We give this to all the DJs before they're allowed to go on the air. We call it a Universal Listening Assignment, because it is. There are a whole bunch of others, and many people have contributed to the project, but Aileen, Tim, and I are the ones who have updated this one most recently.

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It's the late 70s, early 80s. You're young, English, and go to art school, or maybe you're from New York or Ohio. You've probably got a deep seated admiration for James Brown and/or Albert Ayler. Either that or you're 100% fed up with the Ramones. In any case, what sets you apart is that you're thinking about what you're doing. You don't just have something new to say, but you have a new way to say it. Sometimes you're angry, grating, and spastic. Other times you're melodic, waning, and almost ethereal. There's often less than three or maybe more than four. And you pick up anything that makes a sound.

You are not them.

v/a :: Wanna Buy a Bridge :: LP

Rough Trade was a label started by a guy named Geoff Travis, a logical extension of his left-leaning politics, record store/mail-order business, and admiration for the "Do it Yourself" (DIY) aesthetic of other independent British labels. Rough Trade began releasing singles in late 1977 (the first by a still strange French group called Metal Urbain). The label's first LP was the crucial "Inflammable Material" by Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers in 1979. Rough Trade saw enormous success when they signed the Smiths in the mid-80's, but would eventually go bankrupt in the 90's when the Butthole Surfers failed to move enough units.

Wanna Buy a Bridge is one of the best compilations ever; in 1979, Rough Trade was one of the hottest labels of all time.

:: Stiff Little Fingers. The band that least belongs on this record starts things off. Which is not to say it's not worth listening to. Far from it. Fucking anthemic.
:: Delta 5. Rhythmic, screechy-- and it's sung in a round! Funk beat, sharp guitar, from Wales via Leeds. Check out all their coffin singles.
:: Slits. Featured in The Punk Rock Movie in all their pre-proficiency glory, the Slits finally found the right groove-- the sound of two reggae bands playing at once. Also essential: Peel Sessions CD (raw and harsh) and Cut (biting and danceable).
:: Essential Logic. Lora Logic played with the X-Ray Spex, although she was asked to leave the band before they recorded their album. On "Aerosol Burns," she just freaks out, unlike the more pop-oriented squall of her Beat, Rhythm, News LP.
:: TV Personalities. Feckless, fey, and sweetly irregular. This song features the only successful rock name dropping ever.
:: Swell Maps. Completely D.I.Y. band circa 1972-1980; but what are they doing on this frenzied 1.5 minute ska song that keeps threatening to fall apart?
:: The Pop Group. Painfully ambitious. Noisy, half-witted funk; when they're on, they're unstoppable. They combined incoherency and brutally obvious politics with all the gusto you'd expect from an art band who lived in a squat. See also For How Much Longer Can We Tolerate Mass Murder LP and Y LP.
:: Spizz Energi. Perfectly tense punk new wave. Extra points for the ultra-sharp synth lines. If you haven't already, check out the "Where's Captain Kirk?" single. Spizz Energi related projects include Spizz Oil -- same style, but without the keyboard, bass, or drums -- and Athletico Spizz -- a more pop-chart oriented outfit.
:: Kleenex. All female Swiss New Wave group where everybody sings (or hoots) and the rhythms are helter-skelter. The Liliput CD has everything Kleenex and Liliput (same people, after a lawsuit from the tissue manufacturer) ever recorded.
:: Cabaret Voltaire. Much of Cab Voltaire's music is drifty, blurty electronics or bad disco. For a short period, however, they produced something as mean and oblique as punk. Best backing vocals (and tiniest guitar sound) in the history of punk.
:: Raincoats. Think of their first self-titled LP as the ninth record on this ULA. It makes select DJs cry.
:: Young Marble Giants. Completely spartan cabaret music with twitch. Colossal Youth, their equally great LP, reveals ambling reggae rhythms and production technique.
:: Scritti Politti. Willfully endless. The name translates to "writing about politics"; Green Gartside, the main guy, was a member of the Young Spartacists in college. Of all the bands to achieve commercial success.
:: Robert Wyatt. Aging hippie who used to front the 60's psychedelic outfit Soft Machine and refuses to go away. We never said this compilation was perfect.

If you liked the Rough Trade stuff, you might also appreciate Alternative Television (The Image has Cracked and Vibing Up the Senile Man), Vic Godard and the Subway Sect (Retrospective LP), the Mekons (The Quality of Mercy is not Strnen LP), the Au Pairs (Playing with a Different Sex LP), the Homosexuals, Red Crayola, Zounds (CD), Lora Logic, the Soft Boys, The Nightengales (CD), Marine Girls (CD), the Lemon Kittens, Desperate Bicycles, Monochrome Set, This Heat, the Prefects. The Fast Product/Mutant Pop comp is a joy, as is the less canonical Earcom 2. Of course you should know Joy Division, New Order, and the first two A Certain Ratio records, as well as Second Edition and Flowers of Romance by P.I.L. The Metal Urbain CD is singular, so to speak, and you must hear it.

v/a :: No New York :: LP

Originally conceived as a compilation to document at least ten of the post CBGB's bands in New York 1978. Scene politics reduced that number to four so-called "No-Wave" groups. A very short-lived and fluid scene (discographies and personnel are difficult to figure out - more so because members were often interchangeable at shows); over by 1982 at the latest. The most famous band to come out of New York's scene is Sonic Youth, maybe the Feelies. The most famous no-wave band member is Jean-Michel Basquiat. Is Lydia Lunch famous?

It's weird to think that New York's finest hour should be a transient scene that produced almost no records, but it's true. If you do like this one, look for The Contortions' Buy LP, the Red Transistor and Static singles, Glenn Branca's Ascension, Blue Humans (Rudolph Grey), Eight-Eyed Spy, the MARS, Teenage Jesus, Circle X and DNA CDs, the Pre-Teenage Jesus and the Jerks 12".

Gang of Four :: Entertainment :: LP

The first record to definitively combine thin angular punk guitar with muscular funk bass, and throw in crypto-Marxist lyrics and visuals. Also the finest flower of the British art-school system: T. J. Clark, founder of Leeds University's communist art history program (and author of The Painting of Modern Life) jump-started a whole posse of skewed prole/art groups, including The Mekons, Delta 5, and (uh) Scritti Politti, who at first sounded like a cross between reggae and an amplified dishwasher. The skank art sound develops from here to The Fire Engines, God and The State, Josef K, Big Flame, Dawson, Badgewearer, Stretchheads, King of the Slums, Death by Milkfloat, Boston's Proletariat, and The Minutemen. Also check out the First After Epiphany comp and the good side of the Take 5 comp.

The Fall :: Slates :: 10"

Formed Manchester 1977 and led by Mark E. Smith, the Fall are the ultimate twitchy art-punk band. Every year, a new person writes the ULA notes, and another record by The Fall is chosen. The Slates 10" is from 1981 (Rough Trade) and manages to be somehow more polished and more difficult than the band's previous work. They have many great records, unlike most art-rock bands, who tend to lose sight of the tension pretty fast. You should listen to ALL of these albums, no joke: Live at the Witchtrials, Dragnet, Grotesque, Hex Enduction Hour, Palace of Swords Reversed, and Perverted by Language. Then, go out and buy Room to Live and Fall in a Hole for the station, and listen to those too.

Wire :: Chairs Missing :: LP/CD

Wire were a self-taught foursome from a south London art school. Their first record, Pink Flag, is one of the greatest punk records ever. Their second record, the one you are listening to now, is also one of the greatest punk records ever. It's just that punk is not always what you think. The Slits used to open for the Sex Pistols, but Wire weren't a part of any scene. They were sometimes sardonic but most of the time they came straight on. Their music is fractured, sparse, and defiantly odd. Pink Flag should be dessert after this, but also check out 154 (what came after), and Colin Newman's A-Z (what should have been the fourth Wire record but was released only under his name).

Devo :: Hardcore Volume 1 :: CD

Compilation of some of Devo's earliest recordings. "Satisfaction," "Mongoloid," "Jocko Homo," and "Social Fools" are all versions released on 7" by Devo's label, Booji Boy. This band was new wave before there was punk -- check the dates. Anyone who mentions "80's" in their notes fails the comp. From Akron. Also essential -- their first three albums: Are We Not Men?, Duty Now for The Future, and Freedom of Choice, as well as Rykodisk's other collection: Hardcore Volume II, and the CD reissue of their cassette-only release: E-Z Listening Disc.

Pere Ubu :: The Modern Dance :: LP

Which band is more midwest, Devo or Pere Ubu? Which band got laid more? Which believed in the imminent end of the world? 1978 catching-up album that collects stuff they'd written as early as '74-'75. David Thomas had been in Rocket from the Tombs (see LP) among others. Perfect hybrid of art and garage rock. Perfect album.

The Red Krayola :: God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It :: LP

In 1966, the International Artists group was looking to expand the number of Texas psych bands on their label. Apparently, they thought the best place to start would be the shopping mall, which is where they found, then signed, the Red Krayola. The longevity of the Red K (originally spelled with a C) can be attributed to the singer/songwriter/genius Mayo Thompson. Some call their work challenging avant-rock, others invest it with postmodern-sounding names, but above all, the Red Krayola is just making music.

The Ex :: Disturbing Domestic Peace :: LP/CD

The product of the instruments and other miscellaneous objects of a Dutch DIY political collective, The Ex could be called anarcho-punk if Crass hadn't already appropriated the word. But even with the slicing guitars, in-your-face vocals, and the occasional new wave slip-up, this record is as much about affecting social change as it is the music, which is to say a lot, a whole lot. They're still going strong, or at least some would say, but if you don't like it you can always read the liner notes.

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Art Rock Miscellany

20th century classical

Ligeti, Xenakis, Messaien, AMM, Magnus Lindburg, Stockhausen!

Psychedelia

Red Crayola, Captain Beefheart, Steve Hurley and Cockney Rubble

Krautrock

Neu!, Can, Faust, Amon Dull, Kraftwerk

Post-Glam

Brian Eno, Brian Ferry, Roxy Music, David Bowie

Free Jazz types like Destroy All Monsters

Ohio

Devo, Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, Vertical Slit. V-Effect, Waitresses, Mirrors, Styrenes, Tin Huey, Jane Aire and the Belvederes, the Akron comp on Stiff, Rocket from the Tombs

San Fransisco

Residents, Chrome, Tuxedo Moon, Snakefinger, MX-80 (originally from Indiana), Caroliner, Mutants, Thinking Fellers Union 282

Los Angeles

(Los Angeles Free Music Society), Human Hands, BPeople, The Monitor, Tikis, Circus Mort, Savage Republic, Urinals, 100 Flowers, Factrix, Z'ev, 17 Pygmies, Rain Parade, Three O'Clock, Green on Red, True West, Dream Syndicate, God vs. the State, Romans, Flesheaters

DC

Half Japanese, Made for TV, Egoslavia, Bloody Mannequin Orchestra, Tiny Desk Unit, Insect Surfers, Happy Go Licky, Honor Role, Wingtip Sloat, Rake, Moss Icon

New York

Suicide, The Static, Theoretical Girls, Red Transistor, DNA, MARS, Teenage Jesus, James Chance, The Contortions, Y-Pants, ESG, High Sheriffs of Blue, Chain Gang, Bush Tetras, Snatch (Patti Paladin, Judy Nylon), Ut, Bongos, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Sonic Youth, Glen Branca, Live Skull, Borbetomagus, Feelies, Mofungo, Gruppo Sportivo, Klaus Nomi, Come On, Eight-Eyed Spy, Raybeats, Polyrock, Elliot Sharp's Carbon, Talking Heads, B-52s, Television, Chris Stamey, Swans

Texas

Danial Johnston, Butthole Surfers, Big Boys, Red Krayola

Scotland

Fire Engines (and other Pop Aural bands like Restricted Code, the Flowers, Drinking Electricity, Boots for Dancing), Josef K, Prats, 35mm Dream, Thomas Leer, Jackdaw with Crowbar, Dog Faced Hermans, Dawson, Archbishop Kebab, Badgewearer, Whirling Pig Dervish

Manchester

Joy Division, Crispy Ambulance, A Certain Ratio, Section 25, Durutti Column, Crawling Chaos (?), Minny Pops, Mud Hutters, Dislocation Dance, Ludus (Pat Linder), In Camera, The Creepers, Fall, Eric Random, Big Flame

Cherry Red Bands

Marine Girls, Marine, Eyeless in Gaza, Everything but the Girl, Felt, Nightengales, Tracey Thorn, Keven Coyne

Leeds

Gang of 4, Delta 5, Mekons, Scritti Pollitti, Desperate Bicycles

Crass Bands

Crass, Zounds, Flux of Pink Indians, Rudimentary Peni, Alternative, Honey Bane, Mob, Cravats

Ron Johnson Type Bands

Stump, Big Flame, Great Leap Forward, Twang, McKenzies, Jackdaw with Crowbar, Kilgore Trout, Shrubs, Death by Milkfloat, Ex, Keatons

Australia

SPK, Severed Heads, Birthday Party, Boys Next Door, X, Makers of the Dead Travel Fast

New Zealand

Fetus Productions, This Kind of Punishment, Gordons, Palgal Grind, Alaister Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, Dead C, Max Block, Snapper, Victor Dimisich Band, Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos, Trash, Gate, Alf Danielson, Terminals, Tall Dwarfs, Nocturnal Projections

Japan

Boredoms, Plastics, Merzbow

London

Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, The Pop Group, Slits, Alternative TV, Essential Logic (Lora Logic), Swell Maps, Lemon Kittens, Blurt, Kleenex/Liliput (Swiss), Metal Urbain (French), Raincoats, Girls at Our Best, Virgin Prunes (Irish), Spizz, Monochrome Set, Wire, DOME, Killing Joke, Public Image, Magazine, Cure, Punishment of Luxury, This Heat, Be-bop Deluxe, Queen, Young Marble Giants (Welsh), Clock DVA, Chris and Cosey, Gary Numan, Birthday Party

Industrial/goth Cultists

NON (Boyd Rice), Death in June, Current 93, Nurse with Wound, SPK

New Romanticism

Ultravox, Naked Eye

Boston

Modern Lovers, Girls, Human Sexual Response, Zulus, Mission of Burma (and Moving Parts), Cars, the Propeller Products crowd (People in Stores, Wild Stares, CCCPTV, Neats, Art Yard, V:, Maps, Uzi, Shut Up, Christmas, Dangerous Birds), Vitamin, Ground Zero, Stains

Contemporary

God is My Co-Pilot, Flying Lutenbachers, Pram, Stereolab, Scissor Girls, Unrest, Eggs, Moonshake, Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, Dawson, Arab on Radar, Yummy Fur, etc. etc. etc.

Labels

Factory, Disques du Crepuscule, Rough Trade, Cherry Red, Fetish, Industrial, ZE, No. 6, FAST/Pop Aural, MUTE, Happy Squid, Ralph, Propeller, Ron Johnson, CRASS, New Hormones, Too Pure, Absurd, BRAIN

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