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Saturday 6 July 2024

V.A. Saturday

In 1986 NME issued a cassette compilation that spawned an entire scene, a twenty two track tape called C86. It invented indie pop, a subculture that was DIY, inwards looking, amateurish and underground and lo fi, it celebrated underachievement and became eventually a millstone around the necks of some of the bands involved. The indie scene that grew from it was all 60s anoraks, scruffy black 501s, lovebeads and bowl cuts, buzzsaw guitars, sing song vocals, gig posters and fanzines with photos torn from magazines and text done by Letraset, badly photocopied by whoever had access to a work photocopier- 60s guitar pop crossed with early 80s post- punk, defining itself partly by what it was against as much as anything else. It was anti- Phil Collins, anti- stadium rock, anti- Elton John and Queen, anti- big 80s gated snares, anti- rock star, anti- Thatcher and anti- heavy metal. All of these are good things to be anti. 

Funnily, given that the indie scene that burst out of it became quite homogenous, the original line up of bands on C86 is by no means all classic C86 indie pop. Standard bearers Primal Scream are present (in their pre- rawk indie phase) hit the payload with the thrilling rush of their early B-side Velocity Girl (for some fans, still the best Primal Scream song). The Shop Assistants, The Wedding Present, The Bodines and The Soup Dragons are all classic C86 indie pop. But some of the bands are outliers in sound or outlook, unrepresentative of the jangle pop sound that came from the tape- Stump, Bogshed, bIG fLAME, A Witness, The Shrubs and The McKenzies are all more abrasive and less indie pop. 

In some ways it's a great document and it has a real cultural significance in the history of British independent music, both as the springboard for a scene and then later as something to react against. It split the NME writers at the time, many of whom were pushing the paper towards covering hip hop and then house. The indie pop/ jangle pop scene was the starting point for several bands who'd go on to bigger things and was a scene in which women were heavily involved- as singers, musicians, fanzine writers, promoters and at labels. 

The Soup Dragons would leave the indie ghetto, the new dance music sounds of the late 80s hitting the band hard. It's a continuing annoyance for the band, singer Sean Dickson especially, that they were branded dance music bandwagon jumpers when they were eighteen months ahead of Primal Scream's conversion to acid house. On Pleasantly Surprised they sound like the next step on from Buzzcocks.

Pleasantly Surprised 

The Bodines were from Glossop, a town nestled into the Pennines east of Manchester. Therese is indie pop gold, a breathless, trebly guitar pop swoon, by four young men with Doctor Martens shoes, flat tops and fringes, denim jackets and 501s with turn ups of exactly the right size. 


C86 ended with This Boy Can Wait by The Wedding Present, breakneck guitars and Gedge's gruff vocal delivery and a classic indie pop boy- girl song. 

This Boy Can Wait

bIG fLAME were a post- punk/ indie pop three piece from Manchester, a band who would take the phrase 'viciously trebly' as a starting point. The speed, velocity and attack have more in common with Minutemen and Husker Du than the shambling groups in some ways, and their angular, slashing chords more like Gang Of Four and a hundred post- punk singles. The song on C86 was New Way (A Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology) but I don't have that on my hard drive at the moment so this one will do instead (and is from a 2006 expanded version of C86 called CD86 The Birth Of Indie Pop)

Why Popstars Can't Dance

The Close Lobsters, Mighty Mighty, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Half Man Half Biscuit, Miaow, The Pastels, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It, McCarthy, The Wolfhounds, The Servants and Age Of Chance all appeared on C86 too and there's no doubt it was instrumental in influencing various people who emerged from the indie scene in the early 90s- Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, Manic Street Preachers and Heavenly Records all have origins that can be traced back to C86 in some way. The intense weekly pressure of four music papers competing against each other, jockeying to find bands, is one of the reasons C86 existed in the first place, NME placing a flag in the ground with the release of this cassette. Most of the bands, despite some negativity towards the album and the indie scene that grew out of it after 1986, have made peace with it now. In 2019 Primal Scream, who had long ignored their pre- Loaded records when playing live and when compiling Best Ofs, re- released Velocity Girl for Record Shop Day, a ninety second song that started life as the B-side to Creation Records release Crystal Crescent and has proved to have a very long tail.

Velocity Girl

1 comment:

Martin said...

Superb stuff!