A remarkably resilient and still-divisive Britpop landmark, C86 was born 28 years ago as one of the NME’s regular mail-order cassette compilations. To its detractors, this iconic mixtape fixed forever the image of post-punk indie-rock as an overwhelmingly white, male, reactionary Enid Blyton fantasy of suffocatingly twee skiffle revivalists. But for its champions, C86 was a refreshing return to perfect pop basics that cleansed guitar rock of its ingrained misogyny, provided a platform for strong female voices and helped pave the way for progressive movements like Riot grrrl.
Both arguments are right. And wrong. The original 22-track collection certainly contains a few pasty-faced, wimpy-voiced, anorak-wearing guitar-janglers. That said, Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl and Breaking Lines by the Pastels both retain their drowsy, intoxicating, psychedelic beauty. More striking still is how spiky, witty and adventurous many of these tracks still sound: from Stump’s surrealist art-rock to the avant-funk honk and clonk of The Mackenzies, from Age of Chance’s confrontational rumblecore to the abrasive agitpunk of Big Flame.
Newly expanded to include two further CD collections of mid 1980s indie acts, this deluxe edition risks giving ammunition to the anti-C86 brigade. The extra discs both contain much more sexless, generic, second-division jingle-jangle than the first. But they also feature early tunes by The Jesus And Mary Chain, Happy Mondays and Pop Will Eat Itself, plus heroically discordant John Peel favourites like King Of The Slums and The Noseflutes.
The original 22-track collection remains an important historical document. The latter two are more patchy, but add depth and context.