Ahead of Pavement’s Saturday night slot at this year’s Bluedot, Stephen Malkmus talks about the American indie/slacker outfit’s krautrock influences and the surprising electronics that lurk within their sound

Of the headliners topping this year’s Bluedot knees-up, Pavement are the sonic outliers. They fly the flag for 1990s guitar-slinging, slacker rock, whereas Grace Jones, Young Fathers, Leftfield and Max Richter… not so much.

You may not readily associate Pavement with science and electronics and all that cool sci-fi stuff that makes Bluedot the essential British festival, but listen again. Across all five of Pavement’s decade-spanning albums – from 1992’s ‘Slanted And Enchanted’ to their 1999 swansong ,‘Terror Twilight’ – the discerning listener will find textures, found sounds, interludes of weirdness and experimentation, and even synthesisers.

Post-punk references and some very on-message krautrock stylings were always present in the appealing sprawl of Pavement’s output. And if you need any more evidence, Stephen Malkmus, the band’s singer, songwriter and main mover, dropped ‘Groove Denied’ in 2019, a solo album featuring a collection of laboratory experiments with an electronic music workflow.

And so to the subject at hand – Bluedot 2023. Speaking from his home studio in Portland, Oregon, Malkmus is every bit as droll and laid-back as you’d expect. Is he aware that Pavement will be playing under the vast radio telescope?

“It’s a techy festival, right?” he says. “That’s alright by me! I see that Bluedot is our planet, I see there’s a Saturn stage. I’m into this. My daughter’s going to uni next year, and I’m back in touch with caring about academics and science in any shape or form.”

It’s literally the only festival where you are likely to bump into an actual astronaut, I tell him.

“Amazing,” he drawls. “I did see a guy on the website doing like, a Ted Talk. He could have been an older DJ wearing the little microphone, he could have been in Orbital or he could have been a scientist.”

It could have been Tim Peake, the British astronaut who went to the International Space Station in 2015 and was wandering around the festival last year.

“I’m into that,” says Malkmus. “I’m going to experiment with walking around. We don’t have anything to do. There’s a few days before our next show. And it’s family-friendly and stuff.”

He’s checking out the Bluedot website as we’re speaking.

“Oh yeah, it was him, he was an astronaut.”

Was the young Stephen Malkmus the kind of kid who would take a screwdriver to a radio set and dismantle it?

“Not really,” he laughs. “I wasn’t even into video games, dude. I was more the kid that would take apart the bike and then couldn’t put it back together. One brief summer, we would ride around on our BMX bikes, find a dead bird, eat too many cherries off a tree and get a stomach ache, go swimming… it was the suburbs, kind of rural, California outdoorsy, warm.

“Once high school came – this sort of relates to the festival – the computer room there was this new exotic thing, where they had very early Apple computers – 1982 or something – and there were guys going in, and you were like, ‘What are they doing?’. It was definitely ‘Revenge Of The Nerds’. It was an era of nerds and athletes… it seems a little more homogenous now, in our town at least. You can’t really tell. Everybody wants to do computer science, because they think it’s the best living you can get.”

We exist in a world created by the revenge of the nerds. And Bluedot is the revenge of the nerds festival.

“That was the future. We could never have imagined how much life would change from that little room to now – in a social sense as well as the computers.”

It’s safe to assume that young Stephen Malkmus was obsessed with guitars. What did he think of synths back then?

“We had a piano in our house,” he remembers. “For better or worse, because of my generation, I always thought of a synthesiser as an electric version of a piano with different sounds. Even a Moog. If it was monophonic, I was like, ‘Oh, you can just play a melody, you can’t play chords’. I played bass in a punk band, and had biases about guitars and rock music. It was like our social thing.

“We had a DX7 on ‘Slanted And Enchanted’. I thought it was a deliberately cheesy synthesiser that had terrible sounds, but I used them because no one else would touch them in 1990, when Pavement started. I had a bunch of Moogs after the DX7 irony piano. I finally got a Memorymoog on tour. It’s this giant tank with a million sounds, and I started to use it as a songwriting thing for ‘Terror Twilight’. Before that, I would throw it on top of a Pavement song, for texture or to signify that we like Stereolab too. Or we’re into jams.”

Ah yes, the krautrock tendency. It lurks within Pavement like a permanent unsettling shadow and can be heard most vividly on ‘Stop Breathin’ from 1994’s ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’. Then in 2012, Malkmus covered the entire Can album ‘Ege Bamyasi’ with German band Von Spar at a festival in Cologne. Don’t even bother looking up what the vinyl artefact of that performance fetches on Discogs.

“I got into Can first,” he says, when I quiz him about his affection for krautrock. “I heard them, but I didn’t know who they were. I worked at a college radio station – we’re a student band, we can just get that out the way – but I’d hear all this cool stuff, and specifically there were older guys who were into The Fall. I didn’t know who The Fall were when I was a freshman in 1984. They were also into The Mekons and krautrock.

“I saw Can album covers, I didn’t know what it was, but I was like a moth to the flame. They started as a garage band and did this really experimental prog and scary acid music. With them, there was a darkness that I always appreciated. There was something more than the sum of its parts, and that wasn’t necessarily nice, but I always liked it. It appealed to my punk side.”

Pavement’s Bluedot headline slot is their only UK gig of 2023 and follows a run of sold- out shows at London’s Roundhouse last autumn. It’s an Electronic Sound Bluedot highlight, and Malkmus is promising a fine time will be had by all. The band’s in good shape and sounding sharper than their sometimes messy live performances of the 1990s.

“We have made more effort to make it better,” he promises. “For people who haven’t heard us in 10 years it’s going to sound different, and it’ll be fun for you. We rehearsed a lot more and want to make this round of tours awesome and refreshing. When you’re drunk and young it’s OK, but when you’re drunk and old it’s kind of pathetic or something, you know? That kind of idea. I’m applying that as a metaphor for the music. We also don’t want to have old-man quiet amps and sound too good. It’s striking a balance, I guess.”

Pavement will headline the Lovell Stage at Bluedot 2023
For more, visit discoverthebluedot.com

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