The band performed throughout 1982-1984, but their career didn't especially take off until Gillespie left his position as drummer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. The band were a key part of the mid-1980s indie pop scene, but eventually moved away from their more jangly sound, taking on more psychedelic and then garage rock influences, before incorporating a dance music element to their sound. Their 1991 album Screamadelica broke the band into the mainstream. Despite multiple lineup changes, the band has remained commercially successful and continues to tour and record to this day.
After the punk movement ended, Gillespie became disenchanted with mainstream New Wave music. He met up with another school friend who shared his outlook, Jim Beattie, and recorded "elemental noise tapes", in which Gillespie would bang two dustbin lids together and Beattie played fuzz-guitar. They soon moved on to Velvet Underground and Byrds cover songs before starting to write their own songs, based around Jah Wobble and Peter Hook basslines. Gillespie later said that the band "didn't really exist, but we did it every night for something to do." They named themselves Primal Scream, a term used to describe a cry heard in primal therapy. Still essentially a partnership, Primal Scream first played live in 1982.
Their first recording session, for McGee's independent label Essential Records, was a single track entitled "The Orchard". Beattie later claimed that they burned the master tape. After the aborted recording, Gillespie joined The Jesus and Mary Chain as their drummer, and alternated between both bands. While the Mary Chain became notorious for their chaotic gigs, Gillespie and Beattie expanded Primal Scream's lineup to include school friend Young on bass, rhythm guitarist Stuart May, drummer Tom McGurk, and tambourine player Martin St. John. This lineup was signed to Creation Records, an independent record label founded by Alan McGee, and recorded the group's debut single, "All Fall Down", which received positive reviews.
After the release of the single, Gillespie was told by Mary Chain leaders William and Jim Reid that he was to either dissolve Primal Scream to join the Mary Chain full-time or resign. Gillespie chose to remain with Primal Scream. Stuart May was replaced by Paul Harte, and the group then released a new single, "Crystal Crescent". The b-side, "Velocity Girl", was released on the C86 compilation, later associating them with the scene of the same name. The band strongly disliked this, with Gillespie saying that "[t]hey can't play their instruments and they can't write songs."
The band toured throughout 1986, and Gillespie became disenchanted with their performance quality. He said that there "was always something missing, musically or in attitude." The band switched to McGee's newly set-up Warner Bros. subsidiary Elevation Records. Before the band entered Rockfield Studios in Wales to record their debut album, McGurk was asked to leave the band. The group subsequently began recording using session players. They spent four weeks recording with producer Stephen Street before deciding to halt the sessions.
May was subsequently dismissed and Gillespie's former bandmate Innes was brought in as his replacement, and the band finally found a new drummer, Gavin Skinner. With their new lineup, the band re-entered the studio, this time in London with producer Mayo Thompson. By the time Sonic Flower Groove was completed, it had cost £100,000. The album reached number 62 on the British charts and received poor reviews, with Allmusic calling it "pristine but dull. The backlash from the album caused internal strife within the band. Beattie subsequently resigned and Skinner was fired.
The band, now consisting of only Gillespie, Innes and Young, relocated to Brighton to regroup. Young switched to guitar, and they recruited bassist Henry Olsen and drummer Phillip "Toby" Tomanov, who had both been in Nico's backing band, The Faction. They traded in their jangle pop sound for a harder rock edge, or as Gillespie said, "[w]e had found rock 'n' roll." The band's re-signed to Creation Records and released their first single in two years, "Ivy, Ivy, Ivy". This was followed by a full album, Primal Scream. The band's new sound was met with poor reviews, NME called it "confused and lacking in cohesion". Fan reaction was as poor as the critical, as many of their old fans were disappointed or simply confused by their new sound. The album featured Felt keyboardist Martin Duffy guesting.
The band entered the studio with Weatherall, Hugo Nicholson, The Orb, and Jimmy Miller producing, and Martin Duffy now full time on keyboards. They released two more singles, "Higher Than The Sun" and "Don't Fight It, Feel It", both of which were successful. The album, Screamadelica, was released in the autumn to ecstatic reviews. Ink Blot Magazine said that the album was "both of its time and timeless. The album was also a massive commercial success, reaching number eight on the British charts and number 31 on the US Billboard charts. The album won the first Mercury Music Prize, beating Gillespie's former band The Jesus and Mary Chain.
The supporting tour kicked off in Amsterdam, and it included a performance at the Glastonbury festival before coming to an end in Sheffield. Throughout the tour the band and their increasingly large entourage gained notoriety for their large narcotic intake. The band's drug habits have often been publicised, journalist James Brown reported a now infamous story: the band were arguing with one another about whether to get Vietnamese, Chinese or Indian. When one of Brown's colleagues asked them if they'd settle for a burger the band informed him: "It's heroin we're discussing, not food!". Around this time, the band recorded the Dixie Narco EP. Some of the tracks showed a change in the band's sound, featuring a more American blues/rock sound and starting to show a P-Funk influence.
In March, 1994, the first single from the new album, "Rocks", was released to commercial success. It was the band's highest charting single to date, reaching number seven on the UK charts. The single wasn't received well, with NME famously calling them "dance traitors". The album, Give Out But Don't Give Up was released in May to mixed reviews. Whereas some praised the band's new Stones-influenced sound, some dismissed the album as tired and drawing too heavily on their influences. Two more singles were released from the album, "Jailbird" and "(I'm Gonna) Cry Myself Blind", both of which charted progressively lower.
While touring in support of the album, relations within the band began to wear down. The band's American tour, when they supported Depeche Mode, was, in the words of manager Alex Nightingale, "the closest we've come to the band splitting up." After the completion of the tour, the band remained quiet for a long period of time. Gillespie later remarked that he was unsure if the band would continue. The only release during this period was a single, "The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet the Barmy Army Uptown", a collaboration with Irvine Welsh and On-U Sound, which caused controversy due to offensive lyrics about Glasgow Rangers FC and their bigoted fan base.
The music on the album had a complex dance/dub rhythm, harking back to the crossover success of Screamadelica, yet sounding significantly darker. Some songs on the album were inspired by cult 1971 film Vanishing Point; Gillespie said that they wanted to create an alternative soundtrack for the film. Other lyrics were inspired the band's past experiences with drug abuse. Gillespie described the album as "an anarcho-syndicalist speedfreak road movie record!" The first single released from the album, "Kowalski", was released in May, 1997, and reached number 8 on the British charts. The album, titled Vanishing Point after the film, was released in July and revitalized the band's commercial viability. It received almost unanimously positive reviews upon release, Entertainment Weekly calling it a "swirling, hypnotic acid-trip", and Musik saying that "this group's place in the history book of late 20th Century music is assured.
The band scheduled a short supporting tour to take place during July. Unfortunately, the band had to postpone the dates. This led to speculation that there were problems within the band, and that one of the members may resign. The band's press agent issued a statement saying "[i]t's not a drugs thing and it's not a nervous breakdown." Before the tour was scheduled to begin, Mulraney left the band and they were forced to use a drum machine. The initial dates were poorly received, but they eventually hired drummer Darrin Mooney and the gigs improved.
In February 1998 the band released the "If They Move, Kill 'Em" EP. This notably featured the bands' first collaboration with Kevin Shields, on his remix of the title track. Later that year Shields joined the band on tour, and would have a major influence over their sound in the next few years.
The first single from XTRMNTR, "Swastika Eyes", was released on November, 1999. The song's overtly political content, Gillespie said it was about "American international terrorism", made it controversial. Nevertheless, it was a hit, charting at #22 on the British charts. XTRMNTR itself fared well, reaching #3. The political content was well received, with Allmusic calling it a "nasty, fierce realization of an entire world that has... lost the plot.
In 2000, the band began recording their seventh album. Though the political content was not as strong as the previous album, there was a song originally slated for the album entitled "Bomb the Pentagon", which was reworked into the song "Rise" after the September 11 attacks. The album, like many of Primal Scream's previous albums, had multiple producers. Shields produced several tracks, and Andrew Weatherall produced three tracks, his first work with the band since Vanishing Point. The album also featured guest appearances by Kate Moss, who sang professionally for the first time, and Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.
In June 2005, Primal Scream played a controversial set at the Glastonbury Festival, throughout which Gillespie was playfully abusive to the crowd and was alleged to have made Nazi salutes during the song "Swastika Eyes". They were eventually forced off by officials after overrunning their allotted time; the festival organizers were at that point already annoyed at the band when, in response to their invitation to join other recording artists in signing a Make Poverty History poster which would be auctioned off for charity, lead singer Bobby Gillespie instead altered the poster so that it read "Make Israel History". Gillespie later said that this was merely to show his support for Palestine, and in no way anti-Semitic.
The album's first single, "Country Girl", was released on May 22, 2006, and received regular airplay in 2006 resulting in a chart entry of number 5, their highest ever. It was also used by the BBC in the closing credits of the Grand National 2007 and as the backing track to a video celebrating the successes of the Scottish racing driver Dario Franchitti in the 2007 Autosport Awards ceremony in London. The album, Riot City Blues, was released in June and reached number five on the UK Album Charts. However, it received mixed reviews: Pitchfork called it "flat and dead", and Allmusic called it "a refreshingly retro rock & roll album
In support of the album, the band toured the UK, along with selected dates in Europe. The band released their first DVD, Riot City Blues Tour, in August 2007. The DVD featured clips of the band's performance in London, as well as all their music videos and an interview with Gillespie and Mani.
On the 26 August 2006, bassist Mani was reportedly arrested at the Leeds music festival, after what was said to be a drunken brawl. However, he was soon released and the band's appearance at the festival went ahead. Also around this time, Young left the band to go on "sabbatical", failing to appear on their November 2006 UK tour. It has since been stated by Bobby Gillespie that Young is unlikely to make a return. He has been temporarily replaced by Barrie Cadogan of Little Barrie.
On April 26, 2007 they said on their official MySpace blog that they were working on a new album in their studio. The band released another message on their website stating simply that "the band are currently in the studio working on their next album due for release in 2008. A new song has been premiered at gigs called "Can't Go Back". They also remixed Queens of the Stone Age's track "I'm Designer" (from Era Vulgaris) along with their long-time collaborator Adrian Sherwood, known for his dub remixes.
In mid 2007, Kevin Shields returned to the line up playing during their V Festival appearances. It is unlikely, however, that Shields will return, as My Bloody Valentine have reunited and are currently recording a new album.
On July 21st, Primal Scream will release a new album called Beautiful Future described by new producer Bjorn Yttling as sounding "much more pop and Krautrock than before. It sounds a bit like Alan Vega and Suicide. In July, Primal Scream will release the first single from the album, entitled "Can't Go Back". The track was produced by Paul Epworth who also produced the album's title track.