The C-series – what’s it all about?

As the iconic mixtape returns, we look back at NME's history with the C-series

Everyone has a story to tell about what it means to be a music fan. From your first-ever gig to the records and ticket stubs you may have amassed over the years, the memories we make while listening to and experiencing the music of our favourite artists can stay with us forever. NME’s C-series – a collection of mixtapes championing the most exciting and original new musical talent of their respective eras – has continued that spirit of discovery, by compiling tracks that speak to youth-led sounds, aesthetics and subcultures.

The story of the C-series begins in 1981 with the inception of the C81 tape. Released to avid NME readers via postal order, the 25-track mixtape featured a number of contemporary artists – John Cooper Clarke, The Specials – that had signed to Rough Trade, which pressed the release to vinyl. But despite the tracks coming from only one record label, the collection’s sound was diverse and boundary-pushing, ranging from experimental jazz to spoken-word and ska. It also featured Scottish group Orange Juice, who would go on to exercise significant influence over the indie scene that would emerge in the UK.

A big motivation of the C81 curators was to represent the breadth of popular music at the time; before the advent of modern-day streaming services – where more or less the entirety of pop history is available to anyone at the touch of a button – mixtapes were an accessible and affordable opportunity for listeners to discover new artists, and for press to promote them.

The C-series would continue with the C86 mixtape in 1986, dubbed “the most indie thing to have ever existed” by former NME staffer Andrew Collins. The mixtape’s wide-reaching legacy can be attributed to how C86 was once held by many as the gold standard for indie-pop; featuring tracks from The Wedding Present and Primal Scream, the collection was representative of a new kind of guitar band.

The series would be revived briefly with C96 featuring appearances from Mogwai and Babybird, before laying dormant for decades. NME would turn its focus to mixtapes showcasing its favoured indie labels, compilations with Awards winners, and one-off collaborations with The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand and others. 2002’s ‘New Rock Revolution’, featuring The Libertines, Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs captured a sound in ascendance.

Elements of the DIY-minded ethos that defined the C-series can be seen in the artists of C23, the latest addition to the series. What’s consistent, from bedroom pop and TikTok sensations to underground rap stars, is a desire to make an outward show of their style and personalities, and to maintain full creative control over their output. The C-series may not stand as a movement in the typical sense, but the musicians featured over the years are bound by the inspiration they have drawn from the wider scenes around them.

Stay tuned to for the latest on the return of the iconic mixtape

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