Don't quaestion everything…


Melody Maker – 17 Aug 1991


According to the band, LEVITATION actually met several lifetimes ago. DAVID STUBBS discovers what the hell reincarnation, Egyptology, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, the number 23, and creating a sense of rapport with a live audience has to do with their new EP “After Ever”.

“I’M REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO THE PHOTO session, Tom!” declares hyperactive Levitation drummer Dave Francolini, rapping out an excited paradiddle on the table that sets our lagers wobbling. Sheehan and I look at him pop-eyed, like one of those old HM Bateman cartoons. Looking forward to the photo session? This is one of those Great Unsaid Statements, like, “I’m glad we stopped off at the Little Chef”, or “Pleased to meet you, Mr Beadle”.

Bands normally hate photo sessions. Not Levitation. Heavy metal fans baring their arses have shown less enthusiasm in front of the camera than Levitation. What’s more, whereas interviewing most of their contemporaries is like pulling teeth, Levitation chatter deliriously away like this is to be their last spoken will and testament. They talk like they play, a frenetic, overlapping, overload of opinions, speculations, verbal ejaculations, groans and whoops. At one point, drummer Dave and guitarist Bic talk for a full five minutes, loudly and simultaneously into each of my ears, too excited to give way to one another.

Terry Bickers is in there somewhere, but he doesn’t impose himself as the predominant force in this democracy of chatter. Most indie bands claim to be a collective, here we genuinely seem t be dealing with one. There’s Bob on keyboards. He and bassist Laurence, who used to play with The Jazz Butcher, represent an anchor of relative normality. Then there’s guitarist Bic, who until recently played with The Cardiacs. He’s so full of supressed adrenaline he doesn’t even sit in his seat, rather perches/ squats in it, as if set to bound over the table, over the head of Bickers, in a single spring.
When Sheehan tells him that Robert Smith wants to hear their new tape, I’m afraid he’s going to explode with glee. And, of course, there’s drummer Dave, co-founder of the band with Bickers, a bundle of nervous passion.

Dave believes he’s probably lived seven previous lives, during the last of which he met Bic and Terry. More of that later. Right now, he’s like a cat living all nine lives at once.

THIS is Levitation, perhaps the finest band in the world – along with Mercury Rev and The Orb they’re the only band truly spilling places at the moment. Their two EP’s, “Coppelia” and “After Ever” are compressed minatures, kaleidoscopic sliver of what they’re still capable of. Like the two-minute deep-sea pearl “Nadine”, they hint at continents of artistic incontinence yet to come.

“After Ever” the follow-up EP to “Coppelia” is yet more clouds full of silver linings. “Firefly”’s luminous zig-zags are reminiscent of Can’s “Tago Mago”. “Attached” waves and drowns in dark pools of subconscious and they unravel entirely on “Bedlam”.

Terry says the album (to follow in January) will take in King Tubby, The Dub Syndicate, Julee Cruise and Talk Talk. Then they’ll move onto track two. “Certainly, we’re not gonna just be drawing on the Velvets/ Stooges as a lot of bands would do.”

Bic: “It’s really environmental, it creates places you don’t go to. If you’re not searching for the ultimate pop song or the ultimate this or that, then you can do far more interesting things because you’re exploring the nature of what you can possibly do.”

LEVITATION have absorbed 10 years of rock mavericks, free spirits and avant-garde milestones - Faust, TV Personalities, Can, X-Ray Specs, Funkadelic, Dr John, Harold Budd, The Beatles, are all cited within the space of five minutes. And now they aim to regurgitate the lot in one, joyous, psychedelic yodel. Live, their colourific expanse, their amorphous drift, is more in evidence. Live is where Levitation flourish. If their EPs are like phials, live is where the phials are smashed and the gas allowed to billow.

Dave: “Seeing us live is different from the records. When you see our gigs you see the barrage. But what we want to do is amalgamate the two, using some of our live tapes as backdrops for the new album so that you get that raw, spontaneous energy and then use the studio just to overdub.”

Terry: “We wanna do two albums a year plus a live album, possibly. Get it out, move onto the next thing so it doesn’t lose its initial impetus. We’d have released four albums by now if we could have. I want six albums out by the time I’m 25.”

Levitation recently went into the studio, had a quick sit-down, a chat and a smoke then played for three solid days.

Terry: “That’s something you can only do when you get the rapport right, so long as you submerge all ego-difficulties and that’s something we all came into the band with the intention of doing, with this happy-go-lucky competitive attitude.”

THE BAND baulk at the expediencies that dictate they can only release so much product. But isn’t there a danger of doing a Eugene Chadbourne, releasing about five albums a year, the consumption of which becomes an endurance test?

Dave: “So, you diversify. You write a musical. You do a film. Interactive media. For instance, I’ve always thought there ought to be more audience participation in Melody Maker. You’ve got the letters page, but that isn’t enough. There should be more things going on. I’m not suggesting a Maker summer camp. But…that’s why we’re essentially a live band because when you go out and communicate with people, that’s when truths get passed around.

“People at gigs start talking, start working together. We’re not just stab-at-stardom boys, we’re a way of life. That’s why we fill the stage, man, because we’re a whole thing.”

Terry: “You’ve got to stand together and reach out to people. I mean this business of live participation is good, passing out percussion and bits of wood.”

Yeah, but, unfair as it is, there are talented and untalented people. There’s nothing liberating about a hallful of wannabes bashing bits of wood ineptly, even if it does break down the artist/ audience barrier.

“You can’t audition your audience!” protests Bic.

LET’S face it, some people are completely untalented and have nothing to offer. What’s more, some of these wannabes and opportunists actually have record contracts. In such cases, is the creative act so life-affirming, or just a damn nuisance?

Terry: “I think it’s a matter of confidence. Some people don’t have the confidence to get their ideas across.”

Dave: “I think talent can have a lot to do with the amount of reincarnations you’ve had.”

“So, if you’ve had seven reincarnations, you’ll have learnt a lot more. You’ll be nearer Brahma.”
Terry: “Reincarnation? Yeah, it’s a possibility. You take these child prodigies, who take up the piano at two and they’re really late, you wonder where it came from.”

Dave: “I was with Bic and Terry in a previous life, I know that.”

Er - can you vouch for that, Terry?

Terry: “Like I say, it’s a possibility. Everything coming from Eastern culture’s always been taboo in Western “civilisation”, from vegetarianism to yoga to meditation, right up to very recently. All these are means of losing mental junk, gaining confidence. Take these Thai monks, for instance, they’ve found that they’re the only people who can deal with junkies, they actually f***ing cure them! They give them this stew stuff, which makes them vomit for about four days and they’re with them all the time till they recover.”

Dave: “It’s obvious, when we die we go into the ground and we end up giving life to the plants.”

What if you’re cremated, I only think to say later.

Terry: “I know most people say they were Cleopatra or Napoleon and that discredits the whole thing, but theologically…I do believe everything comes back to you. The music I play comes back to me, through their other people, their reactions, hopefully in a good way. So it’s a cyclical thing, that way you end up facing up to your own mortality, by getting on with things.”

“I DON’T think our souls are restricted just to this tiny little planet, I think they transmigrate well across the universe and for millions of years,” says Dave.

Terry: “Yeah, far out there.”

Dave: “It’s so powerful – I was with my girlfriend the other night and the spirit came into the room and it was so strong, it had travelled millions of miles to get through. It was just massive. The candle went out. And that’s why I play the drums so f***ing strong and loud, man.”

I don’t laugh, lest I come back in a future life as a hedgehog in a built-up area for my sins, but one of my ribs cracks under the strain. Folks, I don’t subscribe to the theory of reincarnation. Then again, the Heaven and Hell theory is pretty dumb when you look at it squarely and the idea that we just snuff it into the void is the daftest of the lot. My guess is as bad as Levitation’s, I guess.

What’s important is that Levitation are thinking horizontally rather than vertically (much as musically they “spread” across a wide area) – hence their predilection for Eastern modes of thinking as opposed to Western notions of upward mobility and progress. Actually, progressive is in many ways a complete misnomer for Levitation’s sound. In a sense, it’s profoundly regressive.

REINCARNATION I don’t know about, but I’ve always felt that the best music isn’t startlingly original, but strikes a chord of deep-seated deja-vu, evokes a sublime sense of nostalgia. Not nostalgia for the Sixties or the summer before last but for a previous era you never lived through, a place you never went to. Brian Eno seemed to understand this when he entitled one of his pieces “Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960”.

The desolate chimes of “Smile” or “Bedlam” are the sort of sounds which evoke memories of extinct worlds buried in the subconscious. Levitation aren’t the only group to achieve this effect but it’s partly what sets them apart from the grubby here-and-now of, say, The Wedding Present. Maybe it’s a hankering for the womb, I dunno.

Laurence: “I’ll give you a classic example of that. “Pavilion Of Dreams” by Harold Budd. I don’t know why I bought that album; I bought it out of the f***ing blue, I was still into bloody Sham 69 at the time. And I absolutely loved it. What made me buy it?”

Destiny, destiny, no escaping destiny.

Terry: “When we were travelling in Europe, we kept having this recurring number, which was 23. The address of a venue would be Maison 23 Rue whatever. 23, all the time it was 23. I mean, there are such things as cosmic numbers, numerology, y’know, which is another thing we’re interested in, that psychic sixth sense. Read Revelations, the last book in the Bible. So when these numbers recur I’m always trying to work out what it means.”

Ah, but that’s the difficult bit. Every time I look at the electric clock in my bedroom it always seems to be 11.17. But so what? What does it mean? What’s the cosmos trying to tell me?
“I think the message is, “Get out of bed!”,” screams Bic. “Go out and do something!”.

Terry: “These numbers could mean good luck or bad luck. As it happens, that time in Europe was where the band was formed.”

Bic: “Do you know about the Illuminati? They’re this oligarchy that’s supposed to have ruled everything in the 12th century, above all kingdom, all-powerful. And the idea’s been put forward that these Illuminati are still in power today because they’re in touch with forces we don’t understand.”

Terry: “Have you ever visited a Masonic lodge? You should see the one in Covent Garden. They’re completely obsessed with Egyptology, full of Egyptian symbols. It’s very ancient, very secretive. And frightening. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, the astronauts, they’re both high-up Masons, they did a f***ing Masonic ritual on the moon, as if to say, “Ha! We control this place”. To me, it’s crazy that all of these top men are running the world and imagining that they’re fulfilling some sort of ancient myth, they believe all this bullshit. It’s like Hitler, wanting the spear of destiny.”

Woah, now you’re saying all these ideas are bullshit. A minute ago, you were saying these are the sort of ideas we should be opening up our minds to. Aren’t you glad that Ronald Reagan was sufficiently open-minded to embrace astrology?

Terry: “There’s good magic and bad magic, that’s all I’m saying.”

Bic: “I mean have you seen US currency? All those Masonic symbols. And the Pentagon, for Christ’s sake! That stuff’s frightening, dangerous.”

TERRY discusses Apocalypse Culture, the idea that Kennedy’s death assassination revolved around the number 33 – the shooting took place at 33 degrees latitude, the bullets were bought at 33rd Street, and this is somehow connected to the Trinity connection.

Levitation’s overall political beliefs seem to owe a lot to the likes of Crass and Genesis P Orridge, the general idea being that while we are at the mercy of malevolent, government-funded conspiricists to say nothing of the callous, arbitrary forces of the universe, there is every reason to be sanguine that the revolution is just around the corner if only we “get together”. Me, I argue stoutly for the cock-up theory. If there’s a Grand wizard up there dictating our affairs, I suspect it’s the late Tommy Cooper.

Bic: “I’m hopeful about the future, there’s a lot of people on the tube with shining eyes.”

Laurence: “Yeah, but the ones with shining eyes are usually the ones toying with the axe!”

Dave: “I think the fascism only runs in the political powers-that-be and not the people”.
They discuss playing a couple of Oxbridge balls and how they felt sorry for the students present who were on the way to being “institutionalized within the system”. “These are the people who are gonna run the country,” they explain, “and you talk to them and there’s no one at home”.

YET most people are implicating in the humdrum running of the system. One way to have no part of it is to form a band, concern yourself entirely with aesthetics – but there’s always going to be someone running the banks, or selling cheese, performing humdrum, banal, soul-destroying, essential tasks. Someone has to do it.”

Terry: “We think people should sell chees instead of making records. There has to be some sort of move away from industrialisation – resources are gonna run out. People are gonna have to learn to grow their own food. When people were talking about natural power 30 years ago, no one gave a shit. Now they’re beginning to realise that there is no alternative to that alternative.”

ALL the same, Levitation’s outlook and approach seem to be indicative of our having fully emerged from the shadow of punk. Slowdive, about seven when the Pistols played the 100 Club, never heard any punk music and when they did, regarded it as a horrible, aberrant curiosity. What’s more, we can talk about Grateful Dead with impunity.

Bic: “Yeah, but that’s just to say, “Okay, it’s all clear, we can talk about the Grateful Dead, they’re fashionable again”. F*** fashion, those bands have been around for years!”

Dave: “Now it’s just a mess of everything, it’s great.”
Levitation yearn for a new musical revolution. Wouldn’t they agree that the last one ultimately exerted a pernicious influence?

Terry: “Yeah, it did. I mean, you look at “The Chart Show” ,that endless stream of videos and artists doing whatever it takes to get on TV – it’s a sickness. All fashion is distraction.”

So I expect you’re really chuffed about being vaguely affiliated to The Scene That Celebrates Itself – Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Ride.

Dave: “Those groups are fine, but put it this way, listening to us after listening to them is like going straight from O level physics into quantum physics.”

Levitation – the messy birth of the New Age.


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