the shamen began their evolutionary life in scotland in the middle of the 1980s. founder member colin angus‘ erudite research into the mystical world of shamanism, gave the band their name, and his passion for psychedelic 60’s music, their sound. perfectly updating bands like 13th floor elevators and pink floyd they released their debut album, drop, in 1986. as the eighties drew to a close, the band were joined by new member, will sin. will’s expertise with technology enabled the shamen to experiment more, fusing the band’s guitar edge with sampled sounds and hip-hop rhythms.
1988 saw colin and will move to london. it was the ‘summer of love’, warehouse raves and illegal clubs. the soundtrack was acid house and the e’s were good. the pair met future member, dj mr c (richard west), at the legendary clink street parties. the shamen’s second album in gorbachev we trust, was an amalgam of riffing guitars, samples, funky programmed beats, and lyrics inspired by the unified vibe of the acid house scene.
in 1989 the shamen made their contribution to the masses with their own take on clubbing, synergy. synergy introduced live music to clubbers, and was a seamless, flowing mix between the shamen and acts like orbital and pentatonik, as well as dj’s such as paul oakenfold and mixmaster morris. synergy utilised rave culture elements such as strobes, projectors, psychedelic lighting and virtual reality equipment to create a multi-sensory experience. ground-breaking, synergy was a non-stop party and toured the uk for nearly two years.
the band released their third album, entact. it sold over a 100,000 copies in the uk. one of it’s singles, pro>gen, their first to feature mr c. became an anthem of the rave generation, played by dj’s everywhere. the shamen were as cool as phuck and their music had evolved into a perfect blend of dance grooves and pop sensibility, crammed with melodic hooks and globally conscious lyrics. with their eyes on the charts, the shamen re-recorded pro>gen, such was the demand for it, but after filming the video, will sin tragically drowned. naturally, the shamen’s future was thrown into doubt, but colin knew how much the band meant to will and everyone else concerned. move any mountain – pro>gen 91 was re-released in july 1991. it catapulted the shamen into the charts and stayed in the national top 5 for weeks.
further incorporating mr c’s rapping style and a new guest vocalist. jhelisa anderson, 1992 saw the next stage in the shamen’s metamorphosis, with the release of their fourth album, boss drum. the album was preceded by two singles including their fifteenth, a parody on rave culture. the unforgettable ebeneezer goode hit number 1 in the national charts, whilst the album sold over a million copies worldwide. boss drum spawned further hit singles, but it wasn’t just another pop record. terence mckenna, (the late) cult author, thinker and philosopher spoke of the connection between plant psychedelics, human evolution, all-night dancing and eco-consciousness over the trancey groove of re-evolution. these were the themes echoed throughout the album, themes that aimed to make people think, not just dance. boss drum earned colin & richard the prestigious ivor novello ‘songwriter of the year 1992’ award.
the shamen’s next album, axis mutatis, featuring new guest vocalist, victoria wilson james (vwj) was released in 1995. it’s title refers to the tree of life, the ancient symbol found in virtually all shamanic cultures, linking the underworld with the earth and the heavens. deeper and more complex than boss drum, the album’s lyrics again covered socio-political issues such as the earth’s growing eco-crisis and the criminal justice act, while drawing attention to the spirituality of shamanism. musically it linked the multi-dimensional possibilities of electronic music, from melodic pop through filmic epics to atmospheric spacey techno. as a signpost to future direction, the band simultaneously released a limited edition companion album, arbor bona, arbor mala, which was composed entirely of radical instrumental mutations on the ‘axis’ themes.
always seeking to push out musical and communication boundaries, the shamen see themselves as an information band. their website nemeton consistantly played host to unique web based events, eg: releasing the first ever uk band single and album’s on the net, provided information on the band and shamanic literary information, and the opportunity to preview samples and video clips of the shamen material. via isdn link ups they broadcast live on-line gigs to nemeton, enabling fans to enjoy the show “live” anywhere in the world. ‘nemeton’ also featured a remarkable piece of software devised by colin to convert the dna structures of human life into electronic music. s2 translation, a track on axis mutatis, was generated using this software.
the shamen always had the respect of the club dj fraternity, both for the quality of their own music output, and for their uncanny ability to foresee and exploit musical trends with the selection of remixers to whom they’ve given over each of their singles.
the way their live shows worked is a testament to the thought and effort that went into them, testament also to the original manifesto of synergy ‘…. a cataclysmic culture clash on the cutting edge, a riot of colour and sound designed to blow your brains out … indie bands on the dance floor in communion with the house tribe’. the shamen cut it live, whether headlining the main stage at glastonbury or playing an underground set at back II basics.
1996 saw the next stage in the shamen’s evolution. their schedule saw them spend much of the summer playing festivals throughout europe. in september the band released their sixth studio album, hempton manor, inspired by and dedicated to hemp, the premier plant of ecology conservation. recorded in just five days, hempton manor hybridises tripped out techno, spacey dub and frenetic drum’n’bass styles into a typically shamanic futuristic fusion. it is the shamen stripped to their nucleus of colin angus and mr c, and marked a return to their underground roots with more than a nod to the style of mr c’s plink plonk record label. with hempton manor they weren’t out to make a pop record, a surprise to some, possibly, but to long term the shamen fans, nothing less than is expected. the shamen did some low-key gigs around the clubs – which harked back to the original spirit of synergy – this time as the shamen soundsystem, a stripped down instrumental version of the band performing the new trax from hempton manor in conjunction with mr c’s highly regarded club, the end.
after leaving their last record company in 1997 due to artistic and contractual differences, mr. c dj’ed worldwide, built on the end’s success, opened a bar / restaurant aka, and hosted a weekly specialist dance program at kiss fm in london, and recorded other projects and mixed lp’s for the end label. colin engaged in a program of personal research, including phytoalchemy, o.v.n.i-spotting on the altiplano, visited psychedelic temples and egyto-american ruins in peru and bolivia.
colin and mr c returned to the studio in 1998 with vwj to write and record their final lp uv, fusing breakbeat-techno and drum’n’bass, twisted in their own inimitable way, uv was the most metatronic musical merkaba to emanate from the shamen. it was released in november 1998 on the moksha recordings label.
in the 21st century, colin angus is ‘actively avoiding work, yet still involved in philosophical pursuits‘ and mr c re-located from london to los angeles ‘… to test his skills in the big playground…’