Thursday, June 20, 2019

Tape Packs - UK's Rave Essential Time Capsule

at RBMA, a piece by Ian McQuaid on the rave tape pack:

"Each pack contained up to 12 cassettes, featuring live recordings of the DJ sets, crowd chatter and general ambience of whichever rave they were documenting. They were stark in their honest reproduction of the night – no overdubs, no edits, every MC stutter and needle skip left in for the world to hear.... Developing as a crucial point of access during the early days of hardcore, hitting a fever pitch in the mid-’90s heyday of jungle and garage, and even seeping into the grime scene with the Sidewinder packs of the early ’00s, tape packs sold by the thousand, a vast underground economy servicing a scene that the mainstream rarely bothered to try and understand. Peddled by the behemoth rave brands that dominated in the last decade of the 20th century – the likes of Slammin’ Vinyl, One Nation, Vibealite, Garage Nation, Telepathy, World Dance, Helter-Skelter, Dreamscape and more – they carried the music direct from the raves to the specialist record shops to the punters eager hands. Once bought they could be played over and over on car stereos, Walkmans and ghetto blasters, endlessly bootlegged and shared, ensuring that a rave could live far beyond its magical eight hours."

DJ SS, one of the big sellers of rave packs, features prominently in the piece:

"SS puts this thirst for tape packs down to two things: Nostalgia, in that people would want a memento of the rave they’d been at; and the simple fact that it was hard to hear cutting-edge rave music anywhere else."

Talking of nostalgia, and instant-nostalgia, I seem to remember that at least one rave promoter had a system set up where rave-packs of the event were already available to buy as punters were leaving the event. Presumably missing the very last set!

You can also get retro-packs like this old skool flashback to early days of the Eclipse (themselves credited in the piece as the pioneers of rave packs)

Nicky Blackmarket also quoted on their dissemination of the music role:

“They were crucial in spreading the music. Toronto had a massive jungle scene, and that originally started from the Canadian shops themselves bootlegging everyone’s tape packs from over here. A lot of people became big from those packs!”

McQuaid makes the point that this was one of the few mediums (apart from pirate radio) in which the MCs were on equal billing and an equal selling-factor, given that there were few hardcore and jungle tracks that gave MCs a credited "featuring" type role in those days.

"In spite of how far their bars, ad-libs and tics travelled, there was very little precedent for rave MCs to release records to any great success until MC Luck hit the UK charts at the tail-end of the ’90s. To this day, the likes of Skibbadee, Shabba D, Det, GQ, Moose, Five-o, Fearless, Foxy, IC3 and many more have a lopsided recorded history. They appear – at best – on a smattering of studio recordings on the one hand, and hundreds upon hundreds of live performances accessible via tape packs on the other. Their careers were built from a constant drip of high-wire performances, bars spat out off the cuff, repurposed to fit with whichever way the DJ wants to go. It’s a different kind of energy; what Paul Gilroy calls “kinetic orality” – tone and flow designed to impart pure physical motion to crowds of thousands. It’s a skill that has proven near impossible to translate to studio situations, but one that is potent enough to ensure the big names have been running the mic every weekend for nearly three decades."

Kinetic orality - love it, making a mental note of that one.

Cool and crucial part of the history, clearly... and yet I must admit, I never owned one during the ardkore  rave or jungle days. Pirate radio tapes did the job for me - they were free, and (see below) they actually sounded better and had a more interesting track selection.

I did own one tape pack later on, when a journalist friend who ended up getting sent doubles of a UKG/2step pack gave the spare to me. It came in a videocassette case, but inside were something like six C90s.  Twice as Nice?  Pure Silk? I can't remember - one of the big garridge raves, or club nights.

But it was an incredibly dreary listen!

The sound quality was diabolical - dubbed at extremely high speed on cheap cassettes - just very thin-sounding. Much worse than the tapes I made off of the garage pirate stations.

Worse, all the sets from that night featured the same tunes pretty much - what was hot, what was guaranteed floor-filler, that week. And the MCS were getting repetitious, using their small arsenal of chants and vocal licks over and over, sounding hoarse as they competed with the very loud sound system.

Probably there was an awesome atmosphere in the club or rave on the night.

But it wasn't captured on these tapes that's for sure.

I listened to it just once, and in fact I'm not even sure I made it all the way through all six C-90s.


Ian_s said...

For me, it's the little announcements that get me and highlight the atmosphere. The bit where the MC has to step out of their performance and turn into the equivalent of a tannoy operator at the local supermarket.

Mad P getting increasingly exasperated at Fantazia repeatedly trying to clear the stage and tell people to get off the speaker stacks " I was gonna say something now, but I can't be bothered".
Someone told to move their motor because they're blocking Dave Angel in.
People keeling over and as they're being treated being told that they're an idiot and can't handle their drugs.
"Has anyone lost a set of keys".


ha ha especially the Dave Angel bit

yeah i would enjoy that element. bit like the fuckups and odd random shit on pirate tapes.

now you've got me thinking i need to start downloading or otherwise collecting the rave packs. could be a slippery slope

McQuaid. said...

Hi Simon, I've only now seen (a good two years late) that you shared my tape pack piece- thanks!

Thought you might be interested in something that didn't make it in there- a number of promoters & DJs told me that, eventually DJs started mixing for the tape packs as much, if not more than, the rave itself- they knew they'd be judged by people listening back to the tapes so they'd feel obliged to play the biggest tunes of the day as the tapes wouldnt necessarily be listened to in order, so wouldn't have any context of what had been played before on the night (hence your experience with the garage pack)