Chad Parkhill takes us for a tour through the world of weird, wonderful and unexpectedly danceable tunes. iPods at the ready: it’s time to kick off with part two of this special five-part blog series.
Jan Turkenburg and His Pupils of the Geert Grote School, ‘In My Spaceship (Pilooski remix)’
How does a song recorded by a Dutch schoolteacher and his pupils over the course of a single day become a minor dancefloor sensation? Like nearly every recent musical success, ‘In My Spaceship’ only exists because of the power of the internet to disseminate diverse styles of music.
The story goes something like this: in 2004, Jan Turkenburg, a teacher at the Geert Grote School in Zwolle, the Netherlands, heard that submissions were open for a compilation titled Interplanetary Materials, to be released on the netlabel Comfort Stand. He started piecing together a song titled ‘In My Spaceship’ for the compilation—a song that would, to quote the compilation’s liner notes, express how he felt on ‘sleepless nights when I wish I just could beam myself up to my spaceship and leave everything behind.’ After one such sleepless night spent composing the song, Turkenburg left himself with no time to prepare for his music classes, and instead invited his students from four classes across the course of the day to help record the final track. The oldest students were tasked with writing their own lyrics (in English) and singing them; the middle grades with playing the glockenspiels and xylophones; and the youngest group with the charmingly raucous Dutch countdown that concludes the track.
The resulting song must have impressed the curators at Comfort Stand, because it made the grade for Interplanetary Materials. There’s a lot to be impressed with, too: the synth lead line—composed on a dinky Yamaha keyboard—hearkens back to the primitive electronic music of the early 70s, before Giorgio Moroder made arpeggiated synthesisers de rigeur in disco music. Turkenburg’s lyrics and melody have a certain pantomime charm about them, but it’s the pupils’ own naïve lyrics that really make the song: their main desires are to be rid of homework, having to tidy their rooms, and the pedagogy of one Mrs Hoogerman. (Poor Mrs Hoogerman.) There’s a sense, though, that Turkenburg doesn’t quite know what he’s created—that earworm of a lead line appears only halfway through the opening countdown, and the song is marred by an unfortunate use of novelty Star Trek samples. It’s also a little slow, and the sound quality is a bit dodgy. Were it not for the intervention of Dirty Sound System’s Pilooski, it’s doubtful that ‘In My Spaceship’ would have ever been heard outside of the small number of people who downloaded Interplanetary Materials.
Quite how Pilooski got his hands on ‘In My Spaceship’ remains murky. I recall reading around the time of his remix’s official release in 2010 that he had found it on a podcast and chased it to its source at Comfort Stand; but recent Google searches on the topic lead me only to dead links. In any case, I myself first heard it on a Dirty Sound System promo mix on their blog, Alainfinkielkrautrock, at some stage in 2009. I went about tracking it down, which took some time—this was back before Shazam made track identification so piddlingly easy; or, at least, before I had a phone that could run Shazam. I ended up with the original, which was then available for free on Comfort Stand’s website. The difference between the original and the remix was stark: without significantly altering the song’s melody or structure, Pilooski had given it some serious depth: kickdrums kicked harder, the synth line was more insistent, the vocals more evenly mixed. I had to wait several months, though, before I found out who was behind the remix and whether it would be available commercially, and it was only when it started appearing on other people’s podcasts that I finally figured out how to get my hands on this elusive track.
Since its commercial release, ‘In My Spaceship’ has gone through a decline as inexplicable as its sudden rise. It was given a lavish release—500 copies printed on picture-disc vinyl through Parisian label Sister Phunk, with accompanying t-shirts from French fashion house Kulte. Pilooski’s remixes and re-edits, while hardly mainstream, are also hardly obscure, and his productions invariably end up with high-profile DJ supporters. But for whatever reason, a mere three years later it’s hard to find out much about ‘In My Spaceship’. The label’s website has shut down, and the URL now directs to a generic holder website in Japanese; Googling the single’s artist and name leads to a bunch of dead links and/or illicit file sharing sites. Turkenburg’s own music is perhaps the most interesting casualty of the success of ‘In My Spaceship’—at some stage between its initial free release and its commercial reissue, he removed all of his work from the public domain and became a member of a performing rights organisation, which means his work is paradoxically harder to find now he’s had his brief moment of internet fame. I would direct you to his official website, but at the time of writing it has been infected with malware. The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away.
Chad Parkhill is the Festival Manager of the National Young Writers’ Festival. His work has appeared in The Australian, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, and The Quietus, among others.