Flexibition #46: Incarnate ‘Decay – Eternal Opuscule #100’

Flex46_Decayfront
Post Contemporary was/is the home of The Legion of Green Men out of Toronto, Canada – Alexander “Lex” Addicus and Rupert “Ru” J. Lloyd, who also recorded under many other aliases for the label. We did several gigs with them back in the good old 90s and they gave me a copy of this at one of them. The group frequently included ‘lock grooves’ at the end of their records, a technique where the cutting engineer makes the final groove on the record into a continuous one rather than the spiral the rest of the disc plays through thus endlessly locking the needle into a repeat cycle. To get a rhythmic lock groove that repeats cleanly rather than jumping as the needle turns a full rotation the tempo needs to be 133 1/3bpm (or divisions thereof) when played at 33rpm (180bpm at 45 vinyl fans).

At the end of the track on this disc, ‘Decay’, they put their one hundreth lock groove – or ‘eternal opuscule’ as they called them with the idea that the low quality flexi would slowly wear if left playing and thus slowly change the sound. The concept also extended to the sleeve material too which was printed on photo-sensitive blueprints that would also decay if left in sunlight – see below for their full explanation from the sleeve and insert.Flex46_Decayback Flex46_Decay letter
Here’s the audio – the ‘eternal opuscule’ (or loop to you and me) starts around the 2.30 min mark. Earlier this year, after releases on Post Contemporary had ceased in 2007, a new 2xCD 20th anniversary version of the Legion of Green Men‘s ‘Spatial Specific’ album suddenly arrived. The original was released in 1994 on Ritchie Hawtin‘s Plus 8 Records and the new ‘Redux’ has many more tracks and ‘eternal opuscules’ as well as a transparent overlay that produces moire effects when rotated with the inner artwork.

Flex46_Decaydisc

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Flexibition #45: Run The Jewels ‘Meowrly’ (Boots remix) / ‘Early’

Flex44_MTJ_Flexi1000In a change from the planned entry this week we have this little jewel (pun intended) which went on sale out of the blue last weekend and was kindly nabbed and written up by my good friends Leigh Adams and Sarah Coleman aka Inkymole – the people behind Factoryroad who were in town for the RTJ gig.

Killer Mike and El-P probably don’t need any sort of introduction, the latter being known to us via of a couple of stone-cold Cannibal Ox tunes already in the collection (surely Company Flow as well? – Kev). We were alerted to them originally by our friend Ed, who pronounced the word ‘jooooooooollllls’ in a way so delicious it couldn’t be ignored; fast forward couple of years and we’re the cheesy mega-fans* queuing up outside Warehouse Project with the ID-able teens and buying up T-shirts with giant-sized gold necklaces on them.

Meow The JewelsFlexi

This Flexidisc, a Meow the Jewels remix of ‘Early’ from RTJ II, has its origins in a joke – the weed-at-the-kitchen-table induced threat of remixing the entire Run The Jewels II album using only cat samples got such a response it became a Kickstarter project. If they could raise $40,000 (which RTJ considered ridiculous) they’d do it. It did – in fact it raised $65,000, after Geoff Barrow, Just Blaze, Boots, Automator and others got on board almost immediately. Half of the cash is to be donated to the families of Michael Brown and half to Eric Garner, in the US – the message being that ‘you don’t have to pick a team’ when it comes to victims of American police brutality.

Early’ is my favourite RTJ track and one of the most serious – about a young man being dragged from his home early one morning by police for no reason, and in front of his children – but is also musically one of the darker and minor-key worrisome ones, which is why I love it. Boots (producer) sings his little face off in the mournful chorus, and for this version is, of course, replaced perfectly by whining cats.

Tweeted the night before and on sale from 10am, the cash handed over for these two copies went straight into the coffers of Manchester’s city centre RSPCA branch, all £20 of it. It sounds rough, and the needle barely gets any purchase on the lead-in, but it’s a puurrrrfect memento of our RTJ weekend in Manchester. Ouch.”

*Kev’s word (did I say that? – Kev)

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Flexibition #44: Bone Music from the Soviet Union

This week I turn over the Flexibition to a very special guest, someone who is in the midst of researching and documenting some of the weirdest flexi discs in the world. Stephen Coates aka The Real Tuesday Weld has been collecting ‘bone discs’ from Russia for the last few years and, due to the subject matter with Halloween approaching, I thought he’d be the perfect choice to feature some of his collection.

“Some of the strangest flexis ever made were created secretly in the Soviet Union during the cold war era.
In a culture where the recording industry was completely controlled by the state, music-mad bootleggers used an extraordinary alternative means to spread the music they loved – they re-purposed used x-ray film as the basis for making records of forbidden music.

THE WINE OF LOVE (Вино любви) Pyotr LeshchenkoTHE WINE OF LOVE

But why would a song like the ‘The Wine of Love’ on this ‘bone record’ be forbidden? Its innocent, romantic lyrics don’t seem anti-Soviet in any way, but emigre singers like Leshchenko who lived abroad outside the Soviet Union rather than returning to help the great march forward, were considered traitors and so all their repertoire became banned, though it remained hugely popular.

Even before the revolution of 1917, the arts were subject to some control in Russia and during the Soviet period, particularly from 1932, a censor decided what could be published, exhibited or performed. By the time the cold war kicked in in the late 1940s, a lot of music was very difficult to get hold of – until the x-ray bootleggers got to work.  Originally they were really just music fans and audiophiles doing a bit of private business by copying records from before the war or the odd gramophone disc smuggled into the country, but up until around 1964, as the technique of making the bootlegs spread, something like a million of these ‘bone’ discs were cut. They weren’t pressed like conventional flexis but written, laboriously in real time at 78rpm with home made recording lathes, and so, incredibly, each is an edition of one –  sounding and looking different from all the others.

MISHKA Pavel RudakovMISHKA

They are nearly always single sided, very thin and the sound quality varies hugely depending on the skill of the bootlegger and the quality of the film. They didn’t last long but were cheap and sold pretty much like soft drugs are now – in dark corners or parks. Another big genre of music cut onto them was Russian music made inside the Soviet Union but which, as the censor tightened, had also became forbidden because it had certain rhythms (like the foxtrot or the tango) which were considered licentious or was in a style or with lyrics that were considered uncouth or shallow. Basically anything that the authorities didn’t like or was thought unhelpful in developing a communist state of mind was out.

But the official stuff on offer was often very boring and worthy and so of course, as well as the homegrown music they loved, young people in particular wanted to listen to cool Western music, which although completely banned, might be caught on the odd radio broadcast from Europe. So jazz, rock n roll, boogie woogie and latin dance tunes increasingly began to appear on bone bootlegs.

MAMBOunknown  MAMBO

From the late 1950s, there was another sub-genre of soviet flexi bootlegs on ‘audio postcards’ or ‘sound letters’.  These were picture disc recording blanks made for and sold in official shops – usually in tourist areas. People could go into these shops and pay to use a machine to record a novelty greeting for the folks at home or select one from a menu of official tunes to be pressed onto one of the picture discs. Of course, after hours or under the counter, much more interesting tunes could be cut and sold. These discs carried on being made right up until the 1970s.

But the ‘bone era’ of x-ray recordings ended around 1964, not because the authorities wiped it out or because of the brutal punishments they inflicted on the bootleggers when they caught them, but because in the more open climate of the sixties, ordinary citizens were allowed to have reel to reel tape recorders and immediately there was no longer any need for the laborious process, poor quality and unpredictable results of the x-ray flexis made by hand.

THE X-RAY AUDIO PROJECT
I first came across one of these discs a few years ago after I had been performing in Russia. Fascinated, I set up the X-Ray Audio Project with photographer Paul Heartfield to research, record, collect and publish their images and sounds and to tell the stories of the people who made and listened to them

For more information check out www.x-rayaudio.squarespace.com or my TED X talk”. (below)

The X-Ray Audio exhibition will be at Vivid Projects in Birmingham in November and will return to The Horse Hospital in London in December before traveling to further venues in 2016.

On December 5th I will be in conversation with Stephen at the same venue, showcasing various examples of the flexis I’ve been posting in the Flexibition, playing them and maybe even handing them around so that people can get a closer look. More details for ‘A Night at the Flexibition’ are here.

The book ‘X-RAY AUDIO – The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone’ will be published in December by Strange Attractor Press and a Special Edition of 500 copies come with a flexidisc insert containing original Bone music.

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Flexibition #43: Travel postcard records

Flex43_MontrealfrontFlex43_Montrealback
I know very little about these except that they obviously all advertise the delights of the places they come from. The Montreal one looks like it set out to promote the city ahead of the Olympic Games being hosted there in 1976 and you can see that the reverse side of the Lanzarote and Amsterdam cards is to write home to your loved ones on. Being that the grooves are pressed into the card on a wafer-thin transparent flexi overlay the music on these discs is virtually unplayable and, as you can see from the photos, pressing music onto cardboard has the draw back of it bowing which make it impossible to play with the needle skipping.Flex43_LanzarotefrontFlex43_Lanzaroteback  Flex43_Amsterdamfront Flex43_Amsterdamback As a bonus to the post I’ve added this Yugoslavian souvenir from the stalactite caves of Postojna released by the  tourist agency of Zagreb. The two records are 6″s and the slides are missing from this version. This is listed on Discogs in multiple versions with different covers and languages, I expect it was sold in the gift shop at the caves. Unfortunately none of the music or speech contained here is that interesting so I’ve not included sound files.Flex43_DiaphonfrontFlex43_DiaphondiscsFlex43_DiaphonlabelFlex43_Diaphonback

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Flexibition #42: Limber Up w. Fenella Fielding + Jonny Trunk’s product flexis

Flex42_Limber Up
Earlier this year Jonny Trunk sat in for Jarvis Cocker on his BBC 6 Music Sunday Service show and in amongst the sonic delights he’d pulled from his collection was this little oddity. One of many ‘product flexi discs’ that can be found in record bins the world over. A vast number of services, brands and appliances were marketed to the public via flexi’s because they were a cheap gimmick that stood out more than your average magazine ad but could be added into one with little fuss. We’ve already had Kenny Everett advertising Pepsi, psych songs selling Smiths crisps and Arp and EMS plugging their latest wares.

Flex42_YourSki-Plan
Now comes a double sided, double entendre-laden oddity, released in 1964 by a London-based company called Ski-Plan. The first side is a cheesy look into how the other half live with two couples comparing notes on how much their ski holiday costs, “£37 odd for the fortnight”, “crikey! we reckon our basics for travel and hotel alone will be £40”. How times change. There’s a bit of padding with a speedy accordion interlude before an oh-so-jolly description of the holiday perks and activities, punctuated with a clumsy plug for the company before a final waltz off into the run out groove. “I think you must have been mad fishing out all that lolly!”.

It’s pretty pedestrian stuff but the gold lies on the second side which is the one Jonny aired. Narrated by Fenella Fielding – a British actress known for a whole host of roles and voice work in the 50s and 60s and named ‘England’s first lady of the double entendre’. I was most interested to learn that she voiced the Blue Voice on the BBC version of The Magic Roundabout‘s ‘Dougal & The Blue Cat’ which used to scare the living daylights out of me as a child with he cooing, “Blue is beautiful, blue is best…” line. She also starred in several of the Carry On… and Doctor In…’ films and her husky tones are perfect as she gets you to limber up for your ski-ing lesson with her mind seemingly on anything but.

When I first asked Jonny to submit something for the Flexibition at the start of the year he out did himself and send a whole folder of scans for consideration. The most obvious choice was the F. C. Judd Practical Electronics disc but I didn’t want all his hard work to go to waste so here are a selection of some of the other flexi’s he pulled out for your perusal.
TheMonthsAhead Levis ClearasilHotpoint BeautifulEyesEnglishElectric Barclays Screenhitsdiscs ScreenHits JAL(incolour)

http://www.allvinylexperience.com/Product_Flexis_-_The_Early_Years_-_1930s-60s.html

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Flexibition #41: MAD magazine flexi’s and soundcards

Flex#41_MADGraduationDayfront
Mad magazine should need no introduction, its mascot, Alfred E. Newman (above: What – Me Worry?), has grinned greasily from its covers for decades now as the mag debuted in the early 1950s. They issued Specials which reprinted the best bits of the monthly mags and would contain posters, cards and sometimes sound sheets too, first on card and later on more traditional flexible plastic. Here are my collection, comprising over half the discs I’ve been able to find info on. My favourite has always been the one above with the strategically placed spindle hole where Alfred’s missing tooth is. The gags are of their time and some have dated better than others with the ‘It’s A Gas’ song probably best known among stoner or garage rock circles.

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Flex#41_MADGallIntheFamily
Some VERY of-its-time language on this one

‘Meet The Staff of MAD’ was the first sound sheet to be issued by the magazine, way back in 1959!

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Flex#41_MADTwists RnRoll

‘It’s a Gas’ was an early sound sheet, free with the magazine in the mid 1960s and also available on a regular 45 with a picture sleeves.

The Foo Fighters issued a flexi pressed onto card in 2014 that aped the layout of the MAD flexis above…FooFightersFlexi
And here are some that I don’t have: The MAD Disco flexi had six songs on it – including a Disco version of ‘It’s A Gas’ – professionally played to perfectly ape the genre’s sound, unfortunately it was released in 1980, years after Disco’s peak.

‘Makin’Out’ is also late 70s, listen for the Star Wars and The Muppets references and pulsing Disco groove.

“It’s a Super-Spectacular Day” aka ‘The Mad Mystery Sound’ was included in a Summer 1980 issue of MAD magazine. The song has eight different unpleasant endings depending on where you drop the needle. You didn’t know which of the eight endings you’d hear when you played the song. MAD indeed.

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Flexibition #40: The Psychedelic Furs’ playable record sleeve

Flex40_PsychFurs7front
I’ve been after one of these for a while and a copy turned up earlier this month in a South London market. The sleeve to the Psychedelic Furs’ Dumb Waiters single had what’s known as a ‘Polish Postcard’ cover. I’ll be covering these in a forthcoming post but It’s a slight cheat as the grooves aren’t stamped in the cardboard, it’s more a clear disc stuck on top of the card sleeve with the all-important spindle hole through the centre. The cover contains a sampler of their then current album, Talk Talk Talk and the back of the sleeve states: “Watch for the new album TALK TALK TALK (CBS 84892) and hear it on this sleeve at 33 r.p.m.”. Flex40_PsychFurs7discFlex40_PsychFurs7back

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Flexibition #39: London party invites and Rave adverts

Flex39_Discoland Flexidisc 1This week it’s a triple flexi shoot out with Coldcut‘s Jon More returning to add a gem from his collection to the selection and it’s taken a fair bit of research to piece together some of the info here. Two of the discs are adverts for party nights around the capital highlighting a particular trend for distributing information about underground or illegal dance music in the 80s and early 90s. All are unintentional comedy gold in part as well.

We’ll start in chronological order with Jon’s contribution: ‘Discoland’ by The Baby Sham $ Boys (the name says it all) for a party in Blackfriars, London from 1986 from what I can tell by tracing the date and by the clubs, DJs and artists mentioned. Jon remembers, “I may have got this when I worked at Reckless (secondhand record store in Soho) – I have a vague memory of someone dropping a pile off… I did not go – a decision that was easy to make after listening to the “advert”….”

Flex39_Discoland Flexidisc 2Terribly sung and narrated over The Floaters‘Float On’ we have sex, drugs, geezers, innuendo and the worst French accent you ever heard. Narrator Robert introduces organiser Mark and DJs Chris, Little James and Simon (Pew?) in a line up that just screams 80s, mercifully there’s no B side.

A recent discovery of mine in an East London record emporium – where the (young) cashier looked at it exclaiming, “what is it?” – was this party invite on a flexi. Simply entitled ‘Party’ this 1-sided disc, complete with London Records logo, is a comparatively slick production featuring rapper E-Mix giving details for a jam on Saturday 12th Sept, 1987 over Public Enemy‘s ‘Timebomb’ instrumental.Flex39_EMxiParty

It seems to be for an illegal party featuring DJs Jazzie B, Ratchet, Mark Moore, Ben Jones, Little John, Milton Checkley (sp?) and Roots (the same one as featured on early Ninja Tune records maybe?). There’s a CT logo above the London one, was this the party name or venue? E Mix calls out, “CT getting busy now” at the start and the venue is quoted as “next door to Bill Sticker, not the big route ‘cos it is too suspicious” and “be there dead at 11, don’t make a queue, remember, this is an illegal do”. Again tracing the date back it seems that this comes from 1987 which would make sense with the names and the Public Enemy backing track.

The final flexi has literally no info on the clear disc itself aside from ‘Orlake’ (this will be the pressing plant it was made at) and ‘Sturflexi’ (the catalogue number) scratched into the run out. I got this many years ago, thrown in as part of a trade with another collector and, through the magic of Discogs, managed to find out what this gem was. Apparently it came free with an issue of UK magazine Generator and was worth the punt as it’s certainly unique.Flex39_Raveflexi

Two sides of adverts for compilations with side A featuring two ads for The Sonic Experience – Def Til’ Dawn (1993) on Strictly Underground Records. This contains recordings of people and police from raves in between tracks, sounds professionally made and I’m pretty sure I heard some of these on Colin Dale and Colin Favor‘s KISS FM shows in the early 90s.

The B side contains three ads for compilations on Strictly Hardcore, (a subsidiary of Strictly Underground) Illegal Rave (1992), Illegal Rave II (1993) and Illegal Pirate Radio (1993). In comparison to the flip these ads are just two geezers (presumably label owner Mark Ryder and someone called John or Kev) waxing lyrical about the records, flipping through the tracks as friends would in bedrooms around the nation. The fact that the words ‘strictly’ and ‘kev’ were included was not lost on me and I cut this up at the start of a Hardcore mix I made around 2004.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to advertise their wares, the advert for Illegal Rave was included at the end of the Illegal Rave II compilation, another was featured at the end of the later Illegal Pirate Radio II comp and The Sonic Experience featured the ad for Illegal Pirate Radio.

Apparently there was a sleeve for it which may have helped me put together some of this info a bit quicker, this post hast taken up far too much time!

Sturflexi cover

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Flexibition #38: Yasuharu Konishi, Simon Harris & Music of Life

My last flexi disc from Japan this week and one that looks back to the west, London and Simon Harris’ Music of Life record label. Yasuharu Konishi  – a founding member of Pizzacato 5 – creates ‘A Tribute To Simon Harris’, a multi-tempo break beat cut & paste tune on bright yellow plastic. It was available in issue 53 (July 2001) of Relax magazine, this time in a printed sleeve, and the 524 on the disc is the name of his record label.

Flex38_Fab! frontFlex38_Fab! disc

Flex38_Fab! label
Flex38_Fab! backBack in the UK, in the late 80s, Simon Harris was issuing flexi discs of his own, the one below being an overview of his Music of Life label thus far. It dates from 1987, only about a year since the label’s inception, a time when it was transitioning from reissues of US material to original content, focusing on the UK Hip Hop scene. He mentions “here at the 1987 International DJ convention so I’d guess it was only available at the event as the tone is very industry-based with talk of distributors, import-style pressings and loud vinyl cuts. There’s no trace of it on either Discogs or YouTube so I think this is a fairly safe one to put up and I’ve added it to my Soundcloud.

Flex38_StoryofMOL
I’ve always known Music of Life as a Hip Hop or Breakbeat label but during the history of the label, Simon mentions their first release – a remix of Cerrone‘s ‘Supernature’ on a one-side 12″. I dug out my copy and sure enough, check the catalogue number: MOLIF 1 from 1986 no less. (This isn’t a flexi but I thought it was interesting).

Flex38_MOF_no.1
Another flexi that MOL issued was a preview promo for their Hard As Hell 3 compilation which dates from 1988. I don’t actually have a copy of this myself but someone has put it up on YouTube in all its Harris-narrated glory, nice Music of Life slipmat too. No idea where this was available from, maybe a magazine like Hip Hop Connection?

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Flexibition #37: Cornelius ‘Curiosity Killed The Ape’ 4 x 6″s + record player

Cornelius _Curiosity discs
This is a pretty special release I picked up in Japan at the turn of the century. Cornelius has always pushed the boundaries with both his music, live performances and videos and this is no exception. Four 6″ ‘Sono-sheets’ under the title of ‘Sound Hunter’ (Pts.4-7 – not sure what happened to the first three), a 182 page book and a DIY record player. I’ve never built it so can’t vouch for the fidelity of the contraption but only in Japan do things like this happen.

Cornelius _Curiosity disc.pt7
Three of the four discs are on YouTube but the ‘Fantasma Radio Spot Take #1’ sadly isn’t. The music veers from rock to vocal pop to crazed sampledelia and all the disc are worth a listen. You can find copies on Discogs but they’re not cheap as you’d expect. There’s not much I can add to this because most of the text is in Japanese but marvel at how well it’s come together.

Cornelius _Curiosity disc.pt6

Cornelius _Curiosity disc.pt5

Cornelius _Curiosity disc.pt4

Cornelius _Curiosity book Cornelius _Curiosity inside Cornelius _Curiosity back Cornelius _Curiosity front

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Flexibition #36: Nigo & Money Mark magazine freebies

Flex36_Nigo_Ape Sounds
We continue the Japanese theme this month with several releases from the Far East. One of Japan’s biggest cultural exports to these shores in the 00s was Nigo whose Bathing Ape clothing empire was an instant underground hit before spreading to the mainstream via people like Pharrell championing it. One of the first to latch on it in the UK was James Lavelle who released several Nigo-fronted records on Mo Wax and many crossover products in Japan from compilations to clothes to toys.

Flex36_Nigo_ApeSoundlabel
A common ground for both in Nigo’s homeland was the monthly style and culture magazine Relax which featured Bape wear heavily and even had a regular ‘what’s happening’-style page from Lavelle called LTD. EDT. at one point as well as many features on Mo Wax artists. Like a lot of magazines of its ilk it usually came with a high quality free gift (I’ve bought magazines with a wallet by Delta and a Bathing Ape mirror!) and flexi discs were given away too. I have two such discs, both by Nigo with collaborators, the first here given away with issue 36 in 2000, a mellow version of his ‘Kung Fu Fightin’ release produced by K.U.D.O. of Major Force.
Flex36_Nigo_RelaxDub
Two issues earlier Nigo had teamed with another Mo Wax alumni – Money Mark – for ‘Relax Dub (Part II)’ . I’ve no idea where you can hear the original or Part 1 but it was again produced by K.U.D.O. with both discs nestling inside custom Bape die-cut covers. There were only two flexis to my knowledge although there was a Bape mini-CD included with the mag a year later. I think Relax ceased publishing in 2006 but it held the kind of ‘style-bible’ respect of The Face magazine over here, covering music, art, fashion and underground culture from around the world with themed issues containing exhaustive research and excellent photography.

Flex36_Nigo_Relax Dublabel
Back over in the West we had Dazed & Confused magazine which – keeping with the Mo Wax connection – included a Money Mark flexi with issue 42 in 1998. The flexi disc was pressed at Eva-Tone in the US (the UK’s main flexi manufacturer Lyntone having closed down in 1991). It featured ‘Trust’, taken from his Push The Button album of the same year and is the only flexi that Mo Wax released. Unfortunately none of this audio is freely floating around on YouTube or the like and seeing as these artists are contemporaries I don’t really want to be putting their material up here from my own recordings. Mark’s LP doesn’t seem to be available in digital form from the usual outlets but he’s giving his 1st album, Mark’s Keyboard Repair away free on his website. Nigo’s Ape Sounds album is available on iTunes.

Flex36_MoneyMarkTrustD&ConMoneyMark

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Flexibition #35: Plastics x2

Flex35_Plasticspicturedisc

A double whammy of flexi’s from Japanese band Plastics this week courtesy of Steve Cook who gifted me these from his excellent collection before heading for the sunny climbs of LA in a few weeks time. It’s not often you see a full colour ‘picture disc’ flexi but that’s one right there (pressed more than a little off-centre it must be said). Given away free only with UK copies of their 1981 album, Welcome Back, they cover The Monkees with a bizarre bontempi version of ‘Last Train To Clarksville’. As with the first track on the disc, ‘Paté’, the band come on like an electropop ‘Rock Lobster’-era B-52s with a bouncy, slightly hysterical style that relies on a minimal drum machine to propel them along. Here’s a live version with the top lyric, “Chinese ping pong big pink tits”.

Flex35_PlasticsLP cover

Flex35_PlasticsGolddiscThe gold ‘Diamond Head / Peace’ flexi was given away free to customers at record shops like Our Price in 1981 to help promote their Welcome Back album, in the same manner as the Joy Division and Durutti Column flexi’s I featured last week. In the early 80’s music papers, journalists like Tony Mitchell in Sounds were pushing Japanese techno pop as a new fad and record labels were clamouring to sign and promote these acts for a moment off the success of bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra. Plastics fitted the bill although were far from serious or sombre, ‘Diamond Head’ sounding not far off Piero Umiliani‘s ‘Mahna Mahna’, made famous by the Muppets meeting Devo.

Flex35_PlasticsGoldcover

Another Japanese band, Spoozy’s, covered ‘Diamond Head’ on a Plastics tribute album in the late 90s and made it into a fantastic surf rock tune.

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Flexibition #34: Factory Records – The Durutti Column & Joy Division

Flex34_ViniRdisc
A couple of flexi’s from Factory Records this week and The Durutti Column one from 1988 is a thing of beauty that I bought purely for the design by Mark Holt of 8vo. It references their sleeve for ‘The Guitar and Other Machines’ and slyly changes it to ‘…and Other Marketing Devices’. From David Sultan‘s excellent FactoryRecords.net catalogue site:

“10,000 of these flexi’s were pressed and put in special countertop boxes to promote the Durutti Column album, “Guitar and Other Machines”. Mark Holt repeats his superb design, a three dimensional four foot high collage of image and text on the flexi and it looks amazing. Almost all went out to shops and were never seen again. The counter top container/box was an 8vo classic in itself and might attract serious interest amongst Durutti fanatics.”

Weirdly, the album that this was supposed to promote was released at the end of 1987 but this flexi didn’t arrive until the summer of 1988, another case of classic Factory lateness?

Flex34_ViniRdiscdetailFlex34_ViniRdiscdetail2
Flex34_JoyDivdisc

The second disc is by Joy Division, featuring outtakes from their Closer album. What’s interesting about this flexi is the uncredited third track called ‘As You Said’ from the time the band went under the name Warsaw. It’s a short, electronic instrumental reminiscent of Kraftwerk and has a certain late 70s charm.

I do like these little messages on the label area, clearly Factory deemed flexi discs as worthless. This disc was pressed up in two batches of 25,000 and sent out to record stores to be given away from the counter. Later on it was also given away with a fanzine (with Factory’s permission) called The Other Sound. Easy to find but far from free, try telling that to the record stores charging a tenner for them today.

Flex34_JoyDivdiscB

Flex34_JoyDivdiscA

As far as I know, Factory only did four flexi discs during their day, sadly I don’t have a copy of the 1980 Martin Hannett ‘Test Card’ disc that was inserted into The Return of the Durutti Column album with the sandpaper cover or the ‘Merry Xmas From The Haçienda and Factory Records’ one by New Order from the same year.

MartinHannettflexi

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Flexibition #33: Flexipop! magazine

Flex33_Flexicovers4
In the short film which debuted last week that The Vinyl Factory made about my flexi disc collection I briefly talked about Flexipop! magazine and this week’s entry is dedicated to the publication rather than any one flexi disc. Flexipop! was a unique magazine that existed in a unique time and it deserves a special mention in UK pop publishing history. From 1980 to 1983 it was independently published, created by a couple of ex-Record Mirror journalists – Barry Cain and Tim Lott – and a small team who took the bull by the horns and flew by the seat of their pants. Each monthly issue came with a free flexi disc attached to the cover (excepting later issues – more of that later).

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The mag straddled many different music genres and artists and wasn’t afraid to mix and match without much of a thought for any sort of core audience. At a time when it was competing against the newly launched, ultra-cool i-D and The Face (which they lampooned), the weekly triumvirate of The NME, Melody Maker & Sounds and the bi-weekly Smash Hits, it managed to somehow occupy a spot of its own, coming on like a sleazy big brother to Smash Hits, rising from the ashes of the end of the previous decade. The Punk movement was largely dead by this time, the main bands having moved on, had chart success or split. Synth Pop, New Romantics, a Rockabilly revival, Ska, the Blitz scene, Goths and what would later become known as post-punk and new pop were the order of the day. It was still very much a music business in transition from the DIY spirit of the late 70s to the blatant commercialism that would later consume the pop charts from the mid 80 and it was those years – some of the most interesting in the 80s – that Flexipop straddled.

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The magazine focused primarily on the Pop charts with an eye on the independent labels too and the gimmick of a free disc with each issue was the bait with which they sold their brand. Each disc was a new, exclusive recording as well, not something available elsewhere, which immediately appealed to fans of whoever was the featured artist that month. The discs were manufactured by Lyntone in London and many big artists of the time featured over the magazine’s three year span: Soft Cell, Toyah, The Jam, The Selector, Motorhead, The Boomtown Rats, Blondie, XTC, The Cure, Genesis, Depeche Mode… even Bucks Fizz!

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The first issue I ever bought was #4 for the Adam & The Ants cover version of ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – re-imagined as ‘A.N.T.S.’ – and reading it was a shock for an 11 year old. This was probably my first encounter with a more adult style of writing, complete with swearing, as well as the seedy cartoons of mag designer Mark Manning (later to transform himself into Zodiac Mindwarp) and the violent bloodbaths that were the monthly photo story.

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The mag had taken a leaf out of girl’s magazines like My Guy, Patches and Jackie and decided to run a photo story featuring assorted pop stars and friends in each issue. These gore-fests usually involved some form of torture, mutilation or bloody death in one way or another and ended up getting the magazine banned from WH Smiths stores at one stage. Aside from the photo stories they hardly ever ran the standard interview pieces, instead opting to go for more quirky, quickfire Q&A pieces (‘Lifelines’), features on childhood (‘Testament of Youth’), star’s everyday lives (‘Welcome To The Working Week’) or Top 10s and single reviews.

They also didn’t shy away from the twee either, a double page Abba spread appeared as did a pairing of Berni Nolan (of The Nolan Sisters) with Jello Biafra (The Dead Kennedys) and it was this sense of fun and irreverence that became its trademark. The ban effectively ended up killing the mag by 1983 though, halved sales, caused by the refusal of Smiths to stock it for two months, meant that the flexi had to go and a last minute re-brand with Kris Needs at the editorial helm couldn’t save the day. Their final issue featured Aleister Crowley on the cover (the interior piece was written none other that Current 93‘s David Tibet) and was dubbed issue 666 in his honour.

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What was remarkable, looking back, was the access they had to the stars of the day and the situations they managed to get them into as a result. The photo stories are the biggest shock – Depeche Mode being whipped by a dominatrix for instance – but Paul Weller being gagged by Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler as well as dressing up as a mad professor are things you didn’t see elsewhere. A full page kiss between Boy George & Jon Moss in 1982? It would be over a decade before the relationship between the two was publicly acknowledged so they obviously felt at ease with the publication. Flex33_FlexiKisspg

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A few months back, whilst researching this piece, I found a whole site dedicated to the magazine, set up by the original team who created it. Not only is it a treasure trove of content, covers, cartoons and other assorted crap but they just released a book – imaginatively entitled ‘Flexipop! The Book’, what else? – chronicling the history of the mag and reprinting a ton of content. Best of all, it comes with a brand new flexi featuring Spandau Ballet and Marc Almond! All the images in this piece are from it and you can grab a copy right here – it’s a blast of nostalgia the likes of which we’ll not see again I can tell you, even if some of the scans are a bit ropey here and there. Also on the site is Barry Cain’s blog with a ton of interviews well worth trawling through.

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For obvious reasons I’m not going to include the audio to this disc here, you’ll just have to go and buy the book…

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Flexibition #32: The Human League ‘Fast’ flexi + Vinyl Factory film

Flex32_HumanLeagueFastKeeping with a pop group theme for August (The The were last week) here’s a flexi disc about flexi discs and Russian manned space flight with no actual music on it. Given away free with early copies of The Human League (Mk.1)‘s ‘Dignity of Labour’ 12″, it’s an untitled disc which is sometimes known as the ‘Fast flexi’ due to the label it was released on and consists of Oakey, Ware and Craig-Marsh talking in the studio with their manager about what exactly they should include on the free disc.


It’s briefly mentioned in a short film recorded at my studio the other month by The Vinyl Factory for their new series, The Enthusiast, and you can catch a glimpse of various discs from my collection that have already been featured plus a few yet to come…
(Warning, I do swear right at the start and if you want to hear the porno flexi that plays briefly in full, it’s here)

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Flexibition #31: The The ‘Dumb As Death’s Head’

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Here’s an oddity that you don’t hear much – a rare The The track given away free as a flexi disc with the Melody Maker in 1983. ‘Dumb As Death’s Head’ is an early Matt Johnson composition and, to my knowledge, this is the only place that it was officially released. You can hear a musical link to the earlier MJ solo album, ‘Burning Blue Soul’ and similar era tracks that later turned up on B-sides like ‘Leap Into The Wind’ or ‘The Nature of Virtue’.

What makes this special is that it’s been included in some track lists for the unreleased / scrapped ‘Pornography of Despair’ album – what was to be The The’s debut LP and a forerunner to ‘Soul Mining’ – and is certainly from the same time period. The version I found on YouTube was so terrible as to be almost unlistenable so I’ve encoded it again and cleaned it up although there are odd bumps and a jump at the start but such is the nature of flexi’s. I found my copy at a car boot sale in Surrey back in the late 80s, a time when locating something as ephemeral as this was a lot harder than it is today. Not hard to find now though, there are several for sale through the magic of Discogs as I type.

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Flexibition #30: Doug Khan ‘Reagan Speaks For Himself’

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I’m delighted to have this offering from special guest Jon More of Coldcut in the Flexibition as it ticks many boxes for me. The flexi in question came free with a comic (tick) includes a spoken word cut up (tick) and they sampled a tiny phrase from it on their classic remix of Eric B & Rakim‘s ‘Paid in Full’ (tick). Obviously I’m inextricably linked to Jon (and Matt) through their label, Ninja Tune, and radio show, Solid Steel, but I was a fan of their work from their first appearance on vinyl so I’m chuffed to have a contribution from Jon here. I’ll let him explain how he came to be in possession of this cracking, president-baiting flexi disc… *

“I bought my first volume of Raw in Holland in 1980 – I used to go every New Year for the fireworks mayhem, record buying in Concerto – junk market digging at Waterloopleinmarkt. On the way to Concerto I passed this, now historic, comic shop…  Lambiek – I came out with a copy of Raw Volume 1… From then I was hooked. When volume 4 came out (March 1982) it came with a bonus Flexi disc…”

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*the black & white front cover of the mag is die-cut so that the colour interior shows through – above you can see the Reagan head underneath the cut out window*

“Raw had a history of including odd & sods – chewing gum & trading cards, the serial insert Maus, from Art Spiegelman… Raw was an important discovery, we used excerpts from the Flexi as jingles on Solid Steel. I first discovered artist Mark Beyer in Raw –  we asked Marc to design artwork for our first album – ‘Whats That Noise’… Undoubtedly the cut up style of Doug Kahn‘s Flexi disc sunk in…. interesting little story on producing the Flexi is included in the magazine…”

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Khan’ s recording contains a speech by Ronald Reagan, expertly cut and reshuffled to exaggerate the president’s age, failing memory and general ineptitude. It’s an early example of the kind of cut up that Cassette Boy has made a career out of. At one point you hear Ron utter, “OK, alright”, and this tiny snippet ended up near the end of Coldcut’s game-changing ‘7 Minutes of Madness’ mix for Eric B & Rakim. Check it at 1.14 mins in the recording…

…and then at 5.45 and 6.04 in their remix…

To round off the post, here’s some connected art: a ‘Reagan Speaks For Himself’ illustration by Sue Coe from Raw #4 and the Mark Beyer cover that resulted from his commission to design Coldcut’s debut album.
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CC_WTNfront* in a bizarre case of extreme coincidence, the day before I received this entry from Jon, the Cut Up documentary I featured in on Radio 4 aired and one of the featured entries was this exact flexi disc.CC_WTNback

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Flexibition #29: Living Music No.1

Flex29_Living Music coverAnother 8″ x 8.5″ magazine with discs inside for this week’s Flexibition, only this time they aren’t strictly flexi’s as the grooves are pressed into a thin layer that is fixed to the card pages similar to some of the playable post cards I’ve featured (and will feature) already. Living Music takes the same format as the previous Echo and Sonorama publications in that there’s a spindle hole through the centre of each page and they fold back with the ring binding so that the whole mag is placed on the turntable to play. There are only actually two records inside, with narration by Milton Cross about 10 sampled albums and the fidelity is suprisingly good but nothing to get excited about unfortunately.

It’s primarily a music magazine, highlighting releases and news of an audiophile nature, ‘converting your hi-fi to stereo’ is one such article, and there are ads for Garrard turntables inside among others. A coupon offers $2.50 off the annual subscription of 12 issues to Charter subscribers and suggests that it was available on newsstands. The editorial also promises more to come with focus on contemporary Russian music, Gypsy, Classical Jazz and technical info in future issues. This is issue one, an American publication from 1959, and I can find nothing else about it on the web so have no idea if they made it to issue two, any info is appreciated.Flex29_Living Music disc

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Flexibition #28: Sonorama magazine

Sonorama cover Sonorama was a monthly French audio magazine that debuted in 1958. Following the format of Echo magazine as featured last week, it folded back so that the pages could be placed on the turntable and the discs played from there. The design may not have been up to the standard of Echo but it ran for considerably longer, reaching over 40 issues with usually with between 5 and 8 flexi discs in each publication. Sonorama contentsSonorama flexi2

The plain white, extremely thin discs in my copy of No.6 (they should be floppy discs, rather than flexi) contained nothing but a number on each. There’s a short film at the bottom of an issue being played, not the one featured here though, where you can see the construction of the mag and hear an example of the disc (he has a job to get it on the turntable at one point). There seem to be many of these available through Discogs for between €4-10 each.

Sonorama inside

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Flexibition #27: Echo magazine #3

DSC00022Echo‘the magazine you play on your phonograph’ – was first published in 1959 and came with 5 or 6 flexi discs fixed inside each issue, mostly containing music and interviews with the subjects profiled within. The ring-binder design let each page fold back under the last and a spindle hole through the centre meant that you could place the whole magazine on the turntable to play each disc.
An 8″ x 8″ quarterly publication that ran for at least 4 issues as far as I can tell (of which this is #3), it had beautiful page layouts courtesy of Designers’ Collaborative from New York and United Artists served as the agent supplying the entertainment talent. This one features music and interviews with The Trapp Family / Mary Martin / Brigitte Bardot / France Nuyen / Eva Gabor / Siobahn McKenna / Brendan Behan / a Shelley Berman monologue / an interview with The Kingston Trio / Fiorello La Guardia reads the comics and an advert for Springmaid Fabrics.
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There are some extracts from the discs over on WFMU’s excellent 365 Days Project entry by Katya Oddie for the same issue. Here’s the cover for #2 – pretty advanced design for 1959 – if anyone has any of the other issues that they’d like to sell then I’m interested.Echo mag #2

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