Music has been with our species from the start of our evolution and has been happily evolving with us ever since then. This magical creation has continued to evolve and will keep on doing so for the duration of our species. The band who I am introducing you to in this article are called Astralasia and even though their history does not go back quite that far, they do have a lot of history as they have been evolving for a few decades now. Way back in 1982 a psychedelic pop/rock band called The Magic Mushroom Band was formed. This wonderful little outfit began as a five piece band consisting of Gary Masters (Gary Moonboot, guitar), Kim Russell (Kim Oz, vocals) and guitarist Gary Twining. Wayne Buaku (bass) and Jim Lacey (drums).
The MMB formed their own label Fungus Records and started working together with the Magick Eye Records as well. In 1989 Mark (Swordfish) Hunt joined the MMB and they began to explore an Ambient-Dub style which eventually included Goa/Trance/House territory with their side-project Astralasia. The Magic Mushroom Band continued until 1995 while Astralasia have remained active until this day and shall remain to do so for the foreseeable future as they are very active with a large dedicated and enthusiastic fan base. Just recently I heard one Astralasia fan accurately describe them as being ‘one of the last bastions of tribal fusion’.
Astralasia have released a wide selection of albums since 1991, each and every one of these is a wondrous work of musical art. . Astralasia have covered such a wide variation of musical styles that there is something for everybody and every occasion in their extensive discography.
The current Astralasia line up is Mark Swordfish (producer and arranger), Wayne Twining (303-programming), Peter Pracownik (guitars), Paul Chousmer (keys/synths), Dan Spanner (occasional sax), and the most recent addition to the band, Maria Szabo (vox).
I was very gratefully lucky to be taken along to Alchemy Festival by the band recently. Astralasia played two sets, one on the Saturday and then one on the Sunday shortly before we all left for the long journey back home to the South West of the UK. This was an eventful and thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. Up to this point the only opportunity that I had to check out Astralasia’s back catalogue of releases was via You Tube where there is an extensive selection of Astralasia tunes to listen to, on the whole most of these have been uploaded by Astralasia fans. Although You Tube is a convenient medium, it obviously does not purvey any of the atmosphere and emotion which is provided by seeing a band live or even that of listening to the same songs played from CD or vinyl on a high quality sound system. It is because of this that I fully respect Mark Swordfishes desire to release on vinyl alone, even a quality CD cannot capture the same soundscape or atmosphere which comes from playing quality vinyl. Another bonus which comes from releasing on vinyl is the opportunity to enhance and expand the overall packaging. The best option is to check any band out is obviously is to see them live which is exactly why I jumped at this opportunity to see Astralasia live on stage.
Astralasia were scheduled to play the Philosophers Stone stage from 9.30 – 11pm but disaster struck when a generator went down disabling every stage apart from the small pedal powered eco stage which played on rather smugly. At about 10.30pm the power issue was resolved and Astralasia leapt into action. This set was extremely short consisting of three stunning songs. This set may have been vastly shortened due to the power glitch but the all of the Astralasia love that would come from a whole set seemed to be condensed into this shorter one and was transmitted beautifully as the band connected with the eager crowd so joyfully and naturally. ‘The Sea’ was the opening song, dating back to1994 this wonderful tune is an old school classic Astralasia tune and opened beautifully. This was followed by ‘Faith Healer’ (originally by Alex Harvey) which really kept the Astralasia loving vibe flowing while drawing in more people who had drifted over the site during the lengthy initial delay with the set start. This set finished off with a tribute to Donna Summer with Astralasia’s cover of ‘I Feel Love’. This was only the second time that the band had performed this live and I believe that it is to be released on an EP with several other covers. This version is just as fabulous as the original, it adds Astralasia love to the song while giving it a true Astralasian dance style. It would be safe to state that I melted into my dancing boots during this magnificent closing number. The wonderful ambience of Astralasia’s sets is highlighted by them having dancers on stage with them. For this set Pixi and Alice were grooving and gyrating wonderfully on stage.
The second Astralasia set was billed to be on the Mushroom stage on the Sunday after. This proved to be another amazingly wonderful set. Astralasia were billed to on stage at 2pm so at about 12.30pm Mark Swordfish and I made our way around to the back of the stage to unload Marks vehicle in order to get the band equipment in place ready for an efficient changeover. We had almost completed this when a member of the stage management team appeared. Mark asked him if everything was running smoothly and the reply was ‘actually, if you’re ready to go on, you are on now!’. This was the opposite scenario to Saturday nights set so I rushed off to round up the rest of the band. Very conveniently I found Paul in the backstage area so he was the first to join Mark and they set the kit up and got started as I dashed over to the Alchemy Cafe where I found the rest of the band chilling and chatting. If only I was prepared with a camera to capture the expressions on their faces as I gave them the news, it was such a picture. We all rushed over to the stage to find Mark and Paul in full swing as they opened the set between them. This was opened with the classic Astralasia tune Grey Area and with no need for announcement other than the Astralasia musical vibes flowing across site, the marquee soon filled with people appreciating the magical musical love. Considering the varied styles which Astralasia have developed/pioneered from their earliest inception, which include Euphoric Trance, Ambient Dance, Astral Dub, Psychedelic Trance and Experimental Techno, this joyfully upbeat set got the festival going in full swing for its final day. Astralasia played for about an hour and a half and was spontaneously superb. Due to the surprise early start time, Maria provided the vocals whilst still wearing her pyjamas under her one piece furry frog suit and Pixi was dancing on stage wearing her festival boiler suit which was decorated with a variety of brightly coloured paint. Nunu was the other dancer for this set. This ‘spontaneity’ added a touch of reality to the whole ambience as Astralasia played and connected with the audience magnificently. They closed this set with another classic dating from 1994, ‘Hashishin’.
To sum it all up, Astralasia are a fantastic band who have been pioneering innovators from even before their initial formation. They have a wide variety of exceptional talent within the band, all of which fuses together beautifully. Wayne takes care of the programming beautifully while Paul adds his keys and synths superbly. Peter is an unsung guitar virtuoso, blending his strings into the mix perfectly. Maria adds her stunning vocals which really do lift the mix and transmit the love with fine style. Mark sits amidst all of this while producing and arranging the sound until it reaches perfection.
Astralasia have a tendency to release on vinyl only, which is understandable when you consider the improved sound quality as well as the packaging being far more complete. However more and more of their material is becoming available digitally via iTunes etc thanks to Magick Eye Music.
Alchemy is a superb little festival which has a wonderful old school, non commercial feel to it. It is realistically affordable and based in the North East of the UK in an easily accessible nature reserve in Lincolnshire.
Astralasia’s first gig of 2013 is in the diary. It's at Trades Club, Hebden Bridge in the UK on 26th January. Tickets should be available soon and their last gig there was a sell out so bear that in mind. It'll be a great night!
Links – Astralasia main website – http://www.astralasia.co.uk
and Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Astralasia/9053864353
I had a chat with Mark Swordfish a while before Alchemy….
Nick – I believe that Astralasia began as a side project of the Magic Mushroom Band back in 1990, can you give us a little more information about how all of this came about?
Mark – it wasn’t exactly side project, it started in about 1984/6 after i had been in a;' nwobhm' band ,tours etc. and recording/working at Meher Baba Oceanic/Eel pie sound . which gave me inspiration to explore.
It grew alongside mushroom band ,to explore new dimensions and origination of pieces rather than rely on the guitar/trad song structure and use diff new tech gear but still keep it organic and the surge of acid house/free parties gave its drive and still does. our first gig was with The Shamen, The Orb and Mixmaster Morris at The Fridge as part of their synergy tour.
Nick – How does the creative process work within the band and what are your influences?
Mark – Its a bounce affair, one idea bounces of another and hey presto, even though most is spontaneous, we just sieve it out, put thru a blender, then stick on back burner, stir it a bit and hopefully come up with something that won't stick to pan. We have NO generic libraries, NO presets it’s all home-grown, just a few choice liberated bits from TV/films etc. and found sounds, the most important influences are everything, it would take a page musically starting with Ashra Temple to Zappa, plus all the new stuff, really into the Grails and Sankt Otten at moment.
Nick – What can you tell us about Australasia’s previous releases and also give us some info about the forthcoming release?
Mark – you can check our website or the Magick Eye site which has more history plus links to most of stuff available and links to dig downloads.
Our last LP was out on Toneloat records and new LP is out in early Jan 2012 called 'Tlburg' its one piece 45 minutes our homage to Popul Vuh.
A new Astralasia LP/CD is in progress and should be completed in spring 2012.
Nick –What have been the highs and lows so far?
Mark – With regards to the low point ,it was a bit of a blow after last Magic Mushroom Band, when front half of the band left and emigrated.
That has been the only downer and was a great shame.
With regards to the highs the synced gig with Dali Lama at Megatripalis was cool.
we were first band to do a live internet gig with Mr C/Shamen. It was very surreal with lots of paparazzi. Every Whirlygig festival is just the real deal. I could go on to infinity. Copenhagen/Chistiania was interesting even if not exactly positive.
Milkweg, Paridiso, Paard ,Dornrouge, Nijmgen in Holland were all top gigs.
Then Rok Herk in Belguim,after Those . At Therapy, Bark Psychosis etc. We thought we were going to die it was pissing with rain ,but wow what a gig, tee shirts ripped off in ecstatic response, we were totally blown away and had never seen anything like it, It was all Goth Heavy bands, we were the token dance band to finish, but everyone went mental.
Nick – What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Astralasia?
Mark – Just to keep on keeping on and on and on
and share some light, love and try and build cosmic vibe though whatever we do.
Nick – What is the best way for people to check you out?
Mark -Through the Astralasia, Magick Eye and Tonefloat websites.
And also on You Tube –
Midnight Hour 2010
Jongle Kakano 1993
Realise Your Purpose 1994