Words & Photo by Ben Cardew
For underground musicians, chart success can be a double-edged sword, which brings in money and fame as it destroys your experimental credentials. Few bands know this as much as The Shamen, the Scottish psychedelic indie band turned rave pop stars, who are best known these days as the jokers who smuggled a pro-ecstasy song to the top of the UK charts via the leaden punning of Ebeneezer Goode.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. There was undoubtedly something subversive in what The Shamen achieved with Ebeneezer Goode and when people think of the band it is generally with a wry smile and a warm heart.
But this rampant chart success – and The Shamen were genuinely massive in the 90s – means that the group’s background as psychedelic warriors and dance rock crossover pioneers gets lost under a litany of naughty-naughty camera winks and nostalgic delights. Because way back before the Happy Mondays dropped the W.F.L. dance-floor mixes and The Stone Roses released Fools Gold, The Shamen were mixing up electronic sounds with guitars, rock vocals and political intent, making them a genuinely revolutionary band. As their pivotal album, In Gorbachev We Trust, turns 35, what better time to celebrate them?
“The Shamen started out as a guitar band, gorging on fungal fruits and tuning into psychedelia,” the band’s guitarist, vocalist and leader Colin Angus told The Guardian in 2012. You can hear this on their 1987 debut album, Drop, a work of elegant psychedelic rock, which suggests 60s acid trips, more than 90s acid house. “As the personnel changed,” Angus continued, “we played around Scotland and picked up a few tricks with sequencers, samplers and drum machines.”
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