zaterdag 18 juni 2011

Flexipop: disposable pop or recycle art?



The article below was already published in slightly different versions, but on paper only, in the Dutch version of Vice Magazine (vol. 5, issue 9) and in Traces (issue 1).

Flexipop: disposable pop or recycle art?

Most people will only be able to guess what Flexipop is. For a few obsessive nerdy music fans like myself it is a cultural standard, a world of its own, or even THE world. Well here is a short lesson into the history of cheap produced minimalistic new wave pop music and how some people today try to turn it into a hype to cash in on it.

The name Flexipop is not a real genre name as it comes from an UK magazine that ran for two years from 1980 onwards. Each edition came with flexible 7 inch record. You know vinyl but not regular vinyl as you could use it as a Frisbee and even bend it and fold it and if it wasn’t damaged that bad it still would play.
Anyway, the focus of Flexipop and the discs was on new wave music. Many well known bands like The Cure, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode contributed tracks for a flexidisc, often the tracks where exclusive recorded. The Dutch counterpart was called Vinyl magazine and focused as they called it themselves on Modern Music. Basically this meant more experimental and obscure stuff from the counterculture and the then real existent underground. The flexidiscs that came along with Vinyl featured mostly these less accessible sounds of the new wave genre with tracks from bands like Tox Modell, Schleimer K and Mecano.

Think cheap, minimalistic and weird electronic pieces and unpolished and raw post-punk guitar stuff. During the 1990’s when all the world was listening to Grunge one music maniac started to make bootleg cd-r compilations entitled A Tribute To Flexipop and later followed by The Return Of Flexipop and None Night Of Flexipop next to some other titles referring to the same tradition. A total for more then fifty cd-r’s where compiled. All featuring something between twelve to twenty tracks per disc. Well that is what I call a repertoire! This was done not for profit but for fun only and to keep this music tradition alive.

These discs feature a fantastic world of music with tracks from tape releases, a-side but mostly b-sides from hard to find 7 inches and tracks from obscure independent vinyl releases. During the years when nobody listened to this stuff the name minimal electronics or minimal synth became some sort of genre definition for this type of 80's minimalistic synth-punk new wave music. Many bands featured found it an honor to be on this series, as back in the days but even more at that time only few people showed interest in their music.

Bit by bit a real cult following began to take shape. During the late 90’s this evolved into a new scene of musicians and labels producing and releasing new music in this stylistic tradition. Next to that some labels were founded that only started to re-release some of the old music. Mostly music that was never put to vinyl before. Some of this was bootleg stuff as not all the musicians that released their music on cassette tapes in the 80’s could be traced down straight away. Remember this was before the myspace, facebook and linked-in era.

Artists like Skanfrom, Bakterielle Infektion, Solvent, Lowfish and of course Le Syndicat Electronique paved the way for many artists to follow, just as labels as Genetic Music, ADSR, Invasion Planete, Suction, Was Soll Das Schallplatten and Kernkrach did their part in spreading the music to a small loyal fanbase. At the same time electro had a revival. Contemporary electro acts like I-F, Legowelt, Luke Eargoggle and in a way also Rude66 helped to shape the new electro scene, even though they had been active already since some years . Although sharing some esthetics and style elements the two scenes did not always meet each other straight away but in the end musicians, labels and audience began to mix.

The recognition of this Flexipop music as an important root for electronic pop music, even though still only for the well informed, give way to a second wave of labels and musicians to take their cue and inspiration from this style.
Social media made it easy to find the old cult heroes and ask their clearance for releasing archive music from the past. In the same way internet made it possible to reach a worldwide audience. While most labels work in the spirit of the old underground, as in a Do It Yourself attitude towards producing, promoting and distributing the music, some seem to see some cash in it.

For some years Peer -to-peer networks like Soulseek already make the Flexipop compilation cd-r’s available to everybody for free, like they possible should. But, today you can also buy compilations of these compilations on vinyl, cd and yes in digital format to pay for, from various labels. Every country some to have a Flexipop re-issue label today and it seems like every month there is a new label born which is doing the same thing.

I agree that some of this music has cultural value and not only because I am an obsessive music nerd in love with this music. I agree this music should be available. I agree some labels are needed to release this music on vinyl for the first time. But, there is a true overkill. There is a reason some of this music never made it to a larger audience as the die-hard cult following from the 80’s and 90’s. Not all of it is that good. It has cult value for sure, but not all of this music has cultural value. It seems not all labels are gifted with selective capacities or with the true blood of this counterculture music tradition.
So for the curious people who are still not sure whether this is simply disposable pop music are true art with meaning and value worth to be recycled I advice to login at Soulseek and download the original Flexipop cd-r’s, have nights of fun with the music and found out what gems these compilations hold for you. Then you can always get the contemporary vinyl productions with the songs that touch you in the end and do not need to spend hard cash on dozens of compilations of compilations. Also it should be in the true nature of any real music fan to be willing to dive into a style or genre and pick the few things that appeal to you and go on from there… and tracing the original releases in the end…

M.

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