I only chose the title for this article because I couldn’t think of a song called Favourite Record Labels rather than give it the name of a Haircut 100 song.
There was a time in the late 80s when you could tell a band by the single/album artwork even if they didn’t put their name of the title on the sleeve. New Order spring to mind, or even Pet Shop Boys and a plethora of unknown artists too – probably why they remained unknown. There was also a time when you liked everything that a label put out.
Once upon a time labels, particularly the indie ones (when Indie meant Independent before an attempt to create a genre was made) had music of a theme, in so much as you almost knew you’d liked everything they put out. Factory, Mute, Kitchenware, Rough Trade, 4AD – you were guaranteed to enjoy almost every release. Sadly, those days are long gone as are many of the labels who have either disappeared or been swallowed up by a jealous major.
Another thing that is gone is my The The t-shirt. I loved it. After struggling unsuccessfully for many a year to buy one, I got a work colleague who made shirts for Stag and Hen parties to make one out of the bands logo. It was the dog’s bollocks. White logo on black T. I was twice stopped at a Blancmange gig and asked where I got it. One fateful day, it was unintentionally put it in the clothes dryer and the vinyl lettering melted into an horrific mess. My wife was sorry. I was gutted.
It would seem however, that some labels are back with their themes. If you like one album, you’ll probably enjoy the vast majority of what they do. Two of my favourite labels are like that, the third is admired because it’s catalogue is so brave and extreme, that they shine above anything that any major could ever do.
The first label is On U-Sound. In 1985 Bop Bop by Fats Comet was the first track I heard as it spewed its incredible break beat from Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire. It gobsmacked me, I’d never heard it’s like before and with OTW the two became an obsession that I carry to this day. Unlike the labels, I don’t always like every track on the show but the diversity is incredible.
After Bop Bop I sought out more from Fats (the ‘dick-around’ version of Tackhead and the same line-up) – Stormy Weather, King Of The Beat, Dee Jay’s Dream. The beats were loud and clinical and made you want to move every part of your body. A purchase of the On-U sampler album Pay It All Back Vol 1 introduced me to the likes of Singers & Players, Dub Syndicate and New Age Steppers and the amazing Mark Stewart. His treatment of Jerusalem is still ahead of its time more than thirty-five years later.
Tackhead are a huge favourite of mine. The cut-ups and the willingness to be different were second to none. Gary Clail. African Head Charge. Little Annie. Little Axe. Andy Fairley. Somebody stop me.
Needless to say I have an On-U t-shirt. Disturbing the comfortable. Comforting the disturbed.
Thrill Jockey Records is an enigma for sure. My introduction to them was with Total Folklore by Dan Friel. A mish-mash of crunching, distorted sounds over bass heavy rhythms and general electro anarchy. It was wonderful, but the thing about Thrill Jockey is their reluctance to conform whether it be the faux funk of Brother JT or the gnarling thrash of White Hills to the gorgeous harp of Mary Lattimore, not every album is a classic but therein lies much of the charm of the label – they seem to give something less than a shit about how it’s received and more about their enormous credibility for being so bold.
For me, 2014s best album was by The Skull Defekts. Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown pictures on its sleeve what appeared to be a medical cross section of a penis and a vagina. I could be wrong, but one thing I’m definitely correct about is its absolute brilliance probably making it one of my all-time favourite albums.
My Johnny Cash t shirt features the great man display a huge middle finger in the classic image – the equivalent of the Thrill Jockey outlook no doubt.
Formed in 2012, Glitterbeat is a mere baby in the World of record labels but in a short space of time has impressed me no end. Specialising in “vibrant global sounds from Africa and beyond” Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) and Hugo Race (The Bad Seeds) have formed not only a stunning label but also an amazing act themselves in Dirtmusic. The 2013 album, Troubles was nothing short of perfection mixing traditional Malian sounds with Westernised influences.
With a roster including the likes of Dennis Bovell, Bassekou Kouyate and Jon Hassell/Brian Eno the label pumps out albums at a quite startling rate and expands on the original base of Africa to South America, Turkey, London and more.
Glitterbeat too seem to be governed by a ‘release what we like’ philosophy and is probably the nearest thing you’ll find to an ‘Indie’ label nowadays. The recent Hanoi Masters compilation with a mix of Vietnamese contributors was a joy indeed.
So, my favourite three labels. It’ll probably change at some point but for now it’s as it is.
Now where’s my Marc Bolan t-shirt?