Spacemen 3 and The Jesus and Mary Chain were the godfathers of the shoegazer and drone-rock scene which blossomed in the U.K. at the close of the '80s. But while both bands showed an obvious affinity for the pioneering sounds of The Velvet Underground, they otherwise found different sources of inspiration, with S3 masterminds Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) and J Spaceman (Jason Pierce) eschewing the The Beach Boys-influenced pop symphonics favored by the J&MC's Reid Brothers and instead channeling noisy minimalists ranging from The Sonics to The Red Crayola to Suicide.
Sonic Boom assembled the group in 1982 but Spacemen 3 (which was always a quartet, not a trio) remained relative unknowns for the next few years, which they spent rehearsing, playing small venues around their native Rugby, England, and developing their patented distortion-heavy drone-psych approach to extended jamming. By the mid '80s they had their sound and creative process down and recorded a collection of seminal demos, that would eventually be collected in 1990 as Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, a title which perfectly described the S3 aesthetic and experience.
Even as the group won a cult audience with a series of great late '80s albums on Taang!Records, including Sound of Confusion (their official debut) and Perfect Prescription, fissures quickly developed in the fabric of the band which would speed its dissolution. These were due both to those drugs they were taking to make music to take drugs to and to the increasingly outsized egos of Pierce and Sonic Boom.
First the original rhythm section of Pete Bassman (aka Pete Baines) and Rosco (aka Stewart Roswell) departed (to start Darkside) and were replaced by bassist Will Carruthers and drummer Jon Mattock. The retooled group then recorded what might have been their crowning achievement, another well-titled album called Playing with Fire. It was as pure a celebration of sound as any record ever made, one which brilliantly realized the bottomless richness and depth of full sonic minimalism. The group's playing here was exalted, cosmic, astral, coaxing smoldering beauty and volcanic fury out of their instruments to achieve the feeling of existence on another plane.
And that pretty much spelled the end for Spacemen 3. Boom and Pierce's personality conflict was making it nearly impossible for the band to function as a coherent unit. The last album, Recurring, works less as a Spacemen 3 album and more as a preview of the interesting work the group's two principal members would pursue in the '90s. Side 1 features all Sonic Boom compositions, with an experimental bent he would apply to his later projects Experimental Audio Research and Spectrum, while Side 2, the Pierce portion of the record, betrays the fascination with gospel tones and lush studio production he would pursue with Spiritualized. Almost immediately after Recurring came out, Pierce officially began performing, with Carruthers and Mattock, as Spiritualized, leaving Sonic Boom on his own.
Besides leaving behind a brilliant discography and launching the careers of a handful of other compelling bands, Spacemen 3 gets credit for influencing the development of such other important groups as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, The Verve, and many others. More than a decade after their breakup, their music remains as relevant and totally entrancing as ever.