• The Vinyl District review of '80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol.1'

    A fair amount of deserved spotlight has been paid to ’80s UK DIY, an impulse that thrived in the underbelly of the decade’s post punk scene, but a new compilation from the Contort Yourself label reinforces self-production and distribution of experimental sounds as a global occurrence throughout the decade. 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol. 1 collects 21 examples of subterranean artistry with a focus on dark and occasionally misanthropic electronic experimentation. It’s out September 18 on double vinyl with a gatefold jacket, printed inner sleeves, and two inserts.

    As detailed in Tristan Koreya’s succinct notes, the selections corralled here exist due to a confluence of factors. There was the increased affordability of musical instruments (synths, drum boxes), recording devices (microphones, tape machines), and duplicating equipment (Xerox copiers, dual tape decks, and naturally, cassettes), but just as importantly, there was the postal service, a network of enterprises which made it possible for these artists to overcome seclusion, providing and receiving inspiration and validation via the mailbox while developing a base of listeners, even if tiny.

    Side one of this often-fascinating collection wastes no time in emphasizing the widespread nature of the phenomenon. East End Butchers hailed from Australia, their “Assassins” an ominous bit of tape collage, incessant pulse, rhythmic whacking, and sing-song spoken word, while Magthea called Belgium home; the extract from their “Magthea & Insanity” is a rising-falling and appealingly low-tech instrumental soundscape.

    Missing Persons shouldn’t be confused with the US new wave act of the same name; representing the DIY wave mentioned up top, this Missing Persons resided in the UK. “Rotten to the Core” is aptly pegged as post-punk political protest, certainly a more strident affair than “The Other Stranger,” an unruffled blend of synth, rhythm, and dialogue samples from the Dutch outfit Doxa Sinistra. Germany’s PCR employ similar ingredients to a darker, industrial-tinged result, as side one closes with an extract from their “Myths of Seduction & Betrayal.”

    “Tribal Moment” by France’s Urbain Autopsy & K… opens the flip, landing somewhere between Ralph Records and black turtleneck sweater-clad electro-wave. Ancient Smiles” by Human Flesh, the set’s second visit to Belgium, is much more aggressive-abrasive tech-throb-bark. The project of one Alain Neffe, it commences a higher-profile sequence, leading into the shifting momentum of “Fat Slimey Parasites” by Nigel Ayers’ still extant UK industrial-ambient-experimental project Nocturnal Emissions.

    Next is a concise dip into the vast oeuvre of Japanese noise cornerstone Merzbow, “D.D.T.” originally released in 1985 on a compilation of (approximately) two minutes pieces; it’s less confrontational than some of his other stuff, and while a fitting, welcome addition, it’s really the unknowns that make 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol. 1 such a worthwhile act of cultural retrieval. Belgium’s DDV are a fine example, the eight-minute fluidity of their “If You’re Looking for Trouble” recalling the uncommercial end of the Neue Deutsche Welle.

    Speaking of Germany, that country’s ALU open side three with a dose of Suicide-descended electro-punk. It’s followed by the Dutch group Menko, their track presenting the most danceable beat thus far on the comp, though it’s fortified with an atmosphere of alienation and some gnawing guitar near the finish. And then another trip to Germany, as Die Klopferbande offer a solid hunk of the abovementioned Neue Deutsche Welle (and originally from a cassette holding both Virgin Prunes and Section 25).

    Swinging back to the Netherlands, Jacinthebox’s “Wipe the Church” is a fine shard of drum box-fueled racket and rant, while France’s Cripure S.A. intertwine an insistent synthetic rhythm, surges of amp abrasion, and insult raps (well, sorta), their “Little Meat” underscoring that not everybody in this scene was oblivious to what was occurring above ground (though it’s still far from commercial). The side ends with “Human Situation” from the UK’s Software, a cut likely to please fans of early Cabaret Voltaire and The Normal.

    Side four begins with the comp’s sole visit to Spain, as Felix Menkar’s “Buscando El Espacio Interior” simultaneously swirls and undulates. From there, the tour’s first stop in the USA takes a turn for the unexpected, offering “Numerology” from the Christian Industrial duo Blackhouse, their name apparently reaction-opposition to the nihilism and downright ugliness of the UK power-electronics act Whitehouse; texturally however, “Numerology” is amongst the harsher entries here.

    Things start to wind down with two more pieces from the Netherlands. First, the tidy, energetic instrumental “Twistin’ on the Tombstones” by Ende Shneafliet, and second, the ceaseless gallop and low-mixed femme pontificating of “Being Home Tonight” by Muziekkamer. “Catalavox” by Dead Tech returns to the USA for a closing dip of industrial thump.

    The recurring references to those early, pre-dance industrial days should provide a tip-off to 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol. 1’s overall gist. Fans of Throbbing Gristle and Nurse with Wound should take note, if they haven’t already. Roughly a decade back, a series of internet blogs began digitizing a portion of this scene’s productivity to the delight of those attuned. This anthology places its contents onto a once elusive format to resounding success; hopefully, more volumes will come to fruition.