Late, late, for an important date…I know, this mix is late.
As a belated tribute to Record Store Day a couple of weeks ago, I want to feature some independence for this mix. Instead of independent record shops, which are hugely important to the indie music fan ecosystem, I will be putting a spotlight on some fantastic independent record labels. During the 70s and 80s there was a boom in independent labels, birthing such legends as Rough Trade, Postcard, Stiff, Sub Pop, Cherry Red, Dischord, Sarah, Mute, Heavenly, Slumberland, and 4AD. Alex Ogg documents the British side of this story in Independence Days: The Story of UK Independent Record Labels (not the most fluidly written book, but a useful resource nonetheless). The freedom and immediacy of DIY allowed for releases that likely would not have been available otherwise. A lack of resources and knowledge can often be the catalyst for intense creativity. Providing an alternative to major label acts was an exhilarating development fraught with the conflict between idealistic art and realistic finances. Sometimes it meant “selling out” more than cashing in. As one Audio Antihero tagline proclaims, independent labels are often “Specialists in Commercial Suicide,” but the key word is “specialists.” Like independent record shops, these small, specific labels, founded by fans and musicians, are carefully created and curated, serving the consummate music lovers who can’t find what they need in the mainstream and who long for a bit of serendipity in their musical experiences.
At this time of global hyper-acceleration, independent bands and their labels can be particularly ephemeral, and ultimately, I suppose quite collectible. They can pop up online for a couple of years only to disappear in a cloud of cache. These days, a music blog can often lead to a sideline in the DIY record industry (17 Seconds and Song, by Toad spring to mind). New business models abound. Swedish indie label Labrador functions as a labour of love whose owners hold day jobs, and The Indelicates-founded Corporate Records is the ultimate DIY model, where the non-profit label is really a facilitator rather than a company. In this age of digital distribution, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp, independent labels have become more available than ever, but have also often become even more innovative about how they present the physical versions of their music. Many twee labels have opted for the cute, crafty, and diminutive aesthetic, selling 3” compact discs or wrapping their discs in soft fabrics and glitter glue. From plush toy ghosts sold by Sways Records in Salford, to werewolf brooches and wooly socks from Antique Beat in London, music has found a home in an ever-expanding universe of tangible contexts. In the case of Fika Recordings, the label plays off its name, the Swedish word for “coffee break,” and includes a tea bag and cake recipe with each purchase. Gerry Loves Records, a Scottish label which releases vinyl and cassettes, pays such close attention to aesthetic detail I’m often afraid to open the handmade record sleeves. These are not so much cynical marketing ploys (with these kinds of negligible profit margins, would you really bother hand-stitching toys and knitting socks if not for other, more creative, purposes?), but instead, as accents to the worlds these labels create. These small, fan-led aesthetics become unique, self-contained ways of being that co-habit with the styles of music being released. Web designers, graphic artists, writers, club promoters, crafters, flash game designers, and filmmakers can all join forces with musicians (or be musicians themselves) to create cultural enclaves where music is just one of their many dimensions. The Indelicates are an outstanding case study. They strike me as highly talented people who cannot stop being creative; whether designing necklaces, making fudge, or writing picture books, they act on ventures as the ideas occur to them: adventure capitalism, perhaps.
Incidentally, Gerry Loves Records also demonstrates another aspect of independent labels that I enjoy so much: the personal interaction. I received a hand-written thank-you letter from Andy Lobban, who co-runs the tiny Edinburgh-based label and who also happens to have been born in my hometown Winnipeg. This genial kind of gesture has become common practice among indie labels; whether a handwritten postcard from Matthew Young at Song, By Toad Records, or a personal message scrawled by Keith TOTP across the outside of the padded envelope, they are gracious acts that make you smile.
Independent labels featured in this mix:
Bleeding Gold Records
But is it Art?
Filthy Little Angels
Gerry Loves Records
Hello Thor Records
Odd Box Records
Song, By Toad Records
If you like what you hear, support these labels, and reach out to those as-yet-undiscovered, strange, little cul-de-sacs of cyberspace to keep discovering the intriguing stuff. Welcome to the impractical, wonderful domain of split-singles, vinyl EPs, fanzines, and cassette-only releases.
The Same Rules Always Apply – Captain Polaroid
Dinosaur – Sarandon
Pearshaped – Milky Wimpshake
Agnostic Nightmare – Slottet
I Hate Your Band – Keith TOTP
The End of the Affair – Friday Bridge
UR Road – Sameblod
Emitter – Miaoux Miaoux
Wojtek the Bear – Fighting Kites
Like a Bird Pulling Up at a Worm – We Show Up on Radar
Intercity Baby – The Kensingtons
Optimism is Disappointing – Hehfu
Walking on Eggshells – King Post Kitsch
This World – stanleylucasrevolution
What You Don’t Have – Meursault
12 000 Sentinels – Benjamin Shaw
French Magazines – Rock Stone
Towerblock – Trapped in Kansas
Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow? – Pelle Carlberg
Nothing Much to Say – The Librarians
Feral Fanzine Frenzy – Falling & Laughing