Emerging from the Mist (Part Seven)

Record on Turntable

My last two Emerging From The Mist articles for Fresh On The Net focused on elements of the Independent Music Sector; a subject I have written extensively about in the past four months. With the Listening Post inbox closed until 8th April, it is an opportune moment to continue the series. So Part Seven focuses on a selection of independent record labels based in the United Kingdom who are pursuing unique and ambitious models that are of potential interest both to aspiring artists and fans of new music.

I have not included my own label Demerara Records but you are obviously most welcome to visit our website and find about what we do. The labels I have chosen are all known to me primarily through my work as a reviews writer (and moderator) for Fresh On The Net and my blog Trust The Doc. Most of them have artists on their books who have had tracks at the Listening Post and Fresh Faves.

bndr music

The first of these is bndr Music. The West London-based label has created a bold, highly contemporary model that combines being a record company with offering a tech-savvy subscription-based website and app offering a range of high quality video footage, most of which is free to non-subscribers too. The content ranges from actual song videos and live streamed (and professionally mixed) performances to footage of artists live in the studio and other scenarios suitable for modern social media platforms.

They already have an impressive roster of artists and the label, while not dealing in royalties ‘advances’ (which few indie labels do), pay recording and other costs for artists but don’t recoup these costs from artists’ royalty shares so the artists get paid more and quicker than would be the case if they were signed to a conventional recording deal. Their usual model is to sign artists for a two-year period with the option to agree an extension if both parties want one. They do however have licensing deals with some artists.

Their acts are too many to list here but they include recent Fresh Faves Luvia and Family Jools (both managed by Kelly Munro’s End of the Trail Creative) as well as other names who will be familiar to Fresh On The Net readers such as Jamie Sutherland and LAPP.

Head of A&R Barry Saint sees bndr’s focus as being very much on new and emerging artists who they can help on their way to potentially wider acclaim. At the same time he wants to provide fans with free and low cost video footage that resonates with today’s social media culture but pays better than existing digital streaming platforms (DSPs) like Apple, Spotify and Deeer.

In his own words: “bndr Music is a record label / app that focuses on new emerging talent. The record label side of things runs pretty similar to a traditional record label and the app is a tool that we use as a means to further market/distribute our artists music videos. We also produce and showcase live content which we stream directly onto our app as a means to generate revenue for our artists. Our vision is to provide emerging artists with a revenue stream that can’t be matched with what the current DSP’s offer.”

Last Night From Glasgow

A label who Fresh On The Net readers may already be aware of is Last Night From Glasgow. The “world’s first crowd-funded not-for-profit label” is the brainchild of new music loving Ian Smith and they have just celebrated three years of building their exciting model with a gig in their home city. I reviewed their first London gig on Fresh On The Net here.

Last Night From Glasgow operate an intriguing model consisting of a subscription-based membership who receive new releases periodically. Their subs fund the label’s production costs, enabling them to provide good quality vinyl and CD releases to their members while producing sufficient stock to sell at live shows where, in today’s indie music sector, vital income can be created for labels and artists alike. But they are also able to see some of that stock make its way into major stores like HMV and Amazon where it is available worldwide. Indeed any store in any territory can stock their releases. So they are a genuinely international enterprise.

One of the reasons the label is so successful is that, as well as designing the model to drive the lion’s share of monies to the artists, Ian has a keen ear for bands and artists who stand out from the crowd. Included on LNFG’s roster are recent BBC Radio 6 Music featured Sister John (who have released their second album with the label) and Fresh Faves Cloth, L Space and Foundlings. Cloth, in particular, have been Fresh Faves regulars and have recently both played a live session on The Tom Robinson Show which broadcasts live on 6 Music every Saturday night, and have been included on the BBC Radio 1 watch list for 2019. Their stunningly original Post-Dream-Pop has made them one of my current favourite bands as my above-mentioned gig review makes clear.

LNFG’s ongoing success is fantastic news. Their generosity in passing pretty much all the money they make onto the bands is indicative of Ian’s ethos. This is the essence of genuine music lovers supporting new and emerging talent.

Hungersleep Records

An example of a label who embody the DIY spirit of being an indie is Exeter’s Hungersleep Records. The label’s roster includes experienced producer and artist GRICE who has appeared at Fresh on the Net and The BBC Introducing Mixtape as both. It also includes Cardiff’s Siobhan McCrudden, another recent Fresh Fave whose track The Mermaid in your glass was described by Fresh on the Net’s Kerry JK as “… dark celtic ‘folk-noir’, taking inspiration from folk tales and superstitions.”

Hungersleep Records describe themselves as an Indie Art Rock label. For the moment they are concentrating their energies on these two acts which has enabled them to release a good deal of material by both.

The label’s website expands on their ethos and model. They are an artist-led label with a direct line to Exeter alternative music radio station Phonic FM through which they showcase new releases. They also have their own recording studios and they organise and curate multi-media events that help widen exposure. Very sensibly they are also seeking sync opportunities for their artists.

My Little Empire

My Little Empire Records are a label I am immediately drawn to thanks to a blurb in which they describe themselves as “DIY indie label based in London. Combining hard work with mindless optimism since 2014.” They came to my attention last summer when I attended their launch gig for a single by Preston-based teenage singer-songwriter Pip Hall which I had reviewed in the Fresh Faves a few weeks earlier. In fact I had been invited by the aforementioned Kelly who manages Pip.

Also on the London and Bristol-based label are Guildford band Me and the Moon, Folk singer Caroline Lazar and others. MLE are clearly making strides on the media promo side with artists getting impressive radio play and reviews.

They also seem to have a refreshingly relaxed attitude to contracts, allowing artists to come and go without any acrimony. With Pip Hall having been picked up by BBC Radio One’s new music team, the label could be about to see its reputation grow considerably.

Fierce Panda Records

A name likely to be well known to Fresh On The Net readers is Fierce Panda Records. After 25 years in the music industry, the London label has managed the transitions from vinyl and CD to downloads and then to today’s world of streaming without any signs of fatigue. Not surprisingly they have an expansive roster but one that includes Fresh On The Net artists such as VC Pines and another End of the Trail act with Listening Post form, Jekyll.

Fierce Panda’s history is quite remarkable. Formed in 1993 by [initially three] music journalists, helped at their outset by Damaged Goods Records and riding the so-called New Wave of New Wave dreamed up largely by the music press at that time, they have had a variety of subsequently well-known acts on the label including Placebo, Kenickie and Idlewild to name a few. They also signed my good friends Rothko who were featured in an earlier Emerging From The Mist edition about experimental music (and who contributed the opening track to a compilation album I curated and released in 2018).

In the atmosphere of the early 2000s when, as I can vouch as one-time owner of another indie label, the production costs of CD manufacture compared to retail prices made producing singles considerably less appealing for small labels, Fierce Panda changed their focus to that of releasing albums but the transformation of the industry along digital lines has seen them return to the single as their main meter. It looks like, after a quarter of a century, they are having a blast too!

Mayfield Records

One label I can talk about with some authority is Portsmouth’s Mayfield Records. After all they are owned and managed by a close and long-time friend Dominic Elton. Dom played on and co-wrote the Chloe Jospehine track Once More which was voted into the Fresh Faves in a week where I had the pleasure of reviewing it.

The Mayfield concept, a reflection of Dom’s Soul sensibilities and years of commitment to being a Mod and regular attendee at Northern Soul nights, was as the name of the band he formed with a group of younger musicians about twenty years ago which has continued throughout those years, developing into an accomplished live band who are also, in true Soul tradition, the ‘house band’ in Mayfield Studios, the business Dom established after the sale of his highly successful business providing equipment to the NHS.

These days Mayfield Records’ brief has widened considerably and Soul is just one of a number of genres supported. There is an impressively consistent stream of new releases emanating from the label. There isn’t sufficient space to list all their acts here but among them are brother-sister duo Josh and Daisy, Ben Lester, Chang and Marlene Hill whose husband John is Mayfield’s trombonist and a fine musician who I have also had the pleasure of recording with.

Mayfield are highly active on the South Coast live scene, often providing the sound for open air events, hosting stages and generally adding to their reputation as an important force for music. Having spent time recording in their lovely studio and working with their talented engineer Gregg Powell, I am delighted to see them thriving the way they are.

Linear Obsessional

Back to the Capital and, in this particular case, my own backyard (so to speak), I must mention the excellent electronic and experimental label Linear Obsessional. Run by Middlesbrough native and good friend Richard Sanderson, himself an accomplished artist, I have covered Linear Obsessional in a previous Emerging From The Mist edition in relation to their monthly live event at the Arts Cafe in Lewisham but LO is also a label that puts out a consistent stream of leftfield music, produced on CD and sold (almost always for a fiver) at their gigs.

Because Richard chooses not to make any profit from the label, resources are targeted at making sure the artists are paid as well as possible both from the CD sales and the live performances. This has also enabled the label to amass a catalogue that is currently at release number 135. Again far too many artists to mention but among them the extraordinary Kassia Flux who was named by BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction as one of the most exciting artists of 2018 and recent BBC Radio 6 Music Freak Zone featured Smallhaus.

Upcycled Sounds

Oxford’s Upcycled Sounds started life in Paris before relocating to the UK. They are an “… ethical and eco-friendly” label with a foot in the films and documentaries area and a current roster of eleven bands and artists across an eclectic spectrum that includes “… prog, jazz, pop, electronic and folk genres.” They are also actively involved in the local live music and festivals scene.

Uniquely, as Hannah Jacobs from Upcycled kindly explained, they record and produce all their releases as a label and artists collective, making use of extensive field recordings and experimental sound technology. These features lend their releases a distinct sound placing them in that lineage of labels who have fashioned their own sound and style from Motown and Stax through Trojan, Postcard, FON, Sub-Pop and others. There is more detailed information about the label here.

Fresh On The Net readers may well recognise the name Rosie Caldecott whose song Underground made the Fresh Faves in October. A week later another Upcycled Sounds artist Zander Sharp also made the faves where a certain Neil March called Settlements “… one those songs you are going to want to listen to again and again.”

Upcycled Sounds say they are a label for musicians, run by musicians and, as such, they have developed a collaborative distribution model that allows artists to benefit from a community approach to accessing and releasing music while retaining rights ownership in their works.

Echo Wing Recordings

Derbyshire label Echo Wing Records are focused on music in their local area but with a particular love of Electronica. Unusually they don’t have a website, just a Soundcloud page and corresponding social media accounts making them an example of a label whose online footprint is entirely social media-based.

Those who have had involvement with the label in recent years include Lippy Kid, Tribe of Juan and Pinemarten.

So that’s nine independent music labels, ten if you include my Demerara label (which after all does include Listening Post and Fresh Faves artist Cholly and Mixtape featured Environmental Sound Foundation). Of course this is the tip of the iceberg and others will no doubt know of cool labels in all kinds of other UK locations. The comments area immediately following this article allows you the opportunity to tell us about other labels. So feel free. In the meantime, the evidence says innovation and originality remain high in the priorities of independents. And that can only be a good thing.

Featured photo by Bob Clark from Pexels

Neil March

Neil March is a Composer & Artist with a PhD and Masters in music composition from Goldsmiths University, who has pursued careers in the contemporary classical and pop worlds, and has been supported by BBC Introducing, for whom he performed with his live ensemble The Music of Sound at Latitude in 2017. Read more.

2 Comments

  1. Sue

    Great article Neil!
    Going to try out the bndr app for the Vanishing Point gig next Thursday.

  2. Thanks Sue. That will be awesome if you’re able to watch our gig live online. 🙂

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