SXSWORLD February 2013


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50 Years Later, Psychedelia Remains in Interstellar Overdrive 42 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2013 COURTESY OF CARMEN RUIZ CORREA W hen A few years ago, at a SXSW-related event on the cusp of his extraordinary comeback, I had a chance to ask Roky Erickson a question: "Roky, what does psychedelic mean to you?" "Christmas," he said, without a moment's hesitation. With a definition of the psychedelic genre being elusive, this seemingly absurd answer is actually perfect. Like a child's perception of December 25, all bright and shiny with swirling colors and The Zombies on stage 2011. a sense of boundless possibility, psych, at its best, represents a creative force without limits. Within psych's Big Bang period during mid-to-late '60s came a flurry of revered bands and groundbreaking albums: Love's Forever Changes, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' Easter Everywhere, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers, Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? amid dozens more, including the Zombies' peerless Odessey and Oracle. "I guess what psychedelia means to The Black Angels me is a state of altered consciousness," explains Rod Argent, founding member of the Zombies and one of the main architects of Odessey and Oracle, whose legendary band is headed to SXSW 2013. "I never thought of the Zombies as a psychedelic band at all, although we certainly couldn't help being aware of, and affected by, the extraordinary things that were going on around the time; the outpouring of longing from a whole generation of young people reacting against the scale and realities of violence that were, perhaps for the first time, through television, being brought to us so immediately and graphically." Nearly 50 years on, "psychedelia," marked at times by exotic instrumentation and/or outré subject matter, remains murky, sometimes stigmatized and misunderstood with its origins in dispute. If one consults "credible" online sources, one might learn that the Yardbirds, or the Grateful Dead, or even Pink Floyd, started it all. But with a little sleuthing, psychedelia's origins trace back to Texas and specifically to Erickson and his fellow Elevators' allegiance to LSD, and the anarchy they wrought at places like Austin's Jade Room and the Vulcan Gas Company. Otherworldly Elevators' tracks like "Reverberation (Doubt)" and "Slip Inside This House" laid down the musical gauntlet, later chased by everyone from Moby Grape to, yes, Pink Floyd, and a cast of thousands. But, like personal psychedelic experiences everywhere, that national psych moment was ephemeral, and within just a few years, many adventurous psych efforts of the 1966-68 era were swiftly judged passé, even laughable. Psych's original creative impulses fanned out into disparate forms such COURTESY OF THE ZOMBIES by Luke Torn as prog/rock, acid-folk, jazz and classical fusion, glam and more. By the early-to-mid 1970s, psych looked hopelessly quaint to a culture in a hurry, and the records fell out of print while disco and punk loomed. Yet the style has found ever-inventive ways of avoiding obsolescence. Even in the heart of punk/rock London, 1977-78 groups like Robyn Hitchcock's Soft Boys and the Desperate Bicycles, like their forebears, managed to alter the trajectory of what a pop song is, can or should be. By the 1980s, U.K. post-punk flagship acts such as Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes were incorporating psychedelic influences. At the same time in Los Angeles, the Long Ryders, Green on Red and Dream Syndicate, as well as Arizona's Meat Puppets, opened up ever-ambitious new frontiers, crisscrossing genre designations and influences with impunity. By the 1990s and 2000s, the original psych dream was proving exponential, and could be felt in dozens of subgenres, from dreampop to trip-hop, shoegaze to noisepop, the Elephant 6 sound to dance styles like techno, acid house and trance. At its heart, psych has remained about following one's heart and muse. "When I listen to Odessey now, it just sounds like us!" enthuses Argent on the long, strange trip both Zombies music and psychedelia have taken. "I think that, maybe, there was one factor, though, in all of The Zombies material, that has helped it stand the test of time. From the very beginning, we never tried to be overtly 'commercial,' or write to a formula … Instead we'd follow an idea through and try to end up with something that excited us, on the basis that it might then have a chance of touching something real in other people. In the short term, that approach might have hurt us a bit commercially, but, in the long term, I think it's meant the music hasn't dated too much, and can still have a chance of touching people now." Back in Austin, psych music has remained especially vital. Most recently, the Austin Psych Fest and affiliated label, The Reverberation Appreciation Society, have been carrying the multi-colored torch. The label has released records by such newer artists as Holy Wave and Christian Bland and the Revelators, while the festival, whose fifth edition will be held in April and will feature such popular bands as Austin's The Black Angels as well as the likes of Clinic, Boris and Acid Mother's Temple, has grown to attract fans from around the world. The fest will also present a showcase at SXSW 2013 which will feature the legendary Zombies, bringing together psychedelia's past and future. ■ For more information about SXSW Music 2013 showcase, stay tuned to

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