Before it was associated with doofuses sporting beards and man-buns, being hip was something to which one aspired. It was a designation of the culturally astute, those who were one step ahead of the general populace when it came to art, music, fashion, and whatnot. It wasn’t something attributed to yuppies following a codified mode of living, but rather a somewhat intangible quality possessed by free-thinkers with a natural knack for knowing what’s good.
As such, Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, was certainly hip. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s , the Scottish entrepreneur was responsible for the first records by an alarming number of crucial artists of varying commercial success. The label was ground zero for the shoegaze era, releasing records by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver, Slowdive, and The Telescopes—not to mention the first single by shoegaze precursor The Jesus and Mary Chain, who McGee continued to manage after they outgrew the label. And of course, Creation gave the world Oasis.
But like many such stories, Creation’s beginnings were humble. McGee first moved to London to seek fame and fortune as bassist in The Laughing Apple. The band found little of either, and McGee transitioned to promoting The Communication Club, a series of Sunday night shows. In this position, McGee was more curator than booker, inviting bands that reflected his tastes to take part, and began to make the connections that would form Creation’s foundation. When the venue hosting The Communication Club was shuttered, McGee soon channeled his DIY energies into a fanzine, naturally called Communication Blur, whose first issue came with a free flexidisc of a Laughing Apple outtake backed by a track from The Pastels, another band that Creation would come to champion. One thing led to another and not long after the first single on Creation Artifact, as it was initially known, was released in August 1983, “’73 in ’83” by The Legend, the nom de plume of Jerry Thackray, the Laughing Apple’s biggest fan. While not exactly a revelation musically or in delivery, the song was a fitting minute-long note on which to begin.
Subsequent singles and a couple of compilations were soon forthcoming, and by 1984, Creation was up and running in earnest. The roster included The Revolving Paint Dream, The Jasmine Minks, The Pastels, The X-Men, The Loft, and Biff Bang Pow, McGee’s own band. The turning point for the label, though, came at year’s end with the release of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut, “Upside Down” backed with a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Vegetable Man.” With the notoriety the noisy Scottsmen soon earned for their frequently riotous shows, Creation was on the map. The following year would see releases by Primal Scream and the JAMC-produced Meat Whiplash, and the label moved into its first offices.
In what could be the first of more sets to come, Cherry Red has captured Creation’s beginnings on the five-disc Creation Artifact: The Dawn of Creation Records 1983–1985. With liner notes recounting the label and each band’s histories, the boxset is as detailed an account of Creation’s first three years as you could hope for without sitting down for a drink and a chat with McGee himself. Of course, the best part, though, is the music. Seemingly leaving no stone unturned, Cherry Red has included not only every side of every single, as well as both the Alive in the Living Room and Wow Wild Summer comps, but also related rarities like The Laughing Apple’s “Participate!” single and an early demo of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey.” There’s also three live tracks from the Television Personalities playing one of McGee’s shows at the Living Room and an entire disc devoted to BBC sessions by The X-Men, The Loft, The Moodists, Meat Whiplash, and The Bodines.
“Comprehensive” only begins to describe this set. Sure, on their own, many of these tracks are completely inconsequential, but so too are there gems from acts largely ignored, especially on this side of the pond. The woolly “Do the Ghost” by The X-Men sticks out as one such highlight, as are the cuts from Meat Whiplash, who rightfully come off like JAMC Jr. on songs like “Don’t Slip Up.” The set also includes some of The Pastels strongest work, who perhaps never topped “I’m Alright with You.” Creation’s best stuff was arguably still to come, but this set embodies the label’s sensibilities in their rawest form, when it fervently eschewed the trends of the time to find sounds of its own.