Various Artists - Creation Artifact: The Dawn Of Creation Records 1983-85

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2015-09-25

Alan McGee was a working class boy from Scotland who left school at the age of 16 years, going to work in a factory for £17 a week making shirt collars. He lasted three weeks before taking an apprenticeship, equally loathsome according to McGee, who described it as ‘fucking rotten’ to Paolo Hewitt in Hewitt’s book Alan McGee and the Story of Creation Records.  What excited McGee though was punk rock, the music he listened to on the radio as he trudged through the day. The punk movement’s craving for renewal and change appealed literally and metaphorically to McGee, as it did for a lot of disenfranchised youth. 

Many of us lack the courage to renounce conventional expectations, and just chase our dreams, but McGee did exactly that, forming a band called Laughing Apple and running a venue called 'The Communication Club'. He eventually headed a club called ‘The Living Room’ based in Tottenham Court Rd, meeting many of the musicians that would feature on Creation Records, the label which he started at about the same time.

This box-set Creation Artifact - The Dawn of Creation Records 1983-1985 features McGee’s own bands, Laughing Apple and Biff Bang Pow, and a slew of others that many, at least outside of the United Kingdom, will probably not know, with the obvious exceptions of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream. 

Giving the early 1980s short shrift is an easy attitude to adopt, given that much [though not all] of the gender bending industrial pop, dance and funk was pretty forgettable stuff. Creation Records, it should be noted, continued to fly the independent freak flag, and far from unburdening itself from successful musical forms, such as melodic rock, psychobilly, punk, surf rock and 60s beat music, it embraced all of these forms and celebrated them in the rawest possible audio and production settings. Bands like The Loft presaged acts as diverse as Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and House of Love. The Jasmine Minks sounded like the Go-Betweens, and Radio Free Europe-era R.E.M, generating layers of sweet sound, in some cases even more sophisticated than what followed in the C86 period. Perhaps this is one of the most surprising things about this survey; it shows that evolution in music is tangential, not necessarily progressive. 

Meat Whiplash are another band it wasn’t fair to forget. Often sought as an opening act to The Jesus and Mary Chain, that early shoegaze influence proved fortunate for the band’s transformation from meandering pastoral indie (‘Always Sunday’) to the comparatively startling, and quite menacing white noise and extreme feedback of ‘Here it Comes’. Exciting stuff. ‘Eat Me To The Core’ is equally unconstrained, and reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. The X-Men may not be a proficient outfit, but their admixture of psychobilly with washes of symphonic rock is forward looking and ambitious in scope. The Membranes and The Moodists similarly shunned fame to pursue an iconic sound, more successfully by the former.

Conversely, the music of The Legend ! in 2015 is somewhat dated, leaving aside the historical import of lead-off track ‘73 in ‘83, predicting imminent social and artistic change, though the dry commentary on early 1980s hipsters dancing in the clubs and indulging in ‘overpriced drinks and partners’ seems churlish now. ‘All the bands are dead now/ Do you remember ?/ ‘cause I don’t' - lyrics that speak of a wretched scene, but really the doomsayers are always wrong about the permanency of musical recession. Stagnation is only ever short-lived in my view. 

The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream were of course giant slayers of an emerging scene, and are represented here by early tracks, demo versions of ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘Upside Down’ by the former. Indifference may be an obvious response, but this version of ‘Just Like Honey’ is really excellent. It shows a gentler disposition, and witnesses a crossover between jangly pop and shoegaze like nothing else I’ve heard, emphasising clarity over cloudy imprecision. Far from drawing a line between jangle pop and noise-rock, it makes sense of the underlying current of melody in JAMC’s later works. Primal Scream is represented by ‘All Fall Down’ and ‘It Happens’. 

Creation Artifact devotes two discs to singles, one to demos, one to BBC sessions, and one to rarities and album tracks, incorporating recordings live from The Living Room. If 125 odd tracks seems to you to be a long haul best left to enthusiasts of the era, or if you think the commercial successes of Creation Records’ later years is a better investment, you’ll be entering Modern Brit-Rock 201 with insufficient understanding.

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