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80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol.2
Various Artists Daryl Worthington , October 5th, 2022 08:12

A compilation from the depths of the 80s tape underground leaves Daryl Worthington throwing out his history books

Dubstep was deconstructed before it was constructed. It happened in Sydney, Australia in 1985, on The Horse He’s Sick, aka Ian Andrews’, ‘Projectile Fascination.’ The track’s clanging percussion is carried on bursts of bass throb and a groove so jagged it mimics the peaks and troughs of a heart monitor. Another artist from the 80s, Misteek, were on a similar path. Not as internet friendly, Google relentlessly autocorrects their name to Mis-Teeq and fires back ‘All I Want’. Misteek’s ‘Bump Beat’ is mangled siren synths over an incessant kick. Mid-way through a clump of low-frequency drops with such density it starts to wobble your ears. It originally appeared on a compilation called We Know Time, released by a label called Jim Tapes (in “198?” according to YouTube). Searching for it leads to US Office content and a solitary Discogs entry.

‘Projectile Fascination’ and ‘Bump Beat’ appear on the Contort Yourself label’s new compilation 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol.2. I’m not really suggesting The Horse He’s Sick and Misteek’s music was doing the rounds on South London pirate radio in the early 00s. But hearing them now messes up time, narrative and linearity in the history of electronic music.

Focusing on razor-edged techno pop, bleepy drum machine minimalism and homemade synth experiments, the compilation takes a global view of the 80s tape underground. Die Achse’s ‘Under the Church’ is a jangly dirge something like the Velvet Underground playing through Echo and The Bunnymen’s effects rig. M Rendell’s ‘CV in’s fragmenting beats are a handmade prefiguring of AI composition. Sluik and Years On Earth’s tracks are machine-cranked diatribes, a pair of bedroom Schopenhauer’s facing the sheer weight of being.

Although it sounds like every track here could have been recorded in the same bedroom on the same eight track, it’s saturated in a vibrant layer of multicoloured DIY ambition. Standout UPM’s ‘Ansalt’ sees chiming sound design and eerie oohs conjure a minimal-wave Edgar Allen Poe, while ‘Tekno Pop’ by Solanaceae Tau is an endlessly emptying clown car of percussion and bizarre samples.

Some of the artists included went on to have long careers, If, Bwana and Andrews, for instance, both still active today. Others seem to have vanished after one track. But this compilation is more than a nostalgia-fuelled expansion of the archive. It bends chronologies, suggesting that A didn’t necessarily follow B in the way it’s usually assumed, and little elements of C and D might have predated both.

Robin James’s 1992 book Cassette Mythos is a document of the tape scene by a musician actively involved in it. He writes: “We were linked together with people in every corner of the Earth because we shared a set of common ideals and goals … We believed in the idea that art and the creative spirit belong not just to an elite few, but to everybody.”

That’s the energy Contort Yourself capture here. A utopian intent that powered the global underground then and now. A snap-shot full of surprise precursors, heroic outliers and yet to be realised possibilities.