July 20, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission’s lunar landing, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon (or any moon or planet in our solar system beyond earth). The event has been dramatized in countless films over the decades, but British band Public Service Broadcasting (not to be confused with PBS) found a unique musical way to approach it in their 2015 album “The Race for Space” and the song “Go!” that draws on archival recordings from Apollo 11’s mission control.
In 2015, opbmusic DJ Matthew Casebeer talked with the group’s core duo of J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth about their ambitious musical project. Their album recounted, in quirky fashion, the healthy competition between NASA and their Soviet counterparts during the heyday of space exploration in the 1950s and 1960s with the help of samples taken from historic films and archival recordings.
On how they first met:
Wrigglesworth: We just met on a reupholstering course. It’s not that funny. It did get interesting because he managed to with the staple gun, he stapled his hand to the sofa. So I had to run over and rescue him by pulling the staple out. I don’t know how we got onto music from that.
J. Willgoose, Esq.: I know. I said, “Oh my God, I just stapled my wrist to the sofa. How will I ever play guitar again?”
On creating the song “Go!” with its signature samples taken from Apollo 11 mission control recordings:
J. Willgoose, Esq.: Apollo 11 was obviously always going to be on the album but I didn’t want to do it the obvious way. As soon as I heard those samples and those callouts, and they’re very handily in groups of eight as well which for conventional music is very handy, I was just like, “That’s it. Done. That’s the song.” Even before I’d written a note, I (knew that was) going to be good. I (had) faith in that one.
On the flashy video for Gagarin, a song written about Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who was the first man in space:
J. Willgoose, Esq.: It’s supposed to be a fun celebration of his achievement. Somebody came up to me at a gig the other night and said, “I love the way you went full rock star for Yuri because that’s what he was. Bam! (You) gave him that massive sort of ‘70s cop show theme.” That’s the idea behind (the song), but sort of coming at it from an odd angle.
On how they dance so well in space suits:
J. Willgoose, Esq.: It’s very difficult. It’s very hot in those.
Wrigglesworth: Years of practice. Years.
J. Willgoose, Esq.: Really? How long have you had that space suit?
Wrigglesworth: Since I was three.
J. Willgoose, Esq.: You were practicing in that when you were three?
Wrigglesworth: These things don’t happen overnight.