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Stereolab

From Academic Kids

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Stereolab2003.jpg
Stereolab's core members Tim Gane and Lætitia Sadier with Dominic Jeffrey and Simon Johns.
Stereolab are a UK-based band whose style, mixing 1950s-1960s pop and lounge music with the "motorik" beat of krautrock, was one of the first to which the term "post-rock" was applied. They are noted for the use of vintage keyboard instruments like Moog synthesizers and Vox and Farfisa organs. Stereolab are also notable for founding their own record label, Duophonic Records, with a grant from UK charity The Prince's Trust. The band are often referred to as "The Groop" by their fans (and in the title of their song "The Groop Play Chord X" on the album Space Age Bachelor Pad Music).

They were founded in 1990 by songwriters Tim Gane (guitar, keyboards), formerly of the band McCarthy, and Lætitia Sadier (sometimes credited as Seaya Sadier; vocals, keyboards, trombone, guitar), who is from France and sings in both English and French.

Over the years, Gane and Sadier have enlisted a large number of other musicians to accompany them on stage and on record. Initially they borrowed the rhythm section (Martin Kean, bass guitar, and Joe Dilworth, drums) of their label-mates on Too Pure Records, The Faith Healers. In 1993 they recruited Andy Ramsay (drums), who has remained in the groop line-up ever since, and Mary Hansen (vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion). Hansen's distinctive backing vocals became an important aspect of the Stereolab sound, and she remained a regular feature of the line-up until her tragic death in a cycling accident on December 9, 2002. Multi-instrumentalist Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas has also been a frequent contributor, particularly with string, brass and keyboard arrangments to the band's studio albums. Other members have come and (in some cases) gone over the years, including Duncan Brown, Richard Harrison and Simon Johns (all bass guitar); Gina Morris (vocals); and Katharine Gifford and Morgane Lhote (both on keyboards).

Early Stereolab material displayed a heavy influence of krautrock sounds (particularly Neu! and Faust, characteristically relying on droning, repetitive guitar or keyboard riffs, with or without vocals. As the band developed, they incorporated new instrumentation, and an increasingly complex sense of rhythm and structure, frequently making use of asymmetric time signatures. The drum playing anchors each song in place with a steady and driving groove. The band's creative vocal harmonies lend their music a dreamy quality. The usage of Moog synthesizers also gives the band's music a sort of retro feel.

Lyrically, Stereolab's music is quirky (song titles evoke memories of 1950s science fiction stories, and are often borrowed directly from old films and records of the period, but have nothing to do with the song's content), but highly politically and philosophically charged, sometimes with a decidedly marxist or feminist bent. The song "Bop Scotch", off the album Margerine Eclipse, for example, can be interpreted as a direct attack on the contemporary policies of the United States, whilst Strobo Acceleration from Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night is a good example of their feminist agenda.

Stereolab earned a minor place in the Britpop movement, with their sound proving influential to bands like Blur: occasional keyboard-driven b-sides and singer Damon Albarn's love of retro keyboards showed the influence, and in recognition Lætitia Sadier was invited to provide vocals on To The End from Blur's Parklife album.

Despite the band's fanbase and critical acclaim, Stereolab has not achieved high levels of financial or popular success. On June 7, 2004, the Warner Music label (to whom the band was signed in the US) announced they were dropping Stereolab in response to the poor sales (40,000 to that date) of Margerine Eclipse. This was part of an ongoing effort by Warner to cut costs; The Breeders and Third Eye Blind were also dropped from the label for this reason.

Discography

The "Switched On" albums are compilations of material previously released on singles and EPs.

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