At the beginning of 1992, cult indie band The Wedding Present announced they were to issue twelve 7” singles at monthly intervals for an entire year. Some scoffed, and many more had to eat their words at the group’s ensuing dozen-strong run of Top 30 hits. Over twenty years later, an act that includes a cult artist also from the independent sector announced they were to launch a similarly ambitious project, only this time intending to write one song for every day of the year. Enter CRUSH_DLX.
In actual fact, the Micro Sex Tapes series launched by LA-based duo Crush_DLX (pronounced Crush Deluxe) – who consist of Pop Levi (formerly of this parish) and musical/romantic partner Bunny Holiday – is longer than a year even, running to 370 tracks.
Issued via SoundCloud in batches of ten tracks at a time and currently standing at 348 entries, the cuts swerve away from the glam/funk/soul/pop of Prince and T. Rex with which Levi is usually associated, towards something exclusively electronic, employing wonky Yamaha keyboards and old tape machines. The latest product of Levi’s permanently restless, grasshopper-like imagination, the music and visuals are created in harness with Holiday, a recognisable figure from print ads and billboards the world over from her modelling and design work for American Apparel.
“It kinda started totally organically: we got some cassette players maybe four or five years ago now and just started recording every day,” Levi explains over a surprisingly crystal-clear Skype connection from on top of a mountain on Greek island. “We ended up with so much stuff we thought ‘Why don’t we make a project out of it?’ Then we ended up putting stuff out every day, adding to it every day, and then it kind of took on a life of its own. Then Ariel Pink got involved which was cool, then a few other people [became] involved and it just ended up being… we don’t really know! We’re doing it as a total labour of love with no budget.”
The series is made up of bite-sized sonic morsels that range from several seconds to roughly four minutes, taking in the likes of X-Ray Spex, the aptly titled Sumptuous (from the first Micro Sex Tapes mixtape collection), and the deep pop of 55s (from the upcoming second mixtape). The mildly esoteric assortment of ‘tracks’ is fairly jarring upon the first listen, but unravels to showcase not only the pair’s aptitude for locating a melody or compelling hook in even the most obtuse material, but also the ability to wring highly impressive results from hardware usually consigned to flea markets.
A discontinued piece of recording hardware – a Sony TCM 210 – provides the rudimentary but highly portable studio where all the crush_DLX material is created. “It’s a little two-speed machine with a faster and slower wheel. They don’t make them anymore but you can buy them online, so we bought up a load of them!” laughs Levi. “They’re really expensive ‘cos they’re dead stock,” Holiday explains. “I’ve got a big collection of mid-eighties first-issue samplers and all those Yamaha sampling keyboards, early drum machines, all that kind of stuff,” Levi adds. “We just set it up and let it play out. I guess we try and make it as natural and honest as possible: all the warmth and all the filthy bits are all the best parts, really.”
“It’s mostly inspired by dirty, early Cabaret Voltaire and early-nineties rave music, like the Dreamscape series,” Levi continues as we get in to the nitty-gritty of the project’s musical inspirations. “We want to keep it as dirty and as organic as possible. We set up a studio where we could record into the cassette machine and then overdub other things very simply so it’s really quick and natural. Like audio photos.”
Elsewhere, a fellow Angelino maverick, Ariel Pink, appears on the collection on the minimalist electro throb piece My Pleasure. “Ariel lives on the same street as us, which is bizarre as LA’s so huge,” Levi explains. “We walked down to his house one day; he had some seats made out of broken keyboard, and we just spent a couple of hours fucking around with ideas and quickly jammed the track out. He was doing impressions of Nazis saying ‘fashion’. It was typical early Ariel Pink sense of humour. He liked the project cos it’s all built around tapes.”
“Really, we want to bring it to England,” Levi continues, when pressed about realising his ambitions of playing the material live. “We’re out on a limb in LA; musically it’s not the city for it. It’s a cool place to start it, but I wanna go and play Hull University.” The North East city leads neatly to one of the project’s other major influences, the iconoclastic eardrum-manglers Throbbing Gristle. Inventors of industrial music and owners/operators of the record label it was named after, the quartet mixed the cutting edge of sampling, early synthesizers and audio generators to alternately terrifying or soothing effect. “We tried to get in touch with [TG frontman, later Psychic TV leader] Genesis P. Orridge,” Levi recalls. “We’re hoping we can get him on the series; he’d be perfect for it.”
With the first compilation of the tracks issued as MICRO SEX TAPES Collection Volume 1 earlier in the year, aptly enough on cassette, a second instalment is imminent, “then a Volume 3, so it’ll be a trilogy by October time,” Levi explains. “A cassette which looks good with a download code looks really good I think, much better than a CD.” In a bizarre twist of fate that brought the worlds of lo-fi tape culture careering in to the world of high-society glitz and glamour, the project received a highly enviable promotional boost when the cassette was included in the goody bags given out to attendees at the 87th Academy Awards in February. “It was valued at a $1000 in the bag, because it was limited,” Holiday explains with barely a hint of incredulity at being a part of this year’s Oscars. “We only made a hundred; they were just made for promo and on the back you got a code for download.”
With several dates already logged around LA, crush_DLX live shows are looking to place an emphasis on the audio-visual marriage within their world. “We have a third member, Miko Reverenza. He’s not a member of the band as such but he’s a member of the live crew; he sets up early-eighties camcorders and films us live in the suits that Bunny’s made for us,” Levi explains. “Then live in front of the audience on a multitude of TV screens, he does a live video mix which is kind of filthy and pre-pixels, that early video-editing effect. We don’t like to be retro but we want it to be not what everyone else is doing now. On top of that, we project videos that Bunny and I have made onto a screen at the back. We haven’t really perfected it yet, but that’s the point really.”
“It’s very Throbbing Gristle-inspired; it’s different every night, it’s raw,” adds Holiday. A designer for American Apparel by day, including her extensive Cali Sun and Fun range, Holiday created the “Intra-stellar flight suits” that act as the duo’s stage wear. “They kind of really suit the industrial vibe of the whole thing; they’re a little bit end of the world and 1984, like the music,” Holiday explains. “I got these pieces made at the factory for us. They’re what they call samples; they’re the only two in existence.”
“I’ve given up genre, I see it as all of the same,” Levi states at one point, as if struck by a moment of insight. “I dunno if I’ll make another guitar record; maybe one day, probably I will. Right now there isn’t a begging audience for it so I’d be afraid to put it online for a hundred listens, y’know?” At the rate crush_DLX are proffering new material, he needn’t worry about returning to roads already trodden. In fact, it’s hard to see a step beyond this current project that would be an advance on the creative process perfected over the past year. If anyone’s earned their right to hang up their space jetpack it’s Pop Levi; one thing you’re sure of, however, is that that particular thought is the last thing on his mind.