Founded in Georgia in the late '90s, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (later STS9) quickly refined a style of dub-influenced, breakbeat-infused psychedelic music with a heavy emphasis on group improvisation, comparable to the work of jam band peers such as the Disco Biscuits and the New Deal. The group's debut effort, 1998's Interplanetary Escape Vehicle, was recorded soon after their formation and thus provided only scant hints of the sound the band would develop, instead focusing on instrumental funk and jazz grooves.
With the addition of percussionist Jeffree Lerner in 1999, the sound of the band -- Hunter Brown (guitar/sequences), David Phipps (keyboards/synths), Zach Velmer (drums), and David Murphy (bass) -- solidified into a powerfully original, highly danceable tapestry. Through constant touring, the group began to work up a large following among jam band fans. Two more releases -- 1999's Live and 2000's Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace -- captured both the band's developing sound and its increasing interest in Mayan mysticism and culture. The former accurately documented the confident tone of the band's relentless live performances, while the latter used analog tape loops, a blend of live and studio tracks, and extensive use of guest flutist Kofi Burbridge to create a more subtle mix. With an emphasis on spirituality, equality, and the freeing of musical egos, the band eschewed solos in favor of small, repetitive parts that added together into a musical mélange at once droning and texturally deep. The group also gained renown for its festival appearances, with shows at most of the major U.S. fests, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella, New Orleans Jazz, and Outside Lands.
STS9 relocated to Northern California in late 2000. In addition to spending much of their time on the road, they also formed their own label, 1320 Records, releasing Artifact in 2005. The album -- which was subsequently reimagined on extras like Remixes, Vol. 1 and Perspectives -- peaked on Billboard's electronic chart at #12. They followed with the albums Peaceblaster (2008), Ad Explorata (2009), and Axe the Cables (2010), along with an EP, When the Dust Settles (2011), on the imprint. Before their next release, Murphy left the band in early 2014 and was replaced by Alana Rocklin.
In 2016, STS9 released the funky The Universe Inside, inspired by Carl Sagan's "Golden Records," which were sent into space in the hopes of communicating with alien life. Universe's opening track "Supercluster" included samples from the original NASA STS-9 transmission, a fitting full-circle journey for the band. The LP debuted in the Top 5 of both the Billboard Dance/Electronic and Heatseekers charts, as well as the Top 40 on the Independent chart. ~ Jesse Jarnow & Neil Z. Yeung
- Atlanta, GA