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Cassette Time Travel

August 7, 2010

Mix tape from the radio, 1990s.

This tape is eclectic, but a lot of side B comes from a goth radio show that was on 2RRR from 1993 to 2008, called Sacrament. I listened to it in the early days of the program, and that is where the imploring goth song in Italian and other rare mystery tracks by bands like ‘X Marks the Pedwalk’ derive from. Even though I have not heard many of these songs for at least ten years, I know them perfectly. How can it be so? They have stuck in my memory and it’s like opening a drawer to find everything in there perfectly arranged.

I used to have plenty of these tapes, about a third of which have survived. Some I just found embarrassing (what, in case some person I wanted to impress was searching through my cassettes? Oh youth, what folly) and either discarded or taped over with something more acceptable. Listening to this tape, I’m glad I saved it, because otherwise I would never hear these songs again. The goth ones are too obscure, and the grunge ones are too of their time. The anthems survive, the oddities fall away.

The only song I still listen to from this tape is Death Disco by Pil. I might hear Freedom of Choice or Fade to Grey occasionally too, but the rest are as good as lost. I was tempted to turn it off a few times, during the song by Tad, for example, where the singer is groaning “her-o-in” over a grinding guitar background.

I put a lot of effort into these tapes, and listening to this one I am impressed by the lack of back announcing snippets or missing introductions. I must have been very alert by the cassette player, as I sat up listening to community radio on school nights. Listening to it now, though, I’m sad that I clipped these songs so neatly out of their context. In a world where most songs come to us clean, as digital files, it is the glitches, the snippets of a long-ago voice, that are what distinguishes them from just music. This is what creates the whole personal world of listening.

Anita Lane/JAMC/Lush

This is a copy of albums by these artists that was made by Cameron who ran APiTO distribution in Queensland in the 1990s. He made it for Natasha, and I noticed that lots of such tapes were among her collection: they must have done a lot of trading. APiTO was a punk mailorder and record label, like Spiral Objective of Adelaide. Once I sent off for catalogues, browsed them, tried to imagine what the bands sounded like. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why this music has stuck in my head so persistently, there was a fair amount of work involved in tracking it down. More than this, as a teenager, music had primary importance in my life. I absorbed the music I liked, so that it could stand for me, the things I found important, the way I felt.

When the Lush section of the tape came on, the rabbit, who was in the room with me, got very angry and started tearing up his newspaper. It must be something in all those layers of fuzz. Lush is a band that reminds me of the SBS show The Noise that was broadcast in the early 1990s. I remember this show playing shoegaze bands and Flying Nun bands, and the videos showing me glimpses of something I wanted to be a part of, expanded, odd worlds. Lush were tinkly, ethereal (this word was no doubt overused to describe them), objects like glass beads and sea creatures with tendrils.

Natasha and I used to speculate about Anita Lane, and regarded her as much more interesting that Nick Cave, for whom she was a muse. There was a Nick Cave documentary that we used to quote, where she said in a breathy voice “he’s got a muse, it’s not me, it’s a real one”. He may have had then, but I think she might have gone elsewhere these days.

I still listen to Psychocandy sometimes, it makes me think of summer and straining to think under the weight and heat of the sunlight. I guess all of the music on this tape is elemental in different ways, about breath, fuzz, being in some way fallible.

1990s Radio mix tape/Swervedriver “Raise”

At some point I must have taped over one of the sides of my radio mix with this Swervedriver album, which was a disappointing decision. At the time I must have felt it more essential than whatever carefully compiled songs I erased underneath it.

A latter day shoegaze band, I remember having tickets to go and see Swervedriver sometime in the late 1990s, and mentioning to one of my correspondents that I would be there. Well, something else took my attention that evening and I thought little of it until I received a vitriolic letter from this chap about how I had lied to him! It not only described his disappointment but also went into many of my perceived character flaws, which he had somehow gleaned even though I barely knew him.

Oh, I remember what happened, I sat drinking in the bar at the Metro with Vic, who didn’t have a ticket, and was going to sneak in. Instead we ended up going to Kings Cross and acting in a film a friend of his was making. I got to walk down the street next to the female lead for a few steps, then say bye and walk off when she met a more important character. It actually got made into a film, and there is a trailer for it on youtube, but I have no idea if my two seconds made it in or not. The trailer just has lots of brothel scenes (it’s about two prostitutes who turn to armed robbery). I won’t link to it, it is too bad!

The other side of the tape is the interesting one. The radio mixes are all derived from particular radio shows I listened to in the 1990s. There was Sacrament on 2RRR, as well as my boyfriend Matt’s show “The R Zone” (I met him through his show, I wrote him letters!) on 2RRR. I also listened to a show on 2RDJ I can’t remember the name of but it was hosted by a chap called Andrew Lambkin who once refused to play The Smiths for me (I was pissed off at the time, but I guess I was really excited about The Smiths, being 16. He said “look, every year someone rings up and asks for “I Know It’s Over” and I’m sick of it!”) and The Alternative Music Show on 2SER, which played punk and garage music. The latter is still on air and has been so for 26 years! Though I haven’t listened to it for a long while. It’s on tonight, I’m going to listen again for old time’s sake.

I learned a lot about music through listening to these shows. I loved community radio, the fact that people’s shows reflected their obsessions. Each presenter had their own idiosyncrasies, and I liked the glitches, the rants, the things you could glean about the person through listening to their show. I think that I liked these shows in the same way that I liked zines (and I got into both of them at the same time). I liked the idea of shaping things like music, words, or images, into your own private world. It was also nice to tune it at the same time every week with the expectation of hearing interesting music, especially for a lonely weird suburban girl. My finger hovered over the pause button.

This side starts off with the Sisters of Mercy, a completely absurd band, although perhaps that’s what they intended to be (Simon disagrees, he says they were totally serious). Underneath all the thunderstorms and bombast their songs are actually quite poppy, and I checked that no one else was around to hear and turned it up. The one thing about goth that I felt and noticed when I was into it, but never seems to be credited much is that goths have a strong sense of the ridiculous. The Sisters of Mercy are ridiculous.

The wide range of genres played by these community radio programs resulted in an odd mixture. So, after the Sisters of Mercy is the Celibate Rifles, and then “Where’s Me Jumper” by the Sultans of Ping FC, a novelty song that became a hit in the UK in 1992. Silly as it is, this song was rather a revelation to me, because I was quite inspired by the fact that you could write a song about losing a jumper. No “Anarchy for the UK” for me, I was a child of the 1990s, and I found inspiration where I could.

It’s all right to say things can only get better/

you have lost your brand new sweater/

Pure new wool and perfect stitches/

not the kind of jumper that makes you itches oh no/

Dancing in the disco/

Bumper to bumper/

Wait a minute/

Where’s me jumper? Where’s me jumper?

Following this is one of the great late 80s/early90s angst anthems, “Anything Anything” by Dramarama, which, if you weren’t around then, provides a palpable sense of the kind of emotional intensity that people thought was cool around that time. Listening to it is to inhabit a cliché, a twentysomething telemovie kind of world of overwraught emotions. I like how the end of every line seems to have an exclamation point after it, and the way the singer is almost (but not quite) screaming out the words: I’ll give you candy! Give you diamonds! Give you pills! Give you anything you want! Hundred dollar bills!

The thing is though, he is obviously a rockstar jerk who treats his girlfriend badly, and then tries to buy things for her to make up for his bad behaviour. I realised pretty quickly that the key to this song was the part where he sings “I’ll even let you hear the songs I want to sing”. This is when we work it out: the most precious thing to him is his songs. We realise that she puts up with a lot, and this poor whining desperado is never going to get her to marry him. But it’s great listening to him plead. He’s using all of his rockstar boy power, but she’s not having it. Even if she does call her dad for help when rock boy gets wasted.

The end of this tape has a number of songs from the Alternative Music Show, which played (and plays) obscure punk and garage music.

I had to look on the track list to identify the song with the chorus “we don’t care what you say – fuck you!”. It is by DOA, who I saw in either 1993 or 1994 at the Hornsby Police Youth Centre. This place had all ages punk shows every so often, and I went to as many as I could. Usually local bands played in the basement, while a scary collection of punks and goths slam danced in a dangerous manner. The bigger bands, like DOA, played in the hall upstairs. I didn’t know much about the bands (they were supported by Nomeansno) but I went along anyway, desperate for any kind of contact with interesting people. I spent some of the night sitting on the steps of the empty block of units next door, talking to some boys from Penrith. Now I went to an all girl’s school and never talked to boys, mostly because they seemed like alien creatures. These ones were nice, although I declined the many substances they were consuming. I thought maybe I shouldn’t give up on boys altogether. Then I went back inside and watched them slamming into each other and wasn’t so sure.

The last track is a poem by Patrik Fitzgerald “The Punk Poet”, and I must have left the tape running because I have the back announcement and then the presenter’s discussion with his guest about grunge, of which they are disdainful.

The poem is “Make it Safe”, and it has the refrain:

Come and get your punk at Woolworths

Bondage trousers 12 pound,

Mohair jumpers next to cardigans,

It always comes around.

They make it safe.

Yeah Patrik Fitzgerald! Man I’m sick of the things I love being taken from me and stripped of any of their frisson, any of their subversion. “They Make it Safe,” the presenter says, “Still relevant for today.” And still fifteen years later.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Fergus permalink
    September 3, 2010 11:49 am

    Funny you met M through his radio show ~ writing him letters. That’s how I met Basil too, he had a radio show and I wrote him letters. Weird.

  2. Vanessa Berry permalink*
    September 3, 2010 9:15 pm

    What a strange coincidence! Perhaps it is a good way to meet potential love interests, just turn on the radio.

  3. December 22, 2010 11:38 pm

    hi vanessa, been meaning to re-contact you now for a number of years …
    picked up a bunch of your zines in newtown in about 2003…
    yes! natasha and I traded a zillion tapes – she’d ask for stuff I might have in my collection and she’d find me wonderful stuff like mick harvey’s serge gainsbourg cover albums!!
    I saw The Church on Sunday nite and was thinking how much Natasha would love to be there, and I could feel that she was…paid my respects to her lonely bush grave earlier this year.
    I still miss her so much… keep up the great work Vanessa and ty for the fond memories

  4. Vanessa Berry permalink*
    December 24, 2010 9:32 pm

    It’s good to hear from you Cameron – I’m glad you found the blog. Yes I have a few of the tapes you made for N. I still miss her a lot too – I think of her every day. I haven’t been to her lonely bush grave for a long time, it is exactly that.
    It’s good to see you’re still doing music stuff – I hope life is treating you well. x Vanessa.

  5. Andrew Lambkin permalink
    December 19, 2013 11:09 am

    Wait a minute…I refused to play a Smiths song? Yeah right lol. And I would never respond, then or now, that way to a request for I Know It’s Over (yes, the show continues). What an extraordinary string of words to put in my mouth…? 🙂

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      December 19, 2013 12:28 pm

      Hi Andrew, it’s good to hear from you and I will have to listen to your show again after all this time – where can I find Contact these days? I Know It’s Over…I must have asked for it at a time heavy with Smiths requests because you didn’t want to play it, it’s true. You inspired me to be more creative in my song requests though so it was all for good!

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