C86 AND ALL THAT
"The Velvet Crush and Heavenly make you want to wish for a world where being twee is not considered a weakness and where the values and ethos of indie-pop permeate the pages of the NME once more. I could form a band, I suppose. After all, as The Pooh Sticks once sang (yes, it's on here), 'I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well'."
Andrew Stevens reviews the Rough Trade Indiepop box-set.
COPYRIGHT © 2005, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Rough Trade's box-sets, compiled by the staff of their London record stores and put out by Mute (not Rough Trade the label, as you might expect), each come saturated with worthy tracks and incisive commentary. They are, in short, essential items for any music lover, covering contemporary genres such as rock and roll, post-punk, alt.country, electronica and now indie-pop. Indie-pop should be natural territory for the series, being as Rough Trade (the label) was a key imprint of several of the bands most associated with the genre, the record label for whom the style label 'indie' was surely invented.
You can't help but feel that indie-pop, whose devotees number about 42 (the faithful at the How Does It Feel To Be Loved? club at the Buffalo Bar in Islington) at this moment in time (though that may change after this compilation is sprung unto the world), is the unfortunate cousin of more touched-upon genres. C86 might be a state of mind for those concerned (and not just a compilation cassette given away by the NME in 1986) but we've not seen any revivals since that juncture. Bands like Talulah Gosh and The June Brides, namechecks by Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch aside, are scarcely raking it in on the royalties front, nor drop off the lips of today's indie-kids (if they exist, that is). So we should welcome Rough Trade's endeavours to bring Helen Love and The Sea Urchins back to piss on the chips of the derivative Franz Ferdinand, though the likelihood of an in-store appearance at HMV on Oxford Street by Heavenly remains as elusive as ever, probably.
In labelling their free compilation cassette C86, the NME unwittingly created a movement within the British indie scene whose reach would subsequently prove to be global (despite accusations of parochialism). Often derided for its twee characteristics, not to mention the 'The' prefix of many of the bands' names, it was very much of its era. In fact, many of the bands referred to as C86 weren't even on the compilation itself (a point picked up by The BMX Bandits on their 1989 LP C86). Indie pop bands were very much rooted in the post-punk scene of the early 1980s (evidenced here by the inclusion of bands such as Shops Assistants and Television Personalities), sharing with the Velvet Underground fixations and the genre segued quite nicely into the indie guitar band era of the early 1990s (The Wedding Present, for many the ultimate C86 act).
There are, of course, many key and natural inclusions on here, both indicative of the genre and its overlaps. My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Creation triumvirate noiseniks of overlapping memberships, make for obvious candidacies (MBV and the Scream's twee moments captured perfectly here with 'Paint a Rainbow' and 'All Fall Down' respectively). Few, aside from those devoted enough to shell out for the import-only copies of their earlier recordings, are aware of MBV's Cramps-influenced twee meanderings before the effects pedals were cranked up, while Bobby Gillespie's Byrds fascination are substantially more to the fore here than more recently. McCarthy's Tim Gane is probably better known as the creative force behind Stereolab these days, but their 'Should the Bible be Banned?' is probably one of the best slices of Marxist-fused commentary over a jangly guitar ever to leave a recording studio.
Which leads us on to the more evocative examples of the genre which might not be as well-known commercially. Indie-pop as a label (for the purposes of this box-set and this review, we're entirely at home to pigeon-holing) fortunately encompasses not only C86 but overlaps with the shoegazing set to some extent and finds itself represented fully among the roster of Sarah Records (another record label that became an adjective, the sometimes-derided 'Sarah band'), though some of the acts might be considered as titans within the Indie canon per se. Talulah Gosh and Razorcuts front up a sizeable Glasweigan contingent among the genre on this compilation, while Felt (whose keyboardist Martin Duffy later joined Primal Scream) are said to be a major influence on Belle and Sebastian (torch-bearers of Glasweigan C86) today. The box-set, as with all Rough Trade compilations, features bands old and new that are indicative of the genre and Belle and Sebastian were only left off because of the band's policy of not appearing on such albums. Instead, Spain's Juniper Moon and Sweden's Love Is All (named after The Action track, perhaps?) represent the new generation of indie pop exponents, with contributions from Bis (also from Glasgow) and Spearmint showing how enduring the genre was during the late 1990s when the rest of the world had seemingly immersed itself in musical folly. The Spearmint track, 'Sweeping the Nation', possesses a mock-anthematic style that appears somewhat out of kilter on the album but it's the final track so that's not so important. Anyhow, shoegazers Lush's 'Hypocrite' could be said to be too abrasive to be on here but it's welcome all the same.
The Monochrome Set are today one of the best kept secrets of the era, though Franz Ferdinand clearly owe an as yet unpaid debt to Lester Square and co. Their eponymous contribution has all the savvyness and quirk you'd expect from ex-Ants signed to Rough Trade and the kickdrum and bass intro works wonders. Felt's 'Penelope Tree' is almost as good a Felt track as you can find but I can but sense that 'Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow' would have worked better. A minor concern though. Similarly, The Shop Assistants' contribution would have worked better if it'd been 'It's Up to You' (their C86 track) rather than 'Safety Net'. Then again, it wasn't me compiling it. The Helen Love track, 'Beat Him Up', had me on the Damaged Goods website looking for more within moments of hearing it. Beat Happening's ubiquitous 'Indian Summer' (covered by no less than Captain America, Luna and Spectrum in the early 1990s) demonstrates how well the genre travelled over the Atlantic (also evidenced by bands such as Black Tambourine and Unrest, neither of whom are included on here unfortunately) and The Pastels' influence on more written-about bands could merit a book in itself. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Glasweigan indie-pop band more influential than The Vaselines (later Captain America/Eugenius), nor a track more famous among Nirvana fans than 'Molly's Lips', though the version you'll find on here carries no buzzsaw guitar.
The Velvet Crush and Heavenly make you want to wish for a world where being twee is not considered a weakness and where the values and ethos of indie-pop permeate the pages of the NME once more. I could form a band, I suppose. After all, as The Pooh Sticks once sang (yes, it's on here), 'I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well'. Failing that, I could always settle for Sarah Records' Matt Haynes. He wrote the sleevenotes for this too.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew Stevens is Co-Editor of 3AM and lives in London, England.