Bailter Space

TrackAlbum / EP
Grader Spader Tanker
Fish EyeThermos
The AimThe Aim EP
Shine The Aim EP
Pass It UpCapsul
U.H.F.Photon EP




Contributor: Keith Shackleton

Formed in indecent haste in 1980 when bassist John Halvorsen had an offer of a gig, but no band, The Gordons were a vital group on the post-punk scene in New Zealand. It didn’t take very long before Halvorsen plus buddies Alister Parker and Brent McLachlan were subjecting audiences to a deafening sonic attack of uniquely visceral music. The independently released Future Shock EP, packaged alongside the eponymous first album in later years by Flying Nun on a classic CD, was both influential and ahead of its time. Following two years of total mayhem, however, the band disintegrated as Parker, temporarily as it turned out, became a born-again Christian.

Wait a mo, you’re thinking, I thought this was about Bailter Space (a.k.a. Bailterspace)? All will become clear, dear reader.

Fast forward six years or so and a reconnected Alister Parker started to jam with drummer Hamish Kilgour, ex The Clean (see toppermost #262). A line up coalesced around them featuring Glenda Bills on keyboards and Ross Humphries (late of The Pin Group, who recorded the first ever Flying Nun single), soon to be named Nelsh Bailter Space. Their self-titled EP from 1987 shows the band falling neatly between art rock and psych-folk and trampling all over The Clean’s I’m In Love With These Times along the way.

1988 brought the return of John Halvorsen in place of Bills and Humphries, the band lost the “soft” Nelsh from the name, and the Bailter Space sound began to develop in earnest. The debut album Tanker disconnects from The Gordons, but is just a little more skeletal than the more thickly textured subsequent recordings. Grader Spader is the first of my classics … that drumming couldn’t really be anyone other than Hamish Kilgour, with Parker and Halvorsen plastered on top, scribbling and booming away, the vocals redolent of a tortured David Byrne.

Bailter Space’s pedigree granted them a slot at the New Music Seminar in New York and the band attracted a great deal of attention. However, Kilgour loved the place so much he decided to stay, but this did not deter our heroes, for on their return to New Zealand, McLachlan returned to the drum stool – he had engineered Tanker – and Bailter Space really started to get down to work.

Sophomore album Thermos provides the next of my selections: Fish Eye lurches through an intro in which each instrument seems to scratchily wake up independently of the others, before the song resolves into a propulsive but eerie tune. The familiar layered sound of the band developed through this record and on into a couple of fantastic singles, as they began to travel further afield and attract international acclaim.

The A-sides of those singles both qualify for the top ten. Shine has a lush shoegaze sheen over half buried treated vocals. Fans of My Bloody Valentine should begin here: this track should be as comforting as a pair of old slippers (or furry earmuffs, maybe). A clangorous march through The Aim makes the grade too, and the B-sides (the punishing We Know and a helter skelter blast called Unseen) are fantastic. Assembled by Matador onto The Aim EP for the band’s first official US release, I could have easily included all these four.

Space does not permit me to take a track from 1993’s fine Robot World. I’m going to have to move straight on to the shoegaze tour-de-force of Vortura with its mighty standout track X. Its ringing surging intro is completely energising. 1995’s Wammo is a little more direct, more akin to the live sound, and is maybe their most accessible, thanks to a couple of superb singles which both make the list: Splat, with its amazing backwards video, and the lyrically intriguing social commentary of Retro.

The band had been well supported by Matador throughout their American adventure, but times were changing, and belts were tightening as record company/band relationships became more complex. Capsul (1997) emerged on Turnbuckle, an independent New York label, and contains the cinematic, shimmering seven minute instrumental Argonaut, perhaps the crowning highlight of the band’s career, and a huge fan favourite (Mogwai devotees should be completely at home with it too). From this album, I’ll also take Pass It Up, Parker’s yelping rant over a battering assault on the senses.

1998’s Photon EP pushes the sonic envelope to the extreme and is possibly the most coruscating item in their discography. Parker encourages the most extraordinary sounds from his guitar, especially on Particle Accelerator, Photon, and my choice, the ear-warping U.H.F.

Halvorsen’s American sojourn came to an end following 1999’s Solar.3 and little was heard from the band until Strobosphere (created chiefly by Parker and McLachan) popped out in 2012. Halvorsen returned to the fold eighteen months ago for their most recent recording Trinine, and live dates included that year’s Laneway Festival in Auckland.

Our main video clip (above) from that mini tour shows that Bailter Space have lost none of their power and intensity. One of my favourite New Zealand outfits; they’re a great underground band and an original one. Play loud.


Bailter Space facebook

Bailter Space discography

Bailter Space biography (iTunes)

Keith Shackleton is the Antipodean correspondent for Buzz Bands LA and you can also read his music reviews here.

TopperPost #363

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