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Members include Birdstuff, drums; Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, bass, samplers, Theremin, Tesla Coil; Dexter X, bass and rhythm guitarist for live shows; Starcrunch, guitar. Addresses: Record company--Touch & Go Records, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625. Website--http://www.astroman.com.

Man or Astroman? claim to be not the space-music surf-rockers they appear, but instead unlikely emissaries from another galaxy who accidentally crashed their spaceship near Auburn, Alabama. Since that day in 1992, Man or Astroman? have released over two dozen seven-inch singles and several full-length albums of dizzying, instrumental guitar virtuosity wedded to sounds derived from the quasi-modern technology of a Hammond organ or Theremin. The band's outrageous live shows have attracted a cult following throughout the United States and across the Atlantic.

Man or Astroman? "sounds a lot like Dick Dale and Link Wray gone amok with a sampler and several bowls of Count Chocula," declared Guitar Player. Band members Starcrunch (guitar), Birdstuff (drums), Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard (bass and a battery of electronic gear), and Dexter X (bass and rhythm guitars for live shows), joined forces in Auburn, Alabama, in 1992 at a time when half of the band was underage and couldn't get into their own shows except through the stage door. "It was pretty much the lack of a scene that spawned Man or Astroman?," Dexter X told Addicted to Noise's Kembrew McLeod. "I think we were more influenced by what didn't exist than what existed. There were no real clubs to play in ... it was like a house party situation or you had to play some stupid fraternity bar. We sort of had to put on our own all-ages punk rock show."

Not surprisingly, members of Man or Astroman? cite the famed television series Lost in Space as a big influence, and they liken their own career as musicians to a modern-day version of Gilligan's Island: perpetually stranded and stymied by their own incompetence from returning to Grid Sector 24, otherwise known as home. The years spent driving around the country in a van and playing small venues is just a ruse: "We're touring in order to find parts for our ship," Coco told Pitchfork interviewer Jason Josephes. They also cite stellar musical influences that range from the early vinyl of surf music pioneer Dick Dale, avant-garde extremists The Residents, the pop singles of Jan and Dean, and a host of other bands ranging from the Ventures to Devo to forgotten new-wave act the Rezillos.

The output from Man or Astroman? include several singles--which they term "scout vessels"--EPs, and full-length releases such as the Estrus label's issuance of Destroy All Astro-Men!, in 1994. The 1994 EP Your Weight on the Moon, issued by the band's overseas home, One Louder, was described by Cathi Unsworth in Melody Maker as "a blast of visceral, ridiculous fun, with impeccably cool credentials." The Washington state-based Estrus would issue numerous other singles and LPS such as Project Infinity. The 1995 release Intravenous Television Continuum covered more theme songs from television shows--in this case, The Jetsons and The Munsters-- but featured authentic Man or Astroman? compositions such as "Out of Limits" and "Tomorrow Plus X" as well. Most of the original songs are instrumentals, but like their other efforts, employ wacky musical appliances such as the Hammond organ or Theremin, an early electronic musical instrument dating back to the 1920s.

Man or Astroman? later switched "anti-gravity vessels," as they refer to their label, to Chicago-based Touch and Go Records. They ran into some potential legal trouble when they borrowed the Sixties-era National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) logo and were instructed, in legal terms, to cease and desist. The band had adapted the now-defunct lettering once seen on astronaut gear, replacing "NASA" with the word "Astro" on their stickers and t-shirts. Another humorless encounter with earthlaw occurred when they shot their first video for the song "The Miracle of Genuine Pyrex," which first appeared on the EP 1000X. Music video behemoth MTV requested that the band edit out a few frames where Coco was running about with a flaming television box on his head. As he wrote in his essay entitled "MTV Just Loves Fire!," published on the band's official web site, Coco and other Man or Astroman? members agreed to edit the bit out, but only after a major moral struggle. "I suppose I wouldn't want every kid running around the house with a flaming TV on their head," Coco reflected. "I would much rather them aspire to drug dealing and all the other wonderful things that are also glamorized on MTV."

Live Man or Astroman? shows are a treat. In addition to the occasional flaming television set, other stage props includes a battery of projection screens, vintage Radio Shack computers, slide show, inflatable rockets, and disco lights; television sets replay sci-fi classics or bizarre imagery. One of their first releases for Touch and Go was Live Transmission from Uranus, which packaged the aural part of the Man or Astroman? live experience for fans. Recorded at a show in Gainesville, Florida, Live Transmission includes a cover of the Pixies' "Manta Ray" as well as the theme song from the Sixties television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Included in the usual Man or Astroman? stage line-up is Stuart the Lounge Lizard, who programs the television sets that show old Godzilla movies from the Sixties or other cheesy sci-fi entertainment. (Not surprisingly, Man or Astroman? are huge fans of the cult cable program Mystery Science Theater 3000). Sometimes the sets catch fire, and sometimes the band tosses retro snacks like Twinkies or Moon Pies to the audience.

"You claim to appear onstage in binary form," queried Guitar Player. "How does the audience see you?" "Well, there's a protective shield in front of us which is also a holographic viewing device," Man or Astroman? asserted. "If that wasn't there, the audience would just see instruments floating." Often wearing the ubiquitous empty television set as space helmets, band members choreograph their stage movements. "Jerking around in unison, the band suggested what Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley {of KISS} might have looked like if they grew up in Akron, Ohio {the hometown of Devo}, went to art school and developed a theory of de-evolution," wrote Addicted to Noise's McLeod. In another Addicted to Noise article, Birdstuff explained the band's attitude about live performances that hearken back to the spectacles of GWAR: "It's like if you're just going to go on stage dressed like and act like the people who paid to see you, I mean, what's the point? If you want to do that you might as well work at Pizza Hut or something."

Man or Astroman? released Made From Technetium on Touch and Go in mid-1997. The record, wrote Rolling Stone's Rob O'Connor, "continues the Man or Astroman? tradition of making dexterous instrumental music for the Space Age." There was even a track with vocals--a homage to the call that all cellular device users receive at some point, from the mysterious "Lo Batt." Despite its retro appeal, the music of Man or Astroman? fits in to futuristic recreational pursuits well. When not recording new "scout vessels," members write music for computer games and are planning a Man or Astroman? CD-ROM--they have already contributed to several such projects--and also hope to begin bit-streaming live broadcasts via the Internet. As Birdstuff conceded in the Addicted to Noise interview, "We'd really want to transmit direct to people's neural synapses but the technology isn't there yet."

by Carol Brennan

Man or Astroman's Career

Band formed in Auburn, Alabama, in 1992.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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