“Sounds like vintage electronica, looks like vintage electronica…” Simon Holland fills us in on his project, The Bedroom Cassette Masters Project, to collect together some of the best real (& faux) 80’s bedroom created synthtronica.
Just over a year ago I still clung to the idea that I was – musically at least – somewhat unique. In the early eighties I had been beavering away in my bedroom, toiling over a warm Tascam Portastudio, inadvertently creating ground loops which hummed all over my multi-track synth and drum machine recordings and blended in with the bass drones from my Roland Juno 6.
This was the era when the humble synthesizer, having spent a decade mumbling loudly to itself in the background of popular music, emerged at last from those sonic shadows and strolled boldly to the front of the stage. Previous to this, we bedroom musicians who could not play the guitar had no way of emulating the sound of our favourite chart music. Even those of us who could play the guitar had trouble finding a decent drummer and even then you could never get a really great-sounding demo done on the little four-track cassette recorders that were beginning to appear. But synth pop was different. Put your drum machine through a little practice amplifier with a spring reverb in it and suddenly you were hearing the intro to the latest track from Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Visage, Ultravox et al. Add the monophonic synthesiser you had persuaded mum and dad you needed in lieu of driving lessons and suddenly you sounded exactly like… all your other favourite synth bands!
Of course I knew I had not been unique in producing this sort of music you understand. No, the thing I thought was pretty unique was that I had painstakingly archived all of this work, transporting my boxes of well over two hundred compact cassettes through university, flat-shares, various rented accommodation and finally the house I was still paying the mortgage for. I had then spent hundreds of hours digitizing it, re-compiling and then uploading it for a largely indifferent on-line audience. That, I imagined, was the unique element. But that all changed about a year ago, because that is when I first had the notion of scouring the web to find others who still had their old cassette demos with a view to curating a downloadable compilation of the best of this music. I imagined a ten or twelve track ‘sampler’ album but that was when I was still labouring under the illusion I had been pretty unique.
In February 2012 I published a piece on my blog about the project and posted in several synth-based forums I belonged to. Initially the take-up was slow; it seemed there were others out there, but they were not convinced anyone else would want to hear their lo-fi efforts from thirty years ago. But I persuaded those reluctant few that they had nothing to lose and began to receive their amazingly hissy, vintage audio files as well as scans of home-made cassette covers. Subsequently I even began to find people who were only too proud of their work and had been uploading their own archives for at least as long as me. So much for my delusions of uniqueness!
And then a strange thing happened: I began to be approached by people who wanted to have their music on the compilation but who had not even been alive in the eighties. They were contemporary bedroom musicians, usually with a small collection of vintage analogue instruments and equipment who were committed to producing work using authentic vintage methods. So I had an idea: let them produce their music in-the-style-of lo-fi, cassette-based, bedroom-recorded demos and provide a short biography suggesting they had in fact been produced between 1980-89. They had to carefully date their recordings based on the manufacture dates of the vintage synths they were using to avoid any anachronisms and think of artistic motivation based on age, sex and geography. And so I re-wrote the submission brief to include the sound-alikes, and the music kept coming in but I no longer knew if I was listening to something truly historic or retro-perfect facsimiles. It didn’t matter anymore and I finally settled on twenty-eight of these artists which, including a track of my own and an intro piece meant that Volume One of Bedroom Cassette Masters 1980-89 came with thirty tracks of synth and drum machine based music, occasionally augmented with vocals, field recordings, pianos, stylophones – but absolutely no guitars!
The album has attracted a loyal following via Facebook and bandcamp and I have now begun the process of sifting through unsolicited submissions to begin collating a new collection. What is ‘real’ anymore no longer seems to matter… it sounds like vintage electronica and it looks like vintage electronica.
Bedroom Cassette Masters 1980-89 Volume One on bandcamp.
Bedroom Cassette Masters 1980-89 Volume One on Facebook.
All words by Simon Holland.