|Genre||Indie pop, post-punk, indie rock, jangle pop|
New Musical Express
|Compiler||Neil Taylor, Adrian Thrills, Roy Carr|
C86 is a cassette compilation released by the British music magazine NME in 1986, featuring new bands licensed from British independent record labels of the time. As a term, C86 quickly evolved into shorthand for a guitar-based musical genre characterized by jangling guitars and melodic power pop song structures, although other musical styles were represented on the tape. In its time, it became a pejorative term for its associations with so-called "shambling" (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music) and underachievement. The C86 scene is now recognized as a pivotal moment for independent music in the UK, as is recognized in the subtitle of the compilation's 2006 extended reissue: CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop.
The C86 name was a play on the labelling and length of blank compact cassettes - commonly C60, C90 and C120 - combined with 1986.
The C86 Cassette
The tape was a belated follow-up to C81, a more eclectic collection of new bands, released by the NME in 1981 in conjunction with Rough Trade. C86 was similarly designed to reflect the new music scene of the time. It was compiled by NME writers Roy Carr, Neil Taylor and Adrian Thrills, who licensed tracks from labels including Creation, Subway, Probe Plus, Dan Treacy's Dreamworld Records, Jeff Barrett's Head Records, Pink, and Ron Johnson. Readers had to pay for the tape via mail order, although an LP was subsequently released on Rough Trade in 1987. The UK music press was in this period highly competitive, with four weekly papers documenting new bands and trends. There was a tendency to create and "discover" new musical sub-genres artificially in order to heighten reader interest. NME journalists of the period subsequently agreed that C86 was an example of this, but also a byproduct of NME's "hip hop wars" - a schism in the paper (and among readers) between enthusiasts of contemporary progressive black music (for example, by Public Enemy and Mantronix), and fans of guitar-based music, as represented on C86.
C86 was the twenty-third NME tape, although its catalogue number was NME022 (C81 had been dubbed COPY001). The rest of the tapes were compilations promoting labels' back catalogues and dedicated to R&B, Northern soul, jazz or reggae. C86 was followed up with a Billie Holiday compilation, Holiday Romance.
Ex-NME staffer Andrew Collins summed up C86 by dubbing it "the most indie thing to have ever existed". Bob Stanley, a Melody Maker journalist in the late 1980s and founding member of pop band Saint Etienne, similarly said in a 2006 interview that C86 represented the:
"beginning of indie music . . . It's hard to remember how underground guitar music and fanzines were in the mid-'80s; DIY ethics and any residual punk attitudes were in isolated pockets around the country and the C86 comp and gigs brought them together in an explosion of new groups."
Martin Whitehead, who ran the Subway label in the late 1980s, develops on this line of thinking to suggest that C86 had a political influence: "Before C86, women could only be eye-candy in a band; I think C86 changed that - there were women promoting gigs, writing fanzines and running labels."
Some are more ambivalent about the tape's influence. Everett True, a writer for NME in 1986 under the name "The Legend!", called it "unrepresentative of its times . . . and even unrepresentative of the small narrow strata of music it thought it was representing." Alastair Fitchett, editor of the music site Tangents (and a fan of many of the bands on the tape), takes a polemical line: "(The NME) laid the foundations for the desolate wastelands of what we came to know by that vile term 'Indie'. What more reason do you need to hate it?"
In 1996, NME continued the tradition of compiling a new band album (this time a CD) by releasing C96. This had little impact, with Mogwai being the only act on the compilation to enjoy mainstream success. Three other bands on the compilation - Babybird, The Delgados and Urusei Yatsura - had brief success in the United Kingdom after the compilation's release.
The significance of C86 was recognized by several events marking the 20th anniversary of the compilation's release in 2006:
- Sanctuary Records released CD86, a double-CD set compiled by Bob Stanley.
- The ICA hosted "C86 - Still Doing It For Fun", an exhibition and two nights of gigs celebrating the rise of British independent music.
- C06, a download-only compilation of contemporary bands inspired by those on the original C86 cassette was put together by the indie-mp3 site in July 2006.
- Primal Scream - "Velocity Girl"
- The Mighty Lemon Drops - "Happy Head"
- The Soup Dragons - "Pleasantly Surprised"
- The Wolfhounds - "Feeling So Strange Again"
- The Bodines - "Therese"
- Mighty Mighty - "Law"
- Stump - "Buffalo"
- Bogshed - "Run to the Temple"
- A Witness - "Sharpened Sticks"
- The Pastels - "Breaking Lines"
- Age of Chance - "From Now On, This Will Be Your God"
- The Shop Assistants - "It's Up to You"
- Close Lobsters - "Firestation Towers"
- Miaow - "Sport Most Royal"
- Half Man Half Biscuit - "I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)"
- The Servants - "Transparent"
- The Mackenzies - "Big Jim (There's no pubs in Heaven)"
- Big Flame - "New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)"
- Fuzzbox - "Console Me"
- McCarthy - "Celestial City"
- The Shrubs - "Bullfighter's Bones"
- The Wedding Present - "This Boy Can Wait"
- Allmusic review
- Simon Reynolds, Time Out, 23 October 2006
- Bob Stanley, sleevenotes to CD86
- NME: Still Rocking at 50, BBC News, 24 February 2002 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/1836411.stm
- I Love Everything Forum http://ilx.p3r.net/thread.php?msgid=2077178
- Andrew Collins, Wan Love, Indie RIP; Word Magazine, October 2006
- Bob Stanley, Uncut magazine, February 2006.
- Michael Hann, Fey City Rollers http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1325674,00.html
- Everett True, Plan B blog http://planbmag.com/blogs/staff/2005/07/22/friday-22-july/
- Alastair Fitchett, C86, Tangents, http://www.tangents.co.uk/tangents/main/2002/nov/c86.html
- Tim Footman, Tangents blog, 2002, http://www.tangents.co.uk/tangents/main/2002/dec/c96.html
- Press Release, CD86 Myspace Profile, http://www.myspace.com/cd86sanctuaryrecords
- ICA website, C86 - Still Doing It For Fun, October 2006, http://www.ica.org.uk/?lid=12257
- Tangents blog; Hungry Beat, The Sun Is Shining, July 27, 2006, http://unpopular.typepad.com/unpopular/2006/07/hungry_beat_the.html
- Bladh, Krister Everything went Pop!, C86 and more, A wave and its rise and wake (pdf) 2005
- "Fire Escape Talking","Anoraky in the UK,C86, the punk that refuses to die" ("Fire Escape Talking blog", July 7, 2006)
- Fitchett, Alastair, C86 (Tangents Blog, July 25, 2005)
- Hann, Michael Fey City Rollers (The Guardian, 13 October 2004)
- Hasted, Nick "How an NME cassette launched indie music" ("The Independent", October 27, 2006)
- Pearce, Kevin A Different Story; The Ballad of the June Brides(Tangents, March 2001)
- Reynolds, Simon Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984 (Faber and Faber, 2005) ISBN 0-571-21569-6
- Reynolds, Simon The C86 Indie Scene is back (Time Out, October 23, 2006)
- Stanley, Bob, Where were you in C86? (The Times October 20, 2006)
- True, Everett C86 Q&A(Plan B Blog July 22, 2005)
- Wire, Nicky The Birth of Uncool(The Guardian, October 25, 2006)
- C86 Profile "Indie MP3-Keeping C86 alive" blog