In 1997, the band were signed to Blast First Records in London by label head Paul Smith. In North America, debut album (released as double-LP and single CD) Akathisia was distributed by Mute Records America. Ned Raggett of Allmusic said that "the trio on Akathisia did a fantastic job of whipping up five dark, engrossing instrumentals that avoided any pretense of commercial acceptance." Group photos distributed to the press were shot in silhouette, contributing further to the group's shadowy mystique, though a photo of the group does appear inside Akathisia, though Beth Liebling is obscured by darkness. Akathisia's liner notes state that the album was "preserved and magnetically encoded 12.1995."
The vinyl etchings on the four sides of Akathisia were as follows:
Hovercraft played at the first Terrastock festival in Providence, Rhode Island, in April 1997. The band then toured with Japan's Kirihito and American rock band Caustic Resin, and handled the opening slot on a tour with Fugazi, as well as a tour opening for Helmet and the Melvins. An EP featuring remixes of two truncated Akathisia songs by Scanner was released later in 1997.