Songs To DIY For: Messthetics, Throwing Up and Hug Party

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By Tamsin Chapman

You probably already know the drill for the Messthetics compilations by now. Each collection comprises around 20 or so ultra obscure lo-fi gems from the 1977-82 DIY scene. Some tracks are fantastic, some are odd, some are rubbish, some are all three. You can hear the germs of a million future scenes and almost feel the actual germs in the bedsits crawling up your thigh. There is no consistency in musical style – some tracks are obviously post-punk, some proto-indie-pop, some hippie gubbins, some unclassifiable. All are unpolished, untidy, ungainly. Some of the musicians went on to form other better-known bands, but most of them are now working in your local tax office, school or pub. It doesn’t matter; the compilations are aural wonder cabinets – each track an artefact of interest, dug up from the earth (or tracked down at record fairs and car boot sales) by pop archaeologist Chuck Warner.

The latest comps, Messthetics #107 and #108, cover London bands and the South East scene respectively. I have to admit there is no track on either of these comps that changes my world and makes me run excitedly around my living room like a pussycat with the midnight skitters. However, there are many songs that I like, some that I never want to hear again (the aforementioned hippie gubbins) and quite a few that are just OK. But that’s the nature of this sort of compilation. The charm is in the overall ethos, the fact that these bands don’t give a shit about being cool or being popular, they were just kids messing around musically for the sheer fun of it. Because they just had to.

Some of the tracks that stand out for me on #107 are Jelly Babies’ ‘Roller Skate’ with its cute two-chord “rollerskate with me” refrain, and The Avocados’ ‘I Never Knew’ for its Marine Girls/Dolly Mixture similarities.

And actually, I take it back, the femmelemental staccato in stilettos ‘Water’ by Occult Chemistry does qualify for a skitter round the room. They demonstrate one of the things I love about post-punk grrrls. Centuries of male art would have it that us birds are all about softness and curves, smooth undulations and blank empty canvasses to project somebody else’s desires. But the most spiky, most angular, most square-peg-in-round-hole music has always been made by women. And this is just one example of that.

There’s no YouTube link for it, so have a look at this song instead which is just as good:

And then we have ‘Happy All The Time’ by The Jangletties. In this song, with its 60s garage beat; jangle guitar with great seering top slices and shredding razor sound stolen from The Smoke’s ‘My Friend Jack’; and its absolute textbook Scottish Popness, I can see the next 30 years of the whole of indie-pop. [Me and Alan McGee used to play this one all the time, back in ’82 – Ed] Even the title seems to be an indie-pop staple – there are two other completely different songs with the same title, one by Television Personalities, one by The Flatmates.

Onto #108. Well we already knew The Chefs and The Poison Girls were going to be good.

I also like the street punk hustle and bustle of Again & Again’s ‘Wrong Again’, the accordion on the Lillettes’ ‘Air Conditioning’, the recorded-in-a-bin boy-girl garage-trash of ‘Baby Watch Out’ by April & the Fools (Lillettes side project) and the perky B-movie rudiments of ‘Alien’ by Right Profile.

None of these are on YouTube, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and buy these records on trust, here.

(continues overleaf)

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