I interviewed veteran psychedelic warlords Hawkwind recently and the video of this is further down this article. One of the first concerts I ever went to was in 1972 when Hawkwind performed for 2 and a half hours doing “Space Ritual” at the Odeon Cinema in Gillingham. I went down at the age of 14 expecting to be home by 9.15 pm and had to run all the way home afterwards at 10.30 pm. There was a strange fragrant smell in the air and a blue haze at the front of the venue as the band played a continuous stream of songs punctuated by squeaks and blips from early synthesisers and the odd poem, some very odd. Life was never the same after Hawkwind. In 2014, the show is controlled by Council officials who ensure that everyone leaves the venue on time in an orderly fashion, the synthesisers and light show all work perfectly, there is no on-stage nudity and that the only hallucinogenic substances on sale are those licensed at the bar. Nonetheless, Hawkwind have made an impact on so many genres of music, from rave, trance to bands like the Ozric Tentacles, Julian Cope, The Sex Pistols et al. Check out the interview I did with Hawkwind veteran Dave Brock and the band:
What then did I learn from Hawkwind?
Hawkwind on improvisation
In 1972, Hawkwind were working at the cutting edge of what was possible in music, technology wise. Using VCS3 synthesisers and light shows that were quite unreliable at the time. This meant frequent mistakes, the need for incredible nimbleness to keep things in tune and a degree of chaos in the overall performance. Now, the equipment is pretty reliable. Moogs replaced by Macs and so on. Hawkwind still manage to instil a sense of organised chaos into their performances, mostly, according to them, by “pressing the wrong buttons”. Mistakes are the seedbed of innovation and it’s an important point when the tools you are using are totally reliable. Jack White, Dave Grohl, George Clinton and others have commented on this issue.
Hawkwind on Space Rock and Science Fiction
When I asked Hawkwind about their influences they talked about dystopian futures, societies characterised by dehumanisation, totalitarian governments and environmental disasters. Heavy stuff! Perhaps Hawkwind were the first punk rockers, as I’ve often observed the parallels between hippies and punks, save for the “smash it up” tradition of some punk fans. For more than 40 years they have more or less owned the musical territory called “Space Rock” alongside Pink Floyd, but perhaps always on the dark side of the Floyd. It’s interesting that very few bands have taken them on in their home territory and this mystifies me as to why. Does anyone have a view on how they have maintained this niche for such a long time? Are space and rock “hard to copy” elements?
Hawkwind on chaos and disorder
Thanks to Ron Donaldson for flagging up the parallel between Hawkwind’s music and notions of chaos and complexity and the links with the work of Dave Snowden. Find out more about his insights at Edge of Chaos. Hawkwind’s music has always operated at the edge of chaos.
Have a listen to “Space is Deep” to gain an insight into Hawkwind’s music. And for comparison, check out a song dedicated to a dystopian future “Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd. Some of the customer experiences I have observed or experienced at the hands of companies such as O2, Wizzair and Kwik Fit / Towergate Insurance of late make me think that Pink Floyd’s predictions have come true, like all good science fiction 😦
Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.