Various - NME C86
When they come to write the complete history of rock 'n roll, it seems unlikely anyone will have taken the time to compile a 3CD witch house box set, which suggests that the acts included on this new collection left a bigger footprint than seemed likely at the time. An expanded version of the NME's original 1986 22 track cassette, compiler Neil Taylor has found another 50 additional numbers, all drawn from an extraordinary twelve month blossoming from mid-1985 onwards.
As has often been the case, C86 as a genre didn't really exist - it was a catch-all media creation for a wave of acts who took punk and post-punk's do-it-yourself ethos and ran with it, but in musical terms ran the gamut from pure, jangly popsters (Primal Scream, Razorcuts), The Smiths and Bunnymen copyists, to those exploring more atonal and polythythmic landscapes (The Nightingales, Stump). In time, the John Peel-coined term 'shambling' became a brickbat to throw at some of the more conservative aspects (they were nearly all white male guitar bands), yet it was a season where action and intent were valued above execution and where the 'indie music' format was in many respects laid down.
Most of these recordings have a life, an urgency that stems from the often limited budgets available. These may have been independent artists, but there was no guarantee that they would get to record albums or sustain anything resembling a career. Today, changing technology may have sapped some of that urgency. As tech has allowed artists to become even more self-sustaining and in a world of laptop recording and Soundcloud streams (and no label boss knocking on the studio door), where's the rush? Just keep tinkering. Even during those DIY years, this might be your only opportunity, your Age Of Chance.
C86 remains a shortcut description for new bands, the kind who make up the bill at Indietracks. The anoraks and bowl haircuts became their own cliches, but that image overshadows more awkward, challenging music that doesn't just rehash The Velvet Underground. The one-two punch of the violin-driven squall of King Of The Slums' 'Spider Psychiatry' and Happy Mondays' 'Freaky Dancin' seems to offer a far more interesting vision of indie music than what often presents in 2014. Here is the guide: take it and make something new.