Armagideon Time

Back to Wax #37: Spaced out

September 24th, 2018

Sometime back around the turn of the Millennium, I was scouring the dank and dodgy recesses of fileshare networks for an art-synth obscurity from an early Eighties Boston duo. It eventually turned up as part of a “minimal synth” compilation branded after the long defunct Flexipop fanzine. Further digging revealed there were roughly three dozen of these fan-curated collections, divided up between multiple series bearing titles like “New Wave Complex” or “None Night of Flexipop.” Being an easy mark for fringe scene treasure troves, I set out about tracking down the lot of them.

(The “Flexipop angle was a bit baffling because the ‘zine was more of the tryhard middle child between the eagerly enthusiastic Smash Hits and the sarcastically hip Zig Zag than an advocate of experimental synthwave. The publication’s big gimmick was the inclusion of a “flexi” disc with every issue, hence the title.)

The included songs fell into a small cluster of vaguely related categories. There were cuts from established cult acts such as Nash the Slash and Moev, single and EP jams from forgotten strivers, and a whole lot of muddy digital transfers from demo-cutting keyboard-meisters from the tape-trading underground.

Blitz’s “New Age” also made it on to one of the volumes, proving that the aggro-punk outfit’s strange stab at broadening their horizons did pay off in a very minor and belated way.

Most of the material was mediocre murk, the sound of lofty ambitions crawling down to an improvised basement studio to die. It was hardly shocking. Despite what the clickbait crowd might tell you, not every obscurity is an overlooked gem. Some works deserve their delegation to the memory hole.

Even accounting for Sturgeon’s Law, however, the sheer volume of included material meant that there were several prizes among the dross — and they glittered all the brighter because of the overall context.

Of these, Class Action’s “Blast Off” left the strongest impression on me. Despite the “minimal synth” tag, there really wasn’t anything minimal about it (except maybe its cultural footprint). It’s a classic format synthpop song, affected vocals and Atari Age futurism set to a very danceable beat. The track sounds like the purest sonic distillation of 1982 — which unfortunately happened to get released in 1984, rendering it an instant anachronism in the Big Pop hegemony.

(It probably didn’t help that the band shared a name with an act from a different synth-driven underground scene.)

I remembered the song while I was assembling a list of other futurist wave one-offs to seek out on vinyl, and scoring a copy of Class Action’s one-and-only EP wasn’t difficult (or expensive). The other four tracks on the record are pretty unexceptional (think: “generic 80s teen movie music”), which makes “Blast Off” even more remarkable artifact.

Sometimes the spheres align, opening a perfect launch window for a clear shot to a distant world…and when you arrive, you discover someone else had already landed there two years ago.

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