From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
Sloterdijk - "Uranium Zone" (Mp3.com CD, 2001)
Sloterdijk's follow-up to last year's Integration CD features more of their jamming brand of Hawkwind influenced space rock. Sloterdijk is mostly a solo project from Mike Burro, often with help from other musicians. He started by playing trance music, and Sloterdijk live sets have been more recently known to include covers from the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, and others, indicating varied interests and influences. In fact, Uranium Zone strays overtly from it's space jam theme, opening and closing with two classical styled synth melodies with the titles "Variation in A Major for 2 Cellos & a Flute".
"Uranium Zone", "Iron Lung", and "Unnamed Psychedelic Jam II" are the metallic space rock powerhouse tracks on the CD. Wonderfully heavy stuff. The title track is quite catchy, perhaps being a candidate for space rock single status. (If there is such a thing.) "Iron Lung" is a metallic space rockin' dance tune. And "Unnamed Psychedelic Jam II" is a guitar driven metallic space jam with pounding chords and hot licks that make it a killer psych-metal instrumental. "Seti 79" is similar. The bass and drums keep a throbbing tribal beat while the guitar plays fiery psych licks. The keyboard has a trippy 60s organ sound and space synths bubble and swirl throughout. A real smoker that jams hard over its 8 minute length. I hear more of that great trippy organ on "Anomalies", where a wall of dark symphonic space forms the backdrop over which the guitar and synths play their trippy melodies. Somewhat different is "Fate By Date", which kind of sounds like an 80s synth-pop tune, but with a darker gothic feel. And "The Dub Of Dub" features heavy drifting keyboards, bubbling synths, and pounding drums, making it the most tripped out keyboard track on the album.
Hawkwind fans or anyone loving heavy space rock would do well do check out Sloterdijk's music. Wanting to know more about the band and Burro's activities we conducted the following interview:
AI: Your web site indicates that Sloterdijk began as a solo project playing Dutch trance music. How did you evolve from that to the heavier Hawkwind styled space rock heard on Integration and the current Uranium Zone CD?
Mike Burro: Well, let me first start by stating that the Sloterdijk site at Mp3.com does in fact state the above, however before I give a proper response, let me preface the answer with a statement. The "official" Sloterdijk website, formerly known as the "Control Center" was forcibly removed from the internet by the webtv network (a division of Microsoft), primarily as a result of a photo of a Dutch woman at a show. The picture was that of a topless woman (only the chest and torso), who had painted her breasts psychedelically with one breast appearing as a rose, the other as an eye, with the nipple as the pupil. This was considered "inappropriate adult material" and in a keystroke, three years of pagebuilding was erased from public access.
OK that said, yes, Sloterdijk did begin as a solo trance project. In 1996, while living in self imposed exile in The Netherlands, I had the fortune of attending an illegal 3 day festival outside of Amsterdam billed as "The Alien Eclipse Gathering". The event was very clandestine, and one had to pass through what appeared as a rather silly network of contacts etc. You had to call a telephone number to get the name of a railway stop where you were to take the train and wait for a guy with maps and info. This all occurred and the name of the station happened to be "Sloterdijk" a stop between Schipol airport and the middle of nowhere. A big flat system of major canals with the noise and sights of a flightzone.
While spending four nights and three psychedelic days there, I saw some of the best trance DJs in Holland. All this took place in a huge circus tent mind you, and I remember being one of the first one's there and how lush the grass was under the tent. By the end of day 3, the grass had turned to mud from the sea of dancers and revelers...
I had already been involved in electronic music in the Philadelphia area as far back as 1984 with an ensemble called "The People's Synthesis". To make a long story short, my association with the avant garde began around 1981 when I became part of a very loosely configured group of eccentrics who used to go about collecting sounds all week on cassette players, come together on the weekend bringing every instrument or sound producing device available, smoke a thousand bong hits, record 20-50 minute improvisational pieces using the instruments and collected sounds, smoke another hundred bongs, listen to the piece and repeat the process...By 1985 I formed The Observation a band which lasted till the end of '88. I have been in so many projects which were never whole heartedly pursued, except for perhaps Anthem. This was a short lived "metal" band which I formed after my graduation from Seminary in 1993. This band was garish and very sloppy, but the stage antics and pyrotechnics, not to mention my stoned out "Ace Frehley meets Dean Martin" persona of that time made for some entertaining shows. I felt as if I had to let of a lot off steam at this point, after two years in a very cloistered and extremely academic environment. In October of 1993 I moved to Holland and remained there on and off through mid 2000. My reasons for seeking refuge there were primarily political and social and thus I won't discuss them in detail here.
While the "Alien Eclipse Gathering" was still happening, I knew I would be recording trance music of my own. I loved the DJs, but I knew that the albums they were spinning were created by real musicians, no matter how technological. It was then that I decided to try and do it live. Initially Sloterdijk was intended as my own personal abandonment of guitar, and my "second wave" as far as synthetic music was concerned. I never wanted to use guitar in Sloterdijk initially, and I concentrated as much on drum programming as anything else, something I still do today.
As far as the progression to the more Hawkwind like rock, it's basically like this: I have been digging Hawkwind for years, and if I was to really get detailed about my musical history, one would see that no matter how eclectic I have been and no matter what other genres of music I have embraced, I like so many of your readers, grew up in the 1970's and so the rock of that era was the soundtrack to our lives. I knew I loved Hawkwind the minute I put "In Search of Space" on my turntable. As time went on with Sloterdijk, I started to loosen up on restraining myself from playing guitar. (I busked in The Netherlands for so long, and played so much rock guitar, that I felt like I was just through with it.) I used it on a cut or two in 1997, but did not begin writing with it seriously until 1999; not long before our performance at The Strange Daze Festival. That show was much more of an ambient trance performance than a real spacerock concert, however the night before we had played in New Jersey along with Canis Minor as a full 4 piece rock band. We covered "Spirit of the Age"! So that was the beginning of the multi faceted aspect of Sloterdijk's personnel changes and it's sound. Literally the next day the lineup had changed and been cut by 50 percent. This would be the pattern.
AI: You seem to have a variety of influences. The trance music, obviously Hawkwind, but I also notice in your set lists posted to the newsgroups having done cover songs by bands like Blue Oyster Cult. Do you see Sloterdijk as a synthesis of many different types of music rather than just being compared to Hawkwind?
MB: Absolutely. Although I am extremely happy within the spacerock fold, I refuse to pigeonhole myself. I think the new album reflects this by the inclusion of the first and last cuts. They aren't rock, in the slightest sense. There is also a song called "Passions" on the album. This is not really rock either. It's some kind of industrial dirge with Philly soul style vocalizations. I am influenced by everything I ever heard and liked enough to keep remembering with fondness. If any one musician holds my esteem for their persistence of vision it's Todd Rundgren. I appreciate that people dig the space rock and the guitar jams, but that's what I'm doing NOW. I plan to continue, but I would be just as happy to write music for small chamber music ensembles, and sit in the audience or conduct. Eclecticism is what I really dig. The sets which include Blue Oyster Cult are the acoustic ones. Unlike electric Sloterdijk, the acoustic incarnation plays more covers than originals.
AI: Is Sloterdijk mostly a Mike Burro solo project? The credits on Uranium Zone indicate you do most of the playing, Integration seems like it was a trio at times, and most of your newsgroup posts seem to indicate that in live performance it's you and Jay Adcock.
MB: Sloterdijk is a Mike Burro project in the sense that T.Rex was a Marc Bolan project. The thing here is this; "If you want to call yourself a member of Sloterdijk that's fine", just remember two things; 1) I am the one member without whom Sloterdijk ceases to exist, and 2) Ultimately I make the final decisions. Sloterdijk is not a democracy. It's an Oligarchy at best, and I'm the totalitarian despot.
There have been many fine players associated with Sloterdijk, however Jay is the anomaly here. Jay and I have an interesting history in that he was the drummer in Anthem. At that time he was only 15. We didn't play together for 5 years, and then he started accompanying me at my acoustic gigs. That was when I was gigging under the pseudonym of ARTIMUS. Jay just kept saying ok to every gig I offered. I'm very comfortable with him and so he's been around since '99 now. Jay embraced the spacerock thing, and became very enmeshed in synthesizers, etc. Although some people still think of him as primarily a percussionist he does much more, and only now plays percussion when we play acoustically. Jay plays guitar and synth when we play electric and he has done some great engineering work as well. On the Integration album, it's Jay playing the lead guitar on "Cryogenics", not me. Also his synth is heard on "Uranium Zone" the title cut of the new album. He co-produced that one with me, and also processed "Untitled Psychedelic Jam II".
We have played several gigs as a trio, in fact all last summer. Rob Eckstedt was playing bass for us at all the shows. Some of your readers might have seen him on "The Traveling Outerspace Spectacular" Tour, which featured Hawkwind's Harvey Bainbridge.
There is only one tune on the Integration CD in which a trio appears. Cryogenics was recorded live in Jay's studio "The Realm". That included Bob McConnell on Bass. Other than "Cryogenics" and "Uranium Zone" (the song), I play all instruments on both albums. Live is another story. It could be anywhere from one person (me) to three or more.
AI: Was Integration your first release that was on a label? Uranium Zone seems to be self-released.
MB: Integration was the first release on a label. Uranium Zone will be released through Mp3.com.
AI: Has it been helpful having Integration on a label or does the DIY route seem better for you?
MB: Henning Kupper, the owner of Lollipop Shop Records is a wonderful person, and having been signed with him definitely helped develop the strong following we have in Germany and other parts of Europe. There is always a kind of reputability which comes with being signed on a label, more so on the part of would be promoters etc. The reason I have decided to take the DIY route is simple. It's not because I don't want to release a follow-up on Lollipop Shop. It's because a struggling independent label like Henning's can't afford to produce a follow-up. I tend to write material rather rapidly, and I outpace the budget of many small labels. In short I produce music faster than the return from the product.
AI: I understand you performed at the North German Hawkfan festival. Tell me about that fest. Is it comparable to Strange Daze or different?
MB: An absolutely wonderful free festival. I can't say enough good things about this event and it's organizers. I don't think you can really compare the Hawkfest with Strange Daze. The Hawkfest is very small, but very intimate. It's also free. The spirit is definitely alive there. Strange Daze was the best American festival I have ever been to. In Europe, you don't have to worry about being stopped by Police outside the gates when you want to run to town for ice or film.
AI: Where do you think the space rock scene is stronger... the US or Europe?
MB: Here there is no scene. In Europe there is a small but well networked one. The size of the U.S. makes it difficult to forge anything more than a very local "scene". The laws in the U.S. create a very non festive feeling. There is no sense hauling your shit around the U.S. for no money, police profiling (I know I'm from New Jersey), and no audience. The Mandlebrot Sets, in New England last summer was a testament to the scene here. Musicians had to pay to play with themselves. Strange Daze was an enigma and worth the 8 hour trip. At least once you were there and within the compound you were safe!
AI: You seem to be aggressive in your efforts to secure performance opportunities for Sloterdijk. And you certainly appear to be playing shows, both in the US and Europe. How often do you get to play live? What advice would you offer to musicians reading this magazine?
MB: 1999-2000 was when I peaked as far as live shows. I really don't know how many we played. I appear aggressive because apathy is more often then not the general state of being. I don't feel qualified to give advice to musicians."what you like!"
AI: I've found loads of amazing music on Mp3.com. From an artists' standpoint, how helpful has Mp3.com been for you in terms of attracting listeners for your music? Are there other such internet sites you use that we should be aware of?
MB: Mp3.com although far from perfect is wonderful. Anyone can release their own album and have it made accessible to the whole world through one site. It eliminates the need for middle men. It's not very good news for indie labels, but it's great news for indie musicians. The Sloterdijk site has received over 2000 plays since this past November when it was initially created.
AI: What's in Sloterdijk's near future?
MB: I'd like to add a Cello player to the lineup. For the immediate future, I'd just like to get on the road and debut some of the new material. Thanks for this opportunity... Peace... Mike Burro
PS: I think it's important to note that my outlook for Sloterdijk is one in which the vision becomes an organism unto itself. It maintains itself through the support of everyone who helps it along in the slightest way... a favor, a kind gesture, an e-mail, etc. All this maintains me and my desire to create; not as a self motivated and self centered form of ego stroking, but in a Kantian sense, the fulfillment of my civic duty... cheers
For more information and to hear sound files you can visit the Sloterdijk Mp3.com web site.
You can email Sloterdijk at firstname.lastname@example.org.