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On The Record – Manufacturing Another Edition of You

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At the 2012 Edinburgh Annuale, the city's annual festival of independent and
grassroots artistic activity, Record Store was one of some thirty-odd
events taking place in galleries, found spaces, shops, tunnels, lecture
halls, flats and back gardens throughout June of that
year. Curated by Obstacle Soup, the duo of artists Chris Biddlecombe
and Janie Nicoll, Record Store took place in Avalanche, Edinburgh's
long-standing indie record emporium, now based in the Grassmarket. This
followed the show's original tenure in Glasgow at the even more
eclectic Monorail Music, which also doubles up as as a bar, venue and
pop-up DIY book shop selling zines and artists books. The opening week
at Monorail coincided with world Record Store Day on April 21st, as
well as Glasgow International festival of Visual Arts (GI).

World Record Store day is the Association of Independent Music's
initiative to highlight the role of independent record shops in
fostering and showcasing non-mainstream musical talent. Record Store
the exhibition saw Biddlecombe and Nicoll invite twenty artists to
create new works modelled on the covers of 12” square vinyl LP covers,
with another four artists added for the Avalanche Annuale run.

The idea, as outlined in the Annuale programme was to explore 'visual
images that are connected to music, the demise of vinyl records and
their recent underground rebirth, how expectation can be better than
the product, and when does a sound become an object to hold and
treasure.' With this in mind, each artist created an actual LP cover of
a non-existent release by an imaginary artist, each of which came
complete with a make-believe history which would put many old-school
music biz PRs to shame, and which at one-time might have been a music
press wet dream.

So while Douglas Morland's fantasy glam band Three Day Week's eponymous
1973 debut was born out of the same glitter-spattered UK recession that
sired The Sweet, Ian Smith's A Spoonful of Sugar was a live album that
cast Situationist-inspired everyman Monty Cantsin – the multiple name
first introduced in 1978 by mail artist David Zack and subsequently
co-opted into strands of Neoist culture before inspiring other multiple
names such as Karen Eliot and Luther Blissett – as a spoon-playing
cover artist who brought to mind Chris Sievey's similarly
showbiz-inclined top light entertainer incarnation, Frank Sidebottom.

According to its liner notes, the album was recorded at Glasgow Apollo
in 1985, where Cantsin was supported by Paul Weller's Style Council.
Songs played included NWA's Straight Outta Compton and Queen's Bohemian
Rhapsody, as well as one of Cantsin's own cockney compositions, Fanck
the Police. Record Store' then, vented imaginations to create the
ultimate manufactured bands, without any of the hissy-fits, diva strops
and prime-time caterwauling such X-Factor style Frankenstein's monsters
from the Sex Pistols to Girls Aloud usually involve.

Maybe that was what was so appealing about Record Store for the artists
involved. Many of them, after all, have been or still are knee-deep in
a real-life music scene enough to have made actual records, some of
which might easily be found in the racks in Monorail and Avalanche that
surrounded their solely visual artworks. Douglas Morland played with
Mother and the Addicts and Big Ned, Ross Sinclair was the original
drummer with The Soup Dragons when they still looked to  Buzzcocks
rather than second-hand Baggy for inspiration, while Jim Lambie was a
crucial member of the Boy Hairdressers, who would later morph into
Teenage Fanclub.

Here, then, were twenty-four one-off editions set against a back-drop
of shelves (over)loaded with actual discs, some of which were
mass-produced in bulk, others which came in limited edition runs of
1000, 500 or less. It is the latter that defined an indie aesthetic in
the late 1970s and early 1980s when the means of production were seized
by labels like Rough Trade, Factory, Fast Product, Postcard and Zoo.

During Scritti Politti's initial squat-rock DIY phase of releases on
their Rough Trade licensed St Pancras label, compiled on the Early
album, this band of earnest young ideologues even went so far as to
list on their hand-made sleeves exactly how much the entire operation
had cost. It was the equivalent of Mark Perry's call to arms in the
first issue of early punk zine Sideburns (not Perry's Sniffin' Glue as
it is often credited to), when he accompanied illustrations of A, E and
G chords with the legend, 'This is a chord/This is another/This is a
third/Now form a band'.


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Best of all in Record Store was the contribution by Jonnie Wilkes.
“ENOUGH LEAD TO MAKE IT ALL HEAVY” was alleged to be a Various Artists
compilation of 'unreleased early electronic music, radiophonic material
& synth jams from Eastern Europe' put out as 'A Pevsner Record
Release' with 'Original Tape Restoration and Vinyl Mastering by NEEMIA'
. As if this wasn't tantalising enough attention to detail, a sticker
on the sleeve's top left hand corner reads a mouthwatering 'ONLY 100
COPIES WORLDWIDE'. Then, on the sleeve itself, an asterisk besides the
same blurb proves even more of a tease than the connoisseur-baiting
'180 gram Audiophile Quality Vinyl' above it. '5 copies available with
metal plate sleeve insert and 95 copies with hand printed poster sleeve
insert' it reads. That all of this information is fake is one thing,
but that “ENOUGH LEAD TO MAKE IT HEAVY” exists only in a bespoke
edition of one speaks volumes.

As one half of the team behind Optimo (Espacio), the Sunday night
Glasgow club night whose discerningly diverse playlist and guest
artistes galvanised the city's creative energy, spawned several record
labels and managed to both go global and stay hip, in terms of
understanding the fetishisation of records as both merch-stall
artifacts and ultra-rare works of art,Wilkes' pastiche is pitch perfect.

While the anorak-like allure of limited edition vinyl has long been a
place where pop really does become art, the best records have always
been several works of art in one beautifully gift-wrapped package.
Think of London Calling, the third album by The Clash, released in 1979
- not, incidentally, on an independent, but, as with all the band's
records, on a major label. This could either be seen as an entryist
gesture which allowed them access to production and distribution on a
mass scale, or else a total sell-out of punk idealism.

Released in a deeply unfashionable double LP format, the four sides of
accomplished agit-punk with smatterings of reggae, soul and jazz
stylings sprinkled on top was a bold enough statement of intent. Put it
inside a sleeve designed by cartoonist Ray Lowry featuring Pennie
Smith's seminal photograph of Clash bassist Paul Simonon smashing his
guitar onstage during a show in New York that year, and with Lowry's
pink and green lettering a homage to that on Elvis Presley's eponymous
1956 debut, and it became something else again.

Rewind further back, and Peter Blake's cover for The Beatles 1967
album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was the perfect
encapsulation of its era's pop iconography, while Richard Hamilton's
design for the same band's The White Album a year later recognised both
the record and the band's own exclusive status by numbering each of the
first 10,000 copies (in reverse) as one might do a print. Initial
copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico album, released in 1967 and
featuring Andy Warhol's print of a banana on the cover came in a now
spectacularly rare edition whereby the banana was a peel-off sticker.

Warhol did something similar for The Rolling Stones 1971 Sticky Fingers
album, the cover of which featured a close-up of a male, denim-clad
crotch. With initial copies featuring a real zipper, it's potential for
destroying the album inside was almost as great as that of The Return
of the Durutti Column, Mancunian guitarist Vini Reilly's debut album,
initially released by Factory Records in an edition of 2000 in 1980and
housed in a sandpaper sleeve, was of messing up the rest of your record
collection.


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Compared to today, all of the above, even The Return of the Durutti
Column, had access to a mass marketplace which no longer exists in the
same form. While rare bootlegs, unreleased test pressings, etc, have
always had a cache of collectability, the rise of the internet has
changed everything. Where once record-addicts would spend hours in the
back of record shops like Avalanche poring through rack after rack
in search of the holy grail, now the dusty object of their desire can be
downloaded online in seconds, be it through YouTube or a multitude of
other sites. New work too is trailed and shared as a matter of course
on Soundcloud , Bandcamp, et al, prior to or instead of a physical
release.

Yet, as with the rise of the laptop as a source of music making which
prompted a return to 'real' instruments, alongside which the laptop
became integrated as just one more piece of kit to play with, the
return to more bespoke mediums is happening in spite of online outlets.
With the means of production being even easier to grab hold of than
thirty years ago, micro-labels can produce cassette runs of 50 or a
hundred, each one with a hand-crafted cover, while vinyl too can come
with a similar set of exclusive accoutrements to those outlined on
Wilkes' sleeve for “ENOUGH LEAD TO MAKE IT HEAVY”.

Unless you're Coldplay or U2, no-one's going to sell a million records
anymore, so a unique and possibly ahead-of-its-time musical canon which
might well trickle down into a mass marketplace in three decades hence in
much the same way the DIY pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980s
have today is made a virtue of. And if it looks and feels good as well,
it might be worth even more, both aesthetically and economically. Morland's
Three Day Week cover, for example, was so coveted that, like some glam
rock version of Edvard Munch's The Scream, it was stolen from its
display during Record Store's Monorail run, fortunately being recovered
in time to grace Avalanche.

A recent issue of The Wire magazine highlighted the tellingly-named
Editions of You imprint, an ongoing initiative which 'celebrates and
showcases self-publishing and self-releasing musicians and the handmade
editions and releases they create'. One offshoot of Editions of You is
I Heart Sleeve Art, a workshop series which 'invites you to embrace
hand-crafted music sleeve art, by customizing your own record sleeves
or creating entirely new ones'.

One of the most striking examples of bespoke editionising was the debut
album by Muscles of Joy, the all-female ensemble made up of seven
visual artists including Anne-Marie Copestake, Katy Dove and Victoria
Morton. The band's eponymously titled debut album was originally
released on the Watts of Goodwill label in a limited run of 500 12''
discs, each housed in a unique hand-crafted cover screen-printed and
laser-cut in multiple permutations at Dundee Contemporary Arts' print
studio, and with a CD of the album enclosed. Again, here were several
works of art in one that crossed over between disciplines that informed
the end result of each as well as making beautiful one-offs. Things, as
long-lost post-punk outfit Angletrax had it in 1979, to make and do.

When the Muscles of Joy album made it onto the long list of the
inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award, part of the deal was that
it received a 'proper' CD release beyond it's initial vinyl-only run.
Similarly, another long-listee, Under Sleeping Waves by The Happy
Particles, which previously only had a digital release, was given a
physical CD release. While all of this makes both records more
user-friendly for a marketplace beyond the artists immediate
constituency, where The Happy Particles now at least have some kind of
physical product, in Muscles of Joy's case they're perhaps taking away
a little of what originally made them so special on their own terms.

Recorded music, after all, is a relatively recent phenomenon, which, in
a way, is Xeroxing an experience without ever fully capturing its
physical essence. If the sound of any record is second-hand, then, why
not make how it looks as rare as possible. In Record Store, by having
the imaginary idea of a record rather than actual sound to show off
Three Day Week, “ENOUGH LEAD TO MAKE IT HEAVY” and all the others,
these editions of none take recorded music to its visually logical
limit.


Neil Cooper
July 2012


Line Magazine issue 9, September 2012
ends


 

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