In every era, multitudes of hyper-obscure communities centered on weird music and culture exist in the deep shadows cast by mainstream options. One such largely underdocumented and forgotten scene was the Eugene Electronic Music Collective, a group of hippies, artists, and general outsiders who lived in the small college town of Eugene, Oregon and came together over their shared love of experimental electronic sounds. The group formed in 1984 and existed loosely with a shifting lineup for around a decade. In a time before the Internet reigned, the EEMC shared their music and ideas through a network of independent music magazine classifieds, local radio shows, and homemade cassettes sold in small-town businesses like the neighborhood record store and new age shops. Switched-On Eugene collects a cross section of 15 tracks from this invisible chapter in localized electronic music history, all taken from impossibly rare cassette releases that are all but lost to the ether of time. While experimentation and exploration factor in heavily, there's a surprising amount of structure on much of the collection. Strange and amateurish synth pop scores David Stout's fantastical "The Seven Rays" and a similar weirdness defines Kim Carter's propulsive lo-fi track "Energy." More abstract electronic and new age moments come with Peter Thomas' celestial "Shimmer" as well as the clunky proto-acid groove of Phyllyp Vernacular's "The Clinging," a song made in the mid-'80s that wouldn't sound terribly out of place on a Squarepusher B-sides collection 20 years later. While much of the collective's output was an adversarial reaction to the saccharine Top 40 pop that dominated the airwaves throughout the '80s, there are moments that reflect that pop back through a slightly warped lens. The mysterious slink of Suse Millemann's "Patterns" feels like a more homespun and digital synth-heavy reading of Fleetwood Mac's witchy late-'80s sounds. Talve's "The Ride" also sounds like a low-budget bid for a radio hit. Conversely, Heather Perkins' roughly captured "Burning Through" is entirely outsider, with Perkins singing lyrics about social disappointments over nothing but a demented backdrop of spare drum programming. Musically, Switched-On Eugene is rough-hewn, often wild fare. Recorded primarily on early home studio equipment, the music here exists outside or even in defiance of the normal concerns about commercial appeal. Manic and delay-doused drumming, woozy synth tones that overstay their welcome, and rudimentary experiments in sampling all show up as the EEMC make their sound environments into a playground without rules. This is the charm of the collection, the spirit of a group of societal outcasts obsessed with Eno and Wendy Carlos creating on their own terms, mostly for each other. Even the glimpse into that unseen world offered by Switched-On Eugene makes it clear how exciting, giving, and important those times were to everyone involved, regardless of how small the pond may have been.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas