|White Zone Atomhenge reissue
White Zone - Psychedelic Warriors
It was Rob Dreamworker who once memorably observed that the worst Hawkwind albums all had "zon" in
the title - Zones, Distant Horizons and of course White Zone, which you may or not count as a Hawkwind
album seeing as it was credited to the Psychedelic Warriors...who are, or were, none other than Brock,
Davey & Chadwick. They issued this album in Feb 1995, and as Mark Powell's sleevenotes reveal , it
served as a vehicle to release eleven instrumental ambient tracks left over from the recording of 1993's It Is
The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous and the studio finishing of The Business Trip (1994).
Hawkwind or not, this is seeing the light of day once more, after many years of unavailability, thanks to
Atomhenge's program of Hawkwind reissues. I never owned it first time around (of which more anon) and
so am unsure of how faithfully reproduced the packaging is. Obviously the sleeve notes are new, and the
rest of it consists of some graphics and credits in the booklet. It's unlikely that there were originally any
photos of hirsute superannuated hippies therein, because this anonymised release was aimed at a club
audience in the mid-90's, for whom Hawkwind influences might have been cool, but the visuals, certainly
not. Either way, the gambit didn't work and Hawkwind stubbornly refused to transcend their niche as proto-
techno originators to become rave megastars in their own right.
By the way, I tend to scatter terms like rave, trance & techno around indiscriminately without knowing,
understanding or giving a monkey's about the distinctions between them. I've never been into that entire
branch of music and the Hawkwind I like is not the one that dabbled in this genre. Give me the pulsating
epic rock of the 1970's albums, not this confection of bleeps and wheezes... That, at any rate, was the kind
of thinking that prevented me from ever picking up White Zone when it was out the first time around.
There is enough of this vein of Hawkwind out there to know whether or you not enjoy that particular style.
The question is, has this very idiosyncratic album been made more acceptable by the passage of fifteen
years? To paraphrase the sleeve notes, has enough water flowed under the bridge for White Zone to have
indeed become part of the Hawkwind canon?
Am I Fooling opens proceedings with a gentle swirl lasting twenty seconds or so before the main body of
the song lays down a further minute of monotonal thumping which pretty much epitomizes Hawkwind's
contribution to dance music. It's dominated by a scurrying, pacey drum pattern, overlaid by looping synth
figures, with growling bass and textural rhythm guitar much lower in the mix. In fact you can't see the join
between this and the next track Frenzzy, because they're exactly the same. As it develops you do start to
pick out the rock roots of this pumping motorik monomania - think of the extended live version(s) of You
Shouldn't Do That c.1972, with the bass, drums and guitar all enunciating the same riff in 100mph
lockstep. This does something similar in a much less traditional way, though by some strange inversion of
reality, it's Hawkwind's traditional space rock that has stood the test of time while the more modern musical
forms they've tried sound more dated. So it proves here, though as with most things Hawkwind have done,
it is characterized more by being Hawkwind than it is by fitting into any genre-related pigeonhole. It's just
one of the things they do.
Pipe Dreams has a lighter, more accessible arrangement with a looping sequence of chiming keyboard
sounds providing the main motif with the rhythm underpinning rather than obliterating all else that is going
on in the song. Which isn't, to be honest, all that much. Again, it's basically monotonal, with washes of
keyboard and guitar sounds fading in and out before some phased keyboard chords emerge from the mix
and subdue everything else for the last few seconds of this number. After which we have a Heart Attack,
heralded by a soup of samples over some formless bumps, beats and white noise. That only lasts for a
minute before Time and Space returns to the same template as Pipe Dreams, to wander pleasantly along for
four minutes of burbling synths and celestial chord progressions over a skittering percussion track.
Title track White Zone clocks in at seven minutes plus and so perhaps offers something to get one's teeth
into. But it doesn't start off promisingly, with vocal samples again being offset against a keyboard-and-
drum-machine pattern. There is some guitar, providing what is almost a hook of intensely distorted,
vamped chords, and even a bit of aimless mid-90's Brock lead guitar similar to the sort of thing you can hear
on his solo albums. Some of the lead keyboard voices are pleasant enough, but I'm starting to wonder why
the band seriously thought they might be able to open up a new market with this material. I've already
admitted my utter ignorance of the genre they were going after, but what really stands out for me is that this
is dance music that you can't dance to. I just can't see it getting played in clubs as they had hoped, and in
fact the album seems to give up on the notion halfway through, veering away from the club and into a weird
enclosed universe of Hawkwind's own devising... This is a late-night-play-at-low-volume album, that ends
up having a consistent sonic signature and self-contained theme that belies the idea of this album just being a
bunch of instrumental outtakes from earlier recordings.
In Search of Shangrila has some distant sax in the mix: it and the jaunty, off-centre pulsing rhythm, which
somehow echoes Inner City Unit's better moments, suggest the lingering presence of Nik Turner long after
his departure from the band. Musically this track lifts itself above the flatlands of most of this album, with
an interesting chord sequence, and the band resisted the temptation to resort to doomy voicings of the
various instruments as they perhaps normally might.
Bay of Bengal is so brief and ambient that you might not even notice it, except as the precursory moves of
the next track, Moonbeam, which starts off sounding a little like Jean-Michel Jarre before it starts to really
swing with a tasty, almost funky motif of drums and bass satisfyingly paired with layers of synth and
ambient washes of keyboard. The somber flavouring carries through to the next track, Window Pane,
which despite a similar sonic palette, evokes a more early 80's touch with the sparse arrangement and
synthetic drum machine voices. Window Pane is actually considerably more disturbing sounding with some
paranoid bass pulses and claustrophobic synth parts. But then it all falls apart into being not much more
than a collection of funny noises...leaving only Love In Space to round things out. This is not the polished
arrangement that Hawkwind were to release as a single some two and a half years after the issue of this
album. It develops into a hypnotic, yet angular instrumental workout that has nothing in common with Love
In Space as it's since become better known, but is reasonably rewarding on its' own terms.
And that's it. Moral of the lesson, then, is that even when Hawkwind try not to be Hawkwind, they are still
themselves. This is very far from being a typical Hawkwind album (if there is such a thing) but it is a
reliable expression of one particular thread of their work. How much any one person will like it is going to
depend of the *sort* of Hawkwind they like, and it's not going to be for everyone. But I am glad to have it,
and will play it very occasionally when the mood strikes. Thank you again, Atomhenge...
The disc itself and the back cover. I put a scan of
the front cover along with the sleeve notes