Monday, 21 May 2018

Realities (1982) C60


You really should have heard of Adventures in Reality, but if not, then it's your lucky day. By way of a slight change of pace, instead of the usual mumbling run through of who I've heard of, who I haven't heard of, which one still owes me a tenner and so on, this time I've interviewed Alan Rider, the man behind Adventures in Reality - the label and the zines, also Stress, Dance Naked and others, one time author of reviews for Music from the Empty Quarter and, more recently, of one of the best essays to be included in Greg Bull and Mike Dine's generally wonderful And All Around Was Darkness anthology. So here we go. I'm italicised. Alan isn't.

Firstly I'm afraid I never actually saw an issue of Adventures in Reality, mainly because I was still at school when I first became aware of the tape scene, so money was a bit tight, so please forgive my ignorance in the event of my asking what may seem obvious questions; but anyway, I had the impression Adventures in Reality had a fairly strong artistic sensibility, at least based on what I saw, and I recall a few bits and pieces borrowed from the Italian Futurists, of whom I was very much a fan at the time, so where did that come from? I mean the zine seemed quite different to the average, or that's the impression I get.

Shame on you, Lawrence, for missing out on Adventures in Reality at the time. You really should have gone without food to scrape together the cash for each issue! At 30p it wasn't expensive. At the time I had this radical idealist zeal about making any money from it being morally wrong, so I only charged the exact cost of production - no profit margin here! That lead to one early issue costing a bizarre 16p. Needless to say, that resulted in a pretty rubbish cash flow, but then again I wasn't exactly a businessman! I'd agree though that Adventures in Reality had a strong artistic sensibility and developed a visual aesthetic of it's own. I too was a big fan of the Italian Futurists and used a drawing by Futurist Architect Sant'Elia as the cover of the first issue. I had a strong affinity to Dada too, meaning I consciously did things that went against the norm of what a 'punk' music zine was supposed to be about. Issues were numbered alphabetically, for the majority of issues I didn't list any of the bands featured inside or indeed any other contents on the cover. Some issues came in sealed bags with a random selection of inserts (including toffees and teabags) or folders containing essays on urban life in Coventry. I was also a fan of Irish Mail Art zine Cabarte and artist John Heartfield and produced original collages which I used as posters and covers. I used to take my own photos which I would develop in the local college by pretending to be a student there (which only required you to look scruffy and a bit hung over and wear a scarf) and strolling into their dark rooms to print my gig shots from the night before. I also featured a real mix of bands from anarchist punk (Crass, Flux of Pink Indians etc.) through to industrial electronics (SPK, Test Dept, etc.) which meant I had good contacts with a really wide bunch of people and Adventures in Reality was regarded variously as a punk, anarchist, industrial, or electronic zine, depending on who you spoke to.

Although the reach of most fanzines was tiny compared to, say, a cult music blog now, the fact there was no other way at the time of reading about music not covered by the mainstream music press or radio meant that we had a lot more influence than our small circulations would have suggested. Labels knew that it was their best way to build up a following for a new band, but even established bands valued this way of connecting directly to their audiences. There was far less management layers between the bands and fanzines too. If I wanted to interview an act I just had to turn up at a gig during the soundcheck and ask. Usually they had time for me as soundchecks are dull and involve lots of hanging around, so they were happy to talk to fill the time. They knew also there was no 'angle', which the NME etc. would always be looking for, so they could be open. Record companies would happily send me review copies and provide backstage passes, even home phone numbers for the band. When I asked to interview Nine Inch Nails, the band themselves sent me loads of press releases and photos and suggested we talk when they came to the UK to tour. Sadly that didn't happen in the end, but Bauhaus gave me their home addresses and numbers, and when I interviewed SPK I missed my last train home so ended up spending the night on their sofa. Coil simply said 'pop round' to Sleazy's house and made me cups of tea whilst we talked. It all felt very simple and easy to do really.

It is hard to say whether I really stood out from the average though, as very little was average at the time. The zine scene in Coventry at the time was huge and very diverse, covering all styles and ranging from very basic home produced punk zines by school kids (Antisocial) to glossy art house magazines (Issue), to Viz style humour (Ded Yampy). There was no single style so I was one of many, albeit one of the better known ones. That was largely down to my writing to anyone and everyone to swap zines, get reviewed and distributed, and make contacts with bands and labels. I used to walk into HMV and Virgin and ask them over the counter to stock the zine (they did) and struck a deal with Rough Trade and Tower Records to take copies to distribute through their networks (which got them into US stores). I also sold through what was then a nation wide network of left-wing book shops (Compendium, Free Wheel, and Coventry's Wedge Bookshop amongst others). I even sold copies in indoor clothes market shops and pop poster stores. One thing I refused to do though was to go through Better Badges, a London T-Shirt and badge printer who printed many of the biggest zines of the time (Toxic Graffity and Panache amongst others), as they exchanged printing for exclusive distribution. Snag was, all of the zines printed by them looked the same and the back page of every one was a full page ad for Better Badges. That worked well for some but ruled out any diverse or radical formats, so was not for me.

Which came first? Adventures in Reality or Martin's Alternative Sounds?
Definitely Alternative Sounds by about a year. That started in 1979 and was the first local punk zine. It remained the biggest but was very Coventry based. I was too at the start, but quickly branched out into more diverse areas and became very international. I think Alternative Sounds will always be seen as a Coventry fanzine, whereas Adventures in Reality won't really. There were really close links between the two of us though. I wrote for Alternative Sounds and Martin wrote for me. All of the local zines worked together for the most part and we all got along really well. Martin and I were close friends and lived in the same house both in Coventry, and later on in London, for a long time. As you may know, Adventures in Reality Recordings released Attrition's first vinyl, a flexi disc given away with one issue, and I released several Attrition tapes and featured them on the Something Stirs compilation LP.

Was the tape label an outgrowth of the zine, or was it the other way round?
 
It was an outgrowth  of the zine. A progression really. Describing music is hard. Much easier to be able to hear it, so it made sense to start releasing some of the music I'd been hearing, especially if I felt they deserved exposure and I could help in some small way. You have to remember this was pre-internet times. No Bandcamp or Soundcloud. No Youtube. No streaming or Googling. If you wanted to hear non-mainstream music you either listened to John Peel, or you sought out indie record and cassette labels through reading reviews in fanzines, the occasional round up in the mainstream UK music press such as the Wild Planet column in Sounds (I also used to contribute the occasional specialist chart that featured many cassette only releases to NME and Sounds) and going along  to gigs in old factories, pub back rooms or railway arches. Those were publicised through free listings in the music press, flyers handed out at gigs, and word of mouth. Hard to imagine now really. It was very much a physical process, connecting directly with the audience. Not having the internet to rely on meant that it was very personal and having to go to such lengths to seek out new music meant that a certain loyalty developed amongst the audience that extended to supporting cassette culture and buying things that were often quite unlistenable and supporting acts that would not have ever got signed by a conventional label.

The Adventures in Reality label started out small, with the Realities Vol. 1 compilation.  There never was a Volume 2, but I released cassette albums by a host of acts from the area, before moving increasingly into the industrial scene (which felt to me as fresh and radical as punk once did) and releasing more electronic acts such as Irsol, Attrition and my own band, Stress. The big game changer for the label was The Last Supper industrial compilation featuring unreleased tracks by acts such as SPK, Test Department, Tex Mirror H (an early incarnation of In The Nursery) and Muslimgauze. That sold thousands worldwide and got me a distribution deal with the Cartel that helped finance a move into vinyl. That saw only two releases though (a compilation called Something Stirs, and the Big Wheel album by Stress) before my cash flow collapsed along with the label. Studio time and vinyl pressing was expensive back then and I simply hadn't the bank balance to support it all.

What was your involvement with Attrition? I gather you were handling slides and films for them at one stage?

My involvement grew out of the links with Alternative Sounds described above and my personal friendship with Martin. As I said, we shared a house (a chaotic place much like the one on TV's The Young Ones - it used to be a chapter house for local Hells Angels chapter called Satan's Slaves until they got evicted) and we hung out a lot together. I had an interest in visuals and was inspired after seeing the Human League use slides and films at a show, so volunteered to do something similar for Attrition. Electronic music live can be very static so it was a way of making it more of an event. Lots of electronic bands used visuals, but we went to town within our limited budget. I used two slide projectors and a Super 8 film projector running together, with up to 100 hand made slides used per song, which I had to rehearse to a tape so they changed in time to the music (they doubled as stage lighting too, so I had to take that into account and make sure they weren't too dark!). There was no computer control, it was all done by hand every performance, projected from a converted steel shelving unit  I had to bolt together for every show.  Now it would just be a laptop and projector!

I also released Attrition material on Adventures in Reality, along with two Irsol cassette albums, which was keyboard player Ashley's project with two school friends. An early incarnation of Irsol was TSC, who are featured on Realities.

How did Adventures in Reality fit in with the rest of what was going on in Coventry? I was about thirty miles away and still at school at the time, so my impressions are vague and probably wrong but I was always curious as to why there didn't seem to be much crossover between the ska scene and everyone else, possibly excepting Kevin Harrison.

There was some crossover.  Horace Panter (Specials bass player) was a great supporter of the local scene and usually turned up at gigs when he was in town. Some members of local bands ended up in the Selector and Specials AKA and King too a bit later on. The local scene was very different though, with it's own circuit of pub, university and nightclub venues, punk festivals and even school halls. It was very DIY, no agents or promoters. Adventures in Reality was very much a part of that scene because I went to lots of local gigs (up to 5 a week) by both local acts such as Eyeless in Gaza and visiting bands (most of the national tours came through Coventry). As I said, Adventures in Reality was never purely a Coventry fanzine, it was always a bit too odd for that, but I had a really strong connection with the local scene and everyone in it.

How well did your tapes sell? You seemed to be mentioned in Sounds from time to time so I always assumed you did better than some.

Sales varied of course, but being distributed by the Cartel via Rough Trade helped a lot. At first I relied on direct sales through reviews in other fanzines and my own publicity efforts. Then I began to use various cassette distributors like Wot and Staalplaat, but these were still quite small scale. I was still copying by hand between two stereo decks in real time (so that's 45 mins - 60 mins for each tape). That was hard work and very tedious. When I put The Last Supper out, I wanted to sell more so I duplicated 100 copies (it was a C70 so that took a while!) and got the train down to London to visit the Rough Trade Warehouse. I expected them to take a few on sale or return (that was the usual arrangement with other distributors) but they said they would buy all 100 outright and could they have 500 more! That gave me a real challenge. I couldn't possibly copy that many by hand and I also didn't have the money to pay for that many tapes up front. I wouldn't get paid for the 100 for at least a month, but fortunately my father offered to loan me the money to get 500 professionally copied. That meant going into a studio to get a reel to reel master tape made (I used IPS in London where Nurse with Wound recorded) and take that along to a tape pressing company to make a loop bin master (effectively a long 70 minutes loop of tape that spooled into a bin and through the play heads at high speed in a continuous process) and run off 500 copies over a few days. Rather than the paper labels I had been copying onto and mounting by hand, they printed the details direct onto the cassette shell itself. Sleeves were printed in 2 colours on a glossy card and the whole thing packaged and shrink wrapped. It looked like a tape produced by one of the major companies so Rough Trade could get it on the shelves in record stores around the world. I did a further two pressings of 500 for them and several smaller runs of 200 or so. That was a lot for an indie cassette making it the biggest selling indie cassette release ever behind Third Mind's Rising from The Red Sand and one of Record Collector magazine's 21 most collectable indie cassette releases ever.

The success of The Last Supper resulted in a deal with the Cartel that meant all Adventures in Reality releases were distributed through them and they also paid for the pressing of vinyl releases. That obviously really helped sales! I paid 50% royalties to all of the bands too, which was really high for the time (and now!) but I figured that without the bands I had no label, so they deserved to split any profits.

What was the impetus behind Realities?  For some reason I remembered it as having been a Coventry area compilation (possibly because The Last Supper clearly wasn't), but having just digitised the thing I realise I had it all wrong. How did you come by the people whose work appears on there?
 
As you can see, it wasn't a Coventry area compilation at all. It was a compilation of the acts I was featuring in Adventures in Reality. The idea was to accompany the zine so you could hear their stuff for yourself. Some of it was from demos sent in (Send No Flowers, Soft Drinks, 86 Mix), other bands I came across because we (Attrition) played on the same bill (Trance, the Aucadian), others were personal connections (Attrition, Reviva Component, TSC). A mixed bag really. Like the zine itself.

Can you tell me anything about Gary Knight? I notice his name turning up here as something to do with Reviva Component, but wasn't he also in 3 Way Dance, or on one of the other tapes you put out? The Reviva Component stuff is quite funny when you listen closely to the lyrics, I thought.

Gary was the editor of a Leicester fanzine called 0533 (which was the Leicester dialling code), and he formed 3 Way Dance, who released a cassette album on Adventures in Reality. He moved to Coventry later and formed In Embrace who had a clutch of releases on Glass Records. Reviva Component was a later version of Component Erotica, his partner Claire's band, who often gigged supporting 3 Way Dance. Component Erotica were a quirky and humorous band for sure. I think they thought of themselves as the Leicester B52s!

Also - I was struck by the general high quality of AIR as a label, so I assume you had certain views on quality control, the tape scene etc.?

I certainly did! Although the cassette scene was great, many of the releases were of poor quality, using cheap ferric tapes, terribly photocopied sleeves and poor artwork. I didn't want that, so I always used custom-made high quality chrome tapes I bulk bought. It wasn't that hard to get sleeves printed on glossy card and colour photocopying was available so there was no reason not to have decent packaging. Some people remember the two Stress albums came in mini video style cases. That came about because Martin Bowe's brother ran a printing business and sometimes to earn a bit of extra cash we would pack video game programmes for him. These came on computer cassettes in a mini video style case, which gave me the idea to use these for audio cassette releases. I simply added my order to his when he made one, which meant I got a bulk discount. I also experimented with printing on dayglo card for sleeves (3 Way Dance), and wrap around sleeves (Velvet Monkeys). It was fun and made them stand out. I'm really glad I used chrome tapes now as they last a lot better so the original copies still sound good today. If I'd used cheaper ferric tapes they would have deteriorated badly over time.

Any of this stuff ever likely to resurface on vinyl, as with the Stress and Dance Naked material?

Irsol has already been re-released on vinyl in a collaboration with Vinyl on Demand. I think pretty much all of the Attrition material has been reissued in some form, either CD or vinyl. I know Death House has had several reissues. I do have plans for re-issuing The Last Supper as there is the greatest demand for that. It will need to be a really nice package though, like the VOD reissue of Rising from the Red Sand. The two Stress albums have had various tracks lifted for the Conspiracy Theory LP, but deserve a full vinyl reissue. I think 3 Way Dance deserves a reissue on vinyl too, so that may happen. I'd like to reissue both Irsol albums in full as a box set (the VOD release only had selected tracks - a best of really) so that may happen too. Some of the other more obscure stuff might be harder. Religious Overdose Live may not merit a reissue, the Velvet Monkeys one may run into issues if J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. (whose band it was) doesn't agree. It would be great to do a full reissue of everything on AIR though.
Thanks again to Alan for kindly allowing me to give away his work for free, and for taking the time to answer at such length. The Stress reissues mentioned can be purchased from Dark Entries, whilst Dance Naked's Point of Change is available from aufnahme + weidergabe. The highly recommended Irsol album should still be available from Vinyl on Demand, but I can't work out how to get to the order page since Frank turned it into an international archive project, so dunno - maybe try Discogs. I'm intending to digitise (and to do a proper job of it too) The Last Supper at some point soon, so that will be here, unless the potential CD reissue comes first.


Tracks:
1 - (introduction)
2 -
Trance - Instincts
3 -
Trance - Dawn of the Dead
4 -
I Want - Myself Desired
5 -
I Want - 99th Creation
6 -
By Product - You're Not One of the Boys
7 -
Reviva Component - Black Forest Girl
8 -
Reviva Component - This Lunar Beauty
9 -
Send No Flowers - Wall of Convention
10 -
Send No Flowers - Untitled
11 -
Attrition - Hours & Hours
12 -
Attrition - Tomb
13 -
TSC - Untitled
14 -
86 Mix - Too Much the Barman
15 -
86 Mix - Custodian
16 -
The Aucadion - 3AM
17 -
The Aucadion - Closet Boys
18 - (epilogue)

 
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