We’ve seen education sprinkled into our entertainment before. Everything from television programs to video games have been used in attempt to educate adults and children alike. If you think of educational music, you probably think of the ABC’s or something similar. It’s usually tailored towards young kids. Public Service Broadcasting is the exception.
While not an educational music group per se, PSB creates masterpieces which follow narratives from past world events and tell them a through a combination of music, sampled recordings of archived video, propaganda, and as the name states, public service broadcasts (the equivalent to PSAs here in the states). The London-based duo is the brainchild of J. Willgoose Esq., who later teamed up with Wrigglesworth on drums. Their goal, as well as the title of their first album, is to Inform, Educate, Entertain.
Although this first album is phenomenal, I feel like their unique style really best finds itself in their newest album, The Race For Space. The album follows the turbulent battle between the U.S.S.R. and the United States to conquer the final frontier. It opens up with the famous speech by President John F. Kennedy, known best as the “We Choose To Go To The Moon” speech, which is accompanied melodic synth that is sure to send chills down your spine. The album then runs all the way through to the last Apollo mission, chronicling every major event in between.
This is not an album you want to skip around with; you need to listen to this from start to finish (and a couple times in row in my case) to truly appreciate the thought and skill put into it. The use of recordings they gathered from old NASA archived footage is implemented flawlessly. A great example of their mastery is in the song entitled “Sputnik”. In the song, they include the beeping that Sputnik broadcast as it orbited the Earth for the first time almost as another instrument. As the beeping celestial body blends into the background, we are met with clips from Russian propaganda as well as news stories about the event in place of lyrics. The whole experience emotionally engrosses you in the events that took place to the extent that you feel like you’re really there. I can close my eyes and almost imagine that I am a kid in the late 50’s, awestruck by the thought of a man made object orbiting our world.
My personal favorite song on the album is “The Other Side”. This piece captures the harrowing moments as the Apollo 8 astronauts became the first humans to orbit the moon. The pinnacle of this song comes when the communication to the ship is lost as the astronauts travel across the far side of the moon. This moment is matched with the quieting of all instruments to further emphasize the silence and anxiety of what the Public Affairs Officer calls the “period of our longest wait”. Your imagination begins to wander.
The thought of the anxiety the control room must of been experiencing at that point would be overbearing. One mistake, and three men could careen into the moon at unfathomable velocities and the only way they would know is that the silence would persist longer than expected. Then information starts rolling in. Engine data looks good. Tank pressure looks good. The music begins to pick up. You wait for communication to pick up guaranteeing their safety. “Apollo 8, Apollo 8, this is Houston, this is Houston. Over.” Then more silence. “…We read you loud and clear…”. The music roars, matching what you assume the cheers of the apollo control room sounded like as each person realized that the mission was successful and the three men in that capsule were coming home. It takes a lot to get me invested entirely into the outcome of story I already know the ending to, but Public Service Broadcasting did just that for me.
This is what more music needs to be. It seems impossible to listen to The Race For Space all the way through and to not feel a thing. Public Service Broadcasting has perfected the ability to take you back to settings and feelings of our past. This album affected me in a way I’ve never quite been affected before. It stuck with me and inspired me to learn more about the events they touch on and to grab a greater understanding just so, when I listen to the album again, I have an even greater appreciation for what is going on. If Willgoose and Wrigglesworth’s goal is to Inform, Educate, Entertain, then I can guarantee their mission is complete.
Special thanks to Brady Haran from Hello Internet, for I would have never heard of this outstanding group without you.