Swedish electronic pop veterans S.P.O.C.K celebrated their 35th Anniversary in 2023.
Standing for STAR PILOTS ON CHANNEL K, S.P.O.C.K began in 1988 to perform ‘Star Trek’ themed songs at a birthday party. This well-received performance unexpectedly led to further local live bookings and a record deal.
S.P.O.C.K’s breakthrough came with the catchy and amusingly morose 1992 single ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ which became a cult favourite not just on their home planet but in Germany as well. The 1993 debut album ‘Five Year Mission’ showed they were more than just a novelty act with the long playing follow-ups ‘Alien Worlds’, ‘Assignment: Earth’ and ‘S.P.O.C.K: 1999’ expanding their audience and allowing the band to tour the world including the US in 1999.
Despite having not released any new music since ‘2001: A S.P.O.C.K Odyssey’, the band remain a draw on the live circuit in Europe. 2023 became their busiest year since their heyday with appearances at festivals such as Amphi, NCN and V2A as well as sold-out headlining club shows. There was even a S.P.O.C.K beer brewed in their honour called ‘Alien Attack’.
While various crew members including Captain Eddie B Kirk, Plasteroid and Crull-E have come and gone over the years, Yo-Haan and Val Solo currently man the engine room. But the constant at the helm of S.P.O.C.K has been Android, better known to his family by his earth name of Alexander Hofman.
With his characteristic boyish grin and phasers set to fun, Android hailed frequencies and chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the band’s inter-galactic adventures in Spock ‘n’ Roll via his communicator…
How on earth did this ‘Five Year Mission’ become a 35 year one?
I don’t know, it just went on and on and on to paraphrase the ABBA song. There was never any intention or plan, we just kept doing it because it’s possible. The first 13 years or so, every second year there was a new album. But when we released our last album ‘2001: A S.P.O.C.K Odyssey’, the music industry changed due to the internet, MP3s and all that.
At that time, it was virtually like a full time job although it was with the support of the Swedish government. So it wasn’t like we were driving Rolls Royces or drinking champagne for breakfast. So we needed to change and it was time for us to get regular jobs. But it was impossible to just quit, a lot of bands quit but for S.P.O.C.K, it was never an option or even mentioned.
What was the moment when ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ was out that you realised you would not be able to take conventional shore leave again?
That’s never really happened to us, ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ was our breakthrough and is still an underground classic; this is the sub-cultural thing, we had an underground hit but we could still walk the streets without getting attacked *laughs*
At the time of its release, it didn’t feel like a breakthrough. During the years when we released albums, it all just felt natural, “OK, let’s do a song, let’s do another song, let’s do an album, let’s tour” and we kept repeating that cycle for a few laps. So yes, 2001 was when we had to change our lives and we never got round to doing another album… I know the question is always “will there be a new album?”, I don’t know… “will there be new music?”, I hope so…
Perhaps the question is “how is it possible to still keep going?”… well it’s because it’s fun, that would sum it all up. You’ve seen us, we are a bunch of guys who are tons of fun on stage… just to get invited to do those shows and take that responsibility and have a bunch of people showing up to see us, that’s energy enough. That’s the reason we didn’t quit, who would want to miss out on all that? You were at Amphi Festival, there were like thousands and thousands of people there, everybody wants to be appreciated and get some tender love and care. I would be stupid to say “let’s call it a day” *laughs*
The addition of dialogue by William Shatner as Kirk from ‘Star Trek III: The Search For Spock’ gave ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ some camp but simultaneously a poignant resonance. Did it take Paramount much convincing to let you use the sample?
We never asked them! *laughs*
We did ask Paramount about other things like to do with our name but not that. That was first released in 1992 and at that time, everyone was sampling stuff. That was the era when it was still being debated as to how much you were allowed, if anything, to sample. A lot of artists sampled like crazy and we were doing what everyone else was doing. But had it been today, it wouldn’t have been possible but back then, it was!
‘Charlie X’ is an interesting song as that is the story of a disturbed teenage boy who develops a crush on the lesser known ‘Star Trek’ character Yeoman Janice Rand who had an incredible beehive, have S.P.O.C.K had any stalkers?
Yes and no but “stalker” is the negative version… there have been people who have shown a lot of interest but it’s never been scary or anything so in that sense. I would say no, let’s call them very devoted fans… I’ve never been afraid that someone would stand outside the stage door waiting for me or the crew 😀
Did you meet any Orion girls on tour? Or were they more Astro Girls?
Dude! You know that what happens on the tour bus stays on the tour bus! *laughs*
There was that time in 2020 in London when your uniforms got lost en route to the show! What’s your favourite funny memory in the Captain’s Log?
There are a lot stories, many I have forgotten from being old or being drunk! *laughs*
There was this incident when we actually bumped into William Shatner at a ‘Star Trek’ convention! We were touring the States in 1999 and paid a lot of money to do it to buy ourselves into the market. Two of those shows were at the start of the tour in Pasadena at the biggest ‘Star Trek’ convention in the world. For some reason, they put us on a bill where attendees had to pay extra as they do at these things, but we said no, we wanted to present ourselves to attract an audience… anyway, we had the biggest number of aliens attend a S.P.O.C.K show, they were dancing around and it was amazing because nobody knew us *laughs*
I remember William Shatner was there on one of the days we were playing and people were standing in line along a wall in our concert hall because he was signing books and photos. So some people couldn’t help but see us and Shatner was backstage on our stage. When we were done with our show, the event promoter asked if we would like to meet William Shatner so his manager and the event promoter talked and we got to meet him.
William Shatner didn’t care that much but we asked if we could have a picture with him… he’s not that tall and certainly not as tall as we were, so when the photo was being taken by our sound engineer, being a total professional, just before the shutter clicked, Shatner stepped up on his toes to make himself as tall as us! *laughs*
Talking of uniforms, the cover of ‘Alien Worlds’ portrays Plasteroid as a dead redshirt… there was that ‘Star Trek: Every Redshirt Death Ranked From Worst To Best’ list, do you have a favourite death scene?
That was a great article but no I do not, I’ve never ranked them in that sense myself. Maybe it’s because we loved our version of the redshirt death on ‘Alien Worlds’. I had to apologise to Plasteroid aka Johan Billing because when he came aboard, we treated him not too nice *laughs*
He was very young, me and Captain Eddie B Kirk had been in the band for 5 years and told him he had to do some hard work as we’d paved the way, he wasn’t going to get things served to him on a plate. So the first thing we do when we show him on the cover of the album, he’s shot! We killed him! He’s cool with it nowadays and we hang out every so often and have become good friends since *laughs*
What’s your favourite original ‘Star Trek’ episode?
Oooh! When we performed as a band in the late 80s, the original series was shown on a quite new Swedish network at the time so wasn’t available to all, and this was the first time since the 70s. So we had gatherings at my place to watch those episodes and drank beer… some episodes are cheesy right? *laughs*
Even by the late 80s, the special effects were so-so and the acting was “hmmm” so there was a lot of laughs of course. But I remember there was this one episode ‘The City On The Edge Of Forever’, there was dead silence in the room because it was such a great episode. I saw it again 2 months ago, every time I have some sort of anniversary, I watch an original series episode. It’s a time travelling story and I don’t usually like those but I liked that. Doctor McCoy goes insane and jumps though a forever portal which can talk! So he lands in the 30s and meets a good looking lady…
That’s the Joan Collins one and she gets run over by a car? *laughs*
Exactly… and in those time travel stories, something changes so Kirk and Spock have to go back as well and sort the situation! And that means sacrificing the love interest of Kirk! *laughs*
It’s amazing how S.P.O.C.K continues to be embraced by the darker alternative music community in Europe, what do you put that down to?
I have no idea, in a way it surprises me. When we started, in the heydays of the 90s, it was the natural thing, ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ and the first album were much more rough, there was a big scene at that time for such music. But along the road, we got more sleek and polished, had better production and drifted away from this dark scene. I have this theory that the dark scene don’t appreciate quality as we introduced more and more choruses and harmonies. *laughs*
In the dark scene, there used to be more electronic pop bands, nowadays and in the past decade or so, there are hardly any “pop” bands within the dark scene. Yes, there are electronic pop acts now and have been in the last 10 years like the ones you feature but it doesn’t fit this scene at all. So how do we fit in? Nostalgia I guess, I don’t mind. There’s a difference in Sweden and Germany where we mostly do our shows, as there are living scenes with festivals. The UK, I don’t know, is there that much left? We do challenge that dark scene because everyone there is dressed in black, and we dress up in white!*laughs*
I do that almost on purpose to tease them and make them think it’s possible to be happy. So much of that scene is so negative, full of death and angst and all that sh*t. We just want to be happy, have fun and party, that’s why we do it and apparently, people at these events appreciate it. There is hope for these gloomy persons out there. And since we haven’t released anything in 22 years, that means we mostly do festivals and it’s kinda easier to ride on the other bands’ success so people show up anyway because they are there anyway and they know we are a good live act. It’s happiness, joyful, dancey, it’s their few minutes of fun… maybe that’s the reason we can still be appreciated by that audience, it creates some balance in the universe *laughs*
S.P.O.C.K are not that well-known in the UK but you were invited to do festival in the Autumn. How did that go?
This festival was organised by V2A who are a scene band and have this Mad Max theme. They play at all the major Mad Max post-apocalyptic festivals, they love S.P.O.C.K and they said we needed to play their festival. We were concerned that nobody would know us, but they told us not to worry because they were so open-minded.
So for the first time in many-many-many years, we stood in front of a crowd who absolutely did not know about us and that was a challenge…. but we convinced them all and I’m so happy that we still have that in us. Because we have so much experience, we tell ourselves it’s OUR stage and we own this stage and we do what we’re good at, which is expressing our enthusiasm and professionalism about our work. Even though they are not the best songs in the world, it’s the overall package with S.P.O.C.K and although it was a small festival, the crowd were blown away, people were dancing and screaming and shouting and having a lot of fun. I would say the rate of positive comments after the festival compared to how many people were there was very very high.
So I was super happy and also it was the most wicked experience in my life. The whole weekend was totally crazy, we lived in cottages that looked Hobbitland run by a guy who was renovating a dinosaur mini-golf course and had a double decker bus on his drive with a Thai restaurant called ‘Thai In The Sky’. It was just the weirdest wonderful experience and I’m still wearing the wristband from that festival! I’m gonna wear it for a little longer
The Sci-Fi notions of S.P.O.C.K meant that it could only have been an electronic act, or could it have been formatted for a rock audience?
We grew up with electronic pop music in the 80s and it just went to our hearts, it was the natural thing to do for us to explore electronic music. Maybe we could have dreamt about it and become more successful being a rock act. I know that at times back in the day, I would joke that we should have been a sleaze metal act, then we would have got more girls and become a bigger thing. I mean, the heavy metal or rock ‘n’ roll scene, to me it’s a bit like electronic music, there are a wide range of styles within… so in electronic music, it could range from ERASURE to RAMMSTEIN… and in metal, there can be this sophisticated stuff to well, actually RAMMSTEIN! So there is so much in between. The rock scene is very much alive and has been always, whereas the electronic scene is unfortunately declining-declining-declining.
Well, I think 2023 was one of the worst years for electronic and synth music since 2012, one observation I’ve made is there are acts now that say they are “synth” or “electronic” who are anything but, they are actually funk, pop and rock acts etc. Have you come across yourself?
No, I haven’t but that does not mean that doesn’t exist, it’s more about me not keeping up to date, I have no idea what is going on anymore. I often joke I have not listened to any new music since the turn of the millennium. I haven’t spent a day listening to any new music released in 2023 and I know that sounds stupid but I only have so much time.
I think that’s understandable, in our age group, we’ve reached a point in our lives where we know what we like and finding new music is just not No1 anymore… but let’s talk about more fun stuff… S.P.O.C.K had the ‘Alien Attack’ beer brewed in its name recently?
There’s no short answer to this one so thank you! *laughs*
I’ve been a beer nerd for 7 or 8 years now, I met someone who was very into the IPA revolution when I was only into drinking lousy backstage beer. With him, I stumbled across a sour beer and that blew my mind. That was a shift in life and I have since tried a few sour beers. I don’t collect but I have ended up with a substantial collection at home because I buy more than I drink.
S.P.O.C.K continued to do shows and we actually have done a show every year except the Corona year. But it occurred to me on tour drinking that backstage beer that it would be fun to do a beer, because I love beer and I love my band. Knowing the beer community, it has such a happy smiling atmosphere, the opposite of how I see the wine snobbery world… I’ve never been a wine drinker, you need to be so super snobby to do it and that’s not me! The beer community has a lot of creativity and a lot of fun, I felt this was my world.
There’s a lot of micro-breweries who do collaborations so I had two choices. Either I pay someone to do my beer or I do a collab. I wasn’t into paying someone and it wasn’t about earning or business, I wanted to find someone who was eager.There was this local brewery near where I live called Rocket Brewing which was a perfect name. I approached them at a beer festival on the common theme of space, beer and local connections… and their response? It was just emptiness, void! *laughs*
So I approached another brewery in town named Elmelevel via a friend, their labels were amazing pieces of art and with their titles were pure science-fiction, but they replied and said no as they didn’t know the band. I appreciated their answer, at least they were honest and I needed to find someone that wanted to do this.
So still no S.P.O.C.K beer, what happened next?
Time went on and I went to another beer festival a year ago walking amongst other beer nerds and down this aisle, a guy with a long beard who pulled me aside to his taps and went “You’re Alexander from S.P.O.C.K, I grew up with your music and you made such an impact on me, can I offer you a beer or two?” – so he was totally enthusiastic, he met the superstar of his life and while we were talking, along comes another guy who goes “WOAH! IT’S YOU! You’re Alexander from S.P.O.C.K!” And this carried on, there was a third guy and then a fourth guy… usually I can walk around the city quite anonymously but then I come to a beer festival being mobbed by beer nerds who know about my music!
So back to the first guy who pulled me aside, I told him that I wanted to do a beer and how the breweries had rejected me and he gave me his card. His brewery Ten Hands Brewing was in a city 400 miles north of me in Sweden, but there was a nearby club who had noticed I was more active on social media with S.P.O.C.K and asked us to do a show. Then I remembered this was the brewery city, it was the stars aligning so I called him. I told him we were doing a show in his town in a few months and asked if there was any chance they could do a beer. His reply was “WE CAN DO IT!” so we did a beer.
How did you complete your beer mission?
Two months later, I stepped on a train and brewed the beer, I don’t know anything about how they brew a beer but I can tell you what I like or don’t like, I can’t tell you what a beer is, except it’s something that makes me drunk. The brewer asked me what kind of beer I wanted and it was a sour beer. When he asked about flavour, I suggested elderflower. We sat in the kitchen of the brewery and it was like a chemistry experiment with plastic bottles and pipettes, I poured something into something and that’s how I made it… that was fun and as a bonus thing, we developed quite a friendship and he confirmed all the love in the brewing world.
When it came to naming, he had a shortlist of a hundred names, all sci-fi and space related like ‘Space Flower’ but I didn’t want something as braggy as IRON MAIDEN or MOTÖRHEAD as a branded thing. I wanted something that was cool and laid back that was an apparent S.P.O.C.K beer but not call it S.P.O.C.K, because if I had called it that, it would be a merchandise product. So I thought, let’s go for a song title so that was a possible 60 songs. Although ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ is our well-known song within the scene, our biggest hit outside of it and especially in Sweden where we have all sorts people coming to our shows is ‘Alien Attack’; we performed it on the Swedish equivalent of BBC TV a thousand years ago so ‘Alien Attack’ it was!
You mentioned that you got noticed recently because you had become active on social media, so what was the motivation to use it more to maintain S.P.O.C.K’s profile? Do you enjoy it?
I enjoy it to a certain extent and I need to now, every artist does… we had a website once that took ages to update and when we changed the host, everything disappeared so that meant I had to do Facebook. It’s free but I read a book by George Takei about using social media so I thought, if he’s doing it, so should I.
Although we are doing it for fun, S.P.O.C.K is a professional product and even though that word might be the wrong word to use, we need to nurture S.P.O.C.K and show to promoters and fans that we are alive. Although it takes a lot of time, there is a creative touch to it and it’s fun. I am eager to be creative. I will write a summary of 2023 which has been amazing and it’s important to show we are here and there.
As S.P.O.C.K, are you interested in utilising the possibilities of AI for anything, whether that’s in music, video or promotion?
It’s a very good question and it’s a valid one. I don’t know much about AI but I would never close that door. 2023 is the AI year right and I’m not up to speed yet, but after I’ve taken a breather, I want to see what AI can do, apparently it’s anything and everything. Do I think it’s a big no-no? Of course not, it’s highly interesting… isn’t that what the electronic scene is about? To push the frontiers. So let’s do it but it’s too early to tell, ask me again in a year *laughs*
You cannot change the laws of physics, but is there anything you would have liked to have done differently with S.P.O.C.K?
In the past 22 years, it has not been as creative and up until 2001 with the fifth album, nothing was planned and we kept working-working-working even though there were changes in crew but the product continued to develop… up to that point, there is nothing I regret because it was all natural development. However, if I were to change anything, then I could have pushed harder in the few years following ‘2001: A S.P.O.C.K Odyssey’ to see what we could have done creatively. At that time, we did sell less and had to take regular jobs just to be able to pay the rent at all. Perhaps we could have found a balance but that’s easy to say now. Every now and then when I get asked that question, I reply as I mentioned earlier, I wish we did sleaze rock instead *laughs*
What are the future missions of S.P.O.C.K?
We will continue! *laughs*
The 35th Anniversary has been amazing, we did 10 shows in 2023 which I know doesn’t sound much…
…it’s more than a lot of bands!*laughs*
That’s true! I haven’t done 10 shows in a calendar year for 22 years either! We worked out we had 21 travelling days this year with S.P.O.C.K so it’s a lot of travels and we have daytime jobs to attend to. Every show has a week of preparation and there’s administration plus of course there’s social media traction etc, it’s a lot of work. But it’s very encouraging because all 10 of those shows were more or less sold out, it was 7 club shows and 3 festivals. So we are super tired but I feel that we get better and better, we are a frakkin’ good live act right now so we should continue. But we are taking a break now because no-one else has booked us and I haven’t reached out to any promoters! *laughs*
Will there be any new music? I prefer not to answer that one because if I say something, expectations will go up, I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes so I remain silent… so if there is something, there’s going to be this huge bang, it’s better that way. We have had a few jamming sessions so let’s see what happens with that… 🖖😀
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its fascinated thanks to Alexander Hofman
‘Assignment: Earth’, ‘S.P.O.C.K: 1999’, ‘2001: A S.P.O.C.K Odyssey’ and the compilation ‘Another Piece of the Action: The Best of the SubSpace Years’ are still available via SubSpace Productions on the usual download channels
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
6 January 2024