Whither Dark Star?

by Keith Henderson

From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall... Who's the darkest star of them all? In the end, you'll have to discover that on your own, but first you must become aware of all the various Dark Stars that lay awaiting in the distant depths of our universe. I know I was surprised to find out how many there were, and there are still a few I really haven't figured out.

Letting my fingers do the walking through the virtual yellow pages, I discovered loads of references to "Dark Star," and variations on that spelling. Not all of these had to do with music and even then, a lot of the musical references weren't for specific bands. For instance, the official magazine for information about Mike Oldfield is called "Dark Star." In Milwaukee, WI, there is "Dark Star Music," a store that deals in all sorts of 'world musics,' including new age and electronic music like Eno, Banco de Gaia, and Tangerine Dream. There is the analog synth module device called the "Dark Star Chaos Noise Modulated Sound Generator 2000" - whatever *that* is, it sounds cool. The "Dark Star Lounge" resides on 72nd St. in New York City - I don't know what sort of music plays there though. And then there are other odd items...such as the kaleidoscopic lighting device called "Darkstar" that produces a starburst of colors - like a psychedelic lightshow for your home. How about "Dark Star Cherry Stout"...that sounds tasty! Or who might want to participate in the role-playing game "Dark Star Fantasy Battles?" Or read "Dark Star Comics?" Or watch John Carpenter's (1974) "Dark Star" feature film?

Well, I think you're beginning to get the big picture....Dark Star is ubiquitous! You can't get away from it! So let's now get down to business and make sure any unsuspecting poor soul out there doesn't end up spending their hard-earned cash on an expensive item ordered from half-way around the world, that in the end turns out to be the wrong "Dark Star." I did my best to actually track down items by some of the ones most connected to our focus here at AI, and if anyone can help us out on the few remaining entities we missed, we'd appreciate hearing from you. Let's start the festivities now, shall we?

dark star (London, UK)
CD-EP Gracedelica 1998 EMI UK CDEM-523
CD-EP I Am The Sun 1999 EMI UK CDEM-534
CD Twenty-Twenty Sound 1999 EMI UK 497 2012
Christian Hayes - Voice/Guitar, Laurence O'Keefe - Bass/Voice, David Francolini - Drums
dark star, P.O. Box 21, London W10 6BR England U.K. http:://www.dark-star.co.uk

The newest Dark Star, this British trio was derived from members left over from the band Levitation upon Terry Bickers' split to form his own band Cradle. I managed to track down their second CD-EP, the four-song "I Am the Sun," and while it doesn't quite live up to my expectations based on my fondness for Levitation's "Coterie," I do see significant merit to this music. Two versions of the high-octane rocker "I Am The Sun" are offered, including the dreaded remix. But, lo and behold, the remix version is actually the better of the two! (That's a first.) The lyrics seem a tad inane, though - for instance, "Joan of Arc was cool, but she got burned. Like I'm burning out for you, I'm centrifugal." Hayes voice is perfectly suited to this material such that they really aren't undermanned as a trio. Next, "Living Under the Ground" is a subtle, shimmery piece that only Porcupine Tree do better. To wrap up our short look at these newcomers, "Semaphore" is straight from the Levitation playbook - sweet, soft, and supple harmonic tones from both bass and guitar, a touch of glissando and various sampled vocals. The full-length album "Twenty Twenty Sound" should be available soon, and I hope to find more goodies then.

DARK STAR (Fribourg, Germany)
CS Arrival of the Masters of Confusion 1989 Failsafe/M&E GR/UK M&E 151
CS States of Mind 1990 Failsafe/M&E GR/UK M&E 152
CS No Sign of Intelligent Life 1991 Failsafe/M&E GR/UK M&E 398
CD Headtrip 1992 Failsafe GR FSCD 01
CD Travelogue 1994 Strange Ways GR spark 44
Wolfgang Reffert - All instruments

This DARK STAR is a one-man show. Wolfgang Reffert creates instrumental electronic music during the time he's not doing his 'Pleasuredome Radioshow' on Radio Dreyeckland in Germany. DARK STAR's own website proclaims the music to be "a bastard of electronic, psychedelic, and rock elements, arranged in a minimalist way and somewhat drone-like, with lots of analogue synth sounds." I've heard only the track "Forbidden Planet" from the M&E compilation tapes called "Decadion," so I can only tell you that this song has a dark, heavy electronic flavor, and relies on a repeating synthetic drumbeat that sounds way too loud and bright for my ears. I didn't hear any rock elements, but then who knows what's to be found on other tracks.

Darkstar (Pennsylvania, USA)
CD Darkstar 1995 New Chaos US DS714
Nick Drake - Vocals, Tim Chito - Guitar, Bob DeGeorge - Bass, Michael Floyd - Drums

Well, it's a small world. You'd think that I would have to pull out the ole Rand McNally atlas to locate the obscure village of Pulaski, Pennsylvania. But strange as it may seem, I went to high school (no doubt the very same one as these lads) in the town of New Wilmington (Pop. 2,700), of which Pulaski is a 'suburb' of merely hundreds. So, had I been a decade younger, this would probably have been a band I would have seen in local clubs like RJ's. Anyway, Darkstar's self-titled debut is far from space or psychedelic rock, but more like a grungier, less crafty version of any number of classic hard rock bands. They plod through a cover of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" and a slew of generally unimpressive original songs, until reaching the one true highlight of the album, strangely enough entitled "Dark Star." For once, I can imagine this tune appearing on Y&T's "Earthshaker" or something equivalent, as opposed to simply an album by a bunch of no-name hacks.

Darkstarr (California, USA)
CS Alien Invasion 1984 self-released via RhythmNet USA CA-143-1
Don Wilcox, aka Don Drakker, Commander Raven, Dr. Nola Xela, and Lt. Commander Harddrive

The music of this particular Darkstarr (one bonus 'r') is described as 'Sci-Tek,' something I'd never heard before. And having now given this 6-track cassette a listen, I'll agree that it's hard to define otherwise. Very heavy on the synthetic, industrial rhythms...not too far from techno, but the music is dark and disturbing as opposed to dance fare. Kinda like uhhhhh...Oh yeah! An Alien Invasion! To be honest, I had a hard time swallowing the really forceful synth beat that permeates each track. There are no vocals to speak of....just a sampled voice here or there. I did enjoy the final track, "Future World," as it featured a less-invasive drumbeat and some really interesting and playful synth melodies. I guess this project never went much further than this lone release (though see below). Don Wilcox was the quartet's leader under the pseudonym Don Drakker, along with three partners in crime. The band photo depicts two futuristic-looking guitars, but the music sounds as if primarily performed on synths, sequencers, and the like.

darXtar (Korgsberga, Sweden)
CD darXtar 1991 SPM-WWR GR CD029
CD darker 1992 Garageland SW GRCD005 (OOP)
CD Daybreak 1994 SBm SW CDA 001
CD Sju 1996 SBm SW CDA 002 Black Widow IT BWRCD-012
CD Tombola 1999
Commander K. Sören Bengtsson - Vocals/Guitar, Darklord Sören Mårtensson - Keyboards, Marcus Pehrsson - Bass, Patric Danielsson - Drums Contact: SBm Records, Växjövägen 55, 57010 Korgsberga, Sweden,

Though sporting the most unusual spelling, these Swedish space heroes are likely to be the most well-known of the bunch here in AI-land. And that's because their earliest works are straight out of the 70's Hawkwind mold. The Commander and his original compatriot, Captain Juba (now of Pseudo Sun) made their first albums alone, before the split and the formation of a fully-functional live band. "darker" and "Daybreak" are both excellent albums (if you can find them), though they didn't break much new ground. "Sju" is their true masterpiece - the title track being one of the very best space symphonies in existence. Communications from draX HQ have been few lately, but with luck their newest "Tombola" will appear later this year. Watch for it!

DarkstaR (San Diego, CA/Germany)
CD Marching into Oblivion 1996 Institute of Art Records GR RTD 397.0017.2
CD Heart Of Darkness 1999
Dan Rock - Guitars/Sequencing, Siggy Blasey - Keyboards, Oliver Werner - Drums, Martin Iordanidis - Bass

Well, this exercise of discovery wasn't just for kicks it turns out, as I did discover this band I was entirely unaware of that really impressed me. Once California's Psychotic Waltz called it quits, guitarist Dan Rock started this new project with musicians he met while traveling in Germany. The music on "Marching into Oblivion" is heavy metal in the Queensryche style but with an equally strong ambient-synth dimension (in fact, it sounds a *lot* like the music on the TeleVoid video-see review) and it's pretty darn good too. In lieu of normal lyrics and vocal verses/choruses, Rock has chosen to record/sample semi-spoken lyrics that are delivered (at times) in a particularly intimidating way. Most of the voices speak of religious themes, but this ain't no preachy Christian rock. Rather it has the feel of "Operation: Mindcrime," my favorite work in this 'prog metal' genre. I look forward to the followup which should appear any minute.

Dark Star (UK)
7" Lady of Mars 1980 Avatar UK
LP Dark Star 1981 Avatar UK AALP5003 (OOP)
7" Kaptain Amerika 1982 Avatar SP
LP Real to Reel 1987 FM UK WKFMLP97 (OOP)
Rick Staines - Vocals, Dave Harrison - Guitar, Bob Key - Guitar, Mark Oseland - Bass, Steve Atkins - Drums

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been able to track down either of the long out-of-print LP's by this now-defunct Dark Star. Until a CD re-issue occurs, it looks like rare and expensive second-hand LP copies will be the only way to rediscover these works. They have been described to me as a melodic NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as dubbed by Metallica's Lars Ulbrich) band. Which means I might very well like them, as I have a soft spot for contemporary groups like Saxon and Diamond Head. Apparently, the self-titled debut spawned the single "Lady of Mars," which made some charts and garnered significant radio play in the U.K.

Other Dark Stars:

-- The Dark Star Orchestra of Chicago, Illinois are a Greatful Dead cover band that are so completely unoriginal (sorry about that) that they copy tune-for-tune old Dead shows of the past when doing their 'own' shows.

--Solo artist Trevor Dale released two 12" records as Darkstar on the Abstrakt Dance label called "Full Tilt" (Abstrakt 01) and "Afropean" (Abstrakt 03).

--The duo Foreign Spaces (Christian Feher and Georg Reiter) released an album of electronic music (like T. Dream/C. Franke) called "Dark Star".

--Other artists releasing albums called "Dark Star" include the David Murray Octet and Deine Lakaien. The Greatful Dead and Nico have both recorded songs entitled "Dark Star," and I imagine that this list should actually be much longer.

Even more Dark Stars of questionable origin:

--the duo of Christoph Fringeli and Pure - "Techstep" music "Untitled" 12" EP on the SubVersion label
(My guess is that the two below also belong to this particular entity.)
"Remixes" 12" EP
"Let There Be Light" 12" EP on the Sapho label

--Also, a Dutch 12" called "Universal Conquest"... perhaps another one of theirs?

--A self-titled "Darkstarr" CD has recently appeared on the CDaze label in Holland. My guess is that this is a new band and not the Sci-Tek band above, but then perhaps I'm wrong.

--I've seen this series of 45-rpm singles attributed to some Dark Star. I believe this may have been an old '50s era group.
"Holy Roller" 7" single (Lifesongs 45007?)
"Hit and Run Lover" 7" single
"Into the Heartland" 7" single
"Postcard from Jamaica" 7" single
"Won't Be Disappointed" 7" single

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