2014 was a banner year for psychedelia.
Mainstream media coverage found underground gems in countries beyond the US and UK, and the week of this show, one of the bands performing was mentioned by The Guardian in a spoof on “what a tie‑dyed 2015 might look like”.
Tonight we see two of the genre’s leading lights (space rock division) in an East London warehouse for a joint headline show. The night has a celebratory air, both for the year about to end and as a triumph over adversity. Mugstar are one man down and The Cosmic Dead didn’t make the previous night’s show when their van died. Neither band is letting it get to them though.
Liverpool’s Mugstar may be the granddaddies of this current scene, having released their first single in 2003, but tonight they’re youthfully fired up. They launch into the propulsive motif of set staple Sunburnt Impedance Machine, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re trying harder than ever due to their reduced number. Axe heroics usually saved for an encore appear immediately, Pete Smyth playing his instrument behind his head within minutes.
A guitarist down means less keyboards, although Serra arrives early on, racing along the autobahn, fuelled by Jason Stoll’s metronomic bass and Smyth’s keyboard rack and heavily reverbed cries. However, by the time they reach the unreleased tracks of the set, the band resemble nothing less than the MC5, incendiary riffs stretched by a wah-wah pedal. Set closer Bethany Heart Star recaps what’s preceded, covering all bases in a furious rush.
Never ones to take themselves too seriously, The Cosmic Dead open with cries from the Banana Boat Song, before rumbling into the most Can-like number of their lengthy set. Like Mugstar, they’re not holding back, Lewis Cook moving from synth to guitar and clambering astride an amp. The tongue-in-cheek, self-proclaimed “foremost Scottish Hawkwind tribute band” then slip into Djamba, for the first time resembling their forebears.
The epic closer, The Exalted Shøastmann, gets looser, fuelled by Eldorado, their drink of choice since Buckfast Abbey were less than hospitable to them. Soon the bass is in the crowd and audience members are drumming.
Thirty minutes later, the sound man drops the monitor volume onstage and the lights come up, but the band are still bashing away at anything to hand and hanging instruments from the lighting rig, not ready to let the big, noisy party come to an end.