BACK TO THE PLANET
BACK TO THE PLANET, formed London, 1989.
From: THE ROUGH GUIDE TO ROCK
"I used to work for a record company as a junior and they were always talking about music like cornflakes: make it look right and make it easy to recognize and people will buy it. We haven't done that." Fraggle
The first Back to the Planet release in 1991
The Back to the Planet scene was a quintessential part of late-80s Britain - unemployed musicians hanging out in a squat (bizarrely, in their case, a disused unemployment benefit office - The Dole House in Peckham) and spending the summer with the New Age travellers on the free festival scene. It was the stuff of Conservative nightmares, and featured high in the government's catalogue of scapegoats.
All the more ironic, really, since it was a subculture with a strong streak of entrepreneurial DIY. After a couple of years gigging at festivals, clubs and raves, Back To The Planet produced a cassette-only release, Warning The Public (1991) and shifted over 5000 copies themselves. The band comprised the briefly named Fil (vocals), Fraggle (guitar), Carl Hendrickse (bass), Henry (drums) and Guy McAffer (keyboards). They gigged more or less constantly through 1991 and 1992, pausing only to release a single, "Revolution Of Thought", which embraced ska, reggae, dance and pop influences. As ever, they promoted it up with a string of festival appearances, including an infamous rave at Castlemorton in the heart of the English countryside, which the government used to whip up support for the following year's Criminal Justice Act - a bill specifically designed to outlaw Back To The Planet and their ilk.
In 1993 the band signed a deal with Parallel, who released their single, "Teenage Turtles". For an act who championed anti-fascist groups and causes like the Hunt Saboteurs, it seemed rather simplistic to blame a bunch of children's cartoon heroes for society's ills, but it was a great record - just the kind of infectious pop they had always threatened to make. If you need comparisons, then the closest in sound and spirit were Senser and Credit To The Nation, whose 'collision pop' similarly mixed rock with rap and dance. The band were by now one of the most popular festival acts in Britain - and their 'Who's Fucking Planet?' T-shirts a mainstay. However,
this support failed to translate into mainstream record sales. Their next single "Please Don't Fight", a dubbed-up song with a hint of Eastern promise, flopped, as did its follow-up, "Daydream", a floaty, summery pop song; and their debut album, Mind And Soul Collaborators (1993), despite a fine collection of tunes, fared equally poorly. Parallel had had enough, and dropped the band.
Back To The Planet responded with a return to their roots and another year of frantic touring. They re-emerged in early 1995, having re-activated their own Arthur Mix label and recruited new drummer Amir K. Mojarad for a single, "A Small Nuclear Device", and a mail-order album, A Potted History, which collected their early cassette releases. These financed the recording of their second album proper, Messages After The Bleep (1995), which drew on their usual collision of ska, dub, techno and pop, and also found them exploring their atmospheric side, indulging in reverb and spooky keyboard sounds.
Mind And Soul Collaborators (1993; Parallel). Ranging from spacy dub to the great pop of the singles. The political concerns also come to the fore, covering imperialism, ecology and, of course, those damned turtles.
Messages After The Bleep (1995; Arthur Mix). At times the keyboards bleep incessantly and songs are drowned in ambient wind/wave sounds. But there are still some fine, if overlong, electro-pop melodies.
James Sutherland Taken from the Rough Guide to Rock. © Rough Guides Ltd. First edition published Aug 1996/Nov 96 (USA). Distributed by Penguin.