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Gong: Ambient Music Is Close to The Pure Spirit

Author: Skrufff
Monday, October 8, 2001
Psychedelic ambient experimentalists Gong first emerged in the late 60s, emerging from the protest communities of Paris' then thriving counter culture. Put together by former Soft Machine frontman Daevid Allen in 1967, they immediately gained a reputation as outsiders, which, as their website explains today, never exactly bothered them. 'Gong is often referred to as a 'cult' band, which we have always understood to mean 'a band which too few people love too much', it says. "But. . . . ." Always more popular internationally than just in the UK, the band helped scatter the seeds of experimentation and living life through instinct, not least through the originality and occasional brilliance of their music.

Masters at producing trance inducing psychedelic epics, whether via flute or even just through Allen's remarkable voice, they helped pioneer the kind of ambient electronic music that would later inspire the likes of Brian Eno and the Orb's Alex Patterson. Nowadays splitting their lives between Australia's Byron Bay and touring, Daevid and Gilli recently passed through London, having been invited to perform alongside the Orb for Dave Gilmour's Mind Your Head Festival. Typically hit and miss, the band's performance occasionally plumbed the depths of cringe inducing psychedelia before concluding with two thrilling anthems of neck tingling energy and power. 33 years after they first started performing, they remain musicians of rare and unpretentious vision.

"The only real way of being secure is to be eternally insecure. One of the most irritating things about being 63 years old is that people expect you to be wise." With his long flowing white hair and chiselled, tanned features, Daevid Allen resembles a wizard more than a soon-to-be-pensioner staring into the void. Charming, outspoken and deliberately controversial, he's sitting in a Covent Garden beer garden, handling press for Gong's forthcoming shows with The Orb. Accompanied by his long term collaborator Gilli, the duo provide excellent role models for alternative living appearing happy though Daevid's enthusiasm for stirring up controversy remains a distinctly dangerous wild card. Today though, chatting to Skrufff's Jonty Adderley, he's sweetness and (mainly) light.

Skrufff: You've been touring for 33 years now, where do you begin when you're planning a new show-

Gong (Daevid Allen): "We exercise a little of the past and the present and we improvise a little. I'll tell you ten minutes after we've finished. We usually do pick tracks from the past because people like them and we enjoy playing them - they've become like jazz standards to us. At the same time we're constantly producing new material."

Skrufff: Gong were pioneers of chill out/ambient music in the 60s, why has it become so popular now-

Gong (Daevid Allen): "It's always been there and of course it's always very pure and smoothing- it's close to the pure spirit. There's also something about its rhythm or lack of it. One of the things I've always found irritating about dance music is the fact that it's always recorded in 4/4. I find that very irritating, it's a little like the Sun newspaper - catering to popular demand rather than pushing the frontiers and Gong have always been about pushing frontiers. I'm always talking about Steve Hillage from System 7(ex Gong member) who is one of the great conservatives, saying he should break the mould but he's terrified to do that, because people wont dance to it. When you lose that rhythm you're suddenly in a state of timelessness and I love that. Ambient music will always be there."

Gong (Gilli Smyth): "I have a different view, though, I think the whole point about four/four dance music is that it allows people to release all the problems and pressures of modern life by dancing. People dance every weekend which is a fantastic thing to do and within that 4/4 beat you've still got loads of space to play with. I like that doof rhythm and I find it really int