Saturday, 13 August 2011

I took on the industry and it won

In this bloated world of pop culture excess I find myself caring less for the mindless operations of capitalist music companies and more so about the endless betrayal of the working class and all we could have amounted to. This exercise in eradicating our common collectiveness and sense of equality for all galls me somewhat. I was watching Upside Down the other night –the documentary about Creation records. I started a record label when I was younger [in my mind it was going to become a pure egalitarian operation – with no strings attached – a Factory [records] for the future.]

I think it mattered to us all once. Taking a stance against the man.

You see vinyl mattered – it was bound to – it was all we knew. There wasn’t CD, mp3, download it straight away from i-tunes without the sweat of the wait to see if it had arrived on its day of release. Those trawls to Record Village, invariably with Paul to see if the Chain with no name reps had offloaded the latest independent release we’d set our heart on that week.

And then there were the floppy bits of plastic – that scratched and buckled in an instant. This was music for the masses. The flexi disc was a part of my youth – a disposable pop aesthetic – we did not need the industry – we would be our own industry – without the hang ups of capitalism – we just wanted to distribute sounds – cheaply and quickly. In some ways if we had had the internet then we would have invented myspace.

I still have most of these ephemeral pieces of pop. Sold a few and lost a few along the way. But that’s the nature of disposal pop. Except this writing is setting it all in stone – elevating this group over that group and rolling around memories of past musical exploits and placing it all in rank order. There is no rank order and there is no hierarchy.

It is all music.

Some of it good and some of it bad. And I guess that all of it is really an attempt to extract the cash from the masses – through feel good times and sounds that puncture the mundane. I remember getting all the Are You Scared to get Happy fanzines and Trout Fishing in Leytonstone, Simply Thrilled, Sowing Seeds, Woosh all sorts of stuff – you’d buy them at gigs – 50p and a free flexi – how could that be wrong? That fizz and pop as you placed the needle – wating for the next sha lal la experience. I seriously fell in love with the Baby Lemonade one and The Clouds [a seriously underrated band if there ever was one] But now I’m thinking about them there was Remember Fun, Emily, the Sea Urchins all were special and brilliant in there way. I still play Summershine in the car – it’s on a compact disc full of sounds for journeys and trips to the Thames Barrier. It’s that kind of tune.

Fanzines got me through my teenage years. They just summed up stuff at the time.

I started my own fanzine Get That Anorak Off when I was 15 – Paul and I alongside Darryl and chris had been following The Primitives around the north in Hillman Imps and rented cars and I wanted to tell the world that we kind of knew them – it’s always been a vanity thing – a fame thang. So I just wrote up the experience – sowing the seeds right there for this – there wasn’t a great deal inside it - I remember Paul did a review of The Fall’s new album and there was stuff about other groups – what I was listening to– I got it photocopied in the steelworks office where my dad worked – he did it when the foreman wasn’t there and then I tried selling it round Scunthorpe and gigs I was going to at the time.

It sold – so I did another one – this was more indie based – I started interviewing more bands – a kind of Smash Hits meets Record Mirror type approach – banal questions recorded on mini tapes or the trusty Phillips tape deck. By the second one I was getting professional in my eyes I had interviewed The Brilliant Corners, The Chesterfields, Razorcuts and bands that made true independent music. It came with a crayoned cover sold out fairly quickly and basically I kept producing them until I started university. The final one [I think there were five in all] was finished at university [it had Dinosaur/ Spacemen 3/ The Telescopes/ Primal Scream in it] and by then I was drifting into the whole acid house culture and the indie scene felt a little backward looking – I know now it wasn’t but I was getting my energy from other sources – so fanzine culture wasn’t a big part of it and all that writing got lost in the warehouses and repetitive beats of the late late eighties.

However, I think the whole thing about fanzines and the culture that goes with it was/ is the sense that you can put your thoughts down – you don’t mediate the same way as a newspaper – you have values and ideologies but they really are your own. You end up getting letters from Singapore from Collin – or Australia from like minded people who are into the same scene – it was about having a voice and during that period I felt I could express it – on the most part in a clumsy, inarticulate manner – but it was my voice nonetheless. And this is my voice again. Not dictating this time and with a readership in single figures – but the writing is better believe me. In that way I think blogging is the way forward, I’m not always sure that it reaches the audience in the same way – but young kids are fairly hip and tell each other about what’s going on all the time. I’m the paper generation but the blogging community is keeping that independent spirit alive – more power to it.

But that bedroom writing led to bedroom recording – led to connections coming out the boredom and ideas and ambitions above my station. As I said before you do lots of thinking in small rooms as a teenager – small rooms and big ideas. Sort of. So why not start a record label. If McGee could or Martin Whitehead or Matt and Clare – why couldn’t I?

So a record label was born – and promptly closed – but it felt good getting it started. Deciding to release tunes for others. A flexi disc – a cheap, convenient and disposal way to share ART maaan.
Suffice to say my band was going on it – so in some ways it was a vanity press sort of thing - recorded on the strangest 4-track recorder in our bedroom. I’d met Jo in Leeds- a true independent spirit – she was writing fanzines promoting gigs – living the scene dream - she sold me her fanzine ‘What’s it like to be Scottish’ and introduced me to pale saints – we hit it off and discussed the possibility of doing a joint flexi together. Through letters and telephone calls on phones joined to walls we would hatch out a plan. She knew a band from Leeds called Esmerelda’s Kite – of whom the singer would go on to become The Gentle Despite who released some fragile and beautiful songs on Sarah records. At the time finding the money to do it was difficult – but we made it back from the sales – she sold out [of the flexis – not to the man – if you get me] – by now her fanzine had changed its name – mutated to Shoot the Tulips instead. Whether this was a veiled reference to killing the Fat Tulips I do not know – although there where times I had a seething animosity towards them – borne out of no reason at all – but that was the independent scene. And I sold all of mine.

Jo hated the fact that I called the label Sunshine [in retrospect she was right] and when we got it back from the manufacturers it had three tracks as opposed to the two listed – so it was even better value for money. And then John Peel played it on the radio – Jo rang and said he was going to play the flexi – and we thought he’d play Esmerelda’s Kite – it sounded more garage – well to be honest it sounded much better – it had been recorded properly but we had forgotten that he had a son named William. I remember him introducing it and Paul and I just trying to tape it – it was weird to hear it on the radio. So we were walking tall the week after – indie giants of Brumby corner. After that it got picked up by some other European stations and even ended up in some charts.

Having John Peel play your record means he had to listen to it – make a decision and put in the show – those two hours a night when he put out the sounds of the underground for the fringed mass(ive).

I listened to him every night. Still he never gave us a session – despite the hundred of tapes we gave him.

But getting back to some sense of where I began. I wanted to take on ‘the man’ – and for a brief moment it felt like I could break him. Perhaps because I was yet to read to Marx and hadn’t quite understood that when you think you want a revolution – you can count me in but most people out. Because they want curfews and long sentences and quiet nights of compliance and restraint. They want to take fucking brooms to the streets and be state cleaners.

And watching McGee discuss the creation of Creation – it reminded me why some things mattered then.

But ultimately even McGee with all the right intentions killed it all.

The industry wins every time and I haven’t got the energy to become an industry. The Man don’t give a fuck. So here’s to fizzing and popping and warping and cracking – let’s start a flexi disc revival.