More akin to collectives of like-minded creatives than commercially-viable companies, many independent record labels work their fingers to the bone to unearth and champion prodigious musical talent for love – not money. Working with artists every step of the way from touring, recording and releasing albums, our favourite little labels seek out diamonds in the rough, often overlooked by the mainstream, and send them out into the big wide world to receptive audiences. With contracts bound not by legality but, “friendship,” in the case of cult UK events/record company and promoting only “music we love” according to Aus label Speak’n’Spell, artists we just couldn’t do without like inimitable French duo Kap Bambino, Canadian whirlwind Dandi Wind, UK rockers The Cazals, New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands and Brooklyn twoseome Matt&Kim are getting known. Peering beneath the surface, we look at the talent behind the scenes helping indie stars find the light – while still finding time to release compilation CDS, host killer parties and even DJ. Independent record labels make our music world go round, writes Indigo Clarke.
IHEARTCOMIX - Los Angeles
“First I think it's important to establish that IHEARTCOMIX isn't exactly a record label, or you could say, a record label is part of what we do. Our main objective is to promote and discover new artists, things, happenings while being creative ourselves. We work with people who are independent, DIY, positive and futuristic thinkers – we enjoy having fun and being politically motivated.” Launched in 2003 by DJ and comic-book artist Franki Chan and partner Travis Hayden, IHEARTCOMIX is a bourgeoning Los Angeles based company recognised as much for their “poppy/dancey” roster of artists as for their edgy and creative events, parties and blog. “With music, we’re just looking for fun, positive, high energy bands that are hard workers and share a similar aesthetic to us,” explains Franki, reeling off their stable of artists including dynamic duo Matt&Kim, Dreamburger, Totally Michael and The Toxic Avengers. “We really don't know how to run a record label, at least in the traditional sense, and in the ever changing music industry, this is our largest asset. It’s VERY hard work, but also so much fun,” Franki reveals. “It's amazing being an independent label – it's the Wild West right now. We almost have complete freedom to do anything we want. Majors don't have that, they aren't even trying to embrace it… At the end of the day we’re just working with friends and having fun.” 2008 is set to be a big year for the little label, with numerous album releases, as well as IHEARTCOMIX US and world tours, the boys are keen to “move towards a more global presence overall.” Keep an eye on the action at www.iheartcomix.com
alt (alt delete) – London
“The point of alt< is to bring people together who make music, who are vibrant, unusual and don't take themselves too seriously or adhere to current definitions of cool. The important figures in pop history started out this way, but where are they now, eh? We want to bring back the big characters to music!” With explosive avant-garde artists like Kap Bambino and Dandi Wind on their roster, alt< has quickly built a reputation as one of the most cutting-edge, discerning and downright cool labels in the UK. Started in 2005 by the fit and feisty Jane Third, alt’s first signing was the melancholic band, The Organ (whose beautiful and remarkably androgynous lead singer, Katie Sketch, went on to become the face of Marc Jacobs). Soon Ricky Haley, brainchild of renowned Nottingham indie/rock night, Liars Club (a weekly night that saw bands including Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Rakes perform before they hit it big), joined forces and became a record label and events company with club nights, ‘Delete Yourself’ and ‘Liars Club’, and recently ‘Blacklight Tours’ a tour managing and equipment hire mini-company (who both Metronomy and Lo-Fi-Fnk have favoured). “There is no comparison between what we do and what a major label does, for us it's a way of life – it's not a way to profit… Major’s are there to take me out for lunch when I'm broke,” Jane says wryly. “It’s a hell of lot of hard work, but the real joy is being part of the process from the beginning - finding the band you’ve been waiting for your whole life and sending their music out into the world.” Find Kap Bambino’s new album out through alt< from November as well as their latest mix CD, “Digital Penetration”, says Jane, “our trashy compilation of retarded party tracks for £5 – less than a pack of fags!” www.alt-delete.co.uk
Kitsuné – Paris
“We’re not just a record label, we are a brand. Like our name, which is a Japanese legend of a fox that has magic powers to change shape, we are doing many things under the Kitsuné title – from records and clothes, to furniture and candles. Having a record label is a mission (it is surviving) but as we are super passionate, it is lot of fun. We have a great time and get the chance to work with really talented artists and do great quality things. We don't have the goal’s or pressure that Majors have, they are run by margin and profits, which is impossible to guess in music – music is all about feeling and good timing.” Since 2001 the French/Japanese Kitsuné clique have made a habit of proving there isn’t much they can’t do. Beginning with successful quarterly ‘A La Mode’ parties in Tokyo, the creative six – including Japanese architect Masaya Kuroki and Daft Punk’s Gildas Loaec, rapidly progressed to become an inventive record label, events management and design team. Their endless artistic exploits involve the production of their successful ‘Maison Kitsuné’ compilation CD’s to collaborative ventures with everyone from record labels and art galleries to musicians and fashion designers Air, Bloc Party, The Rapture, Phoenix, Gonzales, Wolfmother, and A.P.C to name a few. “We like colourful, spontaneous pop music,” explains Gildas Loaec. “We put out Hotchip’s first album because it is exactly what we like – fresh and pop. At the moment, of course, we work closely with Digitalism, we’ve also had a lot of input in the Cazals project – a rock album we made here in Paris in a dance way.” Debut album of London band Cazals (“a five-piece rock band doing great pop songs in a french way,” explains Loaec), as well as, “the best compilation in the world Kitsuné Maison 5, out now!” www.kitsune.fr
Speak’n’Spell – Melbourne and Sydney
“Too many amazing records weren’t getting any attention in Australia, so we set about helping them out. We love the music we put out, we need to stand behind everything we do 100% - our love for records is so much that we wanted to get closer to them… this is about as close as you can get without actually making them.” Started in 2004 by the savvy David Benge, David Shrimpton and Jonathan Wilson, Speak’n’Spell’s first release was The Dears album, ‘No Cities Left’, “Because it was just a great fucking album and had been out in Canada for two years… Noone even knew who they were over here and we thought it was criminal,” explains Jonathan. Since then the boys line-up has been increasingly impressive, with New Zealand faves Cut Off Your Hands, the Texan troupe Midlake, Dappled Cities Fly, The Kissaway Trail, Horrors, The Zillions, Lo-Fi-Fnk and many more all releasing down-under through Speak’n’Spell. The key to success for the Speak’n’Spell trio has been their nonconformist attitude – where the only business model they’ll commit to is releasing music they love and making sure work is, “always fun”. “We love good pop music, and that’s essentially all it’s about – great songs and songwriting. We get to be around amazing music we love. We’ve traveled the world extensively, finding and touring with our artists. It’s incredibly hard work – actually too much work a lot of the time, but moments like watching Nick from Cut Off Your Hands take out A a lawyer at a gig in London, hanging with Midlake to all hours talking about nothing in particular, or kicking a football around in an abandoned train shed in Berlin with Editors make it all worth it.” 2008 sees releases from Cut Off Your Hands, the Zillions and Midlake – check out www.speaknspellmusic.com.