It’ll End In Tears

I finally finished Facing the Other Way by Martin Aston. It’s tells the story of the record label 4AD, and it’s really good.

I would normally have gulped it all down in a couple of sittings, but I had to listen to all the music 4AD released (sequentially) at the same time?  Right?  And that took a while.

Er…  how much time…

Hey, I’ve got all the music tidily organised, so I can just make the computer count the seconds:


(I’ve got it all on flac, but I know how to make mp3info count this stuff.)

528776 seconds, which is about one week.  Of course, I didn’t listen to this stuff 24×7 — it took more than a month.  I’d put the next year on, and then read the chapter about that year.  However, the book is so short!  Just a bit more than six hundred pages.  And it covers 20 years (plus a coda), so it’s less than 30 pages per year.

IMG_5695Which means that I finished reading the chapter while the first album of the year was still playing, so I’ve had to read a lot of stuff in between.

Woe is me.

IMG_5696Anyway, back to the book and 4AD.  I started listening to 4AD stuff in 1985, and quickly grew pretty fanatical.  But 1985 wasn’t 2005, and getting ahold of all the stuff 4AD had previously released wasn’t easy.  So my awareness of what 4AD released during the first few years (except the major bands like The Birthday Party and Modern English) has remained pretty spotty.

And they did release some…  non-essential items like “You and I/Cabbage”, or “Nothing/Armour”.  But listening to it all in context for the first time, it all makes sense.  If you’re a 4AD fan-boy, I would recommend replicating the experience.

The book is far from a dry “and then they released this album, and then this EP”.  It has a somewhat novelistic structure.  In the introduction we’re informed that the history of 4AD is basically a tragedy.  We’ll be told of a slow beginning, a monumental artistic triumph lasting a few years, then disillusionment, depression and disaster.

IMG_5697And then the book follows through.  It’s a biography of sorts of 4AD’s owner/boss Ivo Watts-Russell, as the fate of 4AD is tightly entertwined with Ivo and Ivo’s relationships with the artists (particularly Cocteau Twins).

So we get the humble beginnings (1980-1982), the golden age (1983-1989), huge commercial success (1990-1993), slow descent into oblivion (1994-1999), post-Ivo coda (2000-).

As every other 4AD fanatic, I got into 4AD because of the 83-89 period, where 4AD basically released nothing that wasn’t genius.  Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, etc.  It’s music that’s perfect for having a cult set up around it, and a cult we made.  We spent ages on creating discographies, swapping tapes of rareties and discussing each release endlessly on the 4ad-l mailing list.

This was during The Early Internet Age (1988-95ish), so information about what was really going on was difficult to find. Which makes this book such a thrill to read.  It’s not gossipy, but we’re informed about how and why things happened.

IMG_5698For instance, the most depressing bit about the depressing years we learn is that 4AD fired Heidi Berry and Lisa Germano because their albums weren’t selling enough.  You might not think that would be surprising, but for a record label like 4AD, who had been putting out some pretty esoteric and non-commercial records for more than a decade, dropping two of their most interesting artists for that reason is pretty … depressing.

Even before Ivo sold 4AD, my obsession with 4AD had waned.  During the 90s, 4AD had released more than a few non-essential bands (Cuba, Thievery Corporation, Scheer) and one downright awful one (Spirea X).  After Ivo sold 4AD, things kinda kept on going, but I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm.  And then Beggars Banqued renamed itself 4AD, and it no longer has any identity.  If I pick up an album these days and see that it’s a 4AD album, I get a slight jolt of “oh, hey!”, but…

IMG_5699The Gang Gang Dance album was great, though.

The book ends on an uplifting note.  Ivo is no longer clinically depressed, and people are mostly doing OK.

So: I loved this book.  A 600 page history of a record label sounds pretty dull, but Martin Aston keeps everything moving forwards very pleasantly.  I wouldn’t have minded a book twice as long, but I wouldn’t, would I?

And now I’m going to listen to something else for a while.

4AD Yearly

After buying the 4AD biography half a year ago (or something), I’ve been planning to read it while listening to everything 4AD has released chronologically.  I mean, you have to.

IMG_5564The only problem was that I didn’t have everything 4AD has released.  I pretty much had everything between 1984 and 1997, where I began to lose interest.

4AD have been really good about including singles and extras when they re-released earlier albums on CDs, so you can usually get everything that (say) The Birthday Party released on 4AD 1980-1983 by just getting the four CDs.  However, there’s a quite a lot of odds’n’ends that haven’t been collected in that manner (like the Rene Halkett/David Jay 7″) and stuff.

So I spent an evening going through the discography  for the 20 first years, placing everything chronologically.  I had to “break out” the bonus 7″ tracks from the CDs and stuff, but it’s mostly straight-forward.  And there’s some judgement involved — I wouldn’t want to listen to all versions of all Gus Gus cd singles, for instance.  There’s a lot of remixes, and that would be boring.  So just one version of each “release”.

IMG_5566And then I ordered everything I didn’t have from  I really like Discogs — people on there are usually smaller businesses, and they have a quite streamlined way to buy stuff.  Of course, buying used stuff from Amazon would be even easier, but Amazon is kinda nasty, right?  So I stay away from Amazon.

And now I have everything!  Everything!  I can finally read the book!  Yay!

IMG_5562I wish there was I way I could make the chronology available for others to listen to, too, but I don’t really see a way to do that without it being all illegal and stuff.

Wall of Vaughan

I still haven’t read the 4AD biography (any day now), but I was reminded about my plan from, like, 20 years ago to make a Vaughan Oliver wall.  That is, nail a lot of 4AD sleeves designed by Vaughan Oliver (and Chris Bigg (aka 23 Envelope/v23)) to a wall and behold the beauty.

I didn’t do that then, because I wasn’t a teenager any more, but now I’m a teenager again (mentally), so let’s go.

First carefully plan the layout…

IMG_5533Experiment with different nails.  These were too coarse.

IMG_5534Nice small black ones.  And I’m not nailing anything through the sleeves.  Too much of a nerd for that.

IMG_5541Done!  (Sorry, neighbour, who had to listen to me nail (* 24 4) nails on a Saturday afternoon…)

IMG_5538So…  er…  uhm…  ok, I can pick the sleeves down when I grow tired of it.  Or perhaps it just needs more sleeves?  I dunno.



Last night I dreamt that I was mentioned in the index of Martin Aston’s 4AD biography “Facing the Other Way”.  Which I bought a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t looked at yet.  So I just checked…

… and I’m not.

But it turns out that I’m on the akwnowledgement page.  (With a mention of

So!  Does this mean that I’m clairvoyant or not?  In any case, I’ll have to read the book now.  I mean, I would have anyway, but it’s 640 pages long.  C’mon! 

I mean, great! 

4AD in the Early 90s

I used to be a 4AD fan and kept a discography going back in the 80s.  Or 90s, I guess. 

I also used to buy lots of British music papers.

Rooting through the basement storage here today, I found a cache of snipped 4AD-related articles and reviews that I had apparently collected back then, but had never done anything with.  So I thought I’d just scan them and assemble them into PDFs.

The scans should probably be cropped for easier reading, so I was thinking about writing an Emacs-based image cropping mode.  But then I thought “eh”, and wrote this teensy little library that just queries you for file names, and then uses the Gimp to do the cropping.

Gimp supports opening several files “remotely” (i.e., without starting a new instance for every image), so this turned out to be a workable way to, er, work.

The time period turned out to be 1989 to 1993, which isn’t the prime period for 4AD by any stretch of the imagination.  Half the articles are about Lush, I think.  I mean, I love Lush, but, you know.

So there you go.  Enjoy the fabulous early-90s British music journalism.

I should fold these into the general database, but that would mean getting the C++ program I wrote in 1989 to compile now, and that’s not…  fun…