The Wizards of Oz

Ozric Tentacles' psychedelic grooves unite ravers and hippies.

Sired at Stonehenge: Ozric Tentacles.
Sired at Stonehenge: Ozric Tentacles.
Trying to explain Ozric Tentacles to the uninitiated is like revealing the recipe of Coca-Cola. The ingredients are right in front of you, but there's an indescribable something added to the mix that makes it special. In the case of the Ozrics, it's the ability to be simultaneously retro and contemporary. Their acknowledged influences — early '70s progressive rock practitioners such as Gong, Steve Hillage, and Hawkwind — somehow settle down comfortably with the electronic dance mavens of today. The music is a blissed-out union of space rock, jazz, psychedelia, and ethnic elements, while keeping a consistent focus on energetic beats-per-minute, trancy moments, and deep dub grooves.

Taking a break from a second day of rehearsal in Bristol, England, for the band's upcoming U.S. tour, keyboardist Seaweed attempts to explain the Ozric experience. For someone in a band that took its name from an imaginary breakfast cereal and has given some of its releases such odd titles as Tantric Obstacles, Strangeitude, and Live Underslunky, one would expect him to have a pat answer at the ready. Instead, he laughs at the idea of encapsulating what is Ozric. As the interview goes on, it becomes apparent he simply finds loads of things in life to be humorous.

"I suppose we're about music . . . We're about consciousness," he says. "We're about the relationship between the two. We're about the two sides — live and studio — quite different things in what we do. The live thing is very much about the energy of a lot of people gathered together and raising a bigger energy, that can be more wild and uncontrolled and spontaneous. Whereas in the studio, we're more craftsmen about our tasks, sculpting something quite perfect, quite lovely.

""But it's about fun really, isn't it?"

Yes, it is. The fun aspect of Ozric Tentacles should not be discounted. Despite the complexity of the material, bubbly rhythms and offbeat gurgling synthesized sounds pop up. In concert, flute player John Egan bounces about centerstage, spouting nonsensical insights to the audience while everyone else onstage holds on to the rollercoaster ride of notes, shifting time signatures, and improvisational jams.

Formed seventeen years ago at the Stonehenge Solstice Festival, Ozric Tentacles exuberantly embraced the mysteries of man meeting machine in order to create sound. Their first gigs were played in front of other festival attendees, but as their popularity started to grow, so did the use of better equipment, the incorporation of a visual system (dubbed Fruit Salad), and the composing of proper songs, which then became the basis for their open-ended instrumental exploration.

At one point in the interview, Seaweed is taken away to work on his array of keyboard equipment, so guitarist and original Ozric Ed Wynne pops on the telephone to conclude the chat. Another jovial sort, he explains the transformation from Ozric's early days to the present. "We started simply doing only jams," he says. "We used to go onstage without a clue as to what we were going to play and start with one note and take it from there. But then we started to want a few structures in there, and now it's swung the other way.

"It's much less improv now in the set than there used to be. Still, there's plenty of room for it if we feel like it. It's quite a malleable thing, our set. We can twist it and pull it around a bit if we want to.''

Ozric Tentacles performances (legend has it that, during a few special events, the band has played for up to four hours) are where the members find the most pleasure, and where the audience receives the full effect of the instrumental entanglement and the whims of Fruit Salad. Like everything Ozric-related, there is an understanding of personal responsibility mixed with happy accidents.

The recent preparations by Seaweed, Egan, and Wynne, along with bassist Zia and drummer Rad, are for their first full U.S. tour in five years. The tour is in conjunction with Waterfall Cities, the band's first for their new U.S. distributor, Phoenix Media Group. Since the demise of its original American distributor, I.R.S. Records, Ozric's albums have been available only as imports. Finally, the band is able to advance its profile in this country which, like its appeal in Europe, has been spread by word of mouth. They've achieved a popular yet underground status there because of their ability to unite ravers and crusties (English slang for hippies). The lengthy compositions and all their sonic explorations make them ideal as headphone music, yet the energy and groove keep any lofty ambitions from becoming too pretentious.

They're concerned with the musical end of the production. As for the rest, they trust their visuals expert, Jasper, to pull things off with whatever he can transport across the sea and across the country. Fruit Salad incorporates synchronized projectors, slides, strobes, and quasars. Just like the music, the sensory effects have an improvisatory flair. At the band's first visit to Cleveland at Peabody's DownUnder nine years ago, the show was delayed because a gas-powered generator was needed to infuse the necessary power to the venue. Barely a week before the tour's first date, no one has a clue what will arrive on our shores.

"Well, it's his decision," says Seaweed. "Jasper takes different rigs to different situations. I'm sure it will be pretty full-on. He may not have some of his more enormous things. I don't know exactly what he's got planned this time. It's always a delight and a surprise for us, some of the things he comes up with."

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