We have in previous articles accused Derbyshire-based indie label Reckless Yes of hoarding all of our favourite bands – just look at their roster: Piney Gir‘s ever evolving psych-pop, DIY indie-disco heroes Bugeye, lo-fi punk scamps Breakup Haircut, Captain Handsome‘s country-tinged heartbreak pop, Chorusgirl, Fightmilk, Nervous Twitch, Paper Birch, Bitch Hunt – the list goes on and on. As if this weren’t unfair enough on the other indie imprints out there, label co-founder Pete Darrington is now turning out top-notch instrumental surf rock bangers himself, with the release of the debut album from his new project The Incomprehensible Static.
Pete, also of 90s cult noise band CABLE and Reckless Yes supergoup GODNO!, concocted the project during a period of lockdown boredom in 2020. “I thought about different types of instrumental music I loved,” he explains. “I’d spent most of my life making math rock and art rock type stuff, so I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like that. Then it just came to me in the bath – probably because I was submerged in water – I wanted to make surf music – but with a modern twist. Sci-Fi surf punk, to be exact.“
The record is a retro-futurist spectacular, bringing to mind both the early pioneers of surf rock and more recent rivivalists like Man or Astroman, as well as drawing on vintage sci-fi soundtracks. “I wanted it to be more than just a surf rock record – I wanted to explore the golden age of instrumental music that seemed forgotten and the zeitgeist that it evokes – the dawn of the space age, the cold war, spaghetti westerns and the birth of rock n’ roll – so every track paints a slightly different picture of that time in our history. ‘Transmitting LIVE From The Future!’ is a love letter to where it all came from, this thing called ‘rock n’ roll’ that we still love in all its forms. When guitars were the instrument of the future and The Beatles were still a twinkle in Brian Epstein’s eye.“
We asked Pete to guide us through the record, track by track.
1. Quarter Mile Burnout
An anthem to the nostalgic thrills of Hot Rod and Drag Strip racing and to the greaser car culture and oil-soaked rockabilly tunes that would accompany these often illicit events throughout the 1950s and 1960s. I imagined this high-octane number to soundtrack a climactic race scene from a ‘Coming Of Age’ movie steeped in Americana – quiffs, leather jackets and leopard print pencil skirts. We’ve all seen American Graffiti, right? No? Grease then, at least?
2. Astronaut Girl
The Space Race – it started with Sputnik and quickly progressed to Space Dogs and then humans. Since then, 90% of Space Pilots have been male, so is it little wonder that most people don’t even know that the first woman to pilot a space vehicle was Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union in 1963? This track is dedicated to her and the 63 other women who have left Earth’s atmosphere and broken glass ceilings on dangerous missions of discovery.
Before Kennedy turned everyone’s attention on going to the Moon in order to win the ultimate goal of the Space Race, the Russians were smashing it out of Gorky Park in terms of whacking things into orbit. Not content with launching what was a glorified transistor radio into the final frontier, one month later, in November of 1957, a little street dog from Moscow became the first living space traveller.
It was hailed as a triumph by the Soviets and a call to arms to the United States, but Laika the Space Dog’s story isn’t like something out of the Jetsons like everybody thinks it is. Laika didn’t die peacefully in her sleep after a week when her oxygen was due to run out, she actually cooked to death within a couple of orbits due the failure of Sputnik 2’s heat shielding.
While the flight was hailed as a triumph and Laika became a Soviet mascot of technological supremacy, only the scientists who’d trained Laika knew the truth and they were deeply saddened by her terrible end, especially as they had grown to love the little dog with so much character. Her legacy lives on still, but the ghostly barks that punctuate this track serve as a chilling reminder of what really happened…
OK, I know it seems I’ve written another tune about a dog, but Chihuahua is a state of Mexico. I wanted to write the theme to an imaginary 1960s Spaghetti Western and this is what came out of my hands – it’s more than a cheeky nod to the godlike genius of Ennio Morricone, whose twangy guitar melodies are not only timeless but incredibly haunting – you only have to hear that 5 note guitar phrase from ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ and you’re there, in the mexican heat, sand in your eyes and a cigar in your mouth – imagining you’re an outlaw with a price on your head and a bullet with your name on it. Not quite? Well I did my best and the trumpet solo is amazing, thanks to Josh Short.
5. Earth Vs The Flying Saucers
While it’s little more than kitsch 1950s retro futurism now, Earth vs The Flying Saucers was considered a cinematic masterpiece at the time thanks to the astonishing stop motion and model work of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Released in 1956, just after the McCarthyist witch trials, this movie was really a piece of Cold War anti-communist propaganda – just swap the aliens for the commies and you’re there.
It was school holiday re-runs of movies like this and Forbidden Planet that hooked me onto sci-fi in the first place, with their spooky theremin fueled theme music, goldfish bowl space helmets and silver frisbees-for-spacecraft. Independence Day just doesn’t have the same amount of cool, does it?
6. Eliminate Agent Palmer!
So seeing as I’d written tracks for imaginary teen flicks, space films and Westerns it seemed only logical that I try my hand at that other big genre of 60s movie culture – Espionage. As if I’ve not mentioned the Cold War often enough already, but tensions between East and West were at an all time high thanks to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and as a result interest in Spy movies had never been higher.
I’m a huge fan of John Barry – everyone knows his work on the Bond franchise but my favourite soundtrack of his is for the Michael Caine movie The Ipcress File. Caine’s portrayal of MI5 agent Harry Palmer is the absolute antithesis to Bond. There’s nothing glamorous about the world of espionage in that movie – tropical secret bases are swapped for dirty warehouses and penthouse apartments are traded for slummy bedsits. But the soundtrack is the real star of the movie – the unforgettable twang of something I learned was called a ‘Cimbalom’ is what makes it so distinctive. Well I didn’t have one of those, but I did have an old friend with an auto-harp and they sound kinda similar, right?
I also wanted to incorporate a little homage of the distinctive guitar riff from the movie theme to Beat Girl, also penned by Barry (as sampled by Fatboy Slim for ‘Rockerfeller Skank’) and I couldn’t resist sampling the psychedelic cacophony of the Ipcress File‘s brainwashing machine.
This track had a bit of a weird evolution – two instrumental hits that I’ve always had affection for are ‘Telstar’ by the Tornadoes (more space, I know) which was one of those dusty 45s that had sat in my folks’ record collection and Emerson Lake and Palmer’s version of ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’. I know ELP (as it’s shortened to) didn’t release their version until 1977 – but that makes it more notable as it was a time when instrumental chart toppers were few and far between, but never mind that – they took a piece of bombastic classical music and turned it into a killer disco-fuelled prog rock epic.
Anyway, I loved the climbing riffs of both of them and wanted to try something in a similar vein (but with a twangy guitar in the mix – of course). I also wanted to take the track on a bit of a journey so it does get a little bit ‘prog’ by my standards (i.e. it’s actually 4 minutes long, not 2 and a half!) but I didn’t start it with anything other than that in mind. However, while working on the track, I became obsessed with listening to what shortwave radio hams call ‘number stations’.
What’s a number station? Well, if you look them up on Wikipedia, it describes them as “A shortwave radio station characterized by broadcasts of formatted numbers, which are believed to be addressed to intelligence officers operating in foreign countries.” Nobody seems to know any more than that – yet they’ve been on the air since the 1960s and are still transmitting coded messages to this very day.
One of the most famous ones is UVB76. Colloquially known as ‘the Buzzer’, it transmits a repetitive buzzing noise, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which is only occasionally broken up by dialogue in Russian and is believed to be transmitted from somewhere near Moscow. I recorded it and incorporated some of those coded spoken messages into the track – so If I disappear under mysterious circumstances after this record is released, the KGB have bumped me off.
8. 59 Old Compton St
For the last track on the album I wanted to give the record a little more of a British perspective – surf rock is cool and all and while we can’t deny rock n’ roll is a distinctively American export, it’s arrival and origins in Britain are, surprisingly, not really that often talked about. 59 Old Compton Street is the address of The 2i’s Coffee Bar – a basement cafe in Soho, London, which opened in 1956.
Originally known as an underground live venue for skiffle bands, when rock n’ roll made its way across the pond, this dingy cellar is where it all began for us brits. Opening in 1956, it closed its doors for the last time in 1970. It’s where Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele made their first ever appearances but more importantly when it comes to this record – it’s where The Shadows played their first ever gigs. The undisputed kings of British instrumental twang got their break here.
It is easy to dismiss The Shadows as being not cool – they were Cliff’s backing band for christ’s sake and Hank Marvin just wanted to be Buddy Holly, right? Wrong. In 1960, The Shadows were the coolest band on the planet and ‘Apache’ was number one in the charts for 5 weeks, remaining in the top 40 for a staggering 5 months. Without Hank Marvin there would be no Led Zeppelin, No Black Sabbath, no Cream, no Fleetwood Mac, no Queen and possibly no Beatles. George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Brian May, Tony Iommi and even Neil Young have all said they picked up the electric guitar because of Hank Marvin and it all started at 59 Old Compton Street, a cellar cafe that didn’t even have a proper stage.
It’s a posh sit down chip shop now, but it has a green plaque, proudly understating in that British way, that this is where rock n’ roll and British pop music was born in the UK.
Transmitting LIVE from the Future! is on on 26th November via Reckless Yes Records.
Follow The Incomprehensible Static on Twitter
Interview by Paul Maps
Photograph provided by Reckless Yes