Melbourne Music Week: Labels Series
Slowly but surely, a formidable contingent of Australia’s most influential musical figures gathered in the sun-drenched Arts Centre courtyard. I first spot Gill and Antonia from Beaches kicking back by the moat outside NGV, before running into Alex and Tom from Forces. We all make our way indoors to join some well-known faces – Dan from Cut Copy, Vince from Midnight Juggernauts, Geoffrey from Crayon Fields – as well as the brains behind some of our country’s most revered independent labels. All are involved, whether as a performer, curator, or both, with Melbourne Music Week’s Labels Series – a disparate triptych of musical showcases featuring a remarkable array of talent in unconventional scenarios. As the palpable excitement in NGV today indicates, there is something more than a little bit special in store.
Chapter Music, the longest-standing label out of the four imprints involved in the Labels Series performances, is well-represented here today with members from Beaches, Crayon Fields, Bum Creek, Pikelet and Primitive Calculators, as well as label founder Guy Blackman and manager Ben O’Connor. In between being shuffled around shooting locations around the gallery, Guy and Ben recount the storied 20-year history of Chapter Music. “It was around the time that a lot of people were putting out cassettes,” Guy states, looking back on the label’s humble Perth origins. “They seemed like a really DIY, easy, fun format. As soon as we put out the first cassette we knew it was something that we wanted to keep on doing, not just with the fanzine.”
As Ben and Guy pose for the shoot, they hold what they jokingly refer to as the Chapter babies – Alison from Beaches’ newborn twins. It’s a fine explication of the sense of ‘family’ which defines the macro Chapter community, a sense which also applies to each label here today. “Having a personal connection with the artists on our label is really important to us,” Ben explains. “We have really close relationships with everyone we work with. I can’t think of any releases that we’ve done where we haven’t known the people beforehand, apart from the reissues. Are there any?” He gestures to Guy.
“No, even if we haven’t known some of the people from overseas we’ve gone and spent time with them before the record came out,” Guy ponders. “Plus we do email and Facebook messages.”
The day before the shoot, one of Chapter’s foremost acts had again made the voyage to the US. It’s the second time Twerps have toured the country this year after a barnstorming run with Real Estate earlier in 2012. It’s a strategy that’s paying off both abroad and at home, as Ben explains before flying over to join the band a few days after our chat. “We’ve always looked at the bands we work with as part of the international music community rather than just part of the Australian music community. Being Australian is really important to us and supporting good Australian music is really important, but most of the work that we do I see as fitting into what’s happening internationally rather than just what’s happening in Australia,” Ben muses.
“We’ve always worked hard to combat Australian cultural cringe – the idea that things from overseas are inherently better than stuff that’s made here in Australia,” Guy adds. “We’re trying to reverse that.”
We’re escorted up the elevator and into the mezzanine of NGV’s Great Hall. The breathtaking room will play host to a Tim Sweeney-headlined party presented by Cutters Records and Two Bright Lakes. Colourfully illuminated by the kaleidoscopic ceiling, Cut Copy frontman and Cutters founder Dan Whitford explains the philosophy behind the label. “I guess it was something we set up after starting our band as a means of putting out music made by other people that we were really passionate about,” he relays. “Also I guess because of our profile both here and internationally we felt like we could use that to push people into places where they might not otherwise explore. We started this label five years ago, since then we’ve worked with artists like Kim [Moyes] from The Presets, some of the early Midnight Juggernauts stuff came out through our label, we worked with Knightlife, plus a bunch of other artists we’ve signed both locally and internationally. But we’ve put out no actual Cut Copy [through Cutters] material at this stage.
Looking out over the Great Hall, it’s exciting to envision the scenes that will take place the night of the Labels Series show. “It’s a really exciting opportunity because it’s a space that I know pretty well – even just as a kid just being dragged here by my parents,” Dan laughs. “Just looking up at the ceiling and thinking, ‘Wow, this is a crazy space.’ Just turning it into a party with some of our artists plus some international artists coming to play, just letting music fans see the building in a different light to what we usually do. So it’s exciting to have this space for our Labels show.”
After a hectic touring schedule following on from the 2011 release of Zonoscope, Dan reveals that the Labels party comes at an opportune time in the Cut Copy writing-recording cycle. “We probably rested for about a week, then went back to writing for the next record. We’re just getting towards the end of that now, so it’s a great time to have a party and blow off the cobwebs a little bit,” he grins.
Sharing presenting duties with Cutters at the NGV Labels party will be Two Bright Lakes, one of the finest harbingers of good times and rising local talent – including Collarbones, a band which has produced one of the records of 2012. Label founder Simon Huggins echoes the sentiment of community expressed by many today. “TBL started about five years ago, we started up because we had a whole bunch of friends who had records to put out. They’re just friends – that’s how we’ve managed to build a nice community around it, it’s much more sustainable than something that’s not as organic or community focused,” he explains. “That’s why we can put on parties and everyone sticks around and has a dance rather than leaving straight after a show.”
Absent from today’s shoot, Daniel Stricker of Siberia Records and Midnight Juggernauts calls the week later from New York, where he is travelling with Kirin J Callinan as part of the CMJ series of events. As he explains, while Midnight Juggernauts’ formation of Siberia Records is comparable to Cut Copy’s Cutters Records, the two imprints started out with differing intents. “We started it to put out our own music, first and foremost. When Midnight Juggernauts started we had a look at the major labels, and none of them felt right. We had been doing stuff own our own up until that point, then we ended up putting out our first record. That was back in 2007. Then we thought it would be a good idea to put out other people’s stuff, which is something we always wanted to do. So we did that when we had the time, because we were so busy touring. When we came back at the end of 2010 to write our third record we made the decision to put out some records during that writing process,” he recalls. “Our first releases, which came out on the same day, were a seven-inch for Jonti, who was going under Danimals back then, and Kirin J Callinan’s She EP. That was November 2010, and we’ve just been doing stuff since then. It’ been great, just doing stuff with friends and doing these releases exactly how we want to do them. Going all out with stuff like coloured vinyl, and we did a postcard that you could send to someone and it played Forces and Kirin if you put it on a record player. Just doing fun stuff. It’s a labour of love,” he beams.
With impending releases from Forces and Kirin in the next 12 months, there’s a sense that Siberia Records is a rumbling geyser on the point of eruption. “All these records that are coming together, it feels like everything is coming to a head. The fact that Kirin’s here in New York and getting really good press and people are getting into it, plus it’s building back home, it feels like the last two years are culminating to this point – especially this Melbourne Music Week show, and some events in Sydney, plus Kirin’s album tour next year. It’s a lot of work, but it feels good that it’s coming together. I think it’s really indicative of what’s happening in Australia. There’s heaps of good stuff happening with labels like Chapter and Two Bright Lakes, all these people doing great stuff. And I think you can do that these days because of the way the internet has come together, you can get vinyl made easy. It feels like a lot of walls have been broken down. I do feel like in one section of Australian music, there’s this mix of electronic music and the old Australian sound, especially with Kirin, it feels like this new frontier. I’m just happy we get to take that to the rest of the world,” he states with pride. “It’s a good thing.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Photo credit: Ben Clement
Melbourne Music Week's LABELS SERIES is three unique events with four of Melbourne's independent labels showcasing our brightest talent: Chapter Music's 20th Birthday, with Crayon Fields, Twerps, Pikelet and more at North Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday November 17, Cutters Records and Two Bright Lakes presenting Tim Sweeney, Teengirl Fantasy, Collarbones and more at The National Gallery Of Victoria on Friday November 23 and Siberian Nights, with Kirin J Callinan, Forces and more at the Melbourne University Underground Carpark on Saturday November 24. For all information, head to melbourne.vic.gov.au/mmw.