Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Matt Oliver, Mastering by Sam Patlove
Birdstuff, Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, Star Crunch and the rest of the Man Or Astro-Man? gang left their indoor lightning show (not lighting - they create their own lightning and that's about as bad ass as any dudes can ever get) in the van when they visited Big Orange Studio on the final day of this year's South By Southwest music festival. We know they had it with them for these aliens and sorcerers go nowhere without their lighting and protective suits. It was appropriate that they were to be taping with us in this Austin studio for multiple reasons, but the most intriguing is that it's a studio that adheres to or the users and former users of the place adhered to some of the same enchantments of electronic culture as does this reformed Alabaman surf rock band. Up until a few years ago, the south side wall of the studio was lined with stacks of small television sets, all connected to individual VCR machines, that would play a tripped out collage, experiment - with the images streaking and dripping in the dark from one screen to the next in a hypnotizing synchronization that drugged the eyes. Everything done in this studio is a play on the limitations of magnetic tape and the various manipulations - the amazing manipulations that can be done to physical properties and physical people if the right combinations and elements are put together and fucked with. Man Or Astro-Man? were/are a group of men crying foul of digitization well before it was to become something of an in vogue subject, but really, the band's appearance and message wasn't so much calling the medium out as it was in further geeking out to the dreaminess of tape and recordings, sound waves and all of the ways that people choose to medicate with vibrations and headphones, television sets, nuclear energy, the thought of the popular culture apocalypse, laser beams, lightning shows, and electricity. "Maximum Radiation Level" begins with a pre-recorded, public service announcement - a warning to the people of the United States of America by a man who sounds as if he lived in a suit and tie and smoked expensive, high-tar cigarettes one after another - that said, "In case of a nuclear attack, the protection of records is essential, if this country is to carry on its economy and our way of life." The band is from space, sent down to warn us about certain things that we're doing and about certain ways we're behaving, urging us to just let ourselves go into the abyss of whatever that mysterious and invisible stuff pumping out of those two and three-pronged sockets within every known wall was capable of. They encouraged people to just throw their fingers into those sockets, even if they did so without saying a damned word - just letting the wavy and slippery guitars, the theremin sounding stuff and the bouncy drums do the talking - and saying to hell with any unseen or adverse consequences that might happen because of it. Whatever was in those sockets was gold and they wanted all of it running through them at all times and this sort of composite could turn men into strange, strange folks. So what? They've harnessed the power of personal lightning shows and that's mankind conquering the world, right there, if we've seen it.