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C86 (Reissue) Jody Beth , July 15th, 2014 07:03

C86, originally a 22-track mail-order cassette conceived by the NME, has become easy shorthand for mid-to-late 1980s shambling indie-pop and twee out of the UK. Two things become evident when listening to both the cassette itself and Cherry Red's new, expanded reissue.

One, the "C86" moniker doesn't tend to address the issue of the compilation's heavy presence of Beefheart-cum-Fall influence from Ron Johnson Records (Stump, Big Flame, The Shrubs) and the cockeyed postpunk of Bogshed and the delicious negativity of Half Man Half Biscuit — the tag might even cheapen those bands, if you're inclined to dislike, say, the Spector-Velvets axis of The Shop Assistants.

The second point is that "twee", at least in the experience of this US writer, has grown to mean something entirely more infantilised, more "cooing glockenspiels selling Target baby wipes" than "art-school innocence reflected through guitar feedback and the bottom of a pint." There's an obvious through-line of deviousness, from first-generation punk to even the merriest and jangliest of the C86 bands; fast-forward 30 years and the sociopolitical climate is equally fraught but the response from certain quarters is increasingly complacent.

Still, we can revel in the escapism of nostalgia and bless the generosity and thoughtfulness of Cherry Red for its lavish, 3-CD treatment of C86. It seems only right to include The Primitives, Talulah Gosh, and BMX Bandits among the fun here, along with The June Brides, who, according to the liner notes, had "spurned" the NME's advances to participate in the 1986 collection.

This set is so tied to the esprit de corps of a time and place, that it comes off like a snapshot, rather than an invitation to connect with the present or forge alliances with the deeper past. That is to say, it will have limited appeal to people who weren't there or aren't students of the form. By contrast, several of the artists on NME's C81 — Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire, Robert Wyatt — are marquee names for a particular sort of music fan even in 2014, and a reissue of that cassette might not produce the same generational rumblings C86 will, but a greater range of listeners will find it musically satisfying and perhaps more enduring.

There's something awfully rockist about needing one's art to be timeless though; the thrill of the fleeting, momentary heart-rush permeates pop and makes the feeling the enduring thing. 1980s indie-pop's greatness lies in how it paired that throb with the marvellous agitation of a distorted guitar. If not every song here is destined for the canon, Cherry Red's reissue reminds us that the energy, creativity, and hormones of youth remain immortal.

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