Although many stylistic changes were to ensue after their debut album Drop, released in 1987, the Scottish-born dance outfit the Shamen continued to be anchored by the themes of mind-expansion, mysticism, and ecological concern that ran through their early guitar-oriented work. After discovering the vibrant subculture of rave music, the Shamen quickly embraced the potential of new technologies and became a chart-topping international attraction by the end of the decade with their album En-Tact, a work that helped popularize techno in the mainstream. After the tragic death of member Will Sin in 1991, the band’s future was uncertain, but despite a hot and cold relationship with critics and battles with their label, One Little Indian, the Shamen continued to create engaging dance music in step with the age of the internet.
The Shamen were formed in 1986 by Colin Angus, a young native of Aberdeen, Scotland who dropped out of college to dabble in making psychedelic music along the lines of earlier groups like Pink Floyd and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. After a promising EP release, “Young ‘Till Yesterday,” Angus created the album Drop and a series of like minded singles. As Melody Maker in a review of “Knature of a Girl,” a single from early 1988, “the Shamen take the best fancies of Sixties psychedelia without turning into a period piece.” Angus also showed his lineage to that decade’s flower-power political agenda with songs like the anti-war protest “Happy Days,” which was soon used in a commercial campaign by a beer company obviously blind to Angus’s lyrical thrust.
By 1988, the Shamen were joined by synth-player Will Sin, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and the band’s direction began to change radically. Angus and Sin, who had met working at a psychiatric ward, moved to London, England where they were seduced by the energy of the city’s culture of underground dance parties, or raves. In the beat-driven electronic music of acid house, Angus saw the next step in his journey. “I could recognize the psychedelic aspects of the music immediately, but it was immediately danceable,” he recalled to Bob Gourley of the online magazine Chaos Control. “And the reports I was hearing about the parties, the multi-media events very like what I imagine events were like in the 60’s in terms of massive light shows with strobes and oils and lots of people enjoying the company of one another in a psychedelically enhanced atmosphere of love.”
Stripped down to a duo, Angus and Sin began to remodel the Shamen in light of acid house, resulting in the EP “What’s Going Down?” and their second album In Gorbachev We Trust, a record which fused high-energy rhythms with trenchant comments on global politcs. Perhaps more importantly, the group dived into dance culture, launching their own series of concerts/parties under the name of Synergy in 1989. The Shamen’s live presentation began to blur the boundaries between rock gigs and warehouse parties, for as Will Sin explained in an online profile, “we [were] trying to create our own context for best presenting what we do.” It was also around this time that the duo met “Evil” Eddie Richards, an ex-milk deliverer, DJ, and rapper who soon joined the Shamen under the name Mr. C.
After several months of consideration, the Shamen joined the roster at the One Little Indian label, a label known for its groundbreaking pop groups such as the Sugarcubes and No-man. In the spring of 1990, the Shamen made their label debut with the single “Pro>Gen,” which was also the first recording made with Mr. C supplying vocals. Although upon its first release, “Pro>Gen” only skimmed the surface of the Top 40, but the Shamen had decidedly veered towards making chart-oriented singles. En-Tact, the Shamen’s first bona fide techno album, was released in the fall of 1990, selling over 100, 000 copies and garnering solid critical reviews.
The Shamen were duly pleased by the massive amount of people they could reach as a hit-making outfit, and that the positivity shared at their Synergy parties need not be confined. “I really did feel at that moment that
Members include Jhelisa Anderson, (formerly of Soul Family Sensation), joined in 1992, vocals; Colin Angus, (born in Aberdeen, Scotland, the only member from the original lineup), vocals, songwriting, and programming; Edward Richards (Mr. C born in London, England), joined in 1990, vocals and dancing; Will Sin, (born Glasgow, Scotland, died while recording a video in the Canary Islands, May 22, 1991) joined the group in 1988, synthesizers and programming; Victoria Wilson-James, (formerly of the group Soul II Soul), joined 1995, vocals.
Band formed in 1986 by Angus in Scotland; released debut album Drop on Moeshka Records, 1987; relocated to London, England in 1988, released follow-up album In Gorbachev We Trust, 1989; signed to One Little Indian the same year; released breakthrough dance album En-Tact, 1990; performed on the British television show Top of the Pops the same year; “Ebeneezer Goode,” the group’s fifteenth single, became their first Number One hit, 1992; fourth album Boss Drum released, 1992; headlined at the Freedom of the City concert to 12, 000 fans in Glasgow, Scotland, 1993; released final original album for One Little Indian, Axis Mutatis, 1995; announced the album UV would be their last, 1998.
Addresses: Home— P.O. Box 102, London, E15 2HH, U.K.; Email —[email protected]; internet address —www.drci.co.uk/drci/shamen.
everyone was feeling exactly the same,” Angus told Tony Marcus in an online interview, “that this was it, we could take control, we had the power. That’s what the “move any mountain” lyric from “Pro>Gen” is all about. Large numbers of people all with the same vibe.” However, just as the Shamen were reaching international success, tragedy struck. While making a video in the Canary Islands for a re-release of “Pro>Gen” during the spring of 1991, Will Sin met with a strong undercurrent and drowned at the age of 31. Angus was deeply saddened by this loss, but after a brief hiatus, decided to continue with Mr. C. In the meantime, “Move Any Mountain -Pro>Gen ’91” became a hit worldwide.
When the Shamen returned in 1992 with the single “LSI,” or “Love-Sex-Intelligence,” they had been joined by singer Jhelisa Anderson, an ex-member of the group Soul Family Sensation. Adopting an image of rubber-clad club goers, and pushing the finger-wriggling Mr. C’s energy to the forefront, the Shamen annoyed some critics with their euphoric club-culture forays, such as Melody Maker, who ran a series of cartoons lampooning Mr. C. The album which followed, Boss Drum, boasted a several other Top 10 singles such as “Ebeneezer Goode,” itself making its U.K debut at number three. Boss Drum also marked the band’s full departure into high-tech shamanism—a merging of electronics with the ancient mystical traditions of tribal cultures. On the “Re: Evolution,” track, New Age writer Terence McKenna made a guest vocal appearance to draw a “connection between plant psychedelics, human evolution, all-night dancing, and eco-consciousness,” as Marcus appraised. Released as a single, the soothing ambiance of “Re: Evolution” found its way into the U.K. Top 20 with almost no airplay.
Largely due to problems with One Little Indian, much time passed before the Shamen were able to release an album of new material, although a slew of remix projects trickled into record stores. In the meantime, the Shamen began exploring technology in forms that sometimes exceeded music alone. In addition to creating a soundtrack for “The Ozone,” a children’s show on the BBC network, the Shamen unveiled Nemeton, one of the first band-oriented interactive websites, seeing the use of cyberspace as an extension of Shamen’s project. “We’ve always seen ourselves as an ‘information band,” Angus told Marcus, “so it was a natural step to connect to the internet.”
The Shamen’s focus upon electronic age mysticism was never more pointed than on their fifth studio album, Axis Mutatis, released in 1995. A sound aquarium of trance-inducing, flowing synth work, Axis Mutatis was the last Shamen record issued by One Little Indian, who reportedly preferred the group’s dance-pop sensibilities over eclectic experiments. The album’s “S2 Translation, “for example, used a sequence of DNA codes to generate its electronic bleeps and pulses. However, while the album’s sales were fair, the band’s new level of global concerns seemed heavy-handed to many critics. As Lee Graham Bridges wrote for Consumable online, “there are some bands that can pull off being so-called ‘political bands,’ that is, bands that can address political issues in their music. Whether the Shamen are capable of this I cannot say, but they didn’t quite pull it off this time… The Shamen need to realize that they don’t need to make a statement in addition to the music—the music is the statement.” Melody Maker’s Andrew Mueller was fully in accord with such criticism, claiming that “Axis Mutatis bulges with concepts and ideas for the sake of being seen to bulge with concepts and ideas…. The Shamen should lighten up a bit. Nothing dates so badly as self-conscious futurism.”
Although it was their political concerns that grated the nerves of many reviewers, the Shamen were unshaken, and continued to spread their philosophies in their music and web page. Risking a loss of sales, the Shamen decided to offer the song “Destination Eschaton” online before it was available in stores. As Angus explained to Calum Thompson in Fly magazine that “the aim was to focus attention on Nemeton, our web site, and perhaps to provide a prescient glimpse of how a medium like the net could be used to market music direct from the artist without the need for a record company.”
In 1997, The Remix Collection was unveiled, over an hour of the Shamen’s strongest material revamped by some of the biggest names in techno, such as 808 State, Orbital, and Richie Hawtin. While not a “greatest hits” package in the strictest sense, the collection was a perfect introduction for newcomers, and reminded critics of the vital role the Shamen had played in forging new dance music. “Bad politics, dodgy costumes, and ‘trip to the tub with a rubba-dub-dub’ rapping aside, much of Collection is fabulous pop music, chart-techno perfected,” posited Neil Kulkarni in Melody Maker “Pretty much an index of early Nineties pop and still startlingly wonderful to this day.”
Although the group kicked off the following year with a new single, “U-Nations,” as well as plans for a new album entitled UV, they announced that these releases would probably mark the end of the Shamen. However, it would be unlikely that its members end their activities within music or otherwise. While Mr. C continued at the helm of his own techno label Plink Plonk, Angus delved into making even more esoteric music, generated through geometric formulas and even with the input of the human brain’s electronic impulses. “We’ll just carry on promoting what we believe in, and promoting our philosophies,” Mr. C told Melody Maker. “That’s what the Shamen are all about—getting shamanic philosophies, environmental issues, and planetary issues across in the mainstream via the pop medium.”
Drop, Communion, 1987.
Strange Day Dreams, Moksha-Matieriali Sonori, 1988. (Compilation of early material)
In Gorbachev We Trust, Moksha-Demon, 1989.
En-Tact, One Little Indian, 1990.
Progeny, One Little Indian, 1991. (Remixes of “Pro>Gen”)
Boss Drum, One Little Indian, 1992.
On Air, Band of Joy, 1993. (Radio 1 sessions)
Different Drum, One Little Indian, 1993. (Remixes of Boss Drum tracks)
Axis Mutatis, One Little Indian, 1995.
The Remix Collection, One Little Indian, 1997.
UV, Moksha, 1998.
Fly, January 6, 1996.
Jockey Slut, September 1995.
Melody Maker, March 5, 1988; October 28, 1995; November 4, 1995; January 11, 1997.