Don't quaestion everything…


Melody Maker – 22 Feb 1992


With their new EP, "World Around", Levitation intend to build on their reputation as the best live band in the country. THE STUD BROTHERS meet Terry Bickers and company and discuss improvisation, hallucinogenics, and whether dolphins have their own version of Shakespeare.

YESTERDAY, AS WE RETURNED HOME BEARING THE SOFT, prophetic pain in the brain brought on by a lunchtime drinking-session, our mini-cab driver, a dead ringer for Harpo Marx, told us the end of the world is nigh. The evidence, he explained, was overwhelming - the fall of the Soviet Empire, the unstoppable ascent of Islam, Europe united as a 13-Headed Beast (666), Israel, Yugoslavia, Ulster, temperatures rising and falling, ice-caps melting, the Greenhouse Effect and the dawn of a new Ice Age. Eco-Apocalypse with animals barking, squealing and howling the Last Trump for Mankind. But Mankind does nothing because Mankind has been brainwashed by subliminal advertising.
Like the rest of Mankind, we ignored the bastard.

TODAY, suffering from that inevitable hangover, we're privy to similar bizarre postulations - courtesy of Levitation's Terry Bickers. Bickers is talking about dolphins. Dolphins - the sounds they make, the games they play, even the things they say. Bickers seriously hopes one day to be able to talk to the dolphins.

"I just wanna have a boat that's docked and record, sample some dolphin sonar clips and try to hear if they have any message, try to decipher their language and find out what they're telling us," he says. "Apparently they communicate in pictures, when they make a sound it comes back as a whole graph-block. With one sound they can describe a whole area, it's like describing a page of the A-Z to someone in one word. Dolphins have a longer history than we do and they seem to communicate a lot. They must have their own philosophers, their own writers, their own William Shakespeares."

NOW we're sceptics. Natural sceptics. You might even say professional sceptics. If Harpo the Cabbie had told us he hoped to converse with the dolphins we'd have blamed it on white line fever. Too many roads, too much thinking. Bickers though, we believe. Bickers, who nearly always sounds mildly eccentric and often wildly deranged, who could probably out-weird any f***er alive, makes sense. Because, as with the rest of Levitation, Bickers' bursts of eco-conscious psycho-babble have palpable results. THE most mindf***ing music around.

RELEASED this week, the "World Around" EP, Levitation's third excursion into the uncharted, is as different from anything you're likely to hear today as it is from its two predecessors, "After Ever" and "Coppelia". The title track is tarnished, windswept mantra-metal with a pop-preacher vocal. To give you a sketchy (crass) idea of it, imagine Nirvana playing Jefferson Airplane. "Jay" is a dark, dipping, soaring psychedelic instrumental, a rollercoaster ride through catacombs. "Usher", the EP's closing brain-eraser, driven by dense metal guitar, is hypnotically intense.

"World Around" is a markedly harder and more focused experience than its two forerunners. And Levitation's forthcoming album promises to be harder still - the parts of it we heard are as blunt and brutal as Metallica.

Equally extraordinary is that this young group (Levitation have been together just over a year) should've refined and redefined their sound more times than most groups manage in a lifetime.
Levitation are a Real Group. Not some sweet-voiced, pretty-faced ego backed by the less talented, the less pretty and the less certain. Most groups, for the sake of their own sanity as much as their music, can only afford one ego, one great talent. (Bickers, Levitation's vocalist and guitarist, was thrown out of The House Of Love because Guy Chadwick, whom Bickers dismisses as a "breadhead", simply couldn't stand him any longer, couldn't make room for his talent, his opinions, his convictions. The House Of Love are now a crappier but conspicuously happier band).

Levitation's mystery, what makes them A Group is that they're able to support, more importantly USE, five people all of whom have at some point been described by fellow musicians as "a genius" (yet to be said about Chadwick, by the way). We kid you not. Just as odd is that none of them appear to have that much in common, other than the band and a certain bewildering humility. Bickers, both meditative and wired, comes across like some New Age speed freak. Bic, their second guitarist, is friendly, curious, and oddly touchy. Dave Francolini, their wild-eyed, dreadlocked drummer, is loud, gregarious and zealously intent upon converting the world to Levitation or indeed anything else that fires his imagination. In fact, he'd make a pretty convincing John The Baptist. Bob, the keyboardist, is a very likeable, very literate suburban hippy. Lawrence, the bassist, is an arch-cynic and vocal supporter of some of America's most distressing comedians (something considerably at odds with Bickers' good karma/ bad karma attitude to life).

ALL in all Levitation would appear to be a cocktail for disaster. You can barely imagine the five of them lasting an hour together in the pub, let alone touring, writing, recording and hanging out with one another. Yet somehow, by some extraordinary alchemy, it all works. And works brilliantly.

"I dunno what anybody finds so strange about all this," shrugs Dave. Dave, by the way, actually has a thousand yard stare, the dazed, crazed look GIs' brought back from Vietnam. Thousand Yard Stare - what a brilliant expression, what an unforgiveable waste of a name.

Any, how does it work?

"Well," Dave continues, "we just want this band to be the best it possibly can be. I mean, Bob or Terry or whoever will come to the group with completed ideas knowing that once we've all finished with it there'll be virtually nothing left of them. Terry could write a whole song that'd just be a springboard to what we eventually come up with. Bands have to be organic, you can't afford to be precious. You have to understand the difference between you feeling great as you're playing and it all sounding great."
Live, Levitation prove that a group can, if they have the guts, ambition and imagination, take their own material to places not even they can foresee. Songs flow and grow like some bizarre word association game. And the results, almost always brilliant, sometimes godawful, are constantly surprising. Seeing Levitation you feel (as you really ought to at every gig but rarely do) that you've been privy to an event, something unrepeatable. Dave replies for the rest of the band by saying it's the way things should be.

"Besides," he says, "you talk about improvisation but our improv is very structured, not like jazz. When I hit a beat the others know it could go one of six ways. Like Dungeons & Dragons or something."
"Which can be terrifying," interjects Bic. "But really the only way we can play these songs is by reinventing them. We don't wanna play carbon-copies of the records, it's boring. Remember, there's 50 or 60 people hitching to see us every night. They don't wanna hear what they heard the night before and neither do we. If we don't change it, explore it, then no one's getting their money's worth."

THOUGH Levitation have yet to suffer a bad review, much of what's written about them is peppered with references to drugs - occasionally and not very convincingly to opiates (there's nothing analgesic about their sound) but mostly to hallucinogenics. "Smile", the swirling centrepiece of "Coppelia" is largely considered a paean to the wonders of LSD.

Bic, at the very mention of the word drugs, becomes visibly weary.

"Every band's songs reflect their own experiences and part of our experience has been drugs. Just like everyone else's has. But no way is drugs a prime mover."

Ever cynical, Lawrence remarks, probably flippantly, that the only reason he ever started playing music was because he was taking so many drugs.

Bob grins amiably.

"But really," he says, "for a Drug Band we're surprisingly undruggy. We just smoke a lot."

"Anyway," says Bic, "it's not drugs but what you learn through drugs that's important. That might come across in our music. Tripping is one way of putting you in touch with who you really are. A bad trip can teach you a lot about yourself. If you're truly revolted by what you are then you can begin to do something positive."

"We all have a dark side and a light side," says Bickers. "Men have a history of blood-letting, barbarism's in our genes. It's not our fault, but just like dogs are bred to fight, so are men. If you're tripping and you look into that abyss maybe, like Bic says, you can get some perspective on it."
"Men, males," says Bic, "are always forcing their ego to the fore, trying to be the biggest cock, and I think you have to be reduced from that, shown that you're just a pile of shit and you're nothing. And you move on from there."

"The point that we're making about drugs," says Dave, helpfully dragging the conversation back to the question, "Is that you have to take your life to the precipice, and drugs is only one way of doing that."
"You've got to find your own way," says Lawrence. "Frankly, for me, the idea of tripping scares me shitless nowadays. Going to America was a pretty sobering experience for us too. When we were in LA we played one of their attempts at a rave. There were all these Americans trying to recreate the whole Mancunian drug liberation thing and outside there was a drive-by shooting. We just hit the floor. Drugs mean something else in America. Drug liberation is never gonna work out there because drugs are a genuine problem."

Lawrence's final remark provokes an animated discussion on problems in general. Led by Bickers, and helped along by Bic's neo-Christian conviction that we are as dust, Levitation talk about nuclear meltdown, acid rain, crop failure, season-altering carbon fuels, rape, murder, f***ing havoc. End Of The Millennium Blues.

This is what they talk about, argue about. This is what preoccupies them. This and everything else. Their curiosity is insatiable. What's extraordinary is that somehow, from this chaos of opinion and inquiry, they should manage to make music. Not in spite of it but because of it. Levitation is the sound of passions distilled. What pervades all their music, no matter how dark and brooding, is the optimism of those who've been allowed to say what they want in the way they want to.

"None of us," Bickers says, "are doom and gloom, end of the world is nigh people. Honestly, I feel very aware of souls in this world and a set of experiences we couldn't even comprehend. And I feel that as we move towards the end of this millennium there is a strength coming from the soul of this world. I know a lot of people who've had kids recently, I had one last year, and there's been a lot of daughters born and I think it's that force, the force of Womankind, not the warring, destroying force of Mankind, that's gonna change things. We've lost touch, you know, we all walk around on concrete platforms, we never touch the earth and we need that touch. And with all the green issues, with people taking personal responsibility for them, we're gonna get it back."

Yeah, sure, you've heard it all before. What you may not have heard is Levitation. They'll take you anywhere and everywhere except where you've been before. For them, the only taboo is cliche.
Trip off.

top | next