Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NME C86: Genre, Movement, or Nonsense?

Casey Dorrell

Last summer, just before disappearing into netherland of obscurity that is unupdated blogs, we posted about C86. That article quickly became our most popular one ever, and remains so today. It was also routinely slagged for falsely identifying a genre where none existed. So be it. In a multi-part post we return again to C86, first with a revised version of my original:

Isn't C86 last year's Epson Stylus printer? Well yes, but also . . .


C86 is a type of music, but what it describes is a contentious point. Its original meaning can be agreed upon at least. What it began as was a free cassette that came with issues of the British magazine NME in 1986 (hence, cassette 1986), later available for purchase as an LP through Rough Trade. Like its predecessor, C81, it featured a slew of up and coming indie acts. Unlike C81, this cassette's indie acts were far more indie and less established.

The cassette featured exclusively independent artists, most of whom had been playing together for less than a year at the time. While C86 came to be a genre rather than a literal tape, some of the bands on the original compilation were neither janglepop nor twee (ie. not all the bands on C86 were C86). Examples being Primal Scream's Velocity Girl or Stump's "Buffalo". Regardless, C86 was the cassette that launched a genre (rather than just recognizing one).

Says NME's website,

"We [tried] to invent an alternative scene - our own version of punk you could say - by forcing a coterie of new bands onto a cassette called C86. It's not entirely convincing and you should get out more if you remember The Shop Assistants - but it nails our colours to the mast. We, it said, for better or worse, are indie."

Of course, NME is no longer indie, but twenty years of popularity will do that. Were C86 a cassette alone, it wouldn't merit much note now. But it became more than that. Although not all the bands featured on the compilation were stylistically similar, enough of them shared the same shambolic sound for C86 to quickly become identified as a particular genre, a movement, in independent rock. That sound is arguably twee, and definitively Jangly. Although many tweepop groups do grow from C86, the genre is, strictly speaking, jangle pop. Some have argued that, like Krautrock, C86 is more a time and place thing: late 80's British DIY indie, rather than a genre, but listen to the compilation, or any of the bands that became linked to C86 afterward, and you'll find that most of the artists have a shared, distinct sound (i.e. discordant feed-back laden guitars mixed with almost child-like vocalization of mostly cheery, sometimes political lyrics).

Though this was a British movement, and even contemporary C86 artists tend to be Brits, there were many American and Canadian bands that also grew from C86 in the following years. Velocity Girl, for example, not only followed the genre's style, they also took their name from an original C86 track, Primal Scream's "Velocity Girl". Jale is another example. The original movement is now almost as old as a lot of the people reading this, yet it still holds a place of importance in contemporary music beyond being mere reference fodder for indie elitists. Its pop-culture relevance has only become more apparent in the last year. Look for the influences of all those bands you or your little brother is rocking out to on the OC, and, when you don't find yourself back at C81, you'll find yourself back at C86.

The Forgotten Shop Assistant
No one Remembers The Shop Assistants

uau of Freeway Jam explains, "C-86 was an extraordinary release; most of the bands had been unknown prior to its issuance, but taken together they resembled a scene. Almost every one of the groups that appeared on C-86 were short-lived, but in their wake, newer indie bands on both sides of the Atlantic began experimenting with this airy, tuneful style."

Tom of Indie-mp3 whose tag-line is "Keeping the c86 alive" points out another distinction between the current twee pop and indie music scene and the c86 scene: politics. Unlike many of the C86 groups, indie music right now is rarely political beyond the requisite "Fuck Bush" reference. Personally, I prefer my music sans politik. Politics and music make for sloganeering, good protest chants, and propaganda, but not intelligent debate. That said, music remains the perfect visceral outlet for frustration, anger, or apathy born of perceived political disenfranchisement. "At this time, the NME was a socialist music paper in all but name," Tom explains in his C86 overview. He goes on to further link the politicization to Thatcherism, but I'd argue that there are as many, if not more, reasons for a band to be political today. Though that's likely every generation's claim.

The Famous C-86
Like Vinyl, Cassettes Featured Great Art Work

Of course, I wasn't there. The late internet zine, Muse, was. I'll let them say succinctly what I was ineptly trying to articulate throughout:

"C86 was a subculture and a fanzine culture (Kvatch, Sha-la-la and Are You Scared To Get Happy?). It spoke to alienated teenagers bored with mainstream culture and hooked on DIY lo-fi sensibilities, an almost asexual child-like affectation, Sixties pop and girl groups, seven-inch singles, bedsit socialism and a romantic, pastoral, holding-hands vision of England."

Next time, NME C86: Side A.

Primal Scream - Velocity Girl
The Pastels - Breaking Lines
Another Sunny Day - Anorak City
Talulah Gosh - Testcard Girl

Comments on "NME C86: Genre, Movement, or Nonsense?"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (30/3/06 12:25 pm) : 

ha @ anorak city


Blogger skeletons said ... (30/3/06 10:26 pm) : 

guy, im just some kid trying to promote my page. i turn to yours for new music so i figured it was a good place to start. sry.


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (30/3/06 10:31 pm) : 

I have absolutely no problem with that - we've all done it. But there are smart and stupid ways to do it.

Having a comment that merely says "Click Here" is the stupid way. That's called spam.

Try commenting on other people's pages about their pages and use your name as a link. You'll get at least one hit every time.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (25/8/06 1:51 pm) : 

i was allways convinced tha tthe BMX Bandits were on tha tape. maybe its the pastyels connection and the fact that they released an album called C-86.

whatever happened to the c-86 anniversary gig.
saw the pastels at the ICA a couple of years back and they were great. i hear that they are recording a new album with geryy love & norman blake of Teenage Fanclub on guitar and bass respectivly ( a reverse of the fanclub role)

speaking of the Bandits they have have an excellent album out called MY CHAIN and may be playing london soon, if they can generate some interest.


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