S.P.O.C.K at Babel, Malmö
24 May 2013
There aren’t many artists who could stretch an act conceived for a friend’s birthday party into a 25-year career in music. Still fewer could make the transition from a science fiction-themed novelty act into a credible synthpop legend, while dressing like a cosmonaut and writing lyrics based almost entirely upon Gene Rodenberry’s film and television legacy. Alexander Hofman’s success with Star Pilots on Channel K (you can call them S.P.O.C.K and him Android) is unique, but then so are the songs he sings: there aren’t many lyricists who have managed to distil the many protests of Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy (you know: “I’m not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor.”) into a chorus.
The crowd that gathered in Malmö’s Babel club to celebrate S.P.O.C.K’s 25th birthday knew they were in for a special evening. The Eurovision Song Contest had finished the week before, and Sweden’s synthers were longing to hear their own music again. Finnish flags waved, Spanish and American fans arrived, and some die-hards wore their own Federation costumes. After a space-themed DJ set, the start of the show was signalled by a sound collage, compiled from different science fiction programmes. Then, three men in costumes took to the stage to sing the band’s early hit, E.T. Phone Home. The audience reacted warmly, having easily recognised the trio as former band members (and home-town synth heroes) Eddie Bengtsson, Johan Billing and Christer Hermodsson.
They were shooed from the stage by Hofman, who was joined by current members Val Solo and Johan Malmgren for a run-through of S.P.O.C.K’s greatest hits and a taste of their forthcoming album. S.P.O.C.K have had the advantage of superior songwriters and musicians over the years, including Bengtsson (who is best known for his Page and Sista Mannen på Jorden projects) and Hermodsson (latterly of Biomekkanik), so songs like Alien Attack and Reactivated continue to sound current. Although Hofman loves to clown around, on record and on stage, his ability to artfully carry a tune can be fully appreciated on songs like Speed of Light or Out There. His stage presence can be likened, at times, to that of a cheerful Dave Gahan or modest Bono.
At their roots, S.P.O.C.K are a party band, fuelled by ABV and MIDI in equal quantities. That said, the appeal of their songs goes beyond the energetic beats of Star Pilots on Channel K or dancefloor-friendly melody of Never Trust a Klingon. The reference to popular science fiction provides a recognisable aesthetic, but it is also a vehicle to explore themes of alienation and longing. Songs like Take Me to the Stars (“I want to leave this place, fly across the universe, never see this race.”) or Where Rockets Fly (“You’re not alone.”) are on a frequency also used to great effect by Depeche Mode. The emotive force of their songs is precisely what lifts S.P.O.C.K out of any novelty act pigeon-hole.
At the end of the evening, the grateful audience didn’t want to let S.P.O.C.K leave the stage. They were rejoined by Bengtsson, Billing and Hermodsson for a celebratory finale, performing some old-time S.P.O.C.K-and-Roll. Mera Brännvin was staged with a synthetic twist to the rockabilly style of Eddie Meduza. Surrounded by friends and fans, the one called Android looked as human as could be.
Update: Footage from Youtube