And the warmest of welcomes...
this celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first release on the M&E
label that I had the privilege to run from 1992-2003. Luckily, as fate would
have it, I also had a calling to return to it in 2012, realising it simply
mattered too much to allow it to be lost to the annals of time. Named in
tribute to one of my favourite bands, the mighty Faust, name-checking
their “Munic & Elsewhere: Return Of A Legend” album on the excellent
Recommended label, M&E was one of a number of independent ‘tape labels’
that formed an integral part of a global underground network, and this
collection is very much about celebrating that as well. Looking back now,
I have come to regard that network as one of the most important
sociological phenomena of its time.
Growing from the freedoms gained by the punk revolution, with its home
produced ‘cut and paste’ fanzines and self-released short-run 7” singles,
its expansion had boomed throughout the 1980’s, in particular following
the mass popularisation of the compact cassette, both by significant
improvements in quality and the introduction of the the Sony Walkman in
1979 (I still have my Panasonic one). By the the time I stumbled on it,
circa the onset of the 1990’s, the underground network was already well
established as a global counter-culturist community in its own right, and
a whole world of wonder was waiting for me. Suddenly, a man who had
never felt like he belonged anywhere before had found a real home. It’s no
exaggeration to say that my years of involvement in the underground
completely changed my life.
After producing a few copies of a zine called The Mmattrix,
mostly just about my own band, Magic Moments At Twilight Time, I had
good friends with some of the true luminaries of the network, the likes of
Lord Litter and Don Campau. Through them, I had come to realise it was far from just
being another platform to sell demo tapes through, neither was it any kind
of soft option for people of lesser talent, rather offering a different
kind of value system entirely. Instead of trying to persuade a
disinterested music biz 'suit' that you’d look great in tight trousers and
could make them shitloads more money, most of which you’d be unlikely to
see anyway, it was about earning the respect of your peers through merit.
That idea resonated with me deeply, even though I didn’t fully understand
all the ramifications as to why at the time.
Suitably enthused, I decided I simply had to get more involved and
announced the launch of The Mmattrix Distribution Service. That was in the
January of 1992, and, of course, we didn’t stick with that name! By the
April, we were ready to launch M&E with an initial catalogue of 41 tapes
from 6 different countries. Our arrival on the scene was a resounding
success and I was absolutely hooked, dedicating the next dozen years of my
life to it. Then most of my spare time this year in putting this
monumental collection together. I haven't learnt. I hope I never do.
Choosing what should be included was easy, it was the leaving things out
that was the problem, I personally think all of the 600 albums we released
deserve to be on here, but then there's that 168 hour limit the powers
that be enforce on the working week!
I always found it seriously impressive that a global network like this one
grew up in a time before the age of the internet, how it spread around the
world when its only means to do so was with letters and postage stamps.
That’s why I’ve chosen a theme for this collection that fully represents
its global nature; an album from each of the countries we released one
from. Thirty albums, thirty artists, thirty countries, spanning the five
continents of our United World Underground. Forget the limitations of the
humble compact cassette and the occasional glitches, forget the odd bit of
wow and flutter, that’s just the way it was back then. Simply sit back and
embrace the journey through a quarter of a century of underground music
(and elsewhere), a significant proportion of which was made by people
without access to professional recording and manufacturing facilities, all
the way from Frimley to Cape Town. Enjoy muchly…