In 1986, the New Musical Express released C86, the best known of a series of compilation cassettes the British magazine released in the ’70s and ’80s. The compilation was surprisingly influential, both inspiring and lending its name to a new pop subgenre. C86 bands are known for jangly, shambling, melodic guitar pop with a sweet demeanor that often ventures into tweeness. Though this musical movement was short-lived and failed to ingratiate itself into mass culture, some music critics believe that C86 planted the conceptual seed that would grow into the modern indie-pop scene. Among them is Bob Stanley, a music journalist and member of the English dance-pop group Saint Etienne. In celebration of C86’s twentieth anniversary, Stanley has compiled a new compilation: CD86.
To be clear, this is not a re-release of the original C86 cassette. Of the twenty-two songs included on the original compilation, only three are duplicated here. However, fifteen of the bands present on the original are represented on CD86 — often with superior tracks to the ones those groups contributed originally. This compilation also embraces such bands as Tallulah Gosh, Television Personalities and the Jesus and Mary Chain, which are strongly associated with the C86 movement but weren’t featured on the cassette.
Listening to CD86, I was struck by how little these songs seem to have aged. Perhaps one reason for this is the D.I.Y. nature of the recordings. By definition, lo-fi from the ’80s should sound pretty much like lo-fi from today. Even so, I believe this timelessness has more to do with the fact that there are great songs on the compilation. For those willing to take the time to fully explore this collection, there are some gorgeous pop moments awaiting discovery. I’m a fan of the C86 subgenre, but Stanley dug up a lot of material I had never heard before. Particularly enjoyable are rather obscure tracks by the Chesterfields, the Hit Parade and Fizzbombs.
Some might argue that C86 merits little more than a footnote in the grand scheme of pop music. CD86 makes a persuasive case to the contrary. This compilation treats these mostly forgotten bands like they were important-like they still matter. Let these songs get under your skin and you too might become a believer.
Indie MP3: Keeping C86 Alive! blog: http://www.indie-mp3.co.uk/