Kevin Hurley of Solar Coaster (photographer unknown, image scanned from KERRANG! and taken from Solar Coaster’s MySpace page)
The other day, and for no apparent reason, a name popped into my head for the first time in 11 years: Solar Coaster. Now, Solar Coaster were a three-piece band from Winston-Salem in North Carolina that I had read about in KERRANG! magazine, back in the misty history of my teenage years. (Internet tells me the article was from issue 784, published on 15th January 2000 – ed.). The thing is, I couldn’t remember much – in fact, up until last week, all I could recall was a vague recollection of the article – discussing warehouse gigs with Oneida and Solar Coaster in New York in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and a very, very vivid image of the photo above. That picture was everything I wanted to be, everything I wanted to look and sound like, and yet, I had never even heard their music. So, feeling twitchy fingered and somewhat under-motivated at work, I turned to Google to shed light on my question - who were Solar Coaster, and what did they actually sound like?
I found out pretty quickly: within two minutes of remembering their name, I had already listened to some material on Solar Coaster’s MySpace page (although the band are apparently defunct, it appears they still maintain an online presence) and had started listening to their only record, 1998’s eponymous ‘Solar Coaster’ on Spotify. Within two hours of hitting Google, I had listened to the album twice, back-to-back, found a copy on Amazon and purchased it. As I write this, about a week later, I’m finally listening to the CD. It sounds pretty fucking awesome.
But let’s backtrack to that image for a moment. In early 2000, I was 16 years old. Music was for me, as it is for many teenagers, both a way to create a shared identity and a way to distinguish myself from other people; a life-line; a way of making sense of the world and a way of being; a means of self-expression; and a way of having FUN - all that stuff. Now, this photograph encapsulated everything that I wanted at that time – to play in a band, to play fast and loud music and (of course) to look the part. It sat along side other images torn from magazines and posters, of Hendrix, Cobain, Smashing Pumpkins and the rest, a sort of canon of musical virtue – of visceral music, played with passion both out of necessity and for sheer kicks. Suffice it to say, Solar Coaster needed to be my new favourite band.
But this was relatively early in the days of file-sharing and Napster; I had downloaded some things I think by this point, but on a 56k modem on a scratchy analogue phone-line, large files (such as they were) would take hours to download. Online purchasing was present and improving, but my knowledge of it scant. The fact was if I didn’t get lucky in a record shop, I would be unlikely to ever hear this band. This had been the case for a lot of the music I wanted to hear throughout the late 1990s – obscuro-grunge side-projects, small-print-run indie records and even bigger names – Sebadoh, Pavement, bands I’d heard of but couldn’t get my hands on. So although this was improving with my new weekend job, the Internet getting better, and being able to go further a field in search of better record shops, I never did hear Solar Coaster. I promptly forgot about the band, but not the image, for the next decade.
I found it interesting that the image stuck with me for so long, and as I was hunting the band down again this week, I was given cause to reflect on our compulsion to consume, process and rework a million images, a thousand more bands and artists than we ever could when we were younger. I had also been thinking about the ongoing debates in creative circles about the way images hit the internet and then get lost, without attribution, appearing as memes, on t-shirts, on walls and in public, long-divorced from any attribution to the image’s original maker. Creators loose out as fashions form, coalesce and collapse upon themselves, faster than we can grasp them: microcosms of meaning flare up and fall back as the next tweet, link, reblog, email – whatever – compels us to consume the next thing, the next thing and the next. Blink, and you’ll miss it. I mean, how do you even form a relationship with material like that? Can you even imagine loving an image that passed your screen today in 10 years time? Do you see yourself tearing it from your screen and putting it on your wall and into your being for all time?
I’m not saying this is all bad – I’m not interested in being a Luddite, or a technophobe, or a hairy old rock-crusty who remembers ‘back in the day when…’. In fact, I don’t particularly believe in objective truths or any of that, so I’m not thinking about this in terms of good vs. bad – I use tumblr, I use twitter: I want to promote my work. Also, I know it’s not always easy, either. Look at the dog’s dinner I’ve made of the attribution for the Internet scavenged image I’ve included above, for example: I was so desperate to find and see it again, that I poached it from elsewhere. It’s a confusing mess.
But to come back to Solar Coaster, their music is fast, and loud, and sort of melancholy. It’s angular in places, driving, swirling and fuzzy. Hazy. All those adjectives. It sounds a bit Sonic Youth, a bit like early Foos in some of the high-speed drum pummelling; there’s Husker Du in there, college rock, Sunny Day Real Estate. There are also bits of British bands in the mix, too – Swervedriver, Ride, My Bloody Valentine and other early 1990s indie from these shores – the sort of scruffy psychedelia that eventually became refigured, diluted or misappropriated into the needless swagger of ‘Britpop’. Like I say, it’s pretty fucking awesome. But these examples are all just touchstones for reference (RIYL or what have you) because I’m not sure if I need to tell you about what they sound like – nowadays, you can go listen for yourself online. What I do know, though, is that Solar Coaster are now my new favourite band, and it’s thanks to that photo for planting a seed.
So the question I have is this: given how fast music and sound and pictures and stimuli travel, often so far-removed from their point of origin, how can we understand a present that is stable enough to even produce something, no matter how ephemeral, that will last long enough in a future that is so rapid? How can I make something now that will last long enough to mean something to you, so that you don’t forget it?