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When it comes to subgenre tags, “space rock” is one of the most literal—it’s music intended to evoke an interstellar journey. But while there’s plenty of trippy otherworldliness involved, the sound is anything but ethereal. The seeds of space rock were sown back in 1967 when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd’s expeditions into the cosmos, but the real template was created in the early ’70s by the likes of Gong, Hawkwind, and Nektar, who tapped into a post-psychedelic stoner vibe and combined explicitly cosmic lyrics with heavily effected guitar riffs and swooshing, burbling electronics to create the mind-expanding sound we know today as space rock.
In the ’90s, a new generation of aural astronauts inspired by those ’70s sounds started an underground space-rock revival. The likes of Ozric Tentacles, Magnog, Farflung, Quarkspace, and Bardo Pond fused the influences of old-school space rock with a contemporary indie aesthetic to create a sound that helped to further codify the style and even edged things forward by introducing elements of ambient music and other varied flavorings. More than ever, Hawkwind is acknowledged as the center from which all things in the space-rock universe flow, and the raw, hard-rocking riffs and squiggly synth effects that defined the band’s classic ’70s albums became de rigueur for any new arrivals aspiring to take a tumble through the galaxy.
In the new millennium, a third wave of space rockers has arrived. Wooden Shjips, Comets On Fire, White Hills, Moon Duo, and the rest have firmly dug into the fuzziest, shaggiest, beardiest riff-a-rama aspects of space rock, fetishizing its ’70s roots even more so than any of their ’90s predecessors. But for all their growl and grit, they never forget the stoner side of things—one of the crucial aspects on which the movement was based. After all, if you’re not already high when you’re listening to a space-rock record, the music should make you feel like you are.