Primal Scream In-depth Biography
Primal Scream's career could in many ways be read as a microcosm of British indie rock in the '80s and '90s. Bobby Gillespie formed the band in the mid-'80s while drumming for goth-tinged noise rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain, who were the exact opposite of Primal Scream -- the latter specialized in infectious, jangly pop on its early records. After a brief detour to punky hard rock, the group reinvented itself as a dance band in the early '90s, following through on the pop and acid house fusions of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. With the assistance of producers Andrew Weatherall and Hugo Nicholson, Primal Scream created the ultimate indie pop and dance fusion album, Screamadelica, in 1991. Screamadelica broke down boundaries and changed the face of British pop music in the '90s, helping to make dance and techno acceptable to the rock mainstream. Instead of following through on the promise of the album, Primal Scream retreated to Stonesy boogie for their 1994 follow-up, Give Out but Don't Give Up. When that record was greeted with indifference, they returned to dance-rock fusions with 1997's Vanishing Point, which re-established the group as a major force in British rock.
Bobby Gillespie (vocals) formed Primal Scream in 1984, while still drumming for the Jesus and Mary Chain. On its initial releases, Primal Scream was a group of '60s revivalists, crafting hooky, guitar-driven pop songs. The band signed to Creation Records in 1985, and over the next year, they released a pair of singles. However, Primal Scream didn't really take off until the middle of 1986, when Gillespie left the Mary Chain and guitarists Andrew Innes and Robert Young joined the band. "Velocity Girl," a rush of jangly guitars, was a B-side that wound up on NME's C86 cassette compilation, a collection of underground pop groups that defined the U.K.'s mid-'80s indie pop scene. The band's debut, Sonic Flower Groove, fit into the C86 sound. After the band rejected the initial version recorded with Stephen Street, they re-recorded the album with Mayo Thompson, and the record was finally released in 1987 on the Creation subsidiary Elevation. The album was well received in the British indie community, as was its 1989 follow-up, Primal Scream, which demonstrated hard rock influences from the Rolling Stones and New York Dolls to the Stooges and MC5.
As the '80s drew to a close, Britain's underground music scene became dominated by the burgeoning acid house scene. Primal Scream became fascinated with the new dance music, and they asked a friend, a DJ named Andrew Weatherall, to remix a track from Primal Scream, "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have." Weatherall completely reworked the song, adding a heavy bass groove echoing dub reggae, deleting most of the original instrumentation (even the layers of guitars), and interjecting layers of samples, including lines of Peter Fonda's dialogue from The Wild Angels. The new mix was retitled "Loaded," and it became a sensation, bringing rock & roll to the dancefloor and dance to rock & rollers. "Come Together," the first single from their forthcoming third album, was in much the same vein, and was similarly praised.
For their third album, Screamadelica, Primal Scream not only worked with Andrew Weatherall and Hugo Nicholson, the pair who essentially designed the sound of the album, but also the Orb and former Stones producer Jimmy Miller. The resulting album was a kaleidoscopic, neo-psychedelic fusion of dance, dub, techno, acid house, pop, and rock, and it was greeted with rapturous reviews in the U.K. Released in the spring of 1991, Screamadelica also marked an important moment in British pop in the '90s, helping to bring techno and house into the mainstream. The album was a massive success, winning the first Mercury Music Prize in 1992.
In the wake of the groundbreaking Screamadelica, most observers wondered what Primal Scream would do next, yet few would have predicted their retreat to '70s hard rock for Give Out But Don't Give Up. Released in 1994, the album was eagerly awaited, but its Stonesy hard rock was not well received, and it was a relative commercial failure. More importantly, it hurt the group's reputation as innovators, a situation they reacted to with the title track to the hit 1996 film Trainspotting. Primal Scream's contribution to the soundtrack was a return to the dance stylings of Screamadelica, only darker. The band continued to work on its next album, entitled Vanishing Point, over the course of 1996, finally releasing it to enthusiastic reviews in the summer of 1997. The ultra-aggressive XTRMNTR followed in the spring of 2000. Two years later Primal Scream released Evil Heat, a guest-laden (even supermodel Kate Moss makes an appearance) album in line and on par with XTRMNTR, and in 2006 Riot City Blues came out. Festival shows and gigs with My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields filled out the following year, capped off with the release of the single "Can't Go Back." That single reappeared on the 2008 Suicide and Alan Vega-informed full-length Beautiful Future. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi