In 1928, a group named Aether Flyer made a phonograph recording that laid the foundations for Western popular music. Almost every genre familiar to us today – from dub to metal to free jazz and hip hop – had its origins on the 78 known as ‘The Loose and Pasty Rootchunk Medley’. Using the technology of their time (as well as inventing much of their own), Aether Flyer pioneered such techniques as circuit bending, sampling and time stretching. They invented the electric guitar and a crude early form of the digital synthesiser. There is hardly a musician alive today who does not owe Aether Flyer something.
The man behind the project was playboy crooner The Honourable Theseus Fragment, who felt he had something to prove when he was cut out of the will of his father Sir Emlyn Fragment, founder of Butter on the Wireless Records. Theseus hired Bootjack Piddlechristmas, Professor Emeritus of Nanoaudiometazilchoelectrics at Imperial College, London, who’d just spent a year inside a tool shed in Kensington trying to re-enact the beginning of the universe with Ansco No. 2 Bingo Cameras and whizzbang flashpacks. Piddlechristmas was to be the technological genius behind Aether Flyer. Upon his recommendation, military engineer Henry ‘Cranky’ Fossett was brought into the group. Fossett had become addicted to mild doses of mustard gas while fighting in World War I but had retained his brilliant mind. He was also a superlative player of the gazoo. Lastly, saxophonist and shady nightclub owner Kelvin ‘Doc’ Harmony was recruited. The line-up was complete.
Piddlechristmas was interested in Supra-Transient Brittle Skid Theory about how light waves vibrate against a substance called ‘aether’ while travelling through space. During the group’s first rehearsal, he conducted an experiment that applied the same theory to sound waves. The result was what physicists have called “a maelstrom of ionic starfish torment” i.e. a temporary scrambling of time and space. The group emerged from the experience with certain special powers, musical originality being the most crucial. Immortality was also most welcome.
Aether Flyer’s live concerts were a logistical nightmare. A 200-piece avant-garde orchestra called The Association of Daring Escapes had to be transported to each venue, as did sound modules the size of green houses. Nonetheless the group were awarded a lucrative contract worth over £100 by label Wistful Brycleem and produced what the musicologist T.S. Evanrude would later describe as “the sexiest thing ever committed to polyvinyl chloride.”
But there was to be no release of ‘The Loose and Pasty…’ The Wistful Brylcreem board of directors were appalled by it. Their spokesman told the Pimlico Bugle in March 1928 “this is a licentious and roundly awful torrent of ear-flapdoodle.” Aether Flyer, like many artists before them, were deemed so ahead of their time as to be to offensive to public morals. Their technological breakthroughs also threatened powerful interests in the media industry, especially musicians who felt their livelihoods threatened by sampling and multitracking.
On the morning of the 3rd April 1928, Metropolitan Police officers raided Wistful Brylcreem’s “rubber line” wax recording department and confiscated the master disc. Warrants were issued for the arrest of all Aether Flyer’s members, their management and servants. The group escaped capture by stealing a Sopwith Camel from RAF Digby. No one knew where they had flown to.
Over the following decades, the master disc of ‘The Loose and Pasty…’ was secretly passed between the nabobs of the music business and plagiarized for their profit. The public were never told about the real origins of their favourite styles.
Then, earlier this year, an intrepid young filmmaker tracked the band down in the Amazon jungle where they’d been in hiding for eighty years. Now they have returned to the country that spurned them to claim their rightful share of credit and royalties, but mostly royalties.