Remember the first time you heard .............. and then checked out their tour support, ..............? And how did you feel when you realised that they're both signed to .............. and that ALL of their bands made your jaw drop and your head spin with giddy excitement? We've all been there, I'm sure.
For as many years as I can remember, certainly pre-dating this little music industry adventure of mine, I've been fascinated by American punk labels. I don't know where it started, but can certainly remember a fondness for Drive-Thru (Finch, New Found Glory and Midtown, especially) right at the beginning of BSM, shortly before moving on to Deep Elm (The Appleseed Cast, Brandston and the Emo Diary compilations), Vagrant (pretty much everyone on their roster circa 2000) and many others. No matter what size - and to a degree, what sort of music they dabble in - there's a certain appeal to these American 'corporations'. And I use the c-word in the lightest possible sense. It's hard to know where the line can be drawn between marketing genius and my obsession with American culture (thanks, Hollywood!) but it's safe to say that tonight, the former has never felt so apparent.
Over the past few years I've been lucky enough to be interviewed by a number of magazines and a few have posed the same question: Which other record labels do you cite as an influence? Fierce Panda always get an honourable mention, as do friends labels who I feel are also working hard pushing the boundaries of creativity in the struggling music industry, but apart from that the answer firmly resides across the Atlantic. I may very well be wrong, perhaps looking at this through emo-tinted specs, but to my mind, the number of European record labels who have managed to build a brand identity as strong as Victory Records, Dischord, Sub Pop or any of the aforementioned others could be counted on the fingers of an armless man. Chances are that their crop of bands (especially the latter day roster fodder, in a lot of cases) won't all be to your taste, but to the people who've ever found themselves enjoying more than a couple of their artists and have subsequently delved headfirst into a back catalogue of enjoyment could not ask for a better stamp of approval, placing their musical trust in the hands of the respective label owners and setting themselves a musical bookmark which will last a lifetime.
To kill a few minutes before getting an early night, I (for some reason I can't even remember now) decided to Google one of my personal favourite US labels, Equal Vision, although not to see what they're doing right now, but to read more about their roots. Disappointed by the results, I delved a little deeper until I eventually stumbled across this giant interview from 2005. It talks in depth about how the label began, its religious background and so much more. Having finally finished reading that I dug out some other, thankfully shorter, features and right now, at just approaching 2am and well past the 'early night' status I so desperately desired, I once again find myself excited, enthralled and somewhat jealous of an American record label.
Imagine starting your label with a member of a number of vital hardcore bands? And what if you ended up signing Saves The Day before they even formed, simply because you liked the bassist's old band and felt bad for him when he was kicked out? And how about running a record store from your own New York apartment which, without the benefit of a phone, people took a risk on, visiting (from countries far away, in some cases) just to see if you're open, often finding the door unlocked and a sign saying "if you buy any records, please leave the money here"? Of course, all of this comes after seeing Cro-Mags beating some kids up at a gig because they weren't Hare Krishna, re-evaluating your own faith, spending four years living and working on a farm, and touring the country when the Warped Tour was still something worth boasting about. This stuff doesn't even touch on the subject of the label as a brand, it's simply cool as fuck and the kind of stories I think a lot of us wished we could tell first hand.
Professional jealousy aside (well, kinda) I'm turning my attention back to my first attraction to these labels: their brand images. It feels almost dirty to use such wording when talking about people like you or I who began their ventures in tiny, remote locations, scrapping for every cent before clawing their way towards the light and finding themselves on a completely unexpected career path. These are companies with strong ethics, a whole heap of character, and an image bigger than many of their artists.
Sub Pop used to feature their name bigger than anything else on their advertising, working hard to make themselves synonymous with the Seattle scene, something which many fans still to this day wrongly assume is the homebase for many of their subsequent signings. Revelation spawned out of the New York hardcore scene, playing a huge role in the development of the 'youth crew' scene, something which to this day they're still renowned for. And I'm sure I don't need to tell too many of you about Dischord and their hard work with the DIY lifestyle in an almost rags to riches story where values and integrity have won out over any possible obstacles.
What is it that makes these companies so vital, so exciting and so addictive? Why have thousands of people the world over spent so much of their time and money collecting their releases and proudly displaying their logos on the backs of t-shirts? How come the UK seemingly have so few comparative tastemakers? Is this just me being accidently racist against our British labels? Maybe these are questions for Louis Theroux to ask? Whatever, here's one of Equal Vision's greatest hits...