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May 9-15, 2007

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'Rough Trade: Labels Unlimited'

Rough Trade: Labels Unlimited
(By Rob Young; Black Dog; 190 pages; $29.95 paperback)

Some record labels plot to conquer the world. But if there's anything that sums up Rough Trade during its most creative period in the 1980s, it's music from bands that thought the world was coming to an end. Out of a small storefront in Ladbroke Grove in London, Rough Trade distributed apocalypse music from both sides of the Atlantic. These discs included Pere Ubu's surreal narratives of the demolition of Cleveland, Red Krayola's matchlessly alienating psychedelic jazz and the Slits' audio diaries of typical feral girls. As the label prospered, it suffered one identity crisis after another. The Smiths' dandyish pop made the label rich, and bad business practices made it bleed red ink. Rough Trade persists today, though. Rob Young, editor-at-large of The Wire, provides us with a kind of cultural shareholder's report. The photos are magically evocative: a hand-drawn poster, slightly grease-stained, of a Raincoats/Scritti Politti show upstairs at a pub; nude mud-women Ari Up and Vivian Albertine lurking in the shrubbery; and a key to the dapper 45 sleeves by the Smiths. Did you know that the "Girlfriend in a Coma" is Shelagh (A Taste of Honey) Delaney?

Review by Richard von Busack


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