music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Shpongle

February 25, 2017 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

For over 20 years, Simon Possford has been taking electronic music in new and exciting directions. He’s put himself on the cutting edge of trance and electronic through use of computer-generated loops, live band performances, and spectacular visuals. Although he’s been involved in a variety of projects, the name that most people know Possford by is Shpongle.

Linking only Possford to Shpongle is a bit of an error, however. Australian flute player Raja Ram has been involved with Shpongle since the beginning, helping Possford realize his visions. While Possford takes most of the responsibility for arranging the instruments and setting up the necessary computer systems to create the music, Ram helps lay the foundation by providing over-arching musical ideas as well as instrumental contributions. Ram’s contributions to Shpongle often go unnoticed, since most live Shpongle performances are Possford-fronted DJ sets. When it comes to the creation of their music, however, Ram and Possford are partners in the difficult to define Shpongle.

Shpongle has always been a little bit of a mystery, and that’s just how Possford and Ram like it. The name itself is a creation of the band meant to be “an umbrella term for feeling positive and euphoric emotions.” Ram got his start as a flute player in the 60’s and 70’s before retiring from music, only to return to be a part of the forefront of trance in the 80’s. Possford got his start much later, beginning his career in the early 90’s. After Possford released his first album as Hallucinogen, he and Ram began work on Shpongle. The first Shpongle track was released in 1996, and the duo released Are You Shpongled? in 1998 on Possford’s Twisted Records. The positive response was immediate. Shpongle was moving into some never before seen directions in electronic music, working in trance and ambient music. The first album set a tone for the band as an act closely tied into the drug culture of the electronic music scene, including a song that was seen as a direct positive reference to DMT.

The first album was a significant success for the band in the electronic scene. They continued to push boundaries on their second album, 2001’s Tales of the inexpressible. This album featured both Ram and Posford doing more instrumentally to create the electronic music, as well as a variety of other musicians and samples. The album also saw the band expanding their use of Eastern instruments and incorporating Hindu ideas into their music. It was also around this time that Shpongle performed their first live performance, instead of simply a Simon Possford DJ set. As the band continued, most live performances consisted of Possford DJ sets, but Ram would sometimes join Possford to add flute to the DJ performances, and occasionally they put together a full live performance.

After a four-year absence, the duo reconvened for 2005’s Nothing Lasts…But Nothing is Lost. The album was originally supposed to be the final Shpongle album. The album featured a variety of samples as well as more live music than their previous albums. While the album is listed into 20 tracks, it is only supposed to represent 8 songs, with each song segueing into the next. The album received excellent reviews from electronic music fans and was viewed as a benchmark album.

After such a triumphant release, most electronic music fans assumed that Shpongle had truly decided to go out on top. However, after a three year hiatus, the band reunited for a rare live show in London in October of 2008, followed by a show in Moscow two months later. The band announced that they would be releasing a new album in 2009, and did more dates over the next year. The Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland was released in November 2009, once again to rave reviews. The album made multiple “Best of 2009” lists and inspired the band to do even more live performances. They did their first full-band U.S. performance at Camp Bisco X in 2011, while Simon Possford toured with the Shpongletron show doing a DJ set. Shpongletron also hit many major festivals in 2011 as well. Possford retired the Shpongletron show after 2011 and debuted The Masquerade in 2012, touring behind that show into 2012. In 2013 Shpongle released Museum of Consciousness, and created a new touring show for the album. There are plans for Shpongle to return with a new album in 2017 and a new Shpongletron 3/1 tour.

Shpongle continues to be an enigma both musically and artistically. While live music and Ram’s contributions are vital to Shpongle albums, the band has done very few live performances, preferring to allow Possford to represent the band with his DJ sets. The band’s music has obvious drug references, and the psychedelic drug culture is a major part of Shpongle’s fan base, but Possford insists on performing sober in order to properly manipulate his computers. The band also truly broken through with other music fans, bringing in listeners who don’t typically listen to electronic music. Through it all, Possford and Ram appear to have stayed true to their original intentions. Their unique perspective has given them the opportunity to take their vision much further than most electronic acts have done and to a much wider audience. They continue to reach new heights year after year.

Summer Camp adds artists
Summer Camp announced a big set of additions for 2017. Artists joining the lineup include Gov’t Mule, The Disco Biscuits, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Motet, and Kyle Hollingsworth Band.

Camp Bisco announces dates and lineup
Camp Bisco will take place at Montage Mountain in Scranton PA from July 13-15. The festival will feature 6 sets of The Disco Biscuits as well as Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Lotus, Twiddle, Turkuaz, Break Science, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Beats Antique, The Werks, and many others.

Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival announces lineup
The 30th annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival will take place from August 11-13 in Alta, WY. The festival will feature many great acts, including The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, and many others.

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 26-27
Steamboat, CO
Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Brothers Comatose, Steep Canyon Rangers, Billy Strings

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Winter Wondergrass California
March 31-April 2
Olympic Valley, CA
Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Hot Buttered Rum, Fruition

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Bob Weir, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, Blackberry Smoke, Matisyahu, JJ Grey & Mofro

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Ween, moe., Lettuce, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Summer Camp
May 25-28
Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL
moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, Primus, Gov’t Mule, The Disco Biscuits, Yonder Mountain String Band, Mike Gordon, EOTO, The Floozies, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams KWahtro, The Wood Brothers, The Motet, TAUK, Twiddle, The Werks

May 25-28
Cumberland, MD
The Travelin’ McCoury’s featuring Dierks Bentley, Trey Anastasio Band, Gov’t Mule, Bela Fleck & Chris Thile, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, Jeff Austin Band

Dark Star Jubilee
May 26-28
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Dark Star Orchestra (x3), Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Tuna (acoustic and electric), Keller Williams and KWhatro, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Revival Music Festival
May 26-28
Harmony Park
Geneva, MN
Galactic, Yonder Mountain String Band, Turkuaz, Antibalas, Big Something, The Hip Abduction, The Main Squeeze, Aqueous

Nelsonville Music Festival
June 1-4
Nelsonville, OH
Ween, Emmylou Harris, Rodriguez, Son Volt, Sara Watkins, Parquet Courts

Mountain Music Festival
June 1-3
Wonderland Mountain
New River Gorge, WV
Umphrey’s McGee, The Revivalists, Twiddle, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Big Something, Spiritual Rez, The Southern Belles

June 8-11
Manchester, TN
U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, Turkuaz, Twiddle

Disc Jam
June 8-11
Stephentown, NY
Break Science Live Band, Dopapod, Turkuaz, The Motet, Manic Focus, TAUK, Electric Beethoven, Aqueous, Consider the Source

4 Peaks Music Festival
June 15-18
Bend, OR
Moe., Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Moonalice

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
Hunter Mountain, NY
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The String Cheese Incident, Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, Gary Clark Jr., Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Elephant Revival, Shovels & Rope, The Revivalists, The Infamous Stringdusters

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, My Morning Jacket, The Revivalists, Lotus, Big Gigantic, The Infamous Stringdusters, Lettuce, Matisyahu, The Motet

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Lotus, Big Gigantic, Nahko & Medicine for the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Lettuce, Matisyahu, The Motet

Friendly Gathering
June 29-July 1
Waitsfield, VT
Twiddle, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Turkuaz, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Moon Hooch

High Sierra
June 29-July 2
Quincy, CA
Trey Anastasio Band, Ween, Galactic, Mike Gordon, Fruition

June 30-July 2
Turin, NY

Camp Bisco
July 13-15
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits (6 sets), Bassnectar, GRiZ, Pretty Lights, Lotus, Twidle, Turkuaz, Electric Beethoven, Break Science, Beats Antique, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Werks

Northwest String Summit
July 13-16
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, JJ Grey & Mofro, Elephant Revival, Fruition, Turkuaz,

Levitate Music & Arts Fest
July 8-9
Marshfield, MA
Dispatch, Umphrey’s McGee, Ziggy Marley, Lake Street Drive, The Revivalists, Twiddle, JJ Grey & Mofro, Rubblebucket

Deep Roots Mountain Revival
July 20-22
Marvins Mountaintop
Masontown, WV
Brandi Carlile, Lettuce, Yonder Mountain String Band, Dr. Dog, The Motet, JJ Grey & Mofro, Moon Taxi, White Denim, TAUK

Floydfest 17: Freedom
July 26-30
Floyd, VA
Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & Broken Bones, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz, TUAK, Fruition

Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival
August 11-13
Alta, WY
The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s

August 24-27
Arrington, VA
The Avett Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, moe, Greensky Bluegrass, John Butler Trio, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, TAUK

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!