As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Pete Shelley and Groovy Records.
When one sees the name Pete Shelley, thoughts quickly turn to pop-punk pioneers, Buzzcocks. But beneath that English art veneer was an even heavier lacquered piece of expressionism: Groovy Records. Though Shelley’s label was fleeting, it showcased the experimental to fans that followed Shelley’s ever move.
The Total Groovy, released via Drag City, collects the four releases of Groovy into a box set of mind-expanding insanity. Shelley’s synth and tape loop fascinations encompass much of The Total Groovy in various forms, each a distinctive backlash against Shelley’s more notable contributions to music history.
Breaking it down further: this music mess you up real good. Shelley’s deviations are a tonal treat. Whether it’s the harsh collages and clatter of Free Agents’ £3.33, the oscillating madness of Shelley’s Sky Yen, or the nonsensical language behind Sally Smmit and Her Musicians (featuring pre-Mekons Sally Timms), The Total Groovy is a dose of hallucinogenic melodrama.
£3.33 is the best of the bunch. The innocuous beat that introduces the album quickly breaks into 17 minutes of aggressive phasers and rolling noise. Traditional structure is mocked throughout, with the B-side delving into Shelley’s punk aesthetic and digging up mangled messes of what music once represented. Throwing away the norm for the weird is £3.33; it’s loud, in-your-face, and not afraid of mainstream rejection—in fact, it embraces it.
Soundtrack for the Film Hangahar is the most interesting fixture of the box set. Sally Timms’ made up language is given an operatic delivery with the assistance of Lindsey Lee, as the musical accompaniment mimics the trumped up vocals with an array of pulsating sounds, syncopated beats, and spaced rhythms. Timms’ only peer to be found during the album’s original 1980 release is Laurie Anderson. Hangahar is high concept, and though its intentions are to be off-putting, it’s wonderfully welcoming once you embrace the nonsense.
Which can be said for The Total Groovy as a set—the four albums of Shelley’s short-lived label showcase a love of the irreverent and irrelevant. Only now are we witnessing how far reaching and ahead of his time Pete Shelley was, a lost influence on the latest generation of radical noisemakers.