Stereolab in concert tonight. Recorded by the BBC at the 1996 Phoenix Festival.
Sterolab began in 1994, as a sort of take-off on German electronica bands of the 1970s. Combined with references to some of the experimental Lounge sounds of Esquiveal from the 1950s, the band immediately created a dedicated following. And even though there have been numerous personnel changes over the years (not to mention the sudden devastating loss of guitarist/keyboards and vocalist Mary Hansen from a traffic accident), the core of Stereolab remained intact until the announcement of an extended hiatus in 2009.
Tonight’s concert comes from the relatively early period of the band; two years into it. Their initial releases garnered a lot of critical acclaim and performed well on charts in the U.S. and UK, particularly with College radio which programmed a considerable amount of Stereolab material into their playlists. But mainstream commercial success didn’t quite become theirs. Over the years, their sound evolved, from the experimental drone so reminiscent of German 70s electronica bands, to a Europop, almost easy listening sound. Purists had trouble with the changes, but the turn in direction did make their music more accessible; less experimental and more melodic. In 1996, when this concert was recorded, they had released Emperor Tomato Ketchup, which was considered their most successful critical album to date.
In recent years there were hints at a reunion, and one almost came to fruition in 2013 during an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in June of that year, but since then it’s been silence.
Stereolab were an influential and pivotal band in the 1990s, and they inspired many bands to follow in their footsteps. The individual members of the band have gone off to other musical endeavors with other bands. But Sterelab remains an important chapter in the evolution of Electronica and experimental music. If you aren’t familiar with them, it would be a good idea to check out their albums and get an idea of what they were all about. In the meantime, have a listen to this excerpt of that concert at the Phoenix Festival in 1996.