I HATE THE POP GROUP
(VERTICAL SLUM R-44 LP, 2000)
Bootlegs aren’t what they used to be.
Before the advent of mass internet sharity/piracy, those of us unable to take a £100 punt on a scratched 7″ that might turn out to be crap had to rely on bootleggers to furnish us with the more esoteric sounds in our collections. What was, and remains, impressive about these true bootleggers is the lengths they went to – these guys weren’t just ripping an obscure record and posting mp3s on their blog. They were actually cutting and pressing records of their own (maybe “their own” would be more accurate), designing and manufacturing sleeves, doing under-the-counter deals with stores, the lot. They were profiting from their piracy, but hey, they were putting a lot of effort in too. I’m not trying to suggest that bootleggers are undeserving of reproach, but you’d have to agree that there’s a certain to nobility to physical bootlegging – a nobility that doesn’t apply to some jerk in his bedroom leaking an xx album on some forum for professional teenage masturbators.
Us music fans have a murky, complicit relationship with bootleggers, just as we do with sharity bloggers. Even if you, like I, spend virtually every spare penny you have on vinyl, chances are you, like I, download an awful lot of music illegally. Meanwhile physical bootlegs might not be as prevalent as they used to be – mainly because they’re no longer so profitable, like any other record these days – but they do still “happen”, and they can still feel important. One of 2011’s best “reissues”, Craig Leon’s Nommos, was a bootleg.
Us music fans have a murky, complicit relationship with bootleggers, just as we do with sharity bloggers.
Anyway, our latest Lost & Found find is a bootleg record from 2000, arguably the last year of the “golden age” of booties. A compilation marvellously entitled I Hate The Pop Group, it collects “super-rare and obscure” 7″ cuts from the late 70s and early 80s DIY explosion, including contributions from the US as well as from our own fecund isle. Unless you’re something approaching a post-punk expert, you won’t have heard of many of the bands featured: maybe E.g. Oblique Graph, the pre-Muslimgauze project of Bryn Jones, or Noh Mercy. But certainly not Sell-outs or Bandt + Instruments. I mean, if you have heard of them then you shouldn’t be reading this, you should be busy bootlegging.
Like many “classic” bootlegs, I Hate The Pop Group is now almost as rare, covetable and expensive to obtain as the 7″s it pilfered from in the first place. More to the point, it really stands up as an impeccably sequenced, aesthetically coherent and highly pleasurable listening experience. That said, I also feel pretty sad when I listen to it, because it’s hard to imagine Britain ever sounding again as cracked as The Sell-Outs’ ‘The Ballad Of Fuck Off Records’, wherein the guitar, bass and vocals are all out of tune with each other, to the extent that they’re actually in opposition to each other. Even with Logic and a MacBook Pro at their disposal – tools beyond the imagining of a ’70s band – no bedroom producer today would have what he or she needs to make something this messed-up, this all-over-the-place, this stubbornly human; nor could I imagine any of them having the audacity to turn out a six-second track about unemployment (Danny And The Dressmakers’ with, er, ‘The Truth About The Unemployment’).
Even with Logic and a MacBook Pro at their disposal – tools beyond the imagining of a ’70s band – no bedroom producer today would have what he or she needs to make something this messed-up, this all-over-the-place, this stubbornly human.”
The radiophonic gurgles of E.g. Oblique Graph’s ‘Black Cloth Behind De Gaulle’s’ sound almost jarringly accomplished next to the more chaotic zaps of AK Process’s ‘Post Twon’, while Noh Mercy’s ‘Caucasian Guilt’ is a proto-riot-grrl classic that has already been absorbed into the post-punk canon. The stuff that stands out, however, is the bleary-eyed psychedelia, a huge part of post-punk that’s all but written out of the mainstream narratives: like Brent Wilcox’s ‘8 Parts Leisure’, the Storm Bugs’ Beefheartian noise assault ‘Eat Good Beans’, Men/Eject’s hectoring, minimalist ‘Draw’ and particularly Doof’s surrealist girl-group ramble ‘Treat Me Like (The Man I Am)’.
Legal or not, I Hate The Pop Group is a wonderful artifact and an act of public service, introducing the mere mortal record-buyer to rarified delights (and the odd unlistenable atrocity) that he or she might otherwise have been denied. If ever you see a copy, buy it, even if it does set you back £100 – it’ll still be a steal compared to picking up the singles compiled on it. Taken as a whole, the compilation acts as a reminder that amid all the eulogising of Geoff Travis, Daniel Miller and Tony Wilson et al, and latterly the vogue for Europe’s “minimal wave”, the full story of post-punk has yet to be told. It’s not as simple or as neat as the BBC documentaries would have you believe, and I Hate The Pop Group brings you one step closer to the truth.