Declarations of independents
15 September 2007
A new breed of British indie labels is on the rise to fill the vacuum left by the sales of Sanctuary and V2. From bedroom operations to those having an impact on the mainstream charts, it seems the spirit of independence within the UK’s music industry just never dies
Losing one of your biggest record companies to the majors may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two, though, could look like carelessness.
But, while Universal’s multi-million-pound purchases of Sanctuary and V2 come as an obvious blow to the UK’s indie sector, there are plenty of encouraging signs elsewhere to lift the spirits of the independents.
As Sanctuary and V2 start to adapt to a new life under the ownership of the world’s largest music company, a whole new generation of British labels is rising up to make their own impression on the UK music scene. Some, such as Way Out West and Young And Lost, are bedroom operations making a name via limited-edition singles and club nights, while others are having an impact on the mainstream charts. These include Leeds-based label Dance To The Radio, which scored a top five hit in June with The Pigeon Detectives’ debut album and Back Yard, which delivered Gossip’s long-running smash Standing In The Way Of Control, which has now sold more than 100,000 units in the UK.
A quick browse of the indies’ collective rosters paints a very bright picture with some of the biggest new names in music boasting an association with the independent sector, from Danger Mouse, to the aforementioned Gossip and this year’s Mercury winners the Klaxons.
Here Music Week takes a look at 15 of the brightest new names to enter the UK independent sector since 2000.
Based: Clapton, London E5
Key staff: Founder Imran Ahmed
Key past release: Pink Squares by I Was A Cub Scout (single)
Key forthcoming release: Mansard Roof/Ladies Of Cambridge by Vampire Weekend (seven-inch)
About: Founded by Imran Ahmed, former NME features editor and co-host of The Music Week on 6Music, Abeano plugs directly into the framework at XL Recordings and the Beggars Group, utilising the leading indie’s distribution network as well as using its promo, marketing and digital teams. The label’s first release was To My Boy’s i am xRAY and singles by Blood Red Shoes and I Was A Cub Scout have followed.
Key staff: Will Lawrence, Tom Clarke, Noel Vazquez, Charlie Bayley (aka Soft Priest), Sam Pridell, Raymond Ray
Key past release: Late Night Shopping by Autokat (album)
Key forthcoming release: White Devils Day Is Almost Over by Neil Burrell (album)
About: Starting life as a club night in Manchester in 1999, Akoustik Anarkhy developed into a label in 2001, releasing a string of limited-edition seven-inches and albums from some of the northern cities’ finest up-and-coming talents. Nine Black Alps performed their first gig at one of the club nights and the label has released albums by Autokat (selling more than 1,000 copies) and The Loungs. The club nights have now expanded to London.
Based: Primrose Hill, London
Key staff: Gil Goldberg, Toby Harris, Chris Kershaw, Neil Parnell
Key past release: Standing In The Way Of Control by Gossip (single and album)
Key forthcoming release: Fancy Footwork by Chromeo (album)
About: Back Yard began life with its feet planted firmly in dance music, releasing one-off singles from the likes of Seelenluft and Ethan. However, it was a little-known American rock band that catapulted the indie to mainstream consciousness. Having licensed Gossip’s third studio album in 2005, the indie released its lead single Standing In The Way Of Control to little fanfare in 2005. Over the course of 2006, the track gained a momentum and re-entered the UK charts at number 13 on the back of downloads alone earlier this year. A full commercial re-release followed and Back Yard had a Top 10 hit on its hands. The album has since sold in excess of 135,000 copies in the UK. The band’s next album will be released on Columbia.
Founded: March, 2005
Based: Shoreditch, London
Key staff: Leo Silverman, Paul Benney and Rob Sandercombe
Key past release: Silent Shout by The Knife (album)
Key forthcoming release: Yes Yes Vindictive by Operator Please (album)
About: Founded by former XL A&R executive Leo Silverman, Brille is co-owned by EMI but operates with an independent infrastructure with distribution by Vital in the UK. The label’s first release was a collection of demos by Envelopes called Demon followed swiftly by the Whirlwind Heat’s album Types Of Wood and Silent Shout by The Knife. The upcoming debut album by Australia’s Operator Please looks set to deliver the label’s first breakthrough debut success and the group are setting up a semi-permanent presence in the UK this year as they hit the road for NME and MTV tours.
DANCE TO THE RADIO
Key staff: Whiskas, Mick McCarthy, Colin Oliver, Richard Todd
Key past release: Wait For Me by The Pigeon Detectives (album)
Key forthcoming release: Untitled by ¡Forward Russia! (album)
About: Since its formation in 2004, Dance To The Radio has provided a welcome and much-needed launch platform for up-and-coming artists from the Leeds region. Founded by Whiskas from ¡Forward, Russia!, the label has released early singles by the likes of iLiKETRAiNS, Yes Boss and This Et Al and the label operates an innovative structure which offers its artists shares in the company as they hit certain sales targets. Its biggest commercial success to date has been The Pigeon Detectives whose debut album Wait For Me was released in May through a deal between DTTR and Vital Distribution’s marketing arm Integral. The album has sold just shy of 120,000 copies in the UK.
DROWNED IN SOUND
Based: Paddington, London
Key staff: Sean Adams, Ian Grenfell and Debbie Gwyther
Key past release: Martha Wainwright by Martha Wainwright (album)
Key forthcoming release: Good Nature by Youthmovies (album)
About: Since its launch in 2003, the label arm of leading UK music website Drownedinsound.com has built an impressive roster that spans acts as diverse as The Stills, Emily Haines and Martha Wainwright. It counts debut singles by both Kaiser Chiefs and Bat for Lashes among its triumphs, although commercially it is Martha Wainwright who has proved most successful, selling 60,000 copies of her debut album to date. Drowned in Sound was founded by Sean Adams, in partnership with Simply Red manager Ian Grenfell. Website: www.drownedinsound.com
FULL TIME HOBBY
Based: Edgware Rd, London W2
Key staff: Wez, Nigel Adams, Chris Baker, Ryan Oxley
Key past release: Take This To Your Grave by Fall Out Boy (album)
Key forthcoming release: Bullet by Tunng (single)
About: Founded by former long-time Mushroom staffers Nigel Adams and Wez, Full Time Hobby began life in 2002 as a joint venture with Ministry of Sound called Eat Sleep. In 2004 the label parted company with Ministry, establishing itself as a completely freestanding label under the Full Time Hobby brand. Since then, the label has had a string of successes, releasing the first Fall Out Boy and Brand New albums in the UK, securing the European license for the Vagrant label and enjoying success with Alexisonfire, The Hold Steady and Juliette And The Licks in the UK. Both Eat Sleep and the Hassle label still operate beneath the FTH umbrella. The company also manages Unkle for the world.
Based: North London
Key staff: Andy MacLeod, Simon Williams
Key past release: Just Abuse Me by Air Traffic (single)
Key forthcoming release: Still Fond/Closed Eyes by Cut Off Your Hands (single)
About: The latest concept to emerge from the foundations of London’s Club Fandango club nights, Label Fandango is a singles club focused on limited-edition releases and simple designs. Its slogan is “no frills; all thrills” and all releases are put out in generic, plain sleeves. It compliments the Fierce Panda label which in 2006 ceased releasing limited-edition singles and focuses instead on full-length releases. The Club Fandango club nights take place weekly across London.
Based: Camden, London NW1
Key staff: Tom Brown, Will Skeaping, Ben Harris, Jodie Dinhan-Miller
Key past release: The Mouse and the Mask by Dangerdoom (album)
Key forthcoming release: Stainless Style by Neon Neon (album)
About: Lex was founded in 2001 as a joint venture between Tom Brown and Warp Records. Warp provided funding to the label until 2005, when Brown extricated Lex and it has operated as a freestanding, independent entity since. It counts Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse among its many and varied signings and its biggest-selling title is the Dangerdoom album The Mouse And the Mask, a collaboration between Danger Mouse and MF Doom which has sold 30,000 copies in the UK and more than 50,000 worldwide. In 2006 Lex entered into an agreement with EMI, giving the major first option on anything Lex wanted to upstream. The partnership is expected to come into play for a forthcoming MF Doom solo album (due next year) and new a new Danger Mouse album, with Lex handling A&R and EMI handling marketing.
Founded: May, 2006
Based: Dalston, London
Key staff: Milo Cordell and Sam Eldridge
Key past release: Atlantis To Interzone by Klaxons (single)
Key forthcoming release: Starlett Johansson by The Teenagers (single)
About: Merok’s first release came in the shape of Nationwide Mercury Prize winners Klaxons’ second single Atlantis To Interzone. Since then, the label has put out a steady stream of angular dance-infused releases from the likes of Crystal Castles, The Teenagers and Comanechi. Based in London, the label remains completely independent and has forthcoming releases coming from Sleeping States and The Teenagers.
Based: North London
Key staff: Paul Jones, Rachael Robb and Merida Sussex
Key past release: Lanzafame by Tap Tap (single)
Key forthcoming release: Knots by Pete And The Pirates (single)
About: Winning praise from the great and the good of the UK music world, Tottenham-based label Stolen Recordings was recently named “label of the week” by Huw Stevens on Radio One. To date the label has released beautifully-hand-packaged compilations and limited-edition releases by the likes of Tap Tap and Mathew Sawyer and The Ghosts. These will continue with the likes of Let’s Wrestle, Artefacts For Space Travel and Screaming Tea Party, but in addition the highly-anticipated debut album by Pete And The Pirates should see them move into crossover territory.
Key staff: Tim Dellow and Toby Langley
Key past release: Voices Of Animals And Men by The Young Knives (album)
Key forthcoming release: Hummer by Foals (single)
About: Transgressive released the debut single by The Subways, entitled 1am, in September 2004. Since then, the label has had an association with a number of bands on their way up, releasing early singles by the likes of Mystery Jets, Battle, Jeremy Walmsley, Regina Spektor and Rumble Strips. Formed by Tim Dellow and Toby L - who also runs rockfeedback.com – the label signed a consultancy deal with Warner Music in 2005, in which they provide an A&R service to the major while retaining their independent infrastructure.
WAY OUT WEST
Based: Camden, London
Key staff: Keith Anderson
Key past release: The Next Untouchable by Cajun Dance Party (single)
Key forthcoming release: Video Nasties by Karl Blau EP (single)
About: The label behind early releases for Cajun Dance Party, Late Of The Pier and Laura Marlin, Way Out West has been an integral part of the West London music scene which has captured the imagination of music fans and labels alike over the past 12 months. The label emerged from the club night of the same name, an all-ages affair which began its life in a bar beneath Brentford Football Club in May 2005. It moved to Hammersmith’s Working Men’s Club where it provided an early launch platform for Jack Penate and the aforementioned artists.
Key staff: Dick Green and Mark Bowen
Key past release: Silent Alarm by Bloc Party (album)
Key forthcoming release: XOXO Panda by The New Kid Revival (album)
About: Born from the ashes of Creation Records in 2000, Wichita was founded by Dick Green and former Creation A&R executive Mark Bowen. Its first release was Bright Eyes’ Fever And Mirrors album in July of that year, while it later became the first European label for American artists such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs and My Morning Jacket. Its UK roster began to take shape with the signing of The Cribs in 2003, followed the next year by Bloc Party.
YOUNG AND LOST
Founded: January 2005
Based: Baker St, London
Key staff: Label founders Sara Jade and Nadia Dahlawi
Key past release: Small Town Girl by Good Shoes (single)
Key forthcoming release: Lucio Starts Fires by Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (single)
About: Over the course of just two years Young And Lost has established itself as a trusted brand on the London music scene. Via the label’s club nights, school friends Sara Jade and Nadia Dahlawi have provided an early live platform for some of the hottest talent to emerge from the capital in recent times, and the label itself boasts early releases by Good Shoes, Vincent Vincent and the Villains, Johnny Flynn and Larrikin Love. Y&L recently penned a deal with Mercury’s Vertigo label, providing additional infrastructure and digital distribution for the first time.