Clifford Darling.


Working on Clifford Darling now. This was a compilation album called in by Ink records in 1985, which was to collect all the stuff made before Since The Accident. So only a two – four year backtrack, compared to the vast distances travelled now to pillage the past. Even so, we were wary of the lack of progress you get when compiling ye olde shite, and I think it was Garry that collected the famous “Clifford Darling Please Don’t live in the Past” line (although “try think of three guys laying a telephone booth” is better).

So a lot of this was cassette, some was 1/4 track tape – all the Blubberknife and Clean stuff. We compiled onto a Revox B77 and then bounced that out to Betamax Digital. So I have the Betamax of the medley on sides C and D, bounced from tape, which is the best master. Sides A and B I have both bounces from tape and the direct cassette to Betamax dubs. Because I’ve only recently cared about archiving they’re all called xxxx.wav and xxxx2.wav & I don’t yet know for sure which is which. The xxxx2 versions have been topped and tailed, which will probably mean they are not the raw dubs. Hey at least I took the time to back it all up over that crazy media period.


Sides C and D – fuck it, I’m not touching it. It sounds like what it is – cassettes and tapes – and I am not going to try ‘correct it’. That was also the decision long ago when making the CD version.

However the CD version does have maximisation on A and B. I was a bit shocked at what I had done in 2002 – the waveform was nearly flat – until I looked at the cassette transfers – they’re nearly flat as well – because us 80’s guys had blasted the cassette  tape to get the highest signal to noise, and a touch of tape compression. When you look at the open reel that went to Ink in 1985, there’s obvious points where a cassette is playing (flat line), then a voice sample leaps out (jumps up 6dB).

This is straight from cassette, and wham!

The CD version isn’t actually wrong, it just moved this flat -9dB line up to -3dB which is a bit loudness wars. But I recall I made some 2000 era treatments to some of the tracks, so delete that. I’ll use the absolute masters and move the baseline to -6dB which leaves heaps of headroom. Then a few tracks need a bit of help.

First problem is woof. The bass sounds spread out and become flatulent on the cassette. That needs a little multi-band compression, put a bit of an envelope back where it should be. It’s mostly untreated 808 so easy to spot the problem.


Second problem is splat – mostly high hats that are now fish frypans. Using a little exciter can make the high hats not quite as splurt splurt –  bringing back the overtones can move their frequency centre up to where it should be.

Some frequencies are leaping around – probably because a different cassette deck was used to play back the stuff. Multi-band compression used ever so slightly will help.

I’m not going to touch any underlying noise. I will have a look at what’s going on at less that 20Hz though, because whatever it is, it’s not a sound recording on cassette!

In fact there’ll probably be more changes made in the cutting room than any of what I do. Just fix the obvious bruises, leave the surgery to doctors.

Hope to get this done by mid May,

Oompa Loopma Riot

Updated 11th April

Version 1.1. is out. There are all the image changes you wanted, names fixed and all tracks are in place.

As you find errors you comment here and then version 1.2 will be out in 25 years.

Updated booklets will go here too, so you don’t have to download the whole thing again.

oompa booklet 1.1


  • Received track from Auto Horatio+ Art DONE
  • Received track from Spring Rolls + Art DONE
  • LOCK OFF TRACKS… all in.
  • Brainbeau spelling correction and art changes.
  • Quimper band contact details.
  • Update art by !!*, infinitezer0, horatio, piggy.


Somethings old something new 2015.

We’re starting to piece together the likely offerings for 2015. All of this is likely but I cannot say that is inevitable. There are known knowns and unknown unknowns and all of that.

Greater Reward 12″ vinyl.

Not this one, but one after it.

This old thing still gets some deejay culture and so we are all well pleased to say it has got its handbag out on behalf of Optimo in Scotland. I don’t believe you have to be a DJ to have this but it certainly helps.

Petrol 12″

This what comes up when you Google Petrol 12 inch.

So this was going to be the 12″ that was released by Normal Records in West Germany in 1986. But there’s so many versions of Petrol that you could do a whole album. Lordy! What will Dark Entries decide? Find out in 2015.

Clifford Darling, Please Don’t Live In The Past. 2x LP


Relive the past with this luxuriously ironic title, presented in full colour for the first time. This the album that inspired this re-issue. What will Dark Entries think of next?

Stretcher 2x LP?


Somebody is crazy enough to be talking about STRETCHING STRETCHER over 4 sides. That crazy is Medical Records but will their accountant find out in time?

Vinyl On Demand are demanding some stuff – more later.

And do not forget



Rhine is a new album for the first quarter of 2015. It’s the first singing album since Under Gail Succubus in 2006. Not nine years in the making, instead I have struggled with identity, which only recently allowed this to happen.

It’s a ‘Tom Ellard’ thing, but I usually cover releases here in more detail. You’re right to ask what difference between that and ‘Severed Heads’ – the latter has more baggage and is happier in a nursing home.

Recording started in 2012 when we were invited to play the Adelaide Festival early in 2013. The idea was to make a special item for that show, but the workload on the HH game made that impossible. Nevertheless there were some sketches done and an album seemed plausible, although not as a release as much as a nice thing to do. It’s around this time that the old Terse Tapes studio started to regrow with many “new old” synthesisers and tape machines coming back into use. Whatever the studio had lost in the great dying of 1998, it was made right.

Most of the sounds on Rhine are from hardware and magnetic tape. That makes little difference in the quality of the sound, but has focussed the music in some ways that’s been helpful and interesting.

The bigger it got the more it needed some kind of resolution. For a little while I thought it could be released by ‘Kaspar Stangassinger’ as a joke. But in 2014, the old Eighties Cheesecake LP was re-issued and some kind words said about it. It has been difficult to reconcile my day job (middle aged guy in university admin) with singing, and I don’t enjoy the same timeless visage as John Foxx, but you know, fuck, just get over it.

It’s a pop album somewhat like Cheesecake meets Gail. I have other ‘experimental’ albums available (for free!) so I don’t see the need to justify that. For two years it was called My Puppydog Face, and then that track got taken off* and I just stole the name Rhine from another project that is being absorbed into H3H. (You are keeping up with all these projects aren’t you?)

Although I’ve done very well out of music downloads I think it needs some kind of celebratory package and form, a fetish. A thumb drive seems to be the best format and I’m pricing this, with download as an instant gratification bonus. I understand that some are worried by this, but I will make sure that you get the best of each.

Currently the album is in mastering hell. One interesting thing about older hardware is that it creates vastly different textures that really don’t sit well together – that is, one track can be happily loud, while the one you wanted next to it sounds awful at a similar volume. One problem is screeching. The older machines are like parrots.

As more news comes, I will bring it here.

* But rumour has it that you might find that on the thumb drive somehow.

OCR Fun: Melody Maker March 1984

CHAT SHOW by Lynden Barber

THE second time I ever saw the amazing Severed Heads they were playing to the usual half-empty room of dedicated adventurers and deadbeats in their usual venue, the Sydney Trade Club, located in the typical leafy inner city suburb of Surry Hills. The usual pairs of eyes were fixed to the banks of television sets on either side of the stage which were unleashing the usual rapid blitz of Technicolor brain-jolts. The usual pairs of ears were being into the usual state of excitation that occurs whenever the Heads set their bravura modern dance trance from Mars into interstellar overdrive. The usual small gathering of Oz-rockers and surfies were standing at the back trying to figure out how these characters had the nerve to scuttle around on stage adjusting electronic equipment like engineers when they could have been whipping out guitars, tossing groins towards the rafters and boogie-ing like groups are meant to. Hang it, if this modern rubbish wasnt an insult to the intelligence.
One of them approached me.
“D’you actually like this?”
The question had already been answered by my enthusiastically shaking foot before it had even left his mouth.
“But what is it you see in this? Can you explain it?”
Indeed. The Severed Heads, a combo led by a genial and puckish boffin called Tom Ellard, are hardly like any other group you may have experienced before. Besides contributing to the creation of a new musical genre based heavily on the creation of insistent rhythmic pulsations and nagging melodic fragments from cut-ups of everyday sounds, they contain the world’s first ever video synthesizer player.
Their approach to on-stage performance is revolutionary in that they have successfully harnessed the technology of the new video age to posit the idea that conventional notions of stage presence are obsolete. They write tunes that drive me wild with desire, make me
want to dance the night away, and send anybody who is at all attuned to them into an ecstatic trance.

“WE did a show at the Trade Union Club once which was no music, we just played TV sets.” Tom Ellard has just sauntered through the front door as if, wandering past entrance to someone else’s dream, he has decided to pop in to make some suggestions.
Dream on, Tom . ..
“We did a similar show at the Graphic Arts Club which was really ‘good’ because people actually got incredibly aggressive – ‘TURN THAT FUCKING TELEVlSlON OFF YER CUNT.’ And when you didn’t turn that fucking television off yer cunt they would come up and turn it off for you. It even got to the stage where somebody built a bonfire under the video recorder when we weren’t looking and set fire to it. One other woman came up and started physically pulling bits off the television. That really distressed me. . . I had to shut down the whole thing and get out of there before they ruined the equipment.’
Tom shakes his head ruefully. Only slightly ruefully, mind. He has a sense of humour. “All in all the shows are real desperate. They’re the sort of thing where if we didn’t have to do them then we wouldn’t do them. They’re some tortuous ritual that has to be borne – which is really pathetic. Because if I’m not doing a live show I sometimes get the illusion that people actually like us, and then when you get up on stage all the illusions disappear.”
Poor old Tom. He has a great talent for coming out with sentences like “music at the moment is like when you see dogs sniffing each others arseholes and l feel we’re a very small dachshund,” but behind the humour there lies a genuine sense of disappointment and a truly pessimistic outlook that is based on four rotten years of experience of the Sydney music scene. Whatever, the Heads fortunes are soon likely to change due to the imminent release of their LP, “Since The Accident”, on Dave Kitson’s new Ink label in England. It’s the first time any of their music has ever found its way onto record – previous LPs have been in cassette form. “Since The Accident” was recorded
nearly two years ago and has already been issued in Australia as tape containing some additional, more esoteric, experimental tracks.
When it came to promoting themselves abroad Ellard obviously saw the more left-field stuff as expendable, what’s left finds echoes in
Kraftwerk, Chrome and the prettier side of Throbbing Gristle, as well as the cut-ups of Holger Hiller and Trevor Horns Art Of Noise. “We are children of our time,” says Ellard seriously, before turning to an exaggeratedly mischievous mode of speech: “We’ve also Dave Kitson to think about, he would dearly love to make lots of money, so l’m quite prepared to churn out 10,000 copies of “Dead Eyes Opened”(the new 12-inch single), I’ll do it for him because he’s Big Bwana.
“But no, seriously, there is nothing more turgid than experimental music that just sort of dribbles on. I have a partner and his name is Paul Deering, and Paul and I have certain things we believe in and one of them is that it’s gotta kick arse. At the moment this is the sort of language people are talking”
What, bad language (ha ha)?
“Well, who listens to difficult music except difficult people? I can only talk for myself, l do not like Collapsing New Underpants, Paul likes them a lot, and thats his business.
“I think you might find the music’s becoming more ‘Wagnerian’. it’s to do with Paul’s behaviour patterns, which tend towards Beethoven. He likes stirring music. It’s also technology based, in that we have this thing called a Choir Control, which is turning up on a lot of our songs.”
THE Severed Heads have a whole pile of gadgets to play around with. One of the most endearing aspects of their exploration is that they use the most primitive techniques to obtain quite startling results, delving into music shops to lift ancient early model synthesizers off of the scrap heap, and achieving much of their hypnotic power from the simple manipulation of cassette tapes. A true boffin, is Tom. The first time I met him, some nine months ago, he talked non-stop about equipment, as if practicing an interview for One. . . Two . . . Testing, and generally displayed an intense, nervous demeanour. In the meantime he appears to have undergone a personality transplant. His speech patterns follow the contours of a non-stop rant, like some Oz equivalent of Magnus Pike. Often it’s difficult to tell just how many of his statements are the result of his amiable eccentricity – the Wizard Of Oz touch – or the side of him that enjoys playing the comedian. For instance. hen he describes the Severed Heads as “sleeve-note music”.
“It’s the sort of record you buy not for the music but just to turn it over and see ‘Oh yes, they ran a cat vomiting backwards through a fuzz box’.”
Tom points out a section of their next album – unfinished tracks are playing in the background – that features a Liberace glissando played straight, reversed and repeated. “Each album we put out from now on will have a technical manual you can write off for, so you really do get told everything. lt’s just a lot more interesting than actually listening to the record, although I feel we’ve actually achieved a fairly entertaining complex of noise.”
Entertaining indeed. Doesn’t he worry that this kind of talk will give them an image of being excessively egg-headed?
“I’d say people who use big expensive units to do normal noises are the egg~headed people. The way these sounds come along is anything but egg-headed. You just stumble across things and they suggest things to you. It’s the old Buddhist idea of letting go of yourself and the world will drive you.
“Certain sounds are Adolf Hitlers, the moment you heard this Liberace record you knew Liberace was boss and you were the slave. Liberace wins out – what he does is so profound, so wonderful, you have to obey what the sound says to you. When he runs his fingers down the piano I just think ‘Yes Master, I obey’ get down on the floor, cow-tow three times. And then get up and get the record and spin backwards and forwards and fill up a cassette with it. About the only creative thing about the whole thing is when you come to see how you’re going to assemble these 100 cassettes of funny noises into a record, which is quite difficult sometimes.’
THE Severed Heads’ much vaunted video synth is, far from being some cheap gimmick, an extremely sophisticated item of technology. Its operative, Steve Jones, is an engineer working for the Fairlight company, manufacturers of the world’s most advanced computer-linked synthesizers who are based in Sydney. Don’t ask me how the machine works and don’t expect me to explain everything it does. What I can say is that when it reaches the marketplace* – which is rumoured to happen in about a years time – it will revolutionise on-stage performance and the manufacture of videos.
Watching Severed Heads I found the screens completely hypnotic. Colours can be mixed in the same manner that sound can be mixed at a mixing desk, images can be self-generated or derived from the conventional use of a video camera. They have the ability to make eyeballs stand out on springs like old Tom and Jerry cartoons (I speak metaphorically) and are the microchips answer to LSD.
Hold on to your braincells!
“Having a video synth player is one of the few steps forward we might have achieved,” muses Ellard, “That’s all Stephen does, and he does it with all the sort of care that we put into our music. As far as I know he’s the only on-stage video synthesizer player in the world. He makes sure I keep mentioning this because he’s quite proud of himself. I mean fuck films!
Will the world ever catch up with Tom Ellard?
“No. Of course not. My prediction for 1984 is a little pipsqueak noise behind the couch which is the release of one or two albums and then
that’ll be the end of it, and then I’ll go to a job shovelling shit or behind a desk at a bank. There’s just no hope, there really isn’t. What’ll happen with us is that we’ll put out our thing and Collapsing New Underpants will put out their thing and they’ll all fold and someone who’s been around for aeons will pick up the bits and pieces, put ‘em all together and make a lot of money out of it.’ Tom Ellard has a persecution complex — if you think of Woody Allen’s self-satirising monologues you’ll be getting close – but then he is a psychology graduate, And how would you feel if you’d been ignored by so many for so long?
Little surprise that when Tom Ellard is asked if he thinks that in five years time people will be digging the Heads records from junk stores and telling their friends they were into them all along, he murmurs: “I think people are more likely to dig a grave four feet deep and dump us in with all our records and then seal it up and put concrete all over it.”
Ellard wanders out to his station wagon to drive back to where his father – a prominent psychiatrist – and mother live on Sydney’s
Salubrious Northern Shore. Sydney is a very nature- conscious city and the Severed Heads somehow don’t seem to fit into it. But then Tom doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Most places are just too conventional and slow-witted to worry about having to deal with such a playful brain.
Toms final request: he would like former member Garry Bradbury to be included in their group shot because it would be nice to acknowledge his contribution.
Long live the Heads and all who sail in them.

* As noted before, a common confusion between the Fairlight CVI and Stephen’s own DVS. The DVS did not go to market.

OCR fun: Video Effects, National Times April 1983

Australians show they can conjure their own video magic.

Two young Australians are trying  to crack the new high technology market created by the growth of special video effects in television. MARGARET WERTHEIM reports.


THE world market in video effects devices is dominated by a few large companies such as the English Quantel, the recognised leader in digital  effects,  and  the American Grass Valley. Where there used to be just cuts from one program to the next or at most a simple fade or dissolve, there are now complex manoeuvres from each shot to the next; inserts of one moving picture into another, so much in evidence in sports casts;  and a mind boggling array of effects for warping, moving, changing the perspective and in general altering a TV image, as viewers of the Don Lane Show of late will know.
In short, the video effect has come of age and very much into its own.
Some interesting work is  being done in Australia by two men who hope one day to market  their  products  alongside their corporate compatriots. Stephen Jones, of Heuristic Video in Sydney, and John Hansen, of Vision Control in Melbourne, are both creating their own video effects using the latest in video technology and up-to-date microprocessor systems.
Although from different  backgrounds – Jones from psychology and Hansen from engineering – both evolved from the alternative video network in Australia. Both have. been associated with  Bush Video, the first alternative video enterprise here, which was responsible for setting up the cable video network at the Aquarius Festival at Nimbin in 1972.
In the early stages of their  career both were active as video art. Hansen designed light sculptures and made electronic jewellery which he exhibited in  Australia, New York and Milan and Jones made video tape pieces, one of which ha been bought by the Australian National Gallery.
After graduating in psychology from the ANU, Jones went to Brisbane, where he discovered the Brisbane Access Video Centre and began giving  workshops to architecture students, teaching himself as he taught them. In Brisbane he participated in a number of video performance events including a major piece “Regions”, with music by Colin Brumby.
He became involved in the hard core technology of video when he helped build the television studio at the Paddington Access Video Centre, now Metro Television.
After the PAVC was liquidated in 1978 he began working on his own and in 1979 built his first video synthesiser, an analogue device which generated moving patterns and colours.
In 1980 he received a grant from the Australian Film Commission for the plans of a second, more complicated, analogue synthesiser. Both have been used extensively in underground video clips for bands like SPK and Severed Heads and in video and pieces by numerous video artists. He is now working on his first digital device, the DVS (Digital Video Synthesiser).
Although not a large scale device, such as those used in major video production houses, it offers a wide range of effects, some of which Jones believes are unique. How, in the face of such sophisticated competition, does Jones think he can capture part of the market? His answer is that if you could come up with a new effect people will be interested, but the effect probably only had a lifetime of 12 months since audiences tired of them so easily.
Since it is a smaller product  it will sell for considerably less than the major devices and will thus be available to the many smaller  production houses unable to afford a large scale effects device, which start at around $100,000. Jones hopes to have a demonstration model ready for the Institute of Radio and Electronic Engineers video trade fair to be held in Sydney later this year.

Hansen, who ls a qualified electronic engineer, first became involved in video synthesis in 1971. In 1974 he received an Art Council grant to develop  a  video synthesiser which  was a hybrid  analogue digital device for generating patterns. He was then in an ideal position with a background in both video and electronics, to begin using microprocessor chips in video processing when they first became available here in 1976.
Since then he has been developing his own video processing devices. In 1982 he formed a company with a group of people developing video projectors and experienced video personnel. The company, Vision Control, has three separate wings; professional consultation in the area of computer graphics, product design and video production. Under the product design wing, Hansen is continuing development of digital video effects and computer graphics systems. He ls now working on a device to be called the Conjure.
The Conjure will incorporate all the effects Hansen has developed so far, including a capability to allow artists to paint pictures in video just as they would on canvas; 3-D effects; and a unique assortment of video and computer graphics facilities. The Conjure is a large-scale, computer controlled system with sophisticated software for manipulating and creating video images. Hansen sees it as being a future competitor, on the world market, to the major digital effects devices being offered by Quantel and Grass Valley
It is an impressive achievement for such a small operation as Vision Control and augers well for the future of the video industry in Australia. Vision Control also offers a production house facility. It does not have its own video studio or broadcast-quality equipment, but claims to fill a gap in the video production sphere. The devices that Hansen and a small group of programmers design are available for use through the production wing of Vision Control, which has established a good reputation among the television stations and production houses in Melbourne.
One of the major problems  associated with the new era of video effects devices is that producers of commercials, film clips and programs are often unfamiliar with the scope and possibilities of the new technology. Technicians who may be expert operators of the equipment are not necessarily good communicators.  The  technology is advancing so fast it is very difficult for non-technical people to keep up. Hansen sees Vision Control as providing a blend of technical expertise and the services of a team of experienced production personnel who between them will be able to satisfy even the most fanciful of clients. Already they have an Impressive list of credits behind them, including the logo for the Parkinson in Australia series, countless commercials and a range of film clips. Jo Lane, one of the production team, has been responsible for many Jo Jo Zep clips.

Vision Control hopes that when it production house  goes into high gear later thus year it will be called on to provide effects for many more film and video clips, commercials logos and film titles.
Jones and Hansen say there ls a real lack of understanding in industry about what it costs how long at takes to achieve impressive results. Advertising houses and TV station which may be prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting an effect done overseas expect to get it done here on the cheap. Hansen cites the example of the station that wanted a logo to rival the impressive computer graphic of Channel 9. They wanted it, he said, within a week and only wanted to pay $5,000. The 9 logo, done in America, is reputed to have cost $200,000. Ironically Nine is now looking at a sophisticated computer graphics package designed at Vision Control.
Given the time and money,  Hansen believes it could have been done here, probably for less. It is a Catch 22 situation.  No one believes you can do anything until you actually do it, and they’re not going to give you the money to prove it until they see you can.” The same problem applies to getting finance to develop the devices themselves. Venture capital for high technology products is not easy to come by in Australia. But things are looking up. Jones, who is basically a video expert, now has the assistance of a trained computer programmer and a financial adviser in charge of marketing his new device.
Hansen, whose long involvement  with  computers, computer graphics and video puts him in an ideal position to make the best of both worlds,  is  finding  himself much in demand as a consultant on projects as diverse as designing a graphics system for a major new computer to creating a video version of a Brett Whitely painting for a forthcoming exhibition.

Postscript: the DVS was not completed, as there was not enough funds to buy parts needed for the design. The Fairlight CVI was released a few years later, which had less power. They are not related. We had a small Conjure in the studio – it was basically a vector illustration machine.

OCR Fun: The Daily Telegraph July 1983

Case for home-grown synth.

with Richard Pree.

IT is a strange phenomenon of Australian music that while overseas bands such as New Order or the Human League can regularly top our charts, home grown electronic new wave Is virtually unknown.

In 1979 Gary Numan toured Australia and although his image and stage act really belonged in the Kraftwerk robot era, his concerts were sellouts and his records went to No 1.
Three years pass. The Human League tour. Apart from a bass guitarist,  they are total synth. Again the concert is sold out, their album, Dare, goes to No 1, and still not one Australian band follows their lead.
The agencies blame the record companies for not picking up local product, and the record companies reply by saying there is no local product to pick up.

A spokesman for EMI says: “Sydney just doesn’t have the venues to support all the music that’s around, and synthesised bands are having to compete for that exposure. We’re always looking for new music and good bands and I’m not aware of any stance against synthesisers, I just don’t know of any synth bands existing.”

Virginia Moncrieff from 2JJJ says: “A lot of record company and agency people seem to have a very closed view of what the Australian public want. A lot of the bands being signed now are still belt-it-out rock and rollers – they seem to want to stick to a good thing. Real Life and the Venetians have recently broken a lot of ground, but it’s taken a hell of a long time before anyone was willing to take the risk.

That there is prejudice against synth players is obvious. As Virginia Moncrieff  points out: The Musicians Union have a very hard line – to be a member you’ve got to say you play keyboards –  not synthesiser.”

One  of  Sydney’s first synth bands, Severed Heads, is typical of the older style of machine dance synth bands and the problems they encounter. Lead singer, Tom Ellard,says: “We need so much equipment on stage to play live that we often fall back to tapes. The one time we did play with all the gear, we hit the start button and all we got were little puffs of smoke. The set began and ended right there.

We’ve been around since 1979, but it’s only been in the past year or so that people have actually approached us to play. In a few months we’re going to put out an album in England and it should do very well. The hope is that Australian audiences will pick up on it as an import on its way back.

Jason Wild, from one of Sydney’s largest musical agencies, Nucleus, says: “We don’t have any bands based primarily on synths, even though bands such as IQ are very professional. People have tried to market them but with very little success. That worries me.”

Despite this there is a small army of new, more commercially oriented synth bands on the way up. Playing at small inner city venues. bands like Sea Monsters, Legion of Grin, Idiom Flesh and Bring Philip  are  trying to change audience attitudes. The manager of Frenchs put on new synth dance pop band Legion Of Grin about a week ago and was impressed. “We were taking a risk because people here have come to expect rock and roll, but everyone  was dancing and it was a good night.”

We may be having labour pains at the moment but one day we could well give birth to our own Human League.

OCR fun: The Financial Review 1981

I’ve been told that it’s difficult to read some of the scans in our image library. They were not designed for that, and are really thumbnails of the collection. But I am starting to OCR them, because that also makes them easier to find online.

This is an account of the so-called “cassette revolution” that appeared in the Financial Review, which why the word marketing appears so often. As you would expect it predicts much that never came true. It’s a useful document for people who are selling cassettes 30+ years later.

It took a few hours to clean this up, and there are still errors. Such is OCR.

Cassettes spinning up a wildly different market. By Joanne Pemberton, Financial Review October 1981

Punk bands threatened to force changes in the recording industry for a time around the turn of the decade until the record companies mass marketed a suitable substitute – but the record industry never really had much to worry about. Its grasp of marketing and eventually its ability to absorb major trends, has been absolute. But now there is a chance cassettes will make life more difficult in the future. There is a new market the record industry has missed.

ROCK music released on cassettes marketed through the import record shops and mail order businesses, and promoted by word of mouth around the pubs where the bands play, is starting to make an imprint on the Australian music industry. Cassette recording and distribution groups have established themselves in the music strongholds of Sydney and Melbourne, with more in Queensland, Adelaide and Wollongong.

They are marketing local groups playing the music crowds go to hear in pubs around the suburbs and some of the best of overseas groups not available on local commercial releases.

The fact that they are not catering for the mass markets does not matter – the techniques of cheap cassette reproduction mean quality can only be maintained over short runs in any case.
Cassettes are cheap to produce in low volumes and let the marketers sell a high quality product from outside the
mainstream for a fraction of the studio price.

They are also doing very well. Allan West of Anthem Records in Sydney says independent tapes comparatively outsell everything in the shop. Virginia Moncrieff of Sydney radio station 2JJJ says tapes are now selling neck and neck with records and may even have a slight edge particularly in hot places where tapes are a more lasting buy than records.

A locally produced independent cassette retails for as little as $2.95 for four tracks, comparing favourably with singles at $2.50 for two tracks. But it is not yet what you could call an industry. The cassette makers are dealing basically in a submarket and profit is not the sole or even major motivation for an lot of the marketers.

The resurgence in interest in cassettes as a recording medium was exemplified in the marketing by ex Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren of the group Bow Wow Wow as a cassette band. Last year Bow Wow Wow put out an cassette called C30 C60 C90 Go! an ode to the wonders up hometaping. With lyrics like “C30 C60 C90 Go/ Off the radio I get a constant flow/ Cos I hit it! pause it! record it and play/ Or turn it rewind it and rub it away/” the irony was not lost on EMI which released the cassette and has watched home taping cut heavily into its record sales. Bow Wow Wow’s releases have appeared on vinyl records at the same time, as even as cassette band cannot ignore the saleability of the pretty graphics on record covers.

In Britain the tape movement was spurred on by a very popular sampler of new music put together on cassette by the influential rock newspaper New Musical Express and the independent record label Rough Trade. The NME/Rough Trade C81 as it was called consisted of 24 tracks and 81 minutes of new music for about $A4.70. Although cassettes like The C81 may be cheap in the UK, by the time they reach Australia air freight and the sales tax placed on imported prerecorded tapes to protect the home market have boosted the retail price to $14.

In Australia however Terse Tapes run by Tom Ellard from his home in Sydney’s Balmoral Beach put out in 1980 a C60 guide to the best of British cassette bands for $3.00 simply by having the bands send over contributions.

The trend to cassetting in this country is not just a cultural implant. Indeed Australia has been noted for its innovation in the area. Virginia Moncrieff says an Australian parallel with Bow Wow Wow was the popular Sydney band the Sunnyboys who released their first single on both Cassette and record. The tape released through Festival even had a few more tracks on it.

“But though say 800 may be sold of this release only 400 will be taken into account by the record companies because cassettes do not count in the record charts. That is why so little emphasis is given to their marketing and quality” she says.

The most publicised tape group in Australia would have to be the alliteratively titled “tantalising taster of tape and type” Fast Forward Cassette Magazine. FF was started last December by radio announcers Bruce Milne and Andy Maine from Melbourne radio station 3RRR and has had excellent press and promising sales. According to Andy Maine Australia’s first regular cassette magazine is not losing money and is even making some though not a great deal. “We did not set out to make a fortune though obviously there is money-making potential there.”

Invitingly packaged in a slimline plastic pouch designed by Michael Trudgeon, the third member of the FF group,for $3.99 the listener/reader receives about 60 minutes of previously unreleased music interviews. chit chat and humour along with giveaways like crosswords and photocopies, an information sheet with photographs, contact addresses, lyrics and biographies.
The material is both local and overseas and issue six provides a comprehensive guide to amateur cassetting.

The main drawing point of the package however appears to be the previously unreleased recordings of bands. According to Malcolm Crane of the Sydney import record shop The Record Plant,”it is difficult to see people replay the chat sections, though you do not usually re-read printed magazine articles either. Issue six sold mainly because of the inclusion of stuff by the band Hunters and Collectors.”

Most of the new independents with limited audiences use mail ordering and manufacture as demand goes to keep costs down. Miscellaneous Musick from Wollongong founded by Christella Pink. has so far released 63 cassettes through mailorder.

In an interview with Wollongong fan magazine Check One Two she said it was the only tape library in Australia that could sell for less than $2.00. The fact that Check One Two is a “Fanzine” put out by a couple of Wollongong school kids says a lot about what marketers would call the positioning of the cassette market and the degree of credibility cassette music has won among its consumers.

Wollongong also produced the now defunct TwoTapes company but it is soon to reappear as another tape company called That’s Life which will sell C90 tapes for $5.00. Its producer Tim Vanderberg said the tapes will be of exceptionally high quality as masters will be made on metal cassettes which have a higher quality sound than vinyl.

The Sydney import record shop The Record Plant said it literally had independent tapes arriving on its doorstep all the time. One such arrival was a tape sent by the Queensland band Xiro with four tracks priced at $3.00. While The Record Plant says it knows nothing of the band. Xiro’s two tapes Religious Wars and Half the Profits sold half their stock. Malcolm Crane says this is not bad at all for an independent.

Allan West at Sydney’s Anthem Records estimates that it would cost about $85 to have a master copy of a record pressed and then about S300 to have 250 copies pressed not counting the cost of record covers, distribution and royalties to the band. The cost of a vinyl pressing becomes cheaper as more copies are produced, but tapes hold an obvious attraction for bands who can afford to record but not to put out a limited edition single.

The retailers of the new independent tapes say that while it may be easier to make money on cassette recording – all that is needed is two tape decks – they do not seem to have the selling power. “With a cassette you cannot pick it up and spin it on the record player. It just does not have the same physical presence as a record”, Allan West says.

Some tape artists have opted for the safer path of conventional distribution through a record company, but even in this case it is usually an independent. M Squared, a Sydney based independent record company is producing tapes but only as an adjunct to its vinyl releases. An M Squared recorded cassette called B Songs by Mark 2 and released through Underworld Tapes is a professionally produced, eight track cassette retailing at $2.95. Much of the M Squared material however is distributed by mail order.

Similarly in Adelaide Girl/Boy. a recently formed tape company will have its releases produced, distributed and promoted through larger concerns like the independent record company Missing Link in Melbourne.

Michael Green of Gaslight Records in Melbourne pointed out that small independent cassettes like M Squared sold well in the shops though he said this was mainly due to a loyal clientele. Allan West said “We only stock the local cassettes, the ones that are not available on albums. We used to have no tapes at all but its now grown to about twenty different titles. “The market for cassettes is expanding slowly and from the producers point of view a week or running off 60 copies of a cassette has got to be cheaper than vinyl pressings.”

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the independent tapes is their marketing. In England. Bow Wow Wow released a tape called Your Cassette Pet in an cute little fliptop pack. The NME Rough Trade C81 also had a nod in the direction of attractive packaging with the inclusion of a 32 page C81 owner’s manual.

Bruce Milne of Fast Forward believes that the reason that cassettes have traditionally had such poor sales in the past was their boring packaging. “We thought, why not make it exciting. There are so many things you can do. So we went to plastic: and tin factories and even thought of putting the cassette in a sardine tin. “We are always thinking of changing and at the moment I would like to develop the booklet and include more photos and make il an entity in itself.” Andy Maine says that the end of the year will see a longer FF with a corresponding price rise.

Tom Ellard of Terse Tapes however believes the packaging of cassette should not be an issue at all, conceeding though that consumers love running their fingers through the package.
In the past Terse Tapes have been sparsely presented in sandwich sized plastic bags containing two photocopied information sheets. Ellard has now reverted to the traditional casssette box which other independents use.

Christella Pink says that Miscellaneous Musick is a tape company because the low costs “allow greater freedom with art and music.” To some in the tape fraternity however, the lack of profit geared constraints has meant that the output of the independent tape companies tends towards the esoteric and elite.

FF has however broadened its scope and plans to include in future issues recordings and graphics by the English band The Cure, and roc German electronic outfit Kraftwerk. Both bands were impressed with FF product and according to Milne “Jumped at the chance to contribute.”

FF’s emergence into the mainstream has been due, according to Tom Ellard, to it being bland enough lo go into every home, a point that Andy Milne agrees with. Lauded by the American and English rock press FF received perhaps its highest accolade when it was given a plug by Ian Meldrum on the ABCs Countdown.

The changes in music retailing that these cassette marketers foreshadow imply that recordings on vinyl or tape are unlikely to become more homogenous. Certainly for sections of the market flexibility, low overheads and the ability to move very quickly are becoming more important. The result may be than the music industry itself will end up a very different beast.