Mick Magic was one of the main characters of the UK Underground Cassette Label Days, starting out as many with the DIY ethos of the alternative scene and the wish to promote his own Band Magic Moments At Twilight Time in 1987. Onwards he supported a global range of artists with nearly 600 releases on his Music & Elsewhere label up to 2003. Promoted via the then established networking of fanzines, alternative radio stations and distributors, trading and licensing.
After a break of nearly a decade he returned to musical activities releasing incredible Best Of Compilations of his catalogue, published treasures from the vaults, digitized reissues and a remastered CD Album before starting a new musical adventure…
Chain D.L.K.: Hello Mick, you’ve currently started a new project – Magic Bullet, and already published several releases with it. Could you start with a little history how this came about ?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: It’s been something of a fight to get here, to be quite honest. After we (Magic Moments At Twilight Time) released “Creavolution” in 1996, I didn’t do another recording for 20 years. That was to mark MMATT’s 30th birthday in 2016, for which I ended up doing two tracks… on a TEAC 4-track cassette portastudio… because I couldn’t make head nor tail of the digital recording software I got with my new Behringer mixer! I’d kind of hoped that would be a ‘new dawn’, but after I’d had several more attempts at it alone, I just got ever more frustrated and kept putting off the next attempt even longer. That in turn became easier and easier as I was already pretty busy with creating and releasing The Music & Elsewhere 25th Anniversary Collections (2017 and 2019 respectively) and promoting the TMR analogue remaster of “Creavolution Reborn” in 2018. But I guess the answer was always there; if you can’t tackle a problem on your own, get some help, albeit from unexpected sources…
Chain D.L.K.: Are you collaborating with other musicians on this Project?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: Well, yes, that and beyond, and there lies the key to it all. Magic Bullet are, the official promo blurb says; “counterparts from parallel realities / twins who tell lies / something altogether much stranger.” Skit Zoyd is my partner in the project, he is my counterpart / lying twin / something altogether much stranger. He is the one that made this all possible. I’d been expecting him for quite some time, ever since the name had first cropped up during the online “Flashbax Omicron 13” event, at the launch of “Creavolution Reborn” in 2018, but he didn’t actually turn up until the morning of October 1st last year. I was looking through the latest on F******k, as I typically do most mornings, when I saw a post from Shaun Robert. I’d kind of known him for a long time, we’d released some of his ‘factor X’ stuff on M&E as far back as 1992. These days, he runs a label called Institute For Alien Research, a big part of which is his musique concrete compilation series. The post was a call-out for material for one of these, themed around animal noises. So a voice tells me “We could do that.” True, I have a big folder on my computer called “Dr. Magic’s Audio Lab”, which does indeed contain a collection of animal noises, amongst many other clips and samples I’ve collected over the years, always with an eye on doing some ‘serious’ work when I got older. But I still knew shit about digital recording technology, and didn’t have a clue how to put these noises together to form anything coherent (not yet understanding that musique concrete didn’t have to be)! Skit, however, he came from a different world. Within a few hours, we’d created a track we called “god Eat god”, entirely on a PC. No musical instruments were harmed in the making of this piece! We’d also designed a Magic Bullet logo, posed for a band photo, did an info sheet and sent the whole lot in to Shaun Robert for consideration. When I woke up that morning, there WAS no Magic Bullet. By the time I went to bed, our first track had been accepted for release on an IFAR compilation called “Animal Form”, which came out three days later!
Chain D.L.K.: Is there a general concept or idea behind you’d like to outline or perhaps a special meaning hidden in the name?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: A general concept? Again, it’s a “well, yes, that and beyond.” Experimental music has been a great love of mine since I picked up a copy of an early budget Virgin LP called “The Faust Tapes” at our local Our Price record store in 1973. I would have been 15 at the time and had never heard anything like it before. It was inspirational, I played it over and over for weeks, much to my parents’ dismay! I started recording experimental music myself soon after with band after band of teenage dreamers. But like most teenage dreams, they came to nothing, until I started MMATT in 1986. We were VERY experimental at the beginning, always retained something of an experimental edge, but ended up being known as a spacerock outfit, though we always felt there was much more to us than that. Then I got caught up with the whole M&E thing, but I’d always held on to the idea that I’d have the chance to follow some of my experimental dreams ‘later’. And then I’m 60, I start getting free prescriptions, I have my first MRI scan and get hooked up to an ECG monitor for a day… turns out ‘later’ might be sooner than I’d thought! Incidentally, Faust remain one of my favourite bands to this day, we even named the label as a nod to their 1986 “Return Of A Legend: Munic & Elsewhere” (sic) LP!
The Magic Bullet name holds no hidden meaning, no, we’re not claiming to be the solution to any great world problem (beyond my previous inability to use digital recording technology); it’s just that I spent the best part of my musical career with Magic Moments At Twilight Time, Skit spent the best part of his with Ehrlich Bullet. We were experimental rock, EB were very noise based, so we’ve been fusing elements of the two and playing with some new ideas as we go, not least all the amazing things you can do with digital tech that you couldn’t possibly do with analogue recordings! Expect some serious experimental works in due course, like the hour long piece that makes up our “Solidarietas” debut album on the Russian Broken Tape Records label. But, we are also a band who, as reality unfurls, just wanna have fun (with apologies to Cyndi Lauper), so expect some humour and easier on the ear bits too, like some of the Mmatterial on “Curiositas”, the collection of side projects on our own Music & Elsewhere label. We enjoy doing the musique concrete for IFAR too, will definitely keep doing that.
Chain D.L.K.: With your former Band Magic Moments At Twilight Time you’ve had a long run in the tape scene during the 80’s up to a proper CD Album release in the 90’s. Sadly your New Wave tinged Space Pop Rock did not reach the masses but I think you’ve achieved a lot of credit in the independent scene. How do you see this experience today?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: Life changing. There are maybe things I would have done differently (how annoying is it that we only get the benefit of hindsight AFTER events?), but I could never imagine not having done it. I made some great friends over those underground years, many of whom I’m in regular contact with again now. The ultimate mind-expanding non-pharmaceutical experience. Yeah, life changing, sums it up completely.
Chain D.L.K.: Recently you had several remixes published and your final Album “Creavolution” was remastered and reissued – are you satisfied with these projects and how they turned out?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: It was a strange thing, MMATT were just this dinosaur from the analogue past, then you mentioned to me you were thinking about re-releasing one of the old Flashbax series we used to put together for other labels back in the day, thus was born “Flashbax Omega Ultimate” on your Klappstuhl label in 2015 (wow, was that REALLY five years ago!?), ultimately (pun intended) a ‘best of the MMATT cassette years’. I thought you’d done an amazing job with those old recordings, it got some really good reviews and kind of put us back on the radar after a very lengthy absence. Disappointed for you that it didn’t sell better after all your efforts, but I guess the audience would always be reasonably limited to the few that still hankered for those little spools of chromium dioxide in plastic boxes. And the newest track on it was 23 years old, after all! But yeah, it sounded great and I still plug it regularly on our social media, as well as keeping it listed on our website’s Sounds Bazaar.
“Creavolution Reborn” was a different beast, a fully professional product, an analogue remaster from the original studio DAT’s, factory pressed, plastic wrapped and systematically promoted. An underground label simply can’t compete with that. TMR Records sold the entire run, only a thousand (plus about double that amount of downloads too, I understand), and it took over 18 months, but we were all pretty happy with it. And Marc Bell’s (Brain Dead Studio, London, where the album was originally recorded) analogue remastering technique breathed a warmth and new life into it, one that the dry and cold mid 90’s production of that original simply couldn’t have. And it laid some ghosts to rest, but that’s another story. TMR were kind enough to send me the dregs, about a dozen copies, so I still have a few available mail order for late converts.
Chain D.L.K.: As many of us you had an extended parent break after years of heady activity with your own band, label, distribution and promo activities. When was that?
I had the idea you’ve vanished from Earth while the music industry and the ways an independent musician can promote himself changed radically through the internet, starting with the mp3.
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: Parent break? Not too sure what that means? If literal, well, no, the whole thing came crashing down long before I became a dad in 2013. If anything, having Twizz kind of gave me a ‘second wind’, she’s actually made me feel younger and more energetic again. My old band came to an end many years earlier, not long after the release of “Creavolution” back in 1996. To be honest, it was more like a ‘Mick Magic & Friends’ project by then anyway. Ironic it should all end after our most successful release ever, innit? That album sold more than the first 12 put together! Such is life. It was a tough time, the wheels had completely come off the Ford Escortron, as it were. I have Asperger’s, you see, so it turns out that, unknown to myself at the time, I can be quite difficult to work with. I get along really well with Skit though, it’s like we think with one mind! I had struggled on with the M&E label for several years after, but things were changing rapidly. More bands wanted to jump from cassettes to CDR’s, and as we approached the end of the second millennium, the internet and e-mail were beginning to replace the jiffy bag and postage stamps system we’d flourished through. I don’t know quite how to put it, but it “felt” different, it “felt” somehow wrong, uncomfortable, I didn’t like what was happening. I put my throne on the beach and issued my decree, but the tide ignored me and kept coming. After a largely overlooked final batch of releases in May 2003 (somewhat frustratingly ending with M&E 599!), it slowly fizzled out and died.
It would be a decade nearly before it would resurface, a very eventful decade at that; with more time on my hands, I returned to my other great passion, football, spending a few years serving on the committee of the famous Corinthian-Casuals FC, alongside the legend that is the late and lamented Jimmy Hill. Then, in 2008, I was rather re-inspired by being tracked down by the woman who had been forced to give me up for adoption 50 years earlier. Overnight, I went from an only child having no idea who his birth parents were to one of five (three brothers and a sister), complete with a family tree going back two centuries. As you can imagine, that’s quite life changing too. Discovering I actually came from a long line of musical performers, all the way back to my great grandmother, who trod the boards of ‘music hall’ in Edwardian Britain, it made me realise just how much I’d missed it all. So, in 2012, in the throes of moving north to belatedly start a family, I put up the first page of The Magic Net website and began making my peace with the digital revolution.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you feel it’s easier being heard nowadays where the whole world can find you on the net or is it more like adding one more voice to the crowd?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: Fuck no! I think, if anything, it’s far more difficult. Which makes sense, when you think about it. To spread our music to zines etc in the old days, we had to buy a cassette and a jiffy bag, write an accompanying letter, take it to the Post Office and pay to mail it. Nowadays folk can PM you a URL, requiring only a couple of seconds of their time and costing nothing. Recording used to require studio time and/or expensive equipment, whereas you can get the basic software and plug-ins for little or nothing now. I guess it would be hard to argue that making the powers of artistic creation available to more people is anything other than a good thing, but it really increases the numbers in terms of competition. And it’s not just about whether what you’re doing is any good, it’s the persuading of people to actually listen to find out in the first place. Choice is everywhere, free music is falling out of the skies, it’s hard work for the modern muzo.
Chain D.L.K.: Is the networking nowadays sort of the same with different tools for you or something else compared to your earlier activities?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: It’s another world entirely. I find that most of the people we need to spread the word; the reviewers, the radioshow hosts, bloggers etc; they are absolutely swamped with material, way more than they can feasibly cope with. It’s not unusual to be told “you’ll get a review, but it’ll probably be 6 months to a year”. Not really what you want to hear. Or “thank you for submitting your material, we will get back to you in due course.” And you never hear from them again. Particularly annoying when they insisted on a CD because “although we are only an online magazine ourselves, we won’t review online music”. The friendships and relationships we used to have amongst the old cassette underground seemed to mean a lot more back in the day, it all strikes me a bit indifferent now. I’d certainly never want to run a label again (though I seriously appreciate the support of those of you who do!!!), just getting a URL from someone who can’t even be arsed even to find out your name. Soul destroying. No, I’m happier just making music (and elsewhere!) these days, I’ll take the frustrations of trying to get heard over the frustrations of being thoughtlessly hounded by ill-mannered wannabees any day.
Chain D.L.K.: As a guitarist who was always open to experiments and space sounds I need to ask you what would you consider your main influences and how do they shimmer through your work?
Mick Magic / Magic Bullet: Actually, the guitarists I most admire probably haven’t influenced the way I play myself. When I first started learning as a kid, it was more finger-picking, folk and classical. And a lot of the electric guitarists I thought were amazing (John MacLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page), I simply didn’t have the ability to emulate, no way I could play virtuoso solos like them. But through my introduction to Hawkwind (Top Of The Pops, 1972) at 14 and the whole new leftfield world that lead me into, I started to get my own ideas of what you can do with a guitar. It’s handy to have music theory and a bit of classical training, so when I conjure up something like “Spirit” in my head, I am actually capable of playing it. But I was probably much happier whacking out trippy doodlings, distorted riffs and maxing out the effects pedals. Magic Bullet may not have gone quite according to plan so far, like we’re still sitting on what was supposed to be our debut album from last October, “Digitalis”, but then who knew the world was going to end? The adventure continues, I only wish we all knew when…