Memories of Bailter Space

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 10:35 14/06/2012

Hey, that was good news the other day about Bailter Space returning with a new album in August right? If you haven't already you can hear the new single here (and download for free).

Bassist John Halvorsen isn't on board - so now it's the duo of Alister Parker (mumbled-shrieks and sheets-of-sound guitar) and Brent McLahlan (samples, snare-pulverising and he beats his floor-tom like it owes him money).

It feels good - straight away, instantly - to have them back. The last thing released by the group was 2004's self-titled compilation. That did the trick in a lot of ways, a decent summary. Before that it was 1999's Solar.3.

Bailter Space (sometimes written as Bailterspace) was (is?) one of the best bands in the world. It was a bonus, when I discovered them, to find that they came from my part of the world too. They lived off-shore for a while, but they returned - always - to play New Zealand.
Bailter Space
I saw Bailter Space a bunch of times throughout university - memorable shows always; even nabbed the set list (see right) from one gig. (I still have it - it was on my wall for years, now it hides in the back of a scrapbook (along with a few others).

I was at the gig at Indigo (now San Francisco Bath House) where Noise-Control shut the band down; too loud. One of those mythical gigs that everyone was apparently at. A week or two later they played at the venue now (once again) called the Hole In The Wall. It was a "secret gig" and an apology of sorts for short-changing Wellington due to the written notice from Noise-Control. I got in as a reviewer for Capital Times - got a mate in too as my photographer. His qualifications? He had a camera and for authenticity's sake he remembered to pack it.

One time, in Hawke's Bay, me and another mate drove over to Napier to the venue The State Of It to see Bailter Space play to an audience of around seven people. They still absolutely killed it, pushing and pulling at the sound, lassoing it and strangling it, releasing the choke-hold intermittently, a beautiful noise circulating - in a way it was one of the best gigs I've ever seen. Parker had his eyes closed as he pashed the microphone, he was oblivious there was even an audience. His hand working in its own form of slow-motion slashing down at the strings - the band played a blinder; it was irrelevant that there were less than a dozen people staring on bewildered and blown away. There could have been thousands in attendance; they would have made the same effort.

And one time I saw them at the university headlining an Orientation bill. Another example of one of the best gigs I've ever seen.

It was always a joy standing as close as possible to Parker's guitar, I felt like I could see the sound shimmering up and off into the air, suddenly disappearing but somehow sticking around in the ether, informing whatever song followed. You could certainly hear it! A white-noise enveloping the ears and a melodic weave draped over the hugeness.

Wammo and Capsul are the Bailter Space albums I listened to the most (still listen to the most) - the ones that pulled me in. From there it was back to Tanker and Robot World and within a few months I'd filled all the gaps, picking up as many of the singles and EPs as I could alongside the other albums (The Aim was always one of my favourites too).

The video for Splat is a favourite - and what a song. But then there's Untied, Retro, X, Galaxy, Shadow, Glimmer, Shine and Titan.

There are dozens of other songs I could name - that was just a quick stab, a top-of-the-head selection; a few to mention. You can add your favourites below.

But my absolute favourite Bailter Space track is Argonaut - a song that feels like it's ahead of the game by close to a decade in terms of its overall sonic. It laconically reaches back to shoegazer moments and creeps forward and over ambient-sprawl. It is one of my favourite pieces of music by anyone. Ever. One of the most-played songs from my collection; less a song than a piece of music - less the perfect representation of the band than its own genre entirely, but still a great example of Bailter Space taking you to a new place.

I didn't rush back to the old albums when I read about Bailter Space releasing a new one. Because I've never left them. And I don't worry about whether the new album will hold up. I know that it will. Bailter Space hasn't had a bad moment, for me. There have been no mistakes, no let-downs.

Of course before they were Bailter Space they were The Gordons - and there's much to celebrate there too of course. But this is about Bailter Space. One of the classic examples for me, of how (some) New Zealand music is some of the greatest I've ever heard - and of how lucky I was to see them so many times in a short space of time, during moments in my life when every gig I went to was so visceral, time seemed to stop and I stood staring, transfixed, transported.
Bailterspace
News of a new album made me hope that there would be a tour in support.

I would love to see this band one more time. They were one of the greatest live acts I ever saw. And I got to see them a heap. For that I feel very lucky. But you can always want one more, right?

So what do you think about Bailter Space/Bailterspace? Are you/were you a fan? Are you excited about the new album? Did you like the new song? And what are some of your favourite moments from this group? Favourite albums/songs? And any particular gig moments that stand out?

Postscript: Here's a handy archive of Bailter Space/Gordons performances and clips.

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44 comments
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Scott C   #1   11:02 am Jun 14 2012

Without a doubt one of the most ingenuous musical groups to come out of NZ. Seen them maybe two dozen times over my life and only once been let down (by technical issues with the PA). One of their shows also got shut down at Vic Orientation too.

Robot World has always been my favourite album but I certainly have a soft spot for Tanker (Grader Spader being my introduction to them). The Aim is an excellent EP too - mixing both sides of where they tend to stroll (the sonic and the beautiful). Vortura has some awesome tracks but I never quite warmed to the production for some reason.

There's a certain honesty to the music they write, it doesn't feel like they're trying to write for a market, genre or anything except themselves - which is when the best music comes about.

keefa   #2   11:15 am Jun 14 2012

I remember them when they released their first EP in 87? I was fresh out of school and this was LOUD mega cool NZ music (contrasted against heart felt SJF and JSPE swoon tunes) I have a live tape from when they released Vortura? at the now demolished pub on the symonds street khyber pass corner, LOUD did not describe it... tehy palyed a few days before the Big Day out I recall. I was most excited when I found the WAMMO album new in a Glasgow record shop in the late nineties. Cant wait to hear the new album...

Darryl   #3   11:23 am Jun 14 2012

So many great memories of these guys. A couple of gigs stand out. I saw them at the Durham Arms, it was the loudest gig I'd ever been to. Some poor lush got so bombed he fell asleep in front of the PA, I can't imagine what shape his head was in the next day. I saw the at the Provincial a few years later and within a few songs they had destroyed the PA. I'm disappointed John Halvorsen isn't involved, but hey I'll take what I can get. Looking forward some live shows (hopefully).

viffer   #4   11:25 am Jun 14 2012

@ ScottC #1 - did you really mean "ingenuous"? That's an unusual thing to say, but it ties into your third paragraph.

Hazzard County Cricket Club   #5   11:37 am Jun 14 2012

Bailterspace? love 'em. can't wait for the new LP, the single is killer. hoping for a tour with a stop somewhere near the deep south - Dunedin will do nicely.

when is the new Stereo Bus LP coming out?

james   #6   11:38 am Jun 14 2012

Love Bailter Space.

Most of their songs are great but At Five We Drive from Wammo is beyond amazing.

Really hope they'll play some shows soon; so keen to see them.

iscariot   #7   12:02 pm Jun 14 2012

In total cow-jumping-over-the-moon raptures about this - but where is John Halvorsen :(

For me, the Bailtersapce track of choice, or at least the one I always comeback to, is Shine ...*sighblisssquee*

Scott C   #8   12:12 pm Jun 14 2012

@ viffer #4 - lol, no I did not :-) I placed to much faith in my spell check :-) I intended to describe them as "ingenious" (though ingenuous does kind of work in that they approached music in quite an innocent way with little in terms of preconceptions).

Peter McL   #9   12:38 pm Jun 14 2012

Bailter Space were based in Wellington for a long time before moving to NY - they ran a recording studio, Writhe, with fellow FNun band The Skeptics (REISSUE PLEASE!) Brent Mclachlan runs a studio in NY these days. @iscariot -Halvorsen is back in Wellington, runs a cafe called Velox. The last live show BS did was in 2008 in NY, with a fill in bassist, apparently

me   #10   12:48 pm Jun 14 2012

I saw them at Kurtz Lounge too, maybe one of a dozen or so times I've seen them play. TBH I've always run a bit hot and cold with them , a bit take them or leave them. That particular night HDU was support and I felt pretty sorry for Bailterspace - HDU made them look pretty tired and old. You really had the sense of the torch being passed to the new generation.

Like any band, the early stuff is the best - they got a bit pop later on and it's not as much fun. The early, more raw material as the Gordons and then the first EP with Hamish Kilgour are the best things they did - after that it's a bit law of diminishing returns. Thermos and Robot World felt quite ear-opening at the time but they're sadly dated with that horrible 90's gated reverb drum sound. Yuck.


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