One of the drawbacks of focussing on vinyl reissues is that it quickly becomes difficult to see the wood for the trees. Over the last couple of years we’ve been blessed with a lot of represses. Some of them have been interesting, most have been OK, and a very small number have been superb examples of labels going for broke in providing us with occasional items of genuine splendour. This year Clone’s reprint of its Le Car retrospective, Auto Reverse, Warp’s sterling repress of Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe , and Boidae’s remastered collection of work by The Mover stand out as releases that have hit all the right marks. These records represent not only simple re-releases of old material recently commanding high prices on various on-line vinyl bazaars, but also as examples of how good it is when you see some love and slightly left-of-centre thinking put into it.
It’s not always like that, though. Too often represses are hawked out to labels who, regardless of their actual intentions, seem to delight in poor presses, sound quality, or even a lack of any of the original art. This last one might not seem important – we are talking about an aural medium after all – but for many people buying new copies of these old records the artwork remains an important hook, something that elevates the record to new territory.
Electronica remains a strangely fecund environment for represses; the nature of the genre, it’s reliance on limited original presses of 12″s, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them nature of so many of the acts and labels, and the fact that, particularly in the earlier years, it was a genre which took the ethos of true label independence to a level perhaps unseen since the thirties, meant that for most of us a lot of the music we heard out and about, and perhaps only fleetingly, is largely lost, except perhaps to a small, select group. Compare this with rock music where it seems even the most forgettable third album by whatever 90s outfit you care to name is kept in circulation forever because the labels are large, wealthy and – most importantly here – stable enough to do this and it’s no wonder that electronica is thriving on represses. Whether the hunger stems from rekindled memories or a desire for musical education, the need so many of us have to reconnect has led to heavy archaeology in the garden of lost musical treasures.
But while a remastered vinyl reissue probably represents the best everything, we tend to forget it isn’t the only way to get your hands on old music. Discogs, eBay, and other markets has given us unparalleled access to the originals. Whatever your views and experiences, you can’t argue against what the opportunity provides, even if your choice 50 quid slab of early nineties Dance Mania arriving packed in what appears to be crisp packets does take a bit of the excitement off.
A lot of labels have realised that there is a thriving market in sticking out old material in digital form. For those of us less bothered by the need to hold the holy artefacts in out hands this has turned out to be a godsend. You can pick up superb music from a galaxy of great labels relatively cheaply, passing on cash to the label rather than to some insane Discogs weird-boy. The downsides are in the quality control. For every label who works hard to create a decent transfer, there is another content to stick a scabby vinyl rip up and charge for it.
I’m slowly coming around to the idea that buying from Bandcamp might eventually be the best of the lot. Aside from feeling virtuous that the larger portion of you money is going to the labels and, increasingly, the producers themselves, it seems to be on its way to becoming an archive of the lost and unusual. There is so much good stuff there if you look for it. Unfortunately, this is Bandcamp’s Achilles heel: its search function remains, to put it bluntly, shite. Whether it stems from a slightly hipster-ish desire to dump you in a realm of music with the intention of having you blindly stumble into things, or whether it’s simply because a decent, modern, search function is beyond them, I don’t know. What I do know is it can be needlessly hard to get anywhere unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.
It’ll get better as more people use it, I expect. With the likes of Underground Resistance currently working themselves up to getting material on the site, and a host of producers coming around to its tangible benefits, this side of Bandcamp will grow exponentially. Whether it’ll ever replace the thrill of buying a long desired 12″, I can’t say. Probably not – there’s a thrill there that digital files can’t really replace. What is certain though is that it’s about time we started widening our horizons to the possibilities because a reliance on physical represses by the largest labels will ultimately limit us to an increasingly small pool of music, and may well see some real treasures lost forever. Next time you’re thinking of splashing out on the 150th repress of Acid Trax with one slightly different mix on it from the last one you bought, why not just buy it digitally and use the savings to buy some wicked tunes from the past that you might not necessarily have gone for from Discogs? Even better, remember that today’s new music is tomorrow’s old, and support some up and coming label or producer who are doing good stuff right now. Why wait 20 years before recognizing the talent in front of you?
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing wee reviews on this, aren’t I? well, I’ve pretty much spunked my word count today so we’ll just have the one.
Being – July 1995
Dave Paton is probably better known these days for his work as Wee DJs, but 20 years back he was known as Being and was responsible for some quite crazy music. It’s difficult to know with Being’s stuff quite where the ambient ends and something harsher, less ethereal begins, but it’s this tightening in the throat and gut which makes July 1995 such as great compendium. In many ways it’s of its time: rougher, heavier rather than deeper, but lost in a universe of its own creation. It has the feel of a truck load of slightly broken machines singing songs, and whispering threats, to each other, but it’s never less than utterly captivating.
From Shify’s fluid, jazz touched, and increasingly snarling ride into the vacuum, to Berl’s compressed, zero-point wobble July 1995 mixes up its influences. You can feel Detroit’s silver spirit floating high over the music, and little quick silver flows of dub, true old-school ambient, and something even more esoteric cut their courses through the precise and haunted emptiness of the tunes. This is electronica like you don’t really get any more. It’s utterly disinterested in the ways of the world, entirely content creating fresh and lonely horizons to explore.
My favourite here is Cat, a deep and pulsing exemplar of a particular, (and increasingly forgotten) strand of UK electronic music which, rather than recoil from the dancefloor, understood that those same touches that made you want to move your body could also make you want to move your mind. Absolutely sublime.
I met Dave once. It was in Drummonds in Aberdeen in 94 or 95. He was a friend of a friend. Played a blinder of a set. Asked me to swap seats to he could keep an eye on his gear. True story. What lives we lead.