sel Balamir (guitar, vox), Neil Mahony (bass) and Matt Brobin
(drums). They are from Manchester, and I guess it shows. This city is home to the likes of Joy Division, the Stone Roses, or surrealist and SF-writer Jeff Noon – somehow, this city seems to occupy a special spot in the space-time continuum when it comes to creativity and poetic utterances backed by loud, distorted guitars. As for Amp – think Tool meets Pink Floyd meets some Sabbath meets Monster Magnet – a psychedelic, space rockin’ power machine. Formed in 1998, Amplifier debuted in 2004 with their self-entitled first album.
Incidentally, Mart and I also found out that these guys REALLY rock because… well, there’s a lot of bands out there who will say a lot about being fan-related and wanting to reach out to the people who dig their music – only, most of the time, it’s just talking the talk, not walking the walk. Buzz had been around for a while on the web, when I hit the Amp-bandwagon, that there would be a new double album tentatively and curiously called “The Octopus”.
It was a bit mysterious, but with the promise of such great, great space rock in the back of my mind I enlisted with their mailing list about being able to pre-order a limited edition of The Octopus. And that’s when I started to learn about the nature of this musical venture – also, because both Mart and I got personal e-mail from singer Sel Balamir. Kudos for that, Sel! That just doesn’t happen that often to fanboy-geeks like us! And what we found out, and why I present Amplifier now here on the Gumboot, is that these three guys are REAL, community minded Space Pirates!
And The Octopus is more than just the third album by yet another band. It took Amplifier three years to make and they’ve financed it themselves. No record company (no interference), and thus pure, unadulterated progressive, psychedelic space rock with some kraut-bits thrown in. Huge in scale and panoramic in scope.
16 songs, more than two hours of music – I mean hey, when did that last happen? And people releasing it themselves… Songwriter and spokesman Sel is under no illusions: “A record company would have insisted we release it as two separate albums. We talked about doing that ourselves – because we’d probably make twice as much money – but to us the aesthetic way it’s received is more important. Putting it out like this is a statement.”
There was no plan, but slowly, slowly, The Octopus started to stretch its arms into the lives of Sel, Neil, Matt and the fans. Eventually it became not just an album, but also a book written by Sel (a special edition, limited to 500 copies and dedicated by hand by the band, was available as a 70-page CD book detailing The Octopus). The book is as much a trip as the album and explains the The Octopus as a metaphor for the human condition, for society, for infinity and entropy in the Universe, for everything and nothing. A trip to the other side of the singularity that resides at the bottom of your coffee cup on a bleak Thursday morning – at least!
Having made the decision to sell and promote The Octopus off their website, so far, Amplifier were rewarded. The Octopus is indeed becoming the network of people the band dreamed it would be (each person who bought one of the limited copies is listed) – also because of their intellectual understanding of music based on the reception theory mostly applied to literature. I.e. a text does only exist in the reader’s mind when it is read. Well, I guess the same is true of music, it is only real when perceived, and it only works monodirectional in time, so it’s bound in a double way to the listener and the time of his life he or she is willing to invest. An interesting view for a rock band to express and probably why Amplifier have such respect for the people who listen to their stuff. Thus they also have a whole bunch of viral ideas up theirs sleeves involving fanbase activity that will hopefully make The Octopus embrace the entire world with its arms – and push the envelope of what an album can be. The fan-base is eager and diverse. I feel in good company. Geographically, it stretches from Japan to South America and includes illustrious people such Mart and me who work in advertising and communications, yet also one of the blokes who writes incidental music for TV’s Doctor Who and a bunch of NASA technicians. These guys claim to listen regularly to the first album while assembling the payloads to be sent to the international space station.
Sel sums the usual fan reaction up: “Fans come up to us and say, ‘I don’t understand how you’re not massive!’. To which I always say, ‘I don’t understand it, either!’.” That may be about to change. So – I say thumbs up for these ultra-cool Space Pirates from old England’s grim North.
Amplifier on the web (needless to say, you can listen to all their stuff online – and you can also buy it):
And here – the video for “The Wave” from The Octopus: