Firstly I fancy sharing with you all my favourite record labels and why I love them so much. The underground DIY punk scene fills me with a amazingly happy feelings due to amazing music and a fantastic network of bands, promoters, labels, zines, distros, audiences and anyone else involved who all care deeply about improving the scene they love so much. I owe a lot to this scene for developing me as a person and giving me some of the best times in my life, making some of my best friends along the way. One of the most important parts of the scene happens to be the record labels helping bands get their music out there to potential fans. I'm gonna review some of my favourite labels for you now, in no order particularly. This will be a short list and I am sure I'll do another review of other record labels at some point.
Before we start, what makes a good record label? Well, here's my opinion. When I say a good record label, I don't mean a profitable one, I mean a label that works best for the scene it works with.
- The best labels work well for their bands. They don't tie the band into signing contracts, especially not ones that force the band only to work with that label for a specified amount of time or albums. They let bands work with other labels if they choose so. They are fair in terms of "royalties", keeping enough money to keep the label afloat while giving the bands a decent share of any profits. Sometimes bands will get paid in free CDs, which can be a good thing (if that band are touring a lot).
- The label produces cheap records. In my opinion one major factor to declining record sales in the mainstream is the cost. Who can afford to buy lots of albums if they're all £15 each? Personally, I think £10 for an album and £5 for an EP are fairly reasonable prices, but I wouldn't pay much more. Obviously vinyl can be more expensive but it's more collectable I suppose. The best thing about the underground punk scene is that most records are either sold through the band at shows (or online), through the record label online or by distros. This means that costs are kept low and a band could easily see £3 profit out of selling an EP for £5. The same band probably wouldn't see £3 out of a £15 album sold at HMV.
- The label's roster (the list of bands they work with) is mostly the same genres of music. If a label has releases from 20 different ska-punk bands, the fans of those bands may discover lots of other bands they love by checking out their label. If a label works with ska-punk bands but also hardcore-punk bands or even metal bands there's gonna be a reduced amount of crossover interest from the fans of the bands. It also works well that if you're going to hardcore-punk shows and you keep hearing the same label crop up all the time. Bands can also benefit from doing a record label tour with other bands from the same record label.
- The label networks a lot. This is really important for getting your name out there in the underground punk scene. A label has to be approachable so that distros, record stores and heck other bands can get a hold of their records to sell themselves. Getting reviews in magazines and fanzines as well as websites and blogs is an important way of getting the music known. The best labels help promote or even organise tours and certain shows. Promoting the interests of the scene at large will benefit all labels in the scene.
Ska Mutiny Records
A ska-punk record label formed by one of Northern England's best contributions to ska-punk, Andrew Summers. Summers has been in tons of ska bands over the years including The Fractions, Catch-It Kebabs, Kickback (UK), Failure By Design but to name a few. He is currently in Eat Defeat as well as a side project featuring Kurt from Sounds of Swami and Random Hand front man Robin Leitch called Zounderkite. When Ska Mutiny first took off I was really excited.
Ska Mutiny is one of the only British ska labels releasing some underground American ska-punk bands which has introduced me to bands such as The Best of the Worst and Do It With Malice. In 2011 they released a compilation called Ska Mutiny Superstars involving 22 different bands all of whom are top notch. It is one of the best compilations I own. Since them the label has continued to release compilations of amazing underground ska-punk talent. Not a single bad track has been released on the record label and is a must for anyone into ska-punk.
Discount Horse Records
Based in Durham and formed by JC formerly of Fashanu and currently in Martha (along with members of ONSIND) and is known solo as Winnona Forever. Discount Horse release folk-punk and as far as the UK goes, I have yet to discovered a better label. It's roster includes Ghost Mice, ONSIND, Colour Me Wednesday, Martha, Fashanu, Spoonboy, The Middle Ones, Imperial Clan and others I have never heard of. For someone into folk-punk that is a good roster. And when I say folk-punk think more along the lines of Against Me! than celtic-folk bands like Flogging Molly. All the releases are really affordable, even the vinyl. They also organise some brilliant shows in Durham which is odd because Durham is usually too small and in the middle of rural nowhere to have much of it's own local scene, but Discount Horse must make it work. I have never been to Durham or any of their shows so I'm only guessing here.
Ever been to Bloomington, Indiana? No, me neither. It's home to one Chris Clavin, the only founding member of Plan-It-X Records still with us today. He's been in a bunch of amazing bands and is currently in Ghost Mice and Imperial Clan. Plan-It-X is a contender for my all-time favourite record label. What I like about Plan-It-X is their folk-punk releases, but they also have a lot of other punk releases. A lot of my favourite bands have had releases on Plan-It-X including Ghost Mice, Andrew Jackson Jihad, The Max Levine Ensemble, ONSIND, Defiance, Ohio (Defiance, Ohio is just one band for clarity), The Dauntless Elite, Matty Pop Chart, Rosa, Madeline, Ramshackle Glory, Spoonboy, Paul Baribeau and This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb but their roster is far larger than that. If you want to be introduced to an entire folk-punk scene you didn't know existed then check out these bands please, you will not be disappointed. Plan-It-X goes back to the early 90s before most people had mobile phones or the internet when they released only tapes that are long sold out. They currently have at least 103 releases. It would be more but Chris is a busy man with limited funds. Every now and again they put on a festival in Bloomington called Plan-It-X Fest and try to get as many of the Plan-It-X bands to play. The first year the festival was on several bands reformed to play as a one-off. You can buy a DVD of it if you like. I own it and I love it. It gives a good overview of what Plan-It-X is all about. I was fortunate enough to have Chris Clavin stay at my house when I organised a show for Ghost Mice in Preston. I regret not talking to him more about Plan-It-X.
Now we're getting towards the most crusty side of my music taste. Formed by Matt and Bo from The Something Somethings, and later Dead Suberts and Black Star Dub Collective. Originally based in Devon, but for the past few years has been located in Manchester. I don't know how this label manages to do so much while the owners are also in several bands but they do. The label organises gigs in Manchester, is involved in organising the Dirty Weekender festival, has it's own recording studio business, it's own web design business and used to offer van hire/tour driving for touring bands. That's not to mention releasing vinyl and CD records and running a distro on top. There's too many bands on their roster to list even my highlights so I'll just state they specialise in the following genres: crust punk, dub-punk, crack rock steady, d-beat, anarcho-punk and basically any other genre crust punk and anarchist punks listen to. Oh, and in their early days they released a couple of psychobilly compilations. Possibly their greatest achievement to date has to be And You Call This Civilization?, a double CD compilation featuring some of the world's biggest ever punk bands including: Leftover Crack, Flux of the Pink Indians, Rentokill, Oi Polloi, Subhumans, Suicide Bid, Zounds, Jonny One Lung, Restarts, Defiance, Ohio, Agrotoxico, Mischief Brew and many more.
Riot Ska Records
Based in Bristol this record label basically release skacore and crack rock steady bands. Simple angry ska to skank and pit to. The bands they've worked with include: Absinthe Rose, Anti-Venom, Atrocity Solution, Atterkop, Banditos, Beng Beng Cocktail, Bring To Ruin, Dead City Riot, Foolish, From The Cradle To The Rave, Ghetto Blaster, Luvdump, Night Gaunts, OFC, One Shot, Opposition Rising, Piss On Authority, Primeval Soup, Thee Infidels and Union Jack. I haven't a clue who runs this record label apart from their first names despite the fact I think I have met one of them. Amazing work by these guys.
One of my favourite European record labels and probably my favourite German label. Melodic punk/orgcore/gruff punk/whatever you call it plus hardcore punk. I first discovered this label because they released a few records from my favourite German band Deny Everything, who play hardcore-punk. Bands this label has released include Attack! Vipers!, The Dauntless Elite, Useless I.D., RVIVR, Latterman, Southport, Spraynard, New Bruises, Offshore Radio, Iron Chic, Above Them, Down and Outs, Lemuria, Munice Girls, Caves, OK Pilot, Bridge and Tunnel, plus lots more. This label also helps out with European tours for some of these bands by the looks of things. When I saw Bridge and Tunnel with Young Livers in Manchester about 3 years ago there was a Yo-Yo Records distro there, which took a lot of my moneys, because hey I love this style of punk and it was cheaper than buying the records via the internet. I don't know why this label isn't more famous. It should be.
Fond of Life Records
Fond of Life are easily my favourite European label. I first discovered these guys when they had Phinius Gage, Failsafe and Redasmonkey on their roster, 3 bands who introduced me to underground gigs that don't cost over £10 to get into, don't have bouncers, aren't an hour's train journey away and at the same time aren't my friends' local bands. These were reasonable signed bands who were signed and toured the country, sometimes in support of much bigger bands. I had discovered the underground DIY punk scene. It was 2005. I was 17 years old and living near Blackpool which isn't known for tons of touring bands paying visits. However, here I was in Blackpool seeing bands who made a little living out of being in a band. Fond of Life were one of the first underground DIY punk labels I've ever known. Based in Austria, this label largely puts out fast melodic skate-punk sorta records. Mike Scott, formerly of Phinius Gage and Company L and currently of hardcore punk outfit Lay It On The Line runs the UK branch of the label. The label has releases from such bands as Failsafe, Redasmonkey, Phinius Gage, Bad Ideas, Mike Scott, Lay It On The Line, Counterpunch, Sonic Boom Six, From Plan To Progress, In-sane, The Living Daylights, Antillectual, This Is A Standoff, High Five Drive, Astpai, Once Over, Mongrel and more. I've emailed the guy who runs this label when I was thinking of setting up a distro and he's a really nice fella. Lots of awesome punk bands have come out of Austria over the years by the way.
Specialist Subject Records
The thing that Specialist Subject Records do best is split records, mostly on vinyl. Their split projects have included a 4-way split from British bands touring the states, a split between Bangers and The Arteries where El Morgan sings for Bangers and Kelly Kemp sings for The Arteries, a 4-way split between solo acts Chuck Ragan (of Hot Water Music), Jimmy Islip, Helen Chambers and the amazing Sam Russo, an ONSIND/Calvenball/Apologies, I Have None split for a tour they did where each band on the record is covered by another band on the record. They've also released a bunch of EPs and LPs for bands as well. They've got plenty planned for the future and I can't wait to see what they have in store.
Do The Dog Music
Ok, so there isn't much punk in Do The Dog as it's a ska label, although there's a few ska-punk bands in there. Do The Dog have been the most consistent ska label in the country. Kevin Flowerdew does a lot for ska. He runs skavids, which he updates every day with a nother 5 videos of ska bands, typically from a certain city, region or country. His fanzine, Do The Dog Skazine is the world's longest standing ska related fanzine and is packed full of reviews, interviews and hot off the press ska news. Do the Dog Music has released a lot of the best ska bands in the country. Catch-It Kebabs, 3 Minute Warning, John Player Specials, Rasta4eyes, The Skints, Smoke Like A Fish, Cartoon Violence, The Splitters, New Town Kings, Robb Blake (formerly of Whitmore), Skylar, Jimmy The Squirrel, Sadies Doll, Ettin, Pama International, and on and on and on and on. If you like ska you just will not get bored. Every few months this label has an awesome deal where by the more CDs you buy the cheaper they become but only on certain releases, for example their current summer deal is 4 CDs for £10 or 10 CDs for £20 and there's a choice of 59 different releases.
Household Name Records
Well, if there's a record label that has influenced me the most it quite possibly is Household Name Records of London. When I was around 16 I got a Household Name compilation free in a copy of Big Cheese magazine and this introduced me to loads of my favourite bands, including my all-time favourite band Lightyear. With releases from Howards Alias, Captain Everything!, Capdown, Lightyear, Leftover Crack, Belvedere, Adequate Seven, Big D & The Kids Table, etc it seemed to have the best punk bands. At this time I was still largely into mainstream bands, with Less Than Jake being my favourite band at the time. This really shook my world. I started realising that some of the best bands in the entire world are never on television or in mainstream magazines like Kerrang. I also wondered why these bands never play Manchester or anywhere else near me. I later realised that they were playing all over they place all the damn time, it's just that being on smaller booking agents and record labels and not having TV airtime meant their tours didn't get advertised in magazines so I didn't hear about them. I owe a lot to this label for exposing that to me at a young age. Travel forward 10 years and the label is still going with some pretty strong releases from bands such as Chief, Rivalries, Apologies, I Have None, The Cut-Ups, Great Cynics and Crazy Arm. However, the owners of the label no longer run it for a living and as a result there is less work done to promote the label and it's releases are less frequent. Still work checking out though.
There's a lot of other record labels out there worth a shout including: No Idea, Bridge Nine, Bombed Out, TNS, DIY Bandits, BYO, Asian Man, Moon Ska Europe, Golf, Deck Cheese, Bomber Music and tons more that I've forgotten about. Perhaps I'll review some of them another time. Maybe I'll set up my own record label one day. It's something I've always thought about. It's a possibility but to be honest I doubt I'll get round to it. Thanks for reading!