Hawkwind returned to Academy 1 on Saturday night to curate another Hawktoberfest. This year’s alternative autumn ‘fest’ featured entertaining dub punk rock from Ruts DC, and psychedelic rock from Manchester-based Amplifier. However, the main attraction of the night was a two-hour set from space rock founders and sonic innovators, Hawkwind themselves. Nurtured in the Ladbroke Grove commune of the late 1960s, Hawkwind fast became central to a new wave of experimental rock music. Despite forming 46 years ago, Saturday night showed that Hawkwind’s music hasn’t aged a second. The range of sounds used by most other experimental artists is still a cosmos off those heard in 1970s classics such as In Search of Space and Warrior on the Edge of Time.
Hawkwind opened with the metallic ‘Utopia’, which must have lasted for about 20 minutes. From then on, they presented a staggering array of sounds, with most songs ascending into what seemed like free-form improvisation. Just as everyone was getting used to the lightshow on offer, onto the stage came a dancer dressed as a Blade Runner replicant, and she preceded to throw fire-coloured linen around and dance with death near the summit of a blue curtain.
After about an hour, there was a long interlude of electro-psychedelia while the drummer caught his breath. “Oh my poor heart”, commented Hawkwind’s only constant member, 74-year-old Dave Brock, before he launched into another freak-out full of synth crescendos. Just as impressive as the range of sounds was the cohesion of the whole performance—the rhythm section never deteriorated, even at the height of improvisation.
Hawkwind have about them the air of a religious cult, and towards the end it was repeatedly demanded that “All hail the machine!” Also played was “just a little taster from next year’s project”—there may be more to come from Hawkwind! From Dave Brock personally, there’s definitely more to come: His new solo album Brockworld is out next month.
Hawkwind’s encore featured high tempo, swooshing rocker ‘Silver Machine’, often covered by The Sex Pistols. As this suggests, Hawkwind represent one of the few bridges between the hippie and punk movements. Minor disappointments were that Hawkwind abstained from early 1970s ‘hits’ (always relative) such as ‘Assault and Battery’ and ‘Master of the Universe’. But who ever wanted Hawkwind to stick with the familiar? Unanchored, heavy psychedelia triumphed in Academy 1.