Post-Rocktoberfest: Early Moonshake
Dave Callahan was a member of second-division Creation records band The Wolfounds. Getting its initial break by featuring on the NME’s era-defining C86 compilation, this group started out playing fairly standard UK indie but grew progressively more experimental throughout its career.
After The Wolfhounds broke up, Callahan made a pretty definitive statement of intent by calling his next band Moonshake, after the Can song. Moonshake teamed Callahan with an American guitarist and vocalist called Margaret Fiedler (later of Laika), as well as a kick-ass rhythm section that could have given the Can boys a run for their money.
Naturally, Moonshake’s 1991 debut E.P. came out on Creation. Good as it is, First gives little indication that Moonshake would ever amount to more than The Wolfhounds had. The influence of the band’s label mates My Bloody Valentine looms large, although – to be fair – the sampledelic “Gravity” and Fielder’s folky “Coward” are markedly more impressive than anything the post-MBV shoegaze scene was churning out at the time.
Seeing the way things were going, Callahan ended Moonshake’s relationship with Creation and latched on to the post-rock-friendly Too Pure label (also the early home of Stereolab and Seefeel). The band also began developing a much starker, more aggressive sound on its second 12″, Second Hand Clothes.
“Second Hand Clothes” itself might just be the most extraordinary UK post-rock track of all. Nothing on this song feels quite normal (the ludicrously deep bass, the mangled guitars, Callahan’s off-key, nasal vocal) but it asserts itself with an astonishing force. On the B-side, “Drop in the Ocean” really gives that rhythm section the work-out it deserves.
The band’s debut LP – Eva Luna – expands on the formula established by Second Hand Clothes. It opens with the magnificently vitriolic “City Poison” and doesn’t let up for its entire duration. Notably, the use of sampling becomes more sophisticated and Fiedler really starts to assert herself as a songwriter, particularly on “Beautiful Pigeon”, which was the lead track on the band’s next E.P.
The Beautiful Pigeon 12″ was followed (in 1993) by a mini album called Big Good Angel. On tracks like “Two Trains”, the magic is still there but on gets the sense that Moonshake’s focus was beginning to weaken. Callahan and Fiedler seemed to agree that they should pursue a more sample-based direction but their aesthetic priorities seemed to be at odds.
Fiedler left to form Laika, wrapping here songs around liquid grooves that weren’t a million miles from the emerging trip-hop sound. Callahan continued the Moonshake project, making the band’s sound increasingly angular and unforgiving. There’s a lot to recommend Fiedler and Callahan’s post Big Good Angel Work (particularly the excellent first Laika album Silver Apples of the Moon) but it conspicuously lacks the wild-eyed sense of self-belief apparent on Eva Luna.