5 Alive!SLOWDIVE are not, we repeat NOT, mimsy Home Counties mummy's boys and girls who love thir shoes. They are pioneers somewhere near the forfront of ambient electronic sound. As LISA HOFTIJZER finds out during a stint with Reading's finest in a flotation tank. Born to be a 'Dive: STEPHEN SWEET
A HAZY BLEND OF Rutes and panpipes, gently dripping rainforest leaves and supreme hippydom seeps over me as I hang suspended in the artificial womb of a Rotation tank. Returning from my - if not out of body, then at least temporarily and deliciously out of reach experience - I find myself once more, and emerge relaxed and fulfilled.
So, Neil Halstead, Slowdive singer/ songwriter, and fellow floater, how was it for you?
"Well,'' he says, emerging from the murky depths and looking decidely the worse for wear, "it was OK, but every time I coughed I propelled myself across the tank, and hit my head."
SLOWDIVE have just let loose the" 5EP". It's a gently waving, softly textured ebb and floow of sound, ana a considerable progrt1ssion from this year's "Souvlaki" album.
Typically for Slowdive, the" 5EP" has had hacks all over the country reaching for new ways to say "cascoding cacophony of colossal cool noise". This has, in turn, had Slowdive themselves reaching for their dictionaries.
Which is not to say that Slowdive want to be easily defined. As they point out, they are in the business of expression through sound, notvocabulary.
However, as Neil admits, "it does tend to make people very lazy about talking about you. They always resort to those kind of phrases."
"We'll always have that post-rave comedown bollocks tag bandied about us:' sighs bossist Nick, resignedly. Neil and I agree to differ, stop the floating and sink a few in the local pub, where we have been joined by singer, ethereal warbler and fan of paramilitary chic, Rachel Goswell, elegant today in Jackie O glasses, and bravely soldiering on (ha!) despite one mother of a cold; Nick Chaplin, the bond's stripy-jumpered, floppy-topped bassist and self-confessed musical ignoramus; and Christian Savill, the quiet guitarist but noisy football fanatic. (Drummer Simon Scott has already dashed off to do some mixing for his other band, Foxy Brown).
The others question Neil and I about our slowfloat experience, having carefully avoided the event themselves, on the somewhat flimsy grounds that there were only two tanks. They spent the intervening time learning about astrology. (Apparenly, Nick and Christian should never marry, although sex would be great between them.)
I ask Neil if he would have had a better time floating to his own music. The band look horrified at being slotted alongside the "cheesy New Age crap" they heard piped into the Flotation Centre reception. "I think the best thing to do with Slowdive would be to have a joint, and go and sit in the bar," considers Neil, in one fell swoop bursting the Thames-Valley-kids as-introspectives bubble, in much the same way that the "5EP" moves Slowdive away from the footwear-scrutinising cliches of yore. A brief allusion to another publication's self-satisfied definition of the "new" Slowdive as "shoe-techno" has them creasing up over their pints in disbelief.
IS there any need to herald a "new" Slowdive at all? Hasn't there always been a trance element to your music?
"Yeah, well, this EP's pretty standard for us," agrees Neil, "although this stuff is different in that we made no attempt to make any songs - before, we always had a verse and a chorus. And we're more into technology now. Previously, we've been a bit restrained on that.
"This is a bit like what we normally put on the B-sides," he adds.
"Oh, great advertisement, Neil," groans Nick.
But it is, in a way, true. The more experimental tracks from previous Slowdive EPs have been expanded in terms of ideas, beginning with the Eno collaboration on "Souvlaki" and culminating in the Reload and Bandulu remixes of the new track, "In Mind".
So who is the next ideal Slowdive partner in rhyme? Various names are flung around with abandon. Rachel suggests "that guy from Anthrax," presumably (hopefully!) joking, while Neil suggests Philip Glass, who, Nick has to be informed, is a-gasp-New Ager.
This leads to a lively discussion on the thin line between ambient- as in music to bliss out to - and ambient - as in Sting, king of snoozy easy listening. It' s a game the whole band play, and Rachel and Nick are frank and Rippant as they advocate getting two whales into the studio, teaching them guitar for the next Slowdive single.
And you though they were all fringes'n'footwear fetishists
IN fact, fresh from a world (conquering) tour, and poised to fly to the States again for five weeks come Valentine's Day, it's all action in the Slowdive camp.
Rachel is clearly excited about it all, beaming behind her tissues.
"We're going over to promote the domestic release of 'Souvlaki':' she snuffles. "Hopefully, it'll also be our first headline tour over there."
For a band generally perceived to come from a genre as English as afternoon closing time, American audiences are giving Slowdive a universal thumbs up. "They are more enthusiastic:' claims Rachel, reasoning, "after all, it's harder to get to see your favourite English band."
"And there's honestly not that 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' mentality. We've had American fans comment on that:' adds Nick.
AS we leave the Georgian pub (conspicuously at odds with the tree-lined streets and boutiques), we start arguing, for no good reason in particular, about the Seventies, and Slowdive's pet hate - punk.
Neil obligingly informs me of the pointlessness of discussing music with Nick. Apparently, to him, outside ofyer New Orders, yer Cures, and, bizarrely, yer Durannies, everything else on planet Pop is, well, crap.
The guilty man smiles mischievously.
"So just what are you doing in a band then?" challenges Rachel, pointing an accusing finger. "Go on, just what do you get out of it, Nick?"
"I like being in an aeroplane," he deadpans.
So there you have it: from privileged country cousins to irreverent sound poets in one easy step. It's all just a tiny little mailer of credibility, snobbery and perception. Now all you have to do is listen to their records to prove the point:
Slowdive don't float. They fly.
Originally appeared in Melody Maker December 18, 1993
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