The Shamen were an experimental acid house/techno band, initially formed in Aberdeen, Scotland by Colin Angus (b. 24 August, 1961), Derek McKenzie (b. 27 February, 1964), Keith McKenzie (b. 30 August, 1961) and Peter Stephenson (b. 1 March, 1962) in 1985 as a psychedelia-influenced indie rock act. They found underground credibility as an acid house act and a pioneer of the dance/rock crossover, before moving on to international commercial success with Ebeneezer Goode and the Boss Drum album.
The Shamen were preceded by Alone Again Or, the Love-inspired name under which they recorded their first singles. After their name change, further singles picked up airplay from John Peel. Released in June 1987, The Shamen's first album Drop illustrated their love of 60s psychedelia, with influences such as Love, Pink Floyd and the 13th Floor Elevators.
By mid-1987, frontman Colin Angus was discovering the sounds of early house music pioneers such as S-Express and M/A/R/R/S and increasing his knowledge of the latest studio gadgetry. By September 1987, the Shamen were applying these techniques to their own music, mixing rock guitars, techno and hip-hop rhythms and sampled radio voices to create the prototype rock-dance sound which was to prove so influential to other indie dance groups like Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones and EMF. However, the newfound sound proved too radical for co-founder and vocalist Derek McKenzie, who the left the band in late 1987 to study at university. The Shamen were suddenly one crucial player short. Help was at hand in the charismatic form of Will Sinnott (23 December, 1960 - 23 May, 1991), who joined the group in October 1987, on bass and keyboards, freeing up Colin Angus to handle vocal and guitar chores.
Knature of a Girl was the first record by the Shamen to feature Sinnott, but it wasn't until June's Jesus Loves Amerika single that the techno influence began to show. By this stage, Angus and Sinnott had become hooked on the acid house movement taking place in London, and its music and clubs were to exert a massive influence on the pair. Keith McKenzie and Peter Stephenson were less impressed by these new developments, and left the group the following summer, after the January 1989 release of the In Gorbachev We Trust album, which saw the group further enhancing their sound.
Angus and Sinnott relocated to London, allowing them to start afresh, and plunge headfirst into the emerging rave scene. 1989 was to be a busy year. They set out on their legendary Synergy tour, a nightclub experience combined with live music from The Shamen and others and DJing from the likes of Mixmaster Morris. The tour was to last nearly two years. They also released the Phorward mini album, a genre-defining release in the history of the acid house movement.
Their third album, En-Tact, was released in 1990, and it spawned the hit singles Move Any Mountain, Hyperreal and Make It Mine. Also notable was the appearance of rapper and DJ Mr. C (real name Richard West). The transformation into a successful rave act was complete.
In May 1991, The Shamen headed to Tenerife to film a video for Move Any Mountain. On May 23, Sinnott drowned in an accident off coast of La Gomera. However, with the Sinnott family's encouragement, the group decided to continue.
With Mr C now a full member of The Shamen, and Jhelisa Anderson providing guest vocals, the Boss Drum album followed in 1992. The LP featured a noted spoken-word collaboration, Re:Evolution with Terence McKenna, and The Shamen's biggest and most controversial hit: Ebeneezer Goode. Ebeneezer Goode was accused of promoting drug use owing to the refrain "Ezer Goode, Ezer Goode" - homophonic with "E's are good" ("E" being slang for the dance drug ecstasy) - and to double entendre drug references throughout the song. This echoed similar references in previous songs such as Synergy's "M D M A-zing… we are together in ecstasy". Despite - or maybe because of - the subsequent storm of publicity, the song stayed at the top of the UK charts for 4 weeks.
Although the single was a commercial hit, it was considered a 'novelty record' and severely impacted on the 'underground' credibility of the band. Subsequent singles such as Boss Drum and Phorever People were chart hits, but some long term fans believed they paled in comparison to earlier singles.
However, The Shamen's new mainstream popularity enabled them to release an unusually large number of remix singles, EPs, and LPs during the Boss Drum era, including the Face EP, the S.O.S. EP, and the On Air and Different Drum albums. On Air featured a series of popular tracks from En-Tact and Boss Drum as performed live on BBC radio; Different Drum was a remix album containing alternate versions of every track from Boss Drum. The tracks Boss Drum, LSI (Love Sex Intelligence), Phorever People, Ebeneezer Goode, and Re:Evolution were all released as singles in their own right.
Axis Mutatis in 1995, with new vocalist Victoria Wilson James replacing Jhelisa Anderson, did not make as much of an impact. Early special editions of this album featured a bonus disk, Arbor Bona Arbor Mala, a bizarre ambient album. The Shamen continued recording into the late 1990s, releasing two additional LPs with an increasingly experimental bent. Their penultimate studio album, the instrumental Hempton Manor, followed an acrimonious split with their label One Little Indian. It is alleged to have been recorded in seven days to conclude the recording contract with One Little Indian, and the first letter of each track spell out F**k Birket, referring to label founder Derek Birket, who wanted the group to move back into more commercial territory. UV, in 1998, was their last album. UV was released independently and marked a return to form with both modern techno production and classic Shamen song structures. Mr C. has since continued as an inspiring house DJ and become a successful night-club owner.
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