Public Service Broadcasting – ‘The Race for Space’ album review & @ Rough Trade, 25

Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), is the brainchild of the ridiculously regally named duo from South London, J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth. The band basically takes samples of archive footage broadcasts and old public information films, and then re frames it with modern-day music. As nerdy as this may sound, I can assure you they are anything but an academic wheeze.

‘The Race for Space’ moves away from the post-war Brit propaganda used in PSB’s debut album, Inform-Educate-Entertain. This record features the emotions surrounding the US-Soviet Space Race during the Cold War, but fortunately, the album also comes with a timeline guide. It marks the 9 key events that set the landscape of each track, starting from ‘Sputnik’ the 1957 launch of the world’s first Earth Satellite, to ‘Tomorrow’ the 1972 final manned moon landing of Apollo 17. Essentially, this is a history lesson delivered on the warm bed of funk rock and electro beats.

The album opens with the ghost of John F. Kennedy’s Rice University Speech. The superhero themed single ‘Gagarin’ follows with voice of the 60s style reporter framed, with choppy celebratory funk of the first cosmonaut’s ‘first step into the unknown’. The mood then stretches from the ominous faint cello of the Apollo 1 tragedy in ‘Fire in the Cockpit’ to the suspense, anxiety and eventually relief in ‘The Other Side’ when Apollo 8 orbited out of NASA signal range, on the other side of the moon. ‘Go!’ finishes off with cheer excitement of the first manned moon landing of Apollo 11. ‘The Race for Space’ captures the story of mankind’s ambition, tragedy, and triumph with strokes of crafty intelligence, atmospheric control and some seriously tight drums.

In their live performance, the band also incorporates vintage archive footages from the British Film Institute. Apart from their on-stage uniform of bowties and tweed jackets, PSB is also known for their Stephen-Hawking-esque getup. Neither of them speak during the act. Communication onstage comes only in the form of the pre-programmed samples. Upon after show enquiry at Rough Trade, Willgoose, who also turns out to be a UoN graduate, said that this is to keep the audience focused on the music and the accompanying visuals.

PSB can be a bit of a BBC4 to your regular Radio 1, and the history lecturers will probably enjoy this bit more than they should. But there’s no denying that ‘The Race for Space’ oozes all kinds of cosmic interstellar wonders. The sold out album launch gigs took place at the National Space Centre in Leicester, and we only hoped they would release some footage of the show. It’s not everyday you’d get to witness a group of people dancing awkwardly to NASA radio transmissions inside a Space Centre.

By Jaisai Wongpichet



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