[sic] Magazine

Messthetics Greatest Hiss, Classics of UK Cassette Culture DIY 1979-1982 Volume 1

Jasper’s Got a Wife didn’t last long – one summer afternoon in fact. In that time, the quartet of school friends knocked up enough improvised material to create a mini cassette album of wayward songs and dogged experimentation. Copies were made and a badly hand drawn sleeve was done, and the thing was distributed to a few open minded folk – maybe a dozen copies in all. Who knows if any survive. I certainly don’t have one, even though I was the group’s percussionist, short-wave radio operator and one of the singers.

Up and down the country, it was a scenario replayed thousands of times. ‘Musicians’ with varying degrees of competence and commitment were putting together collections of original material, recorded in the most basic manner possible and distributed amongst friends, by mail order or very rarely through shops and established networks.

Messthetics Greatest Hiss takes us back to that time when cheap technology sounded like it and home recording was necessarily primitive, but nobody let that stop them. Compared to some of the music on this compilation, the acts featured on the main series covering DIY sevens are positively slick.

This stuff might be resolutely lo-fi, but there’s a real spirit about a lot of the material represented. Touchstones that pop up regularly are acts like the Fall, PIL, ATV, Television Personalities and most frequently early Cabaret Voltaire. Singers deliver their lines in voices ranging from earnest, flat declamations to wobbly harmonising. Songs range from quirky pop to doomy sixth form poetry about nuclear annihilation and the Big Brother state. What holds it all together is a zestful enthusiasm. Influences are often obvious, but none of these acts are slaves to them.

Surprisingly, even after a few listens, there’s nothing on here that I felt the need to skip. Some tracks aren’t particularly memorable. Others, though, have an instant hook factor, albeit often a very simple one. Danny and the Dressmakers’ “Kif Kif’s Magic Hat” is little more than a two note bass line with a group chant over the top, but it’s got a rhythm to it that sticks without getting dull. Cultural Amnesia’s offering is much more elaborate – a sort of punk-tempo Suicide with added blasts of screeching fuzz guitar. Most of the songs lie somewhere between the two.

Selected highlights include the Proto-Pulp sounding Instant Automatons, Colin Potter’s Wire-ishness, Gravity Craze’s weird fusing of the Cabs and the Cramps and the tribal drums and organ of the Event Group. This isn’t a broad overview of the DIY tape culture of the late seventies and early eighties. The emphasis is on songs, and there is a general post-punk slant to everything. No examples, therefore, of the more extreme noise experiments that were going on, no bedroom electronica, no straight punk. It does help the album hang together better. It’s far from being just an academic exercise in archiving, but a stimulating and entertaining musical journey. Now if only I had a copy of that Jasper’s Got a Wife tape – we could have been on volume two!


For more from Dez please read his blog Music Musings & Miscellany