Seefeel/Main, The Garage, London'Ambient' has become the buzzword of '93, a term that circulates promiscuously even as it gets ever harder to pin down to a precise meaning. 'Ambient' is now a freefloating signifier, referring to everything from post-Orb 'ambient dub', to the Satie-esque minimalism of The Aphex Twin, to the post-modern bachelor pad muzak of Stereolab. If it means anything, ambient announces a desire to go beyond (the strictures of rock, of rave) into a realm of sensuous spirituality. But even this definition fails to account for the alien and alienated ambience of post-apocalyptic dub- metal explorers like Ice, Scorn, Thomas Koner and Main.
As Main get underway, the bloke next to me lights up a spliff. That's one meaning of 'ambient' for sure: a soundtrack to getting stoned. But Main would seem a most unlikely candidate for that, since their uneasy atmospherics are the antithesis of mellow. Main instill a dread-drenched feeling of impending cataclysm and it's this aura of arrested apocalypse that is just about the only continuity with Robert Hampson's previous vehicle, Loop.
In Main, Hampson has ruthlessly purged whatever slight remnants of crowd-pleasing rock'n'roll dynamics still clung to Loop. There's no "energy" here, in the conventional kick-ass sense, but there is in the form of radioactivity, a malign forcefield penetrating the listener's flesh. Main's version of ambience is very distant from Eno's "healing music" or the Aphex Twin's soothing bubblebath of analogue synth.
At other times, Main make Metal-Machine-Music, remorseless but impersonal, like Faust expunged of their antic wit and turned into a death factory. One track is like being in a ship's engine room, all metallic clanking and creaks, hisses and shearings. The final toe-tapper is an awesome experiment in the science of void-ology: a vast, reverberant dronescape, as haunting as a threnody sung by the ghosts of all the whales massacred by Mankind.
Seefeel have a similar mantric methodology to Main, but a totally different effect: purely wombadelic, kissed-out where Main are the kiss of death. If Main prolong the point just before catastrophe, Seefeel expand the point just before orgasm, stretch it out into a thousand plateaux of bliss. A Seefeel song is like an orgasm turned into an environment, a honeycomb space of luminous, globular goo. You feel like you're actually inside the drugged or orgasmic body, a grotto of rushes, tingles, shivers, pangs, spasms.
Only a few months ago, I was bemoaning the dearth of groups exploring blurry blisscapes midway between AR Kane and Aphex Twin. Seefeel are a pipe-dream come true, and the best new band of '93. At times, they suggest a dub-dance odyssey A.R. Kane could have embarked upon after their MARRS track "Anitina". At other times, they're making the music that MBV could have reached if they'd pushed the sampled feedback and looped beats of "Loveless" just a bit further. Seefeel meld dreampop and techno into a swoon-machine. Songs like "Plainsong" and "Time To Find Me" are billowing tapestries of sugar hiccupping, heart-in-mouth euphoria. They make your brain purr, your goosepimples glow. All Seefeel need to do now is to turn their hazy back-projections into a 3D environment, so that the listener is swaddled and swathed in synaesthesia, cocooned in caressing sound-and-vision.
Melody Maker, summer 1993