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Members include DaveFrancolini, drums; Christian "Bic"Hayes, vocals, guitar; LaurenceO'Keefe, bass. Addresses: Record company--EMI-Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028 Phone: (213) 462-6252 Fax: (213) 467-6550.
For more than a decade, Christian "Bic" Hayes, Dave Francolini, and Laurence O'Keefe searched for the ultimate psychedelic rock sound, first as Levitation, then in the formation of Dark Star. When Levitation dissolved in 1994, most assumed, including the band members themselves, that their days of making music together had ended. Drug dependencies, among other problems, caused Levitation to fall apart, leaving the group a common subject of ridicule throughout Great Britain. Feeling defeated after Levitation's drug-induced implosion, the trio entered a two-year black period. "Dole, acid, alcohol, mourning," admitted Francolini, as quoted by Melody Maker's Neil Kulkarni. "Sat around listening to PiL and Swans at deafening volume, just talking. It means something now. We'd been through real highs with Levitation: at that stage we three were at a low, just the saddest, darkest time of my life." In fact, one member was forced to check himself into rehab in order to overcome his addictions. Then, after years of destitution and personal struggles, the three men started rehearsing together again, recorded and released singles and a debut album, and finally earned their vindication when, in January of 2000, they played live as Dark Star on the hit show Top of the Pops, joining an elite group of British pop/rock groups--such as PiL and New Order--to have done so.
The surreal, wildly expansive acid-rock group Levitation existed on the brink of chaos, both on stage and off, though their albums consistently won positive criticism. The group's story began in 1990 when vocalist/guitarist Terry Bickers quit his former band, the House of Love, after a much-publicized falling out with that band's lead singer, Guy Chadwick. Angered and unhappy with the constraints the House of Love placed on his guitar playing, as well as Chadwick's mainstream approach to making music, Bickers left to follow his own instincts, teaming in London with fellow space cadets Robert White on keyboards/guitar, Hayes on guitar, Francolini on drums, and O'Keefe on bass to form Levitation, a band intent on shaking up the music scene with incendiary live shows, not to mention Chadwick's discussions with the British music press on odd subjects like prog-rock revivals, flying saucers, reincarnation, and Egyptology.
Levitation also took the idea of the "rock `n' roll lifestyle" to the extreme limits. The group's out-of-control behavior, marked by narcotic excess, would leave not one member unscathed. Bickers, for example, would reportedly carry a bag of Es in his pocket on stage, chewing his way to the bottom of the bag throughout the course of a show, while O'Keefe appeared permanently spaced-out. Francolini, notorious for his complex drumming patterns as well as for his semi-nude appearance in the first Levitation video--writhing in the middle of the woods eating soil--was the self-admitted member who used more drugs than anyone else.
Somehow, Levitation managed to keep the group together for a few short years, even recording some brilliant songs along the way. The band's first recording, a stunning EP entitled Coppelia, arrived in April of 1991 on the Rough Trade label. Opening with the shimmering "Nadine," turning more reflective with "Rosemary Jones," and illustrating vigorous, exhilarating guitar-playing with "Paid In Kind," Coppelia won significant critical praise, and the anthemic track "Smile" became a live favorite among fans. An even more expansive EP, After Ever, followed later that summer, and in 1992 the two records were combined, along with some live tracks and a new song, "It's Time," and released as the mini-LP Coterie. However, critics agreed that the compilation, in spite of rave reviews, seemed merely an introduction to the group's abilities in comparison to the explosive Need For Not, Levitation's debut full-length album. Released just a few months after Coterie and produced by the Cardiacs' Tim Smith, the album further propelled Levitation's rising popularity.
The following year, the band released another heralded EP, World Around, but troubles within the band had also begun to intensify. Finally, in mid-1993 soon after the release of the stale single "Even When Your Eyes Are Open," the group's major-label debut on Chrysalis, Bickers announced that he was leaving the band, refusing to enlighten the press with a specific reason. And in 1994, halfway through a gig at London's Tufnell Park Dome, he quit and walked offstage.
Hoping to move forward without Bickers, the remaining members recorded in Wales with new lead vocalist Steven Ludwin another album entitled Meanwhile Gardens. The largely instrumental LP, released only in Australia, included re-makes of old songs, added instrumentation such as horns and strings, and some patchy new offerings. After receiving lukewarm reviews for the album and an ill-fated tour of Germany, the band decided to call it quits. By the mid-1990s, the members of Levitation were all unemployed, with the tough times about to begin in earnest.
Battled Failure and Addiction
"When the band broke up, I had a desperate time," Hayes revealed to James Oldham for a New Musical Express feature story. "My mother died and I had a lot of personal problems with illness. I just couldn't get anything together at all." Similarly, Francolini struggled to cope with his drug dependency. "I was heavily into narcotics and alcohol at the time," he recalled. "During that period, Bic moved up on Goldhawk Road in the thinnest house in London. In the confines of that corridor we sat drinking inordinate quantities of alcohol and taking lots of acid and just being really upset."
For the next two years, the members of Levitation more or less lived without any sense of direction, although Hayes worked with Heather Nova and O'Keefe with Dead Can Dance's Brendan Perry and Heidi Berry. Francolini, meanwhile, opted to put his drumsticks aside, focusing instead on management and production. Still, they all carried over their heads the failure of Levitation, along with a bothersome reputation: the spaced-out casualties of drug addiction. "It was redundancy. All the people around us suddenly didn't want to talk to us or even see us. We felt like failures," Hayes painfully recalled.
Toward the end of 1996, however, after attending a Sonic Youth concert, Hayes, Francolini, and O'Keefe felt inspired--realizing they had nothing to lose--to try and get back together again. From there, they scraped together enough money to book space in a North London basement to rehearse. For the first time, the three musicians were creating psychedelic rock tunes with a clear head, writing on their first day back "Graceadelica," the 1999 single that would later enter the British charts at number 25. "Those rehearsals just gave us this massive vent for all our frustrations: every time we got back into that room, all our past f***ups and dreams just got belched out," O'Keefe explained to Kulkarni. "All the aggressiveness and anger we felt about what had happened to us came out; when we got back together and tapped into it, it was an amazing feeling. Not like therapy. More like a dirty protest."
After searching for a new singer to no avail, Dark Star decided in October of 1997 that no one else but Hayes should front the band, and after hammering out songs for what would become their debut album, twenty twenty something, they saw their luck begin to change. Not only did they find a new manager, but also received a record deal with EMI to release the record in April of 1999 on the company's recently reactivated Harvest imprint. "I think the Dark Star album sounds raggedy, rough, and punky," Francolini, who claimed the group could play every note on the album live, told Oldham. "You can really feel it. When you put that album on, it sounds like we're in the room with you."
Earning rave reviews for the effort, the members of Dark Star were poised to redeem themselves. The songs compiling twenty twenty something, wrote Kulkarni, are "mired in that murky sound world where every moment depends on real alchemy, where every switch to a positive emotion carries with it enormous dramatic gravitas, a sound where anything can happen." And despite the trio's newfound freedom from drugs, their live performances remained just as earth-shattering. "A lot of people haven't seen a band like ours before," Hayes noted to Oldham. "The age of the kids who come to see us means most of them have grown up during Britpop ... and when they're confronted by us playing at this insane volume, they're blown away."
Since re-affirming themselves, Dark Star felt confident about the future. "It came out of real pain, but it's infinite: we can go anywhere we want to with Dark Star," Hayes professed, as quoted by Kulkarni. The singer/guitarist further explained to Oldham how Dark Star have discovered a new sense of seriousness about their music the second time around: "I don't want people to think we aren't committed. This is serious. It's art, for want of a better word."
by Laura Hightower
Dark Star's Career
Trio played as members of the London-based band Levitation, 1990-94; after a period of overcoming drug addictions and personal tragedies, the former bandmates re-grouped as Dark Star, 1996; signed to Harvest imprint of EMI Records, released singles and debut album twenty twenty something, 1999; appeared on Top of the Pops, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Dark Star
- "Graceadelica," Harvest/EMI, 1999.
- twenty twenty something Harvest/EMI, 1999.
- Coppelia (EP), Ultimate, 1991.
- After Ever (EP), Ultimate, 1991.
- Coterie (mini-LP), Rough Trade, 1992.
- Need For Not Rough Trade, 1992.
- "Even When Your Eyes Are Open," (single), Chrysalis, 1993.
- Meanwhile Gardens Festival, 1994.
- Buckley, Jonathan and others, editor, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- Melody Maker, November 21, 1998; February 20, 1999; March 27, 1999; June 5, 1999; November 17-23, 1999.
- New Musical Express, January 29, 2000, p. 22.
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