Shark Or Dolphin?

Various
Psst! Wanna Buy A Record?
NO LABEL LP (2015)

This unusual absurdist LP and book package was handed over to me in June 2015 by a friendly Scottish fellow who used to be a presence (if not the main man) behind Diskono, a highly marginal label dedicated to experimental art-techno records that managed to release a small but cherishable bundle of oddities from around 1998 to 2001, including the insane clear LP called Unattainable Text. Some of these rum items found their way to the Sound Projector offices at the time. I certainly liked their occasional Felix Kubin release, such as the ten-incher Jane B. Ertrinkt Mit Den Pferden, but equally a lot their stuff baffled and perplexed me. Last year I met the Scot at a record event at Hackney flea-market, where I’d gone to meet up with Jos, the fellow behind Meeuw Muzak. Jos operates from Belgium, where I think the Diskono Scot is also currently based. But who knows for sure?

Similar uncertainties abound with the record itself. It’s a vinyl reissue of Psst! Wanna Buy A Tape? 1, an artefact which emerged in 1986 as a cassette tape on El Frenzy Productions, an adjunct to an issue of the El Frenzy underground comic. The vinyl version is slightly truncated, and has been rescued from a digitised copy of the original tape provided for this project by Ed Baxter. On it, you’ll find 19 fractured avant-pop songs by some English geniuses of post-punk music: Bing Selfish (who compiled the original tape) and various groups he appeared in, such as Lenin Lads (with Chris Gray) and Bing Selfish and The Sycophants; also in evidence are key members of The Homosexuals, including Amos and Lepke Buchvalter, who were responsible for a slew of confusing and brilliant records under the label It’s War Boys. There’s also such luminaries as Chris Gray, Victorr Lounge, Montse Caselles, and bona fide art rocker Mick Hobbs, also a member of The Work, Family Fodder, and Officer!. Jim Welton appears here aliased as ludicrous one-shot fictional bands, such as The Tennis Ball’s Bigger Than The Golf Ball and Appel Singh Bankboy’s Five O’ Clock Train. None of this madness so far takes into account the various shifting forms of Orchestre Murphy or The Murphy Federation. What a bewildering time in UK underground rock history…no Rock Family Tree can capture it; the story is a glorious muddle where the players concerned have done their utmost to escape being pressed into the pages of history, through a combination of aliases, misinformation, and sheer elusive zaniness. Anarchic liberation through imagination. “They’ll never put me in a bag”. The enclosed 16pp booklet muddies the waters still further. It contains an interview with Bing Selfish conducted by “Dr. Kosten Koper”, where intriguing facts (if indeed they are facts) leak out among reams of cut-up drivel and drunken free-association rambling, and the reading experience is scrambled through collage and insertions taken from old issues of El Frenzy. If you’re nostalgic for the days of photocopied fanzines from the 1980s, this meshugana publication alone should be worth the price.

The music and songs are great too though. While not always quite as extreme as the wild studio experiments we associate with The Homosexuals, L. Voag and Milk From Cheltenham, the eccentric charm and mannered schizophrenia of these loopy ditties guarantees instant brain-implosion, and will soon bring any sensible latterday Dadaist to their knees, either out of sheer joy or exasperation. Fans who enjoyed The Raincoats, The Pop Group or Family Fodder from the early 1980s may have a head start in coming to terms with this (slightly later) mutant form of lively, syncopated gibberish based on everything from 1960s beat-combo pop afflicted with dub techniques to warped soundtracks from non-existent sci-fi TV shows, where every note is informed by a healthy dose of surreal nonsense, which affects the song construction and the performance as much as the lyrics. In short, very little is sacred and nothing is taken seriously, much like the radical political satire that (I assume) flew off the pages of Bing’s original El Frenzy fanzine. It’s zany fun, but there’s something slightly nasty and abrasive about it too. It stands a chance of seriously warping your brain, especially after prolonged exposure.

At a time when the Milk From Cheltenham LP has been “rescued” by those earnest Americans who run the Superior Viaduct label and added to their eclectic vinyl reissue programme for the delectation of the bearded hipsters who frequent Cafe Oto, it’s a pleasure to have additional pieces of the fugitive jigsaw served up to us in barely-digestible form like this LP, where it’s almost impossible for the listener / reader to get a purchase on what we’re hearing or reading. Even if we did manage to assemble the jigsaw, the finished picture wouldn’t even make sense. While Psst! Wanna Buy A Record? is completely chaotic in its rough-edge fanzine styled presentation, this strategy helps to keep the music raw and alive; Superior Viaduct by contrast are tending to put everything in a museum vitrine and thereby hastening its gradual decay. Good luck finding a copy of Psst!; I see one Danish dealer on Discogs wants over £40 for it at time of writing. As for the original tape, you or I will never see a copy.

Update: try this online shop Underbelly

Also see the Bandcamp Page

  1. The title makes me think of this Underground Comix from 1972, a product commissioned by Alan Douglas to help sell LPs on his label.

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