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V/A - The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol 1


(Stones Throw)

Arguably the first wave of “Bedroom” producers, the recently titled “Minimal Wave” movement encapsulated a genre of musicians from Europe and the USA making use of cheap electronic equipment in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This little-known scene spawned CLEM, which is arguably the first electronic music mailing list in history.

This compilation is produced by Stones Throw, who despite their hiphop credentials, are first and foremost concerned with making sure that independent scenes don’t disappear. For those who know this scene, the list of tracks on show isn’t a great surprise, but it does begin to colour what is seen as a formative period in the genesis of electronic dance music. Before, electronic music was the preserve of the wealthy - synthesizers were the price of a modern family car (around £10,000 in today’s prices) and coupled to that, unpredictable and difficult to use. The emergence of cheap Japanese electronic equipment revolutionised the possibilities, and alongside those in NYC making disco and in the UK following Kraftwerk, a short-lived wave of musicians making austere, uncommercial, synthesizer music emerged. Very few of the acts here went further than the odd limited release single on their own label.

Much of what is on here has a peculiar charm about it, but ultimately is of its time. Oppenheimer Analysis, who were always one of the more intriguing acts, stand out with their haunting “Radiance”. The subject matter of their songs carried a resonance that at the height of the cold war, elevates them above the others. Elsewhere, it’s more a matter of scratchy, appropriately minimal lo-fi recordings with the odd synthline that carry an idiosyncratic charisma. Turquoise Day’s “Blurred” fizzes with genuine electricity, and Das Ding’s “Reassurance Ritual” is prime Legowelt material, only recorded 20 years previously. There’s a haunting magnetism to the vocal duo of “Game & Performance” by Deux which sends a tingle down the spine, and generally it’s hard to find a track that doesn’t have some unusual quality about it.

As a precursor to genres such as the pithily titled “Industrial”, Belgian New Beat, EBM and Techno, this moment in time does carry a certain amount of historical importance. Hidden somewhat by the more technicolor array of British Synthpop, it’s about time that this movement emerged from the shadows. Whilst the subject matter may not ultimately be much more than a cursory diversion, Stones Throw have presented it exceptionally.

Toby Frith


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