Wayward son Tony Coulter here, reporting for duty. In August of this year, after 19 years of DJing on FMU, I teleported myself, and all my crap, from Brooklyn, NY, to Portland, OR. I currently have no plans to do a podcast, but starting today I will be contributing my mumblings to Beware of the Blog on a bi-weekly basis. After little more than three months in Portland I’m still very much a newbie – but, perhaps because Portland is so small compared to NYC, I have already zeroed in on some of its cultural treasures. For my first post, I thought I’d interview one of those treasures, someone who in fact had a big impact on my own musical upbringing: Archie Patterson.
Largely because Archie is one of those people who over the years has been so far ahead of various trends (and non-trends), he’s never really gotten much credit for spotting things before most other people did. (So I forgive you if you’ve never heard of him.) Between 1973 and 1993, he published 45 issues of a music ’zine called Eurock, which during the 70’s was among the very first publications anywhere to consistently champion krautrock groups like Faust, Can, Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, and Tangerine Dream, and to cover the most interesting non-German “progressive” acts -- such as Magma, Heldon, Lard Free/Urban Sax, and Franco Battiato. During the early 80’s Eurock was among the first to cover the DIY/post-punk/cassette underground scene, shining a spotlight in the dark on everything from Pascal Comelade to the Decayes. The ’90s saw a shift to varieties of electronic and new age music that held less interest for me—but, hey, that’s just me.
Patterson also ran (and still runs!) a distribution service/mail order catalog (likewise dubbed Eurock), which during the 80’s was -- along with Recommended Records, Wayside Music, and a few others -- my main source of great obscuro music. Back then, mail order catalogs were the only way to go, and without them my record collection and my future FMU shows wouldn’t have been what they were. Finally, Archie also ran a label, which put out much-treasured cassettes by the likes of Ilitch, Pascal Comelade, and the Plastic People of the Universe.
It’s easy to forget, now that we can all suck up music and information like so many vacuum cleaners, that getting word and sound out into the world took a lot of hard work in the pre-Internet era. All those small independent labels, distributors, and ’zines (and, of course, radio stations!) shouldn’t be forgotten. During the 70’s and early 80’s, few people in the U.S. were covering the ground Archie was, and for that he deserves eternal credit. With that in mind, what follows is an interview with fellow Portlander, Archie Patterson:
TC: Can you tell us something about your earliest musical interests and experiences? And about how you first discovered krautrock and other kinds of progressive music?
AP: I bought my first piece of vinyl at 10 years old in 1958: Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” I then promptly convinced my 5th grade teacher to let me play it in class for music-sharing time. Unknown to me, at that moment my future began.
Being raised in the California Central Valley I saw most of all the great 60’s bands on weekends at the Rainbow Ballroom as they commuted between LA and SF on Highway 99. My local record store, Lightning Records, was run by two great Chinese guys who got a visit from me every Saturday morning to pick up the latest goodies they had ordered, or picked up for me on their bi-weekly store shopping trips to LA and SF.
In 1971 one of my old school pals became the Music Director at the Central Valley’s biggest FM station. He offered me a primetime spot mid-week and I talked the owner of the place I worked at into sponsoring a weekly show. Those were the days. FM radio was not pre-formatted. Music and bands were experimenting with new ideas and free electric sound was everywhere. It was great to be alive!
Around the same time I started my radio show I discovered “Euro Rock” via subscriptions to the U.K. music mags Melody Maker & NME. It was Ian McDonald’s first article in Melody Maker that turned me on to “Krautrock,” and soon after Virgin Records’ very first record store near London’s Notting Hill Gate began offering the entire OHR label catalog via mail order. When I saw that advert I made some expensive long-distance calls at ungodly hours to the U.K. and arranged to buy from them. Shortly thereafter the packages began piling up on my doorstep.
TC: A big question: What led you to start Eurock?
AP: My English Lit & Philosophy degree prepared me well to wax poetically about my favorite music. Soon the radio show morphed into a “fanzine.” Both were called Eurock, for obvious reasons. I was inspired to start the ’zine by Greg Shaw of Who Put the Bomp. He gave me personal advice on how to do it and years later honored me by selling my book in his Bomp catalog. He was a great guy and the most amazing rock culture journalist ever. Sadly, he passed on a few years back, may he RIP!
At the outset, I hooked up with a gonzo space cadet who had written some stuff for Creem Magazine, named “Hot” Scott Fischer. Like me, he’d cut his teeth on rock & roll and the obscure fringes of psychedelia. We both soon got immersed in German “Space rock” and the Eurock credo became, “into the void of space rock.” We set off exploring the German cosmic sound of OHR Records and the “Cosmic Couriers.”
TC: Can you say something about the mechanics of self-publishing a magazine in the pre-computer age? And also something about how Eurock developed and grew?
AP: The initial issues of Eurock were typed on a manual typewriter, and copied at night by a friend when he worked as a janitor in his father’s law office. I went to offset after the first couple when another friend offered to run them on the presses of the local public school system where he worked. He moonlighted a couple of nights during publishing weeks to get it done. The ’zines were then collated and stapled by hand on my living room floor. Issue #1 came out on the Ides of March 1973! I later did a second offset run. The early issues were limited to 100 copies.
I did one paid classified advert in Rolling Stone at the time. I wrote endless letters to Europe, waited 4 weeks to get replies, made occasional expensive phone calls, and interest grew. Those were the “old” days to be sure (laugh)!
Gradually, some of the Euro bands gained some notice in the USA via the United Artists label, which released Amon Düül 2, Can, and Hawkwind albums here. Those came out due to Marty Cerf and Greg Shaw going to work in A&R for UA and publishing Phonograph Records Magazine, as an in-house tip sheet. (Thanks again, Greg!) “Space rock” album sales were minimal, but there was a short but sweet “golden age” for this sort of stuff in the USA from about 1976 to 1983 or so. That led to a cult of fans that still today have an interest in them as old-timers.
Eurock literally “went Hollywood” in the late 70’s (laugh). The covers became artier, glossy, and a magazine rack-jobber put them in stores all around LA. The press run was several thousand copies at that time. I suppose my 15 seconds of fame came when for a season the magazine appeared on the rack just by the cash register on the Mork & Mindy TV show. You could tune in every week and see the very distinctive Eurock art covers front and center in every shot when the sales counter appeared. That was a hoot for sure (laugh).
TC: How did you get involved in importing music and what led you to make Eurock a mail-order business as well as a magazine?
AP: In the mid-70’s I got a telegram out of the blue and after a quick trip up for a meeting, a month later moved to Portland, Oregon, to run Intergalactic Trading Company, the import division of [the record store] Music Millennium. ITC was the first company to bring Euro imports into the USA in the mid 1970’s. At the end of the 70’s a phone call beckoned me down to LA, where I managed Paradox Music Mailorder, part of Greenworld Imports. Greenworld went on to become one of the leading importers of that time.
In 1981 I quit working for any other company and spent the next three years starting my own mail-order company, moving back up to Portland, Oregon, and joining forces with the owner of Music Millennium, Don MacLeod. I wanted to take my energy and go on to create something more unique and devoted to exploring the connection between music and culture. By that time, many had been inspired by and had begun to emulate Eurock. None were, or now are, the same in my opinion, however. Expanding on the original concept was my intent, and a conscious decision on my part. I think I succeeded in doing that, which makes Eurock unique. If you read my book [ European Rock and the Second Culture, 2002, which includes articles from all 45 issues of Eurock] or explore the CD-ROM, which document 30 years of music and change, that uniqueness seems to me very clear.
TC: Eurock's initial focus was on krautrock and progressive rock. Then starting around the early 80’s you began to also cover musicians from the experimental end of the DIY/post-punk/cassette underground scene, such as Ilitch, Pascal Comelade, Metabolist, and D.D.A.A. From your perspective, were these musicians part of a continuum with the earlier bands? Or were they something significantly different?
AP: After the initial creative cycle of krautrock and progressive rock that type of music became a sort of dead end, it seems to me. The newer more underground artists Eurock began to promote were doing something more uncompromising and individual. They were not so much a product of the music industry. These artists created a sort of new wave of that “second culture” which was born back during those earlier days.
I wanted Eurock to be a history of the music and things that were happening at the time. Not some establishment music business. The 70’s had become the 80’s. They were very different decades in countless ways, and the music reflected those changes.
TC: To follow up on the previous question: What do you think explains the fact that groups like Can, Faust, and Tangerine Dream are relatively well known today, while most of the eighties music you covered is still very obscure? Is it perhaps partly because much of the later music was self-released, often on cassette? Or does it have something to do with the music itself?
AP: In essence, except at their very beginnings most of the more known German, French, and Italian “progressive” and “space” bands wanted to become pop stars (of a different sort perhaps, but “stars” nonetheless). They got signed to and were funded by corporate record labels, leaving their past behind. Their “alternative consciousness” died rather quickly. Many had a radically different sound at the outset, but that too became basically another cliché through repetition, and remains as much today. By definition, “progressive” and “experimental” mean just that (read the dictionary). Once anything comes into “style”, again by definition it has become something more mainstream.
The more obscure bands you mention were a few of the pioneering underground indie artists that were pioneers of the DIY music movement back then. Their intent was not to be famous, but to put their ideas about art and music into practice literally – issuing small-run 45’s, EP’s, and cassettes as a form of mixed-media concept art. They lacked the resources at the outset to produce LP’s, so they used the smaller, more personal, and less expensive mediums. Most of the above you mentioned still continue making music or art today in some capacity, so never did sell out.
TC: By the nineties, Eurock seemed to shift its focus to post-Tangerine Dream electronics and varieties of New Age music. First off: Is that an accurate impression? If so, what led to the shift?
AP: That shift was related to a couple of things. I had two kids by 1990, and the mode of the music had drastically changed. The initial creative surge in music that had its genesis in the late 60’s/ early 70’s had certainly waned in the 80’s. As I built up my own independent company the emphasis changed from simply promoting, to marketing, selling, and manufacturing, to making a living. I started my own label and produced cassettes, LP’s, and later CD’s by Euro artists I respected who worked on the fringes. By that time my contacts had expanded greatly and I was known in many countries as the person in the USA who could help with getting artists’ music played on radio, reviewed, and, now, sold. My experiences running two companies in the import field had set me up to expand my work.
The decade of the 1990’s was incredibly active and profitable for Eurock. I met many artists who were doing great things and Eurock’s influence became greater. It also became much more like a business and in some ways less fun. I definitely enjoyed music in general less. Then along came a second wave of electronic musicians who were imitating the original. In reality a copy rarely surpasses the original. Additionally, the number of releases exploded exponentially.
Basically, the music became more of a formula dominated by the technology, and often was lacking in the human creative spirit. The scene had gone from Space Age to Old Age in a short 20 years. “New Age” was a marketing category, and the music produced was a commodity to fit into that sales niche. Some of what I then sold fell into that, I must say. I like to think in the best way, as in the case of the early Gandalf recordings, which I still feel are excellent.
TC: Turning to the present, what current music are you particularly excited about?
AP: In spite of an abundance of opinions to the contrary, I feel that music is alive and well today on many levels and in diverse genres. I can name a number of things.
The most exciting thing I’ve done the past 3 years is work with Mikhail Chekalin, from Russia. I’ve released 4 DVDs and 3 CDs of music by him. He was a pioneering dissident artist and musician and has been active over the past 35 years. Included in what I’ve released is archival video footage rescued from his studios and re-mastered, as well as some of his most recent music recordings, and I’ve also obtained art prints from his portfolio. The depth and quality of his work is unsurpassed. I plan on doing much more to document it in the future.
I also saw Van Morrison perform Astral Weeks live at the Hollywood Bowl last year for the first time ever. It was recorded and now you can listen to the 1968 classic and/or watch (on DVD) his new 2008 recreation. It is one of the greatest recordings of all time which now exists in two incarnations born 40 year apart. Amazing!
In a completely different style I saw Imogen Heap perform in PDX [i.e., Portland] at a Music Millennium in-store when her Speak for Yourself album came out. She did a short demo on how she made the various sounds with her synths. It was fascinating and her music was incredibly spacy, exotic, and beautiful. That album is one of the most creative electronic releases I’ve heard in ages.
Lastly, this week I got a new album from Mexico by my old friend Carlos Alvarado, who was in a group during the 80’s called Vía Láctea (“Milky Way”). His new group is called Ensemble Dentro De La Nada (“Ensemble Within the Void”). Perhaps that name change serves as a perfect metaphor to illustrate what’s changed today overall.... The album is an amazing musical amalgam of tribal drums, electronics, exotic percussives, and wind instruments. It’s music as primitive, synthetic ritual, and could only have come from Mexico.
TC: Finally, how do you envision the future of Eurock?
AP: At the doorstep of 40 years spent reviewing, producing, promoting, and selling under the nom-de-plume Eurock, the time has come to go back to the future and do what I love when it comes to music. Today the world has completely changed, so it only follows that Eurock should change as well. As it was in the beginning, my raison d’être will continue to be exploring music of all sorts from around the world and sharing it with all who are willing to listen. The New Eurock will not be a business, but instead a media portal spreading the word in a new and different way.
Initially, that includes making the podcasts, audio, and video more frequent, extensive, and readily available via other channels. In conjunction, eurock.com will be reincarnated as a webzine with reviews and interviews designed to coordinate with the podcasts. The intent is to create a production for artists that they can use to promote their work. Incorporated into that will be direct links to the artists, so they can communicate with their audience. This combination of promotion and marketing will serve as a vehicle for music lovers and artists to directly explore the many possibilities of the best music on the Net. The old model of centralized distribution is outdated and a new paradigm is called for. There are other interesting innovations and special projects being planned for this next year as well. So once again I’m excited about what lies ahead….