January 28, 1986. The Space Shuttle Challenger and all on board explode across the consciousness of the world, America in particular. Before the year’s out, Keith Leblanc (drummer, mad scientist, co-inventor of the various grooves that pretty much set hip hop free), will release an album called Major Malfunction, the title of track of which is driven by all manner of relevant audio samples from the day. No sad piano, no violins. Just evidence. Welcome to the future, it seems to be saying. Like a disaster movie with human error the cause.
Alternately known as St. Che or merely Che, this outfit was basically just Tackhead anyway, which is confusing, because Tackhead was also Fats Comet and/or Mark Stewart’s Maffia and/or Little Axe (though that came later) and/or Keith Leblanc working solo. He was the drummer, the other key three players being bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip MacDonald and producer, mixmaster extraordinaire Adrian Sherwood. The first three originally connected as the house band for Sugarhill Records but it took colliding with Mr. Sherwood to truly unleash the kind of outfit that defines zeitgeists. Big fat beats, funky grooves, charged samples all toward the kind of soundtrack that a proper apocalypse needs, and the 1980s were nothing if not a rolling apocalypse (if you had the right kind of eyes). As for Che, little is known beyond this single and then, a few years after the fact, an album that hardly anyone heard. Which is pretty much par for the whole Tackhead story. Essential but you’ve got to go looking for it.
In which Keith Leblanc, straight outa Connecticut, and by way of outfits like Sugarhill Records, Tackhead, Little Axe (and a bunch more) reminds us of exactly what 1986 felt like – the best part anyway. Big beats (bigger than man had ever heard before), cool noise, strange new technologies alchemizing, boiling over, eager to smash the planet, change everything forever. And they would. Planet smashing was definitely what it was all about in the 80s. The planet needed smashing, musically speaking, that is.
“Strong sense of groove and melody, lots of cool, modern dub tricks – The Strange Parcels seemed to have it all when I first heard them back in 1991 care of On-U Sound‘s Pay It All Back Vol.3 (which remains one of the great compilation albums of any era, as do pretty much all the others in the series). But then, that was about it. An album would eventually show up a few years later, but I was onto other things by then, as was the world, I guess. But I did keep going back to Pay It All Back Vol.3 in general, To Be Free in particular, key ingredient in many a mixtape, dragged to many a house party, bonfire, mountaintop. Soundtrack for this slow apocalypse, still ongoing.” (Philip Random)
It’s 1987 and Tackhead are already delivering it, even as Public Enemy are speaking of bringing it. The Noise, that is. Big beats, no bullshit, as many samples as you can jam into two inches of audio tape. And in the case of Tackhead, genuinely hot playing, because they were most definitely a band. “I seem to remember the original 12-inch single version of Mind at the End of the Tether being the better one – stronger, less cluttered. But the version on the Tape Time album speaks its the truth regardless. Superlative and loud and surrounded by tracks of equal cacophony. If you truly wish to know what the latter part of the mid-80s sounded like, start here.” (Philip Random)