Monday, February 28, 2005

Welcome back to the "guest version" of Mystical Beast... This week I want to cover various aspects of, for lack of a better term, do-it-yourself (DIY) culture and music. We will be examining 80's American cassette-culture bands, the current self-produced music scene in Eugene Oregon, and then close up with some "bigger" bands from the greater West Coast who I feel maintain these ideals on some level today.

The bursting-at-the-seams cassette explosion of the 80's has been tragically under-documented. The book Cassette Mythos (Autonomedia Books) gives a fascinating glimpse of a fairly random selection of practitioners, but fails to capture the true scope of what was going down - this was at a time when the music industry was fighting digital tape recorders tooth and nail. The International Discography Of The New Wave (somebody please put this on the net) gives a little more info on some actual releases, but cuts off around 1983 before things really exploded. Most alternative media at the time (Option, Spin, Alternative Press, etc...) either didn't review tapes or devoted minimal space to them. Forced Exposure was actively hostile to the format. Only Sound Choice (the "other" spinoff from Op Magazine besides Option) devoted any real time, energy, and space to the onslaught of bedroom tape mania. And I got my whole collection stolen about five years ago, so no reference library for me...

I'm talkin' labels like Audiofile, Sound Of Pig, Harsh Reality, Ladd/Frith, Generations Unlimited, and SSS (in the U.S. alone). Plus a ton of independent artists. Many of these people moved on to other formats of music, but the beginnings were crafted from magnetic particles and 4-tracks. Collaboration and improvisation were also heavily explored.

One of the most prolific bands in this period was California's Crawling With Tarts, who continue to release music as far as I know. From their massively creepy, towering, and LONG double 90-minute tape Bled Es Siba, here is the obliquely titled:
"9/3 (2)"

Many more were just forgotten. Under the name of Amor Fati and/or Will To Live, Amaury Perez (sometimes with others) released a string of intensely personal cassettes and vinyl throughout the mid-80's on his own Flesh Records and in collaboration with others. None of this stuff seems destined for a deluxe import reissue with bonus tracks, but who knows... from the "Rock N' Roll" 7", here is a personal favorite, "Economics 101 (part 2)". His Body Without Organs LP is a lost 80's classic of lo-tech basement howl.

New York City's Sue Ann Harkey, another personal favorite, also eventually released vinyl. You can see the evolution of her improvisational style by comparing this early cassette piece (from I Tell You Everything, Just Not Out Loud)

with this LP track:

"Hear The Distance" (from The Ancient Past And The Ancient Future Are Both Seconds Away)

Schlafengarten was an artist who released numerous tapes on many of the aforementioned labels, but never (to my knowledge) put out other formats. From the Audiofile label's Narcotica cassette, here is
"Hi Hi Yessir".

Another influential label at the time was Tellus, who released an extensive series of thematic "audio magazines" on tape only throughout the 80's. The "Guitar" issue, #10, has some especially rare tracks by Glenn Branca, Rudolph Grey, Steve Albini, Lee and Thurston, etc... Here's the Glenn Branca piece. The "Power Electronics" issue (#13) had more Amor Fati, plus an early F/i track - still not reissued along with the bulk of their tape output. I'm including this spooky Maybe Mental track from that tape - the band later turned into Life Garden, who I believe are still active.

"Memories Of My Birth"

And closing out the "where are they now" section, we have Cyrnai, formerly (I believe) the bass player for old-school SF peace-punk band Crucifix, and definitely later in Trial (whose album I have). She also released at least two cassettes and a 45 RPM 12" EP. From the second tape To Subtle-Drive, here's:


As a special bonus for the indie kids, here's another infamous cassette release... Pussy Galore's Exile On Main Street full-length cover album from 1986 or so. They made the original tape, there was an abridged bootleg (?) LP, and all of "side 3" was released on the Corpse Love CD. The rest languishes in record-scum oblivion. So here's the lead-off track, featuring one of my all time favorite intros.

"Rocks Off"

On Wednesday we explore another element of do-it-yourself production, the local scene where I live in Eugene, Oregon...

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