Kula Shaker: Retroculture by Lynn Geller

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 59 Spring 1997
Issue 59 059  Spring 1997
​Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker. Photo by Joshua Kessler. Courtesy of Columbia Records.

A friend of mine once conjectured, What if the ’60s weren’t an era, but a place one could still visit? Envision it, a Bermuda triangle of land nestled in a hidden valley; the question being, once they found it, would anybody leave?

Certainly time has marched on, but as we hurtle toward the millennium, retroculture progresses geometrically. Or, as the artist Beck announced to a crowd of kids in front of the stage at a recent gig, “Stop moshing! It’s so 1992.” To listen to Beck’s much touted “Odelay” is to hear the history of pop music as filtered through an appropriately ironic sensibility that makes it contemporary. In fact, he’s the best example of an important point: it’s fine to wear one’s influences on one’s sleeve as long as you have something else up there.

Which brings us to an English band, Kula Shaker, fronted by Crispian Mills (son of Hayley), who make an argument for pre-natal conditioning. Harking back to a time when Eastern influences (TM, sitars, etc.) were making a visible dent in hippy culture, Kula Shaker sound as if they might have accompanied the Beatles to India, but, and it’s an important but, after absorbing what they needed, bounced back to 1997 to document the trip. In other words, we hear where they’re coming from, but it’s okay. Because, apart from the band’s sometime use of Hindu lyrics and instrumentation, along with more Anglo-pop psychedelica, what really sets them apart from so many ’60s wanna-be’s is the fact that they’re good. And, ironically, practically over as the next big thing. After about a year of heavy promotion, including ads in movie theaters, they’re already being dissed by English music rags, a sure sign of mainstream accessibility and lack of credibility. Thirty years, 30 months, what’s the diff?

However, while it’s perfectly understandable that most adults don’t have the time and/or inclination to hang out at the listening posts at Tower Records, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any good music since whenever they stopped paying attention. In truth, for every 20-year-old musician infatuated with the past, there’s an aging equivalent (U2, Bowie) borrowing his or her technology. As they said in the ’60s, be here now. Now is then. And vice versa.

Robert Pollard by Mike McGonigal
Pollard01 Body
Peacers by Meg Remy
Peacers 1

Meg Remy of US Girls talks to the former Sic Alp about anger, publicity, lyrics, and Roald Dahl.

Les Filles de Illighadad’s At Pioneer Works by Nina Katchadourian
Three women (two carrying guitars) and one man walking through an empty square

Les Filles de Illighadad’s music is driven by three guitars but remains free from the “tyranny of the solo.”

Stephen O’Malley by C. Spencer Yeh
Stephen O Malley Bomb 2

“There might be more passion in amateurism than with much of the known, famous stuff. Those are the kinds of energies in music I’ve always found attractive, regardless of quality, expertise, or skill.”

Originally published in

BOMB 59, Spring 1997

Featuring interviews with Tim Roth, Amy Hempel, Emmylou Harris, Matthew Ritchie, Wallace Shawn, Christian Wolff, Gilles Peress, Kendall Thomas, and George Walker.

Read the issue
Issue 59 059  Spring 1997