As regular readers of our Blogs (yes, all ONE of you) will know, if there is one facet of Pop music that we have a peculiar fondness for, it is the creation of other worlds. As we have said many times before, our favourite Brian Eno quote is that Pop music creates its own worlds...worlds exclusive to the particular artist.
Take The Cramps for example....they created an entire world based on 50s Rockabilly, Universal Horror movies, and Las Vegas bump-and-grind Burlesque; going way out of their way to have you believe that they actually lived in this particular world. But the same could be said for The Smiths who, through their record sleeves, lyrics, and group aesthetic created a world of Northern British outsiderdom; or Pulp who created a whole universe of polyester, crap-70's-TV hued sexual frustration and fumbling.
Or there are bands like reclusive oddballs The Residents who create an entire twisted parallel world based purely on the concept of themselves, then invite you to either visit or entirely ignore their creation.
And it's this high concept approach to Rock music that our subjects tonight go waaaaaay overboard to submerge themselves in....yes, welcome to the retro-futuristic radioactive outer limits of one of the few outstanding bands of the 1990s.....ignition sequence start....time to blast off with Man Or Astroman?
I first stumbled upon Man Or Astroman? by complete accident, and in the strangest of places. I had just passed my driving test and was driving up to Griff's one Friday night. The car was so old it didn't have a CD player, or even a decent cassette player, so I was listening to Radio1, which on a Friday night meant dance music. I think it may have been Pete Tong who was DJ-ing that night, and just as I got to the 5 lanes section of motorway heading into Glasgow, Pete slipped a weird pulsating Surf style instrumental into the glacial electronic mix he was playing. It coincided with that first look over Glasgow which was just coming to electrical life against a late Summer sunset. It was the perfect soundtrack. After the mix I heard Pete use the phrase 'Man Or Astroman?' and knew that had to be the track that had been played.
I knew I had to find out more about them....and I liked what I found....
Man Or Astroman? emerged sometime in the early 1990s. Coming across as a mix of Surf music, retro-Sci-fi and Punk energy, they sound like like The Spotnicks jamming with The Pixies, or Joe Meek wrestling Steve Albini (something I'd pay to see!!). Ditching the often trebley sound that plagues Surf music, for a more cavernous low-end thump, the band liberally sprinkle their songs and albums with snippets from old Sci-fi and Horror movies. They are also a ferocious live band, prone to outlandish stage theatrics, playing in space suits, and outré back projections.
But with Man Or Astroman? it's the whole package that counts, and their record sleeves and gig flyer artwork is an essential part of their overall universe, and some of the most beautiful sleeve artwork ever produced. Added to this, is the fact that the band prefer to release their records on vinyl in a deliberate rebuttal of Yuppie-scum CDs. Although their albums are often released on both vinyl and CD, their singles are almost uniformally pressed on 7"(and sometimes 5" and 10") vinyl, and coloured vinyl to boot.....even some glow-in-the-dark pressings! This also backs up vinyl junkies' arguments that record sleeve artwork doesn't translate well on the CD format, as some of the examples we'll look at show.
We here at the ~Streetlamp~ fully endorse the current vinyl revival, believing it is the only true way to hear music, especially Pop and Rock'n'Roll! Do yourselves a favour and look for the vinyl versions of your new record purchases!
But back to the matter in hand.....so who are Man Or Astroman?
Claiming to be extraterrestrials sent to Earth to play Punk-Surf music, the band have kept their true identities fairly well hidden. The main core of the band are Star Crunch on guitar and occasional vocals, Birdstuff on drums, and Coco The Electric Monkey Wizard on bass and electronics. They have been assisted through the years by such secondary guitarists as Cap'n Zero, Dexter X, Dr Deleto, Blazar The Probe Handler and Trace Reading. Between 1993 and 2000 they released 10 albums and many 7" singles including many split-singles with bands on such record labels as Estrus, Clawfist, One Louder and Touch & Go.
They also recoded six sessions for John Peel, two of which can be downloaded here and here
In 1998 the band 'cloned' themselves to send out a touring band called the Man Or Astroman Clone Tour Alpha which featured clones Dorkstuff, Chromo Crunch, Dexter Y and Cocoid. After the success of that they cloned themselves again, this time as females called Coco Active, Chromita Starita, Tweety-Tone and Carol. This project was known as Man Or Astroman Clone Tour Gamma.
The original band split in 2001 but reformed for some live shows around 2006. In 2010 they reformed again and this time seem to be still going. Their Facebook page is regularly updated with live shows, and there are rumours of new studio material.
But let's now take a look at their incredible sleeve and poster artwork.
The band have always adopted an 'Outer Space' theme in their artwork, from the Astounding Stories comic book homages of Destroy All Astromen:
to the Exotica stylings of the Sounds Of Tomorrow e.p.
Then there's Sixties Spy Film themes
Retro Toy Commercials
Space Age Animation
And, of course, tons of the coolest Sci-fi
So there you have it....not just one of the coolest bands that has ever existed, but one which presses many of the ~Streetlamp~'s pleasure pads. For further explorations of deepest futures past check out some of the links below.
Keep watching the skies, my Friends...
A compilation of Man Or Astroman?'s earliest 7" singles, Destroy All Astromen can be downloaded here
A compilation of their later 7" singles, What Remain Inside A Black Hole Hole can be downloaded here
An official download of the band playing live at the BBC's Maida Vale studios can be found here
For a more in depth study of Man Or Astroman?'s record sleeve art then check out this outstanding Blog