Spacemen 3 were an English alternative rock band, formed in 1982 in Rugby, Warwickshire by Peter Kember and Jason Pierce. Their music was "colorfully mind-altering, but not in the sense of the acid rock of the '60s; instead, the band developed its own minimalistic psychedelia" (Stephen Erlewine, AllMusic). Spacemen 3 came to prominence on the independent music scene around 1989, gaining a cult following. However, they disbanded shortly afterwards, releasing their final studio album posthumously in 1991 after an acrimonious split. They gained a reputation as a ‘drug band’ due to the members’ drug taking habits and the candid interviews and outspoken views of Kember about recreational drug use. Kember and Pierce were the only members common to all line-ups of the band. Pierce has enjoyed considerable success with his subsequent band, Spiritualized. Spacemen 3 were sometimes compared to Loop, much to Kember's annoyance.
Sonically, Spacemen 3's music was characterised by fuzzy and distorted electric guitars, stuttering tremolo effects and wah-wah, the employment of 'power chords' and simple riffs, harmonic overtones and drones, softly sung/spoken vocals, and sparse or monolithic drumming. Their earlier record releases were guitar 'heavy', sounding Stooges-esque and "a bit like a punked-up garage rock band" (Stephen Erlewine, AllMusic); whilst their later work was mostly sparser and softer with more textural techniques and augmented by organs, resulting in "their signature trance-like neo-psychedelia" (Stephen Erlewine, AllMusic). Kember described it as "very hypnotic and minimal; every track has a drone all the way through it".
Spacemen 3 were adherent's to the "minimal is maximal" philosophy of Alan Vega. This minimalist musical approach typically represented compositions consisting of the repetition of simple riffs based around the progression of only two or three chords, or simply using just one chord. Kember has articulated the maxim: "One chord best, two chords cool, three chords okay, four chords average".
Spacemen 3 had the dictum "taking drugs to make music". In interviews, Kember often stated the importance of recreational drug use in his lifestyle and in inspiring his and Pierce's song-writing. Kember candidly admitted to his frequent drug taking - including cannabis, LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA, amphetamine and cocaine - and being a former heroin addict. Much of Spacemen 3's music concerned documenting the drug experience and conveying the related feelings. In NME's 2011 list, the '50 Druggiest Albums' of all-time, Spacemen 3's Northampton Demos release, Taking Drugs to Take Music to Take Drugs..., was ranked #23.
Kember was a keen record collector from the of age of 11 or 12; some of the first records he purchased included albums by The Velvet Underground. Pierce: "When I was 14, I bought The Stooges’ Raw Power and I listened to nothing but that for a year". Spacemen 3's early gig posters would often make explicit references to their sound being inspired by The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones. In 1988, Kember said, "Groups like Suicide or the MC5 are like my favorite stuff in the world". Pierce said, "Early on, we were listening to The Stooges, then came Suicide, then we’d start listening to Sun Ra, and pick up on all these lateral threads that ran between them".
Spacemen 3 were "fanatical musical magpies". In addition to the Protopunk of New York's The Velvet Underground and Suicide, and Detroit’s The Stooges and MC5, Kember's and Pierce's musical influences included: US 60s Psychedelic rock, such as The Thirteenth Floor Elevators; US 60s Garage rock; 60s British Invasion bands; Rock n' Roll; Buddy Holly; Surf music; The Beach Boys; early, seminal Electronic music, e.g. Silver Apples, Delia Derbyshire and Laurie Anderson; Krautrock; The Gun Club, The Cramps and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns; early Chicago blues, e.g. Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf; early Delta blues; gospel and early Staple Singers; Otis Reading; the production techniques of Brian Wilson, Joe Meek and Phil Spector; and the avant-garde jazz and free jazz of Sun Ra and John Coltrane.
Spacemen 3 recorded and performed numerous covers and re-workings of other band's songs, particularly earlier on in their history, and this was indicative of their influences. Examples include songs by the following bands and artists: The Stooges, MC5, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Roky Erikson, The Red Krayola, Glenn Campbell (of The Misunderstood), The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Suicide, Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, The Yardbirds, and The Sonics. The song "Hey Man" (a.k.a. "Amen") is based on a Gospel traditional. The song "Come Down Easy" is derivative of a Blues traditional. Spacemen 3 performed an instrumental song live with a pronounced Bo Diddley style rhythm, dubbed "Bo Diddley Jam". The Spacemen 3 song "Suicide" was a clear acknowledgement of one of their influences: when performed live it was usually introduced as "this song is dedicated to Martin Rev and Alan Vega – Suicide".
Kember was also interested in drone music and everyday ambient sounds such as those created by electric razors, washing machines, lawnmowers, planes, motor engines and passing cars.