It’s an unlikely equation for popular music.
Corduroy + bow ties + banjos + electronica + vintage public information film soundclips. But the solution is not just ingenious – it’s strangely moving and even valiant.
South London duo Public Service Broadcasting combine the melodic sensibilities of Kraftwerk, the raging guitars of Sonic Youth and the cut-and-paste dexterity of sample collage-ists from Steinski to Coldcut with extraordinary results, as if hip hop and punk rock had been born back in the era of Pathé News. Rejoicing in the gloriously fusty names of J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth, Public Service Broadcasting are improbable musical heroes. But heroes they are.
Fascinated with the endeavours of the 20th century’s biggest dreamers and visionaries, whether mountaineers or aircraft designers, the duo set their dials for the epic stuff on their debut LP Inform Educate Entertain. Seismic events like the Blitz or the conquering of Everest were given equally seismic soundtracks in a mise en scène that was about scale. The big screen. The big stories.
For their forthcoming second album, they’ve swapped the corduroy for NASA-issue spacesuits on a record that, like their 2012 EP The War Room, concerns itself with an all-embracing theme.
The Race for Space commemorates the seductive, titanic duel between the USA and USSR to plant their flags – both metaphorical and physical – on indiscriminate points of the final frontier. Handed an access-all-areas pass to the British Film Institute’s dustiest corners for spoken-word inspiration, director-general Willgoose has woven a story of triumph and tragedy. Rightfully, the mood oscillates between the sombre and the celebratory, from the haunting elegy marking the Apollo 1 deaths to the rocket-fuelled Afrofunk tribute to the original space superhero Yuri Gagarin.
Digging a little deeper, Public Service Broadcasting are determined to test the grey matter above and beyond “I love you/Do you love me?”. Reflective but never nostalgic, the duo command us to consider the past when dealing with today and when deciding the future. Not that it’s a remotely didactic exercise. “Our gigs aren’t history lessons,” explains Willgoose. “There won’t be an exam afterwards.” This is entertainment in the Reithian sense – improving as well as exciting.
The casual listener will be seduced by their motorik rhythms. If you’re a raver who’s also no stranger to the reference library, you’ll never need another band ever.
The Race For Space is released today (23 February) on the Test Card Recordings label. PSB are on tour in April and May