Public Service Broadcasting discuss bringing the romanticism back to the American and Soviet Space Race
It may be hard to imagine life in 1957, when Sputnik was launched into orbit or in 1969 when the US landed the first humans on the moon with Apollo 11. It may be hard to envisage the childlike-wonder that many felt towards the great unknown and how the very idea of space penetrated every aspect of life and popular culture for years.
London two-piece Public Service Broadcasting aim to transport you back to that momentous era, as well as to many others, to experience the stories that epitomised significant periods of our history. Using sound effects, archive footage, propaganda material and various samples, the duo of J Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth present an honest reflection of life as it once was but with a sense of renewal courtesy of the addition of electronics and looped beats. By taking inspiration from the past, they are able to innovate in the present, simultaneously encouraging listeners and spectators to engage with historical periods in a new and unexpected way.
'The music is mostly written in emotional response to the material that we're writing about,' Willgoose explains, 'whether it's the case of having found the material first or writing with the aim of finding something to fit. It's a kind of translation of these stories and these bits of our past and it's about communicating something from within us.'
The duo have incorporated a number of elements of history in their music, from the first expedition up Mount Everest to the invention of the colour television, with upcoming third album Every Valley focusing on the mining industry in south Wales. But second album The Race for Space allowed them to undertake a project of mammoth proportions; the retelling of the story of the Space Race.
'One of the things that drew me to the Space Race was the fact that it's a rare case of something that's technologically really advanced and challenging that we used to do, and that we don't do anymore,' he says. 'And there's a kind of sadness to that I think. On the other side, there's the straightforward idea of celebrating a remarkable period in human history.'
Opening with a 1962 speech by JFK, the album relives the American and Soviet Space Race, detailing events such as the first manned spaceflight in history and the tragic Apollo 1 fire. The album paints a compelling picture of discovery and courage, which Public Service Broadcasting highlight with their immersive and atmospheric landscapes. While having no personal connection to the story of the Space Race, Willgoose notes that there is a universal connection shared by millions of other people and this shouldn't be easily forgotten.
'You can't help but marvel at the engineering and technical feats at the time and something that I can never really get my head around is the bravery that was involved,' he says. 'The album was also a slight push against some of the cynicism that surrounds the Space Race these days. It was an attempt to put a bit more of the romanticism back into it, to say it definitely happened, whether or not someone in a pub told you that there are too many shadows in a photo. It's one of the most exceptional human achievements ever and so many people refuse to believe it exists which I think tells you a lot about the human race.'
As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Public Service Broadcasting will be taking to the stage of the Usher Hall to perform The Race for Space from start to finish, with accompaniment from the National Youth Choir of Scotland and string quintet Mr McFall's Chamber. Though unusual for the band, the performance is highly fitting, with it taking place on Yuri's Night, the international celebration of space exploration named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to travel into outer space back in 1961.
'It's great to be doing our bit to keep Yuri Gagarin's story and what he achieved alive. His story is obviously many, many times greater than anything that we could ever do but it's nice to bring people together in a celebration and recognition of those achievements.'
Along with the many talks, workshops, activities and events, this year's EISF programme invites the public to 'Get Connected' to science by interacting with varying disciplines, with different communities and with one another. Such a theme resonates highly with Public Service Broadcasting due to the duo's belief in strengthening people's desire to discover more about the key concepts, historical ideas and scientific innovations that make up the world around us.
'I think it's positive to be encouraging people to engage with science and not to see it as the preserve of an academic elite,' says Willgoose. 'The scientific discipline and the scientific way of thinking and presenting and challenging evidence is needed now more than ever, and the more we can get people involved with that, the better. Being involved in the festival with a musical element is great because it shows that science is something that does have a wide appeal, that it's not just for a small community and should be for everybody.'
Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space Live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 12 Apr.
The London duo, who layer spoken word from vintage propaganda films over soaring beats and electronic melodies to thrilling effect, are out and about taking their acclaimed live show across the UK and Ireland.
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