The problem with bright ideas is that you have to be able to execute them. We know that Sheffield is a pool ridiculously overstocked with talent and that getting music out into the world is a tough thing to do. So over a pint or two we figured we’d do a piece on Sheffield labels – off the top of our heads we could think of seven or eight. Piece of piss, we phone them up and write a bit on them. Not so. Every time we thought we’d finished our list someone would casually mention another lot and we’d have to scribble, revise and reshape the premise for this piece and after a while we reached a point where it was beginning to get a bit silly. 20 odd labels of various shapes, quality and legitimacy were on the page when we popped into Record Collector and Jeff pulled a list out of his pocket with plenty more. So then, this is not a definitive list or a comprehensive round-up or even much of a surface scratcher – there’ll be labels we’ve missed out, labels we’ve missed the point of, labels we misrepresent. For all this we apologise in advance. If there is a unifying link between these cottage and not so cottage industries it’s that the start point is a belief and love in what they’re doing and the fact that they can do it for themselves. Punk was never just safety pins and rage.
Alright, what prompted us, other than then the flood of new releases coming our way was one of our writers asking if he could review something put out by the Quiet label. Of which we’d never heard. Upon investigation we discovered that Quiet is basically a guy called Ian Baxter who, so far has taken it upon himself to make available to those who want them a couple of CD-Rs, one of which is 4 pieces of Brian Eno influenced ambient music by himself and the other an evil but devastatingly funny cut and paste exercise by the Fandango brothers which combines the themes of everyday old-skool gangster life, domestic violence and The Beatles. Is it really a label? Well there’s a website (www.quietrecords.co.uk) and something to listen to so yes, it is. At roughly the same time we’re chatting to Gareth James, a rather good photographer who also works for Electric Canyon Management who look after Hoggboy and Richard Hawley. Gareth, just in passing, of course, points out that Hoggboy, who are on s.o.b.r.i.e.t.y. records, a Sheffield based label funnily enough, are currently in the top ten of the French charts.
At present it would seem that s.o.b.r.i.e.t.y are a single act label with a bit of clout.
Just next door to Hoggboy’s offices are those of 23 Records and Sim Lister (see p.10). From here Fila Brasilia’s rather fine output is, erm put out. (www.23online.co.uk) Now, these we’re pretty certain are ‘proper’ labels which have catalogue numbers and back catalogue and even hits - others in this category would have to include the , temporarily quiet, Twins of Evil imprint which, apart from the long awaited I-Monster album will hopefully unleash the KIngs Have Long Arms LP on us at some point in the near future as well as some involvement in the forthcoming, and rumoured be be pretty bloody good Northern Electric compilation which is being put out in France on another label soon (are you still with us?)
At the other end of the spectrum would be un!recordings (www.un!recordings.co.uk) which has got a back catalogue but tends to put out only 1.6 things a year for about ten years (see next page) The label thing gets cloudy when you factor in what appear to be one-off imprints such as holeymoley records which had its slogan on Mark Stoney’s home-made debut ‘Amber’ and doesn’t really appear to a label at all - until you speak to Mark himself and he mentions that he’s produced a couple of other artists and that it is possible there may be further goodies down the line.
Some labels are actually quite well know even though you may never have heard of them. Discus not only put out avant-garde jazzpieces but are well-respected in the small but influential world where Wire magazine is lauded. If this is your cup of tea the same people run the Other Music festival and assorted related nights and are not only well worth checking out but are reviewed on p.17 of this very magazine. (You can check them out at www.discus.co.uk.)
And from what we can ascertain Audio Laceration are also well worth a pop if that’s yer cup of tea.
Perhaps Sandman’s favourite label would have to Invisible Spies, boasting as it does the Supreme Vagabond Craftsman, Toah Dynamic and Earl Shilton (see p.9). We can’t be arsed to try and explain what that’s all about but advise you to pop along to www.invisiblespies.co.uk and make up your own mind.
Some labels are there simply because someone likes someone’s music so much that they just have to put it out somewhere. Such a label is John Pedder’s Canute Recordings which, so far has put out stuff by Man Atom and Dolium. John, who used to play bass in Baby Bird, sees his label as a useful stepping stone for the artits he releases. In Canute’s case it seems a fairly simple case of promotion via a fan-base - bear in mind it can take a while.
Now God bless vinyl and, let’s face it, it wasn’t anally retentive men searching for Morisseys mispellings that kept the old dark round alive. Dance music my son that’s what and Sheffield inevitably is well blessed. There’s Toko whose thumbprints have been writ clear on many house tracks since 1994. Paul Ingall’s tale of woe seems a common theme in label speak, “It started off by accident really. We put out our own records and then got sent demos. We put the demos out and heypresto we had a record label.
Of more recent vintage are 7Hills whose beats tend to be a little more on the broken side, Choo Choo who we hear are quite trancey. We’d include Wrecking Ball records but they’re from Doncasterand the artsandleisurefoundation who’ve just put out their second release and to get up to speed and up to date next month sees the first release from Comfortable (there’s a review on p18).
TWO VERY DIFFERENT LABELS
There’s a birthday coming up. Next month sees the 10th anniversary of un!recordings first release. Not the most prolific of labels the Dr.Universalis album (reviewed on p.9) is only the 16th un! Artefact to see the light of day. Un! is Paul Bowers and Paul Mills pet project and the impression is that they never really planned to take over the universe. Sheffielder Bower grew up at a time “when you could order albums from the central library and I’d go in and get all this great electronic music.” By 1993 – the year when Sheffield hosted the In The City shindig (“You knew who your friends were then, there was a lot of, erm, jostling going on.”) SLBC’s (The St. Lucifer’s Boy’s Choir amongst other things) 12” Requiem To The Waste Age came out. And “did alright.” An upbeat slab of industrial dance it fits its age perfectly – think Consolidated, Tool even a nicer Revolting Cocks...
Since then a variety of music from PsychoAcoustic Soundclash, Delay Tactics and the ever mutating SLBC has crept out with only the occasional foray to The Grapes to keep it live. The formats are slightly bewildering. Paul is from a design background who ended up as a studio engineer and sees no reason to fling good money after bad. “We’d release stuff on cassette but there isn’t a good enough fanzine base through which to distribute it. We’ll knock out some CDs, do the artwork using photocopiers and see what happens. If there’s any interest we’ll think about getting some vinyl pressed.” Un! is a label, it has a roster and a back catalogue but we’re not talking about Sony here. If the Pauls want to get their music out they can and sometimes that ‘s enough.
Dr. Universalis’ ‘Obtuse Strategies’ is out now and there’s a ten-year label compilation coming soon.
For Jonathan Wilson of Hoodz Underground starting a label was a necessity rather than a nice idea. "We've been going for ten years - starting off at the The Hub on London Road when we were 15 - 16 or just piling into flats around the 'spit-dome' (the mic after 8 blokes have been freestyling through it) We'd been playing a lot of gigs and black community festivals, pirate radio stations and it was difficult for us to move on - there's seven of us on stage and maybe people see us as being a bit intimidating. In 1997 Radio 1 ran a competition with Def Jam for British Hiphop acts and we got through to the last 14 which was great for us but after waiting for a deal I realized the only way to get better was to put something out ourselves. It took me a year to research it - that's the hard part". Thus Trackshicker.
Hoodz Underground have a harder road to travel than most. British hip-hop, unless co-opted into the mainstream under various guises including the obvious ones of garage and various variants of drum’n’bass isn’t the most visible genre available. The Hoodz though are a rough and tough collective of black Sheffield voices - and as Jonathan will testify willing to work their bollocks off to get some recognition.
“We do our own distribution. Like last week, we got in the car and delivered the record to Leeds, Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry, another day to Manchester and Liverpool and on another to London and Oxford.”
“We were talking to this company in London and they were saying ‘give us this amount of money and we can get you in the magazines and on the radio but the thing is we’ve managed to do that by ourselves.”
Where Ya From’ the Hoodz latest release is out now.
words: Jack Tractor