Rough Tapes: NRC 8
Every spring, there’s an annual flea market at a local fairground that runs hot and cold for vintage music memorabilia. Last year there was a guy with Kissing the Pink’s 1983 debut Naked on vinyl, sealed. You only find stuff like this in the strangest places, like the time I found the Fall’s Palace of Swords Reversed CD for $7.99, shrinkwrapped, at a Price Chopper in upstate New York. You have to go through every stack, unlikely as it seems, to find treasure.
This year, owing to rising gas prices and economic malaise, attendance was down heavily. Almost nobody had music of any kind, save the occasional grandmother with her dragass do-nothing grandson’s pile of Offspring, Our Lady Peace and Godsmack CDs, and one tab is always broken on the cover, so you can’t even buy them for a dollar as replacement cases. An ornate frieze of futility and despond.
As I was getting ready to call it, I came across a trailer with crates of cassettes, mostly with what looked like homemade J-cards, and thought I’d found a time-traveling bootlegger from the late 1980s. On closer examination, I realized these were radio promos from back when, for “college rock” staples like the Godfathers, Wire Train and Translator, as well as slightly cooler shit like the Hoodoo Gurus and Let’s Active. So I asked the guy, “Did you used to be a DJ?” and he tells me he bought a storage unit blind from Boston-area DJ Oedipus. Going on the contents, Ed hadn’t touched it since 1992: the most recent things I found were the slipcase promos of XTC’s “Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” Sonic Youth’s “100%” and the Cure’s “High.” Predictably, if it ended up in the storage unit, Oedipus wasn’t feeling it, so it was mostly late-’80s “edgy” goth shit like Dog Faced Hermans or limp folk-punk like Field Trip. [A handful of stalwarts from the Minneapolis-Edinburgh crust axis have vocally not-appreciated my dismissive characterization of the Hermans’ anarcho death-jazz skronk; in place of a self-serving retraction, permit me to recommend Marion Coutts’s truly powerful memoir.]
My crate-digging persistence paid off: at the bottom of one of the boxes was the cassette shown above. Rough Tapes was a semi-devolved clique inside Rough Trade, dedicated to the economic and practical potential of the less-expensive cassette format as regarded punk and indie in the early ‘80s (heady notion: they made it about a dozen releases before folding). There’s almost no information about these New Release Compilations or Rough Tapes online; if anyone out there has one, or was in Rough Trade’s orbit during this period, please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is the eighth edition of the New Release Compilations, and going on the street dates for most of the songs; the heavy borrowing from The Decline of Western Civilization; and the fact that the John Peel broadcast it samples aired April 25th, 1982 (premiering New Order’s “Hurt” and “Temptation”), it appears to be exactly forty years old. The series was probably the passion project of an optimistic, buzzing young office-ling at Rough Trade, and if you consider (as many have) the mix tape as a precursor to the blog, the mindset and impulses here — of stuffing as much sonic information as possible onto a C90, like an overload of inline links in an online essay — it’s an interesting thought experiment to ponder: how much and how little has really changed?
Download: Rough Tapes New Release Compilation 8