Welcome to Bliss/Aquamarine - alternative, underground and indie music.


When I first started exploring the world of underground tape labels in the early 1990s, I found that the labels fell into two main camps: one being focused on the type of indiepop prevalent at the time, which was inspired by the likes of Sarah Records, C86, and/or other forms of late 80s/early 90s indiepop that eschewed a macho rock image and overly polished commercialism, earning itself labels like 'twee', 'cutie', or 'shambling' - insults that would in some quarters be reclaimed as badges of pride. This was a resolutely underground genre, not to be confused with mainstream 'indie' music, and was the genre that first made me aware of a whole world of music existing outside of the charts. (There has of course been a fairly recent upsurge of interest in this genre, and something of a reappraisal, with bands who were dismissed as twee wimps at the time of their existence now being hailed as musical geniuses, but I digress). The other type of tape label was one I had no time for at all, being all about harsh experimental noise, which was not only impenetrably brutal but often extremely amateurish (in the worst sense of the word) and unlistenably lo-fi.

There was, however, another tape label in existence that was operating from a somewhat different angle from the others I was aware of. Founded in the 1980s and existing until 2003, Music & Elsewhere was a tape label which released a massive 600 albums by around 250 artists in a vast variety of underground music genres, making it surely the biggest and longest lived tape label ever. As well as being far less genre-specific than most other tape labels, M&E was known for incorporating more of a professional business-sense than was the norm for tape labels into its operation, whilst simultaneously remaining staunchly committed to the underground ethos and championing styles of music that were not remotely mainstream.

Label founder Mick Magic, also of the spacerock band Magic Moments at Twilight Time, resurrected the label in 2013, moving it into the digital age with this MP3 disc compiling 147 tracks from the M&E back catalogue. There are of course way too many tracks here for me to describe every one, so I'll just focus on those tracks that grabbed my attention the most. There's a lot of songs here that I loved at the time though haven't heard for years, so listening to Decadion 2 has been something of a blast from the past. There is also much here that escaped my attention at the time but has been an enjoyable discovery.

Magic Moments at Twilight Time appear with Blitzkrieg!, a combination of spacerock and rock n' roll, with a punk energy and a playful pop sensibility. Christ! play DIY pop with jangly guitars, lo-tech drum machine, and quirky humour. Solanaceae Tau appear with an evocative mix of darkwave and medieval-style folk. X-Ray Pop's DS was a favourite of mine around the time I first heard it, mega-catchy underground pop with spacey synths bleeping and whooshing away in the background. The Folkoffs play a bizarre mix of folk, calypso music, and the kind of prog that emphasises absurdity rather than pomposity. L'Edarps A Moth combine the jangly and tuneful aspects of old-school indiepop with a sense of surrealism.

Blue Velvet had a jangly, melodic and melancholic sound that was in many ways in keeping with the classic 80s indiepop style, whilst adding to this a harder-edged, rockier, and perhaps more sophisticated sound than was the norm for this genre. Siegmar Fricke makes a kind of music based on cut-up samples, beats and riffs, which resembles a more undergroundy and less dancey version of 1980s house music. Who Moved The Ground? play noisepop with a punky snarl. Wobble Jaggle Jiggle make excellent melodic psych-rock.

Opera Multi Steel play synthpop with a dark and dramatic atmosphere. Stormclouds were perhaps mostly known for their kitsch sci-fi inspired pop, as heard on their album on Elefant Records, but they also had a psych-rock side that was just as fantastic, and it is this side of the band that is represented here. Their track Nightmares in the Sky comes across rather like a female-fronted version of The Bevis Frond. Cerise Eclipse effectively combine the whimsical/quirky and the wild/heavy forms of psychedelia in their song The Magnificent Bubble Machine. The Conspiracy bridge the gap between laid-back late 60s style rock and the more forceful side of early 90s indie music, whilst also adding a sophisticated atmosphere with piano and synthesised orchestration.

The Invisible Band take in aspects of prog, psych and spacerock, along with melodic motifs reminiscent of folk and classical music, in their delightfully pigeonhole-resistant instrumental piece That One. Jaws of the Flying Carpet play instrumental psych-rock with an improvisational jam quality, that incorporates aspects of world-fusion and jazz. Uncle Id, an offshoot of The Original Mind Band, play laid-back and jazzy psych-rock. Zartipo appear with an improvised instrumental best described as experimental psych-rock. Mana Erg's Another was one of my favourite M&E tracks back in the 90s, a creative mix of dreamlike and woozy psychedelia and harsh guitar noise, which is both atmospheric and addictively melodic.

Twister appear with a great energetic and melodic indierock track, Bloodrush. Barra are another favourite of mine from the original M&E days, playing top quality folk-rock with very strong melodies and mystical lyrics. Their material was later reissued as the Eternal Magus CD on Hi-Note Music's English Garden offshoot, which is well worth tracking down. Long-running Dutch band Trespassers W make artsy and off-kilter underground pop with additional elements of accordion-based folk.

Trelkovsky play angular art-rock with prog aspects and some effective use of violin. Scrooge make impressive underground prog with harsh and angular qualities, and are another band using violin to great effect. Robin O'Brien makes well-crafted acoustic singer-songwriter music with harmony vocals. Moonpump appear with a slightly off-centre indierock track. The Rabbit's Hat are no strangers to the pages of Aquamarine; here they appear with Menage A Trois, a classic and timeless slice of melodic rock. Rabbit's Hat vocalist Terri-B also appears with the solo track Ephemeral Fire. The song has elements of mainstream pop, soul and jazz, but is constructed with enough genuine talent that it avoids the sort of blandness that generally comes with mainstream music. Mr Quimby's Beard, like The Rabbit's Hat, were another band associated with the Stone Premonitions collective. They appear here with an atmospheric yet strongly melodic spacerock track, Within the Mind (Part 2).

Zerobranco combine the angular nature of prog with a harsh and ranty punk spirit. The Now play a powerful and intense variety of garage/psych-rock. Mother Goose are a band with an interesting history: they started out as a very noisy band with an album on Blast First, then developed a more melodic sound which I personally found more enjoyable, a really fantastic, distinctive brand of off-kilter noisepop. They appeared on a number of underground labels, their support for the underground extending to contributing material for tape labels such as M&E. Their song here is Star Wars, brilliant quirky noisepop inspired by the eponymous sci-fi movie. Hawkwind offshoot Judge Trev's Inner City Unit set scathing political lyrics to an energetic and aggressive combination of punk and metal.

Sleepy People had an inventive sound best described as 'indie-prog'; some of its members later went on to achieve some success under the name of Ultrasound. Star Period Star make dissonant, angular and energetic music with prog, punk and noise aspects. Pornorphans were another favourite back in the late 90s, excellent well-crafted alternative rock with strong melodies and a dark, edgy atmosphere. For some reason I thought Edition Grundmann-Neubert were an electronic band, but their track here is a folky/bluegrassy guitar instrumental. Body Full of Stars are another band from the Stone Premonitions collective. Their track combines cutting social commentary with a classic melodic rock sound that incorporates aspects of funk and blues.

Grover appear with Oil-Acrylic, an indierock meets post-rock sort of thing with spoken vocals and unpredictable changes. Sirenee play medieval-tinged dark folk with twin female vocals, which is very beautiful. This band somehow managed to escape my attention at the time, though if their other material is anything like this I would definitely like to hear more. The Tutsis have come up with the ingenious idea of bringing together the chug and snarl of punk with impressively executed jazz sax. This punk-jazz combination works way better than you may expect. Vocabularinist's Seasick Spirit consists of a bunch of brutal abstract noise for the first minute or so, and thus wasn't a track I expected to care much for, but then it unexpectedly changed direction, morphing into an inventive off-centre noisepop track pairing howling feedback with Rhodes piano. Karda Estra combine dreampop, neoclassical and experimental music in a creative way.

I don't tend to associate M&E with the classic jangly 80s-ish indiepop sound; whenever they did put out anything that came under the 'indie' umbrella, it was generally from the harder-edged subgenres such as noisepop or indierock, or otherwise bands who combined indiepop with a surrealistic sense of humour. However, an exception to this rule is Garfield's Birthday, whose Peepshow has all the hallmarks of prime period indiepop. They're still active today of course, with Simon Felton from the band also running Pink Hedgehog Records, which has released lots of great indiepop, psych-pop and powerpop since the 1990s.

Alex Hayes and Blaine Jones make engaging avant-garde music combining spoken word with effectively repetitive instrumentation. Shay appear with an excellent ethereal yet strongly melodic song entitled The Red Earth. The genre it comes closest to is dreampop, though they are basically doing their own thing outside of existing genres. One of the members of Shay was Stephen Robson, formerly of Punishment of Luxury. The band have since changed their name to Shay Tal, and recorded for Stone Premonitions.

The sheer diversity of the music here means others will no doubt have other favourite tracks. Some of the other styles represented here include electronica, melodic punk, goth, bizarre experimentation, metal, rap-metal, and various sounds on the drone/soundscape/sound manipulation continuum. For more information on this near-exhaustive compendium of who was who in the 80s and 90s underground tapes milieu, visit www.mickmagic.net


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Site developed by Chris Harten and maintained by Kim Harten
Text Kim Harten, 2013.