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Albums That Shaped Me: 5. Instant Automatons - Radio Silence (The Art of Human Error) Cassette

Posted by Matthew Davies on

Backtracking a little for this post.

While I was feeling my way tentatively into the world of punk rock I met two people who are still friends and who had a large influence on me. I can’t quite remember how I came to meet Dean Poole and Mike Jones but I’m guessing it would have been through the loose affiliation of punky types that lived in the Penarth/Dinas Powys area. There were a few bands about at the time that we would have congregated together to see in some village hall or scout hut. Bands such as Ridicule, Rancid (not that one) and the one band that went on to greatness, Demented Are Go. I eventually ended playing bass in a band myself with Dean Poole drumming. Though we weren’t too terrible as a band we can claim to have one of the worst names in the underground punk scene and there are/were some shockers- the amount of bands that began with Dis- for starters. Try saying Slaughter Tradition and not wobbling verbally by the second word.

Dean was a year or two older than me (a gaping chasm at 13) and had already set up a cassette label Sexy Records, which to my admittedly relatively limited knowledge is now viewed as one of the very first UK cassette labels along with Fuck Off Records (sic), Deleted Records (sic) and Colin Potter’s I.C.R. (Colin is an occasional member of Nurse With Wound and still runs I.C.R. to this day). I remember going to Dean’s room in his family home and being impressed not only by his superior record collection but also his 8 track reel to reel recorder, which seemed incredibly high tech at the time. Sexy Records had released tapes by bands with names like The Industrial Chipmunks. They weren’t even punk bands - more post punk, who just made incredibly lo-fi attempts at making music using shitty guitars and cheap Casio synths. Little did I know it but I was being introduced to experimental music early eighties style.

Although I later started a band with Dean, it was Mike Jones who was more responsible for introducing me to the underground cassette and fanzine scene. Again Mike was a little older than me and a guitarist who loved The Birthday Party and The Fall. I can still picture being sat in Mike’s bedroom as he blasted ‘Sonny’s Burning’ at me “Hands up who wants to die” while playing along on his distorted rust brown guitar. He had a real passion for music which was infectious. Mike wrote a fanzine called ‘No More of That’ which covered local bands in the Penarth/Cardiff area but also music and other zines from across the UK.

This was a whole new world to me and I loved the DIY ethos of it all. You didn’t need vast sums of money and glossy studios to put stuff out - just raw enthusiasm. As I got drawn into this world I learnt the only tools you really needed were a cassette player, usually of the single deck, inbuilt speaker piano key variety and a cheap typewriter (though many fanzines were hand written, a typewriter if afforded did elevate things). I started to write to some of the people featured in Mike’s fanzine. All bands and fanzines supplied contact addresses. You’d send off a letter and a blank tape (If it was a demo you were after) and maybe a few coins sellotaped to the letter plus the all important SAE (stamp addressed envelope to younger readers) and a few weeks later through the letter box would come a zine, cassette, numerous stickers and flyers and in the high end of the market perhaps a badge. In those fanzines would be more bands, more zines, more people to write to and so on it went. Often there was no money involved, if you didn’t have your own self produced fanzine or tape you’d swap others. I remember getting batches of tapes and zines on a loose sale or return basis which you’d then exchange with other people . It got to the point where I was receiving multiple packages through the post daily. Every day was like Christmas... on a shoestring.

As a large part of the cost of these exchanges was the stamp we used to ‘soap the stamp’. This involved rubbing the stamp with a bar of soap leaving a soap residue over the stamp. When the package got to the recipient they’d rub the soap and therefore the postage frank mark off and hey presto the stamp was ready to use again. It used to be a challenge to see how many times you could send the same stamp back and for.

There were a couple of acts who I particularly enjoyed. One was the wonderfully ramshackle outfit The Stripey Zebras featuring Graham Burnett from Southend-on-Sea, someone I used to write to regularly and author of the excellent New Crimes fanzine.

Another were The Instant Automatons from the Midlands I think, who seemed leagues ahead of a lot of the other bands, I think John Peel may have even played them on the radio and eventually they put a record out but I loved their cassettes, which are now highly collectable. Radio Silence and Peter Paints His Fence were the two I had/have and ‘John’s Vacum Cleaner’ has always stood out as a memorable track. Some years ago an American label called Messthetics retrospectively put out a CD compilation of the Automatons cassette releases called ‘’Another Wasted Sunday Afternoon’. The same label also put out region by region compilations of UK cassette/low-fi bands of this era. There’s one on the South Wales region which Mike, Dean and Sexy Records feature on. In today’s internet archive world every small microcosm of music is up for grabs.

Needless to say I produced a fanzine and a tape label. My fanzine was embarrassingly poor quality but had a great name in ‘Is There Anybody There’ which I stole from a fantastic Flux Of Pink Indians song of the same name.The zine also featured an interview with said band, plus interviews with local bands, scene stalwarts APF Brigade and features on bands like the death punk outfit Part 1. There were also a few tape and zine reviews plus some cringe worthy teenage opinions of my own on animal rights and environmentalism. I think the 100 copies cost me £20 to produce. I acquired the necessary materials from school (belated apologies St Cyres - but it was educational) and got the lot printed at a community press in Cardiff, which cost me the £20, standing there hand-rolling every page off the archaic printing press. The print quality was terrible and most of the images/drawings failed to print. In hindsight I wish I’d spent a bit more and got a decent job done.

I also did a short lived cassette label with another awful name ‘Trivial Tribal Tapes’ releasing a split live tape with my band and a punk group from Sterling called Political Asylum, who we also gigged with a few times. Again we connected via the zine scene.

One summer I went off with my then girlfriend Sally, travelling round the UK by bus and hitchhiking - meeting people I’d only previously written to. I remember getting off the bus in Peterborough to meet Andy, who I’d never met before from the aforementioned band APF Brigade. We stayed with him for a few days... at his parents house. The whole scene seemed to be largely made up of school kids still living at home.

Sometime later on Crass would release a series of albums called ‘Bullshit Detector’ which consisted of an extremely lo-fi collection of tracks by bands, like the ones discussed here, which had been submitted on cassette to the band in the hope they may get a track released on Crass Records. Obviously it was skewed to bands that fitted the Crass agenda and to my mind that was when the fanzine/cassettes scene got swamped for better or worse by the anarcho-punk scene...or maybe that’s just where I went.

The DIY ethos that ran through that time has been a life long inspiration - you don’t necessarily need big budgets - just use what’s available to you and make sure you add a truck load of passion.

- Matt Davies

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