The unsung independent record labels fostering Melbourne’s music landscape
It’s well-established that Melbourne possesses one of the world’s most multidimensional and adventurous music scenes; what is less ascertained is an understanding of its developmental onion – the scales run deeper than an artist and their recording.
A lot of effort and expertise goes into a release and while the musician is evidently quintessential, getting something onto the streets requires promotional nous, industry awareness and toiling dissemination.
Whether it’s for reasons of loyal patronage, personal gratification or a duty to a friend, a host of largely unheralded independent record labels subsist in Melbourne’s undertow – nurturing pipedreams into realities.
LISTEN Records is the innovation of Chloe Turner and the LISTEN group – a collective established to encourage more equal participation in the music industry with respect to our female and LGBTQIA+ community. The label is home to the likes of Pikelet, Hi-Tec Emotions, Biscotti, Shag Planet and Simona Castricum – aiding in publicity, release facilitation and social media stimulation among other assistances.
Driven by a passion for the industry, Turner is an unproclaimed ambassador of Melbourne music, emphasised by her willingness to give, give and give again. “There are too many amazing acts and I want to sign/work with everyone. This is why I release the annual compilations – so I can work with more people. Unfortunately because it is just me running the label (with publicity help from Holly Pereira) it means I'm pretty limited by time and resources.”
An impressive discography bears releases such as Stina Tester & Cinta Masters’ debut LP Awake and Dreaming, Hi-Tec Emotions’ album Hard to Handle and Shag Planet’s Too Many Babes, Too Little Time and that’s just the beginning of Turner’s achievements.
“Getting feature albums on Triple R (Biscotti - Like Heaven in the Movies) and PBS 106.7FM (Simona Castricum - #TriggerWarning40) are probably my proudest moments so far as well as Hi-Tec Emotions selling out The Tote for their album launch.”
Failing to mention Biscotti’s inimitable Like Heaven in the Movies exhibition of synchronised visual, sound and performance art at Neon Parlour and Turner’s work is particularly understated.
Muse the media satire and jesting of punk futurists Ausmuteants and you’ve encapsulated the flair of Aarght Records down to a ballpoint pen – calling out Pitchfork and our very own Joseph Earp – now that’s bold. Nevertheless, social media wit is an animation of a record label which proved vital to our city’s punk and garage resurgence in the late noughties – fostering important releases from the likes of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control and the Ooga Boogas.
Label manager Rich Stanley doesn’t bring the elegance of Chloe Turner but instead an unending intellect and knowhow of the local scene. Considering the importance of the city’s indie record labels, Stanley couldn’t refrain from leaking his pride. “If all of Melbourne's indie labels closed tomorrow, I think a dozen more would start up next week – that's human nature and the spirit of punk rock. New labels start all the time.”
Furthermore, demoting the need for publicity typifies the treasure of Melbourne perspective – familiarity humbles the need for broadcast. “I can't say I warm to any promotional measures. I wish I didn't have to do promotion, telling other people they should like a band I like is a horrible feeling. They should just agree with me already.”
The fact that Stanley’s spiritual home and booking fountain – The Tote – brings in as many punters as any other Melbourne small bandroom, if not more, is testimony to the unnecessity to plug Melbourne punk and garage – people just know.
A well-established label to one of burgeoning potential – Wondercore Island is the enterprise of Si Jay Gould and supports artists from future soul, electronic and hip-hop backgrounds. Think Hiatus Kaiyote, Oscar Key Sung, Jaala, Corin and Noah Slee and you can peruse through fantastic music Wondercore Island has facilitated – Virtuality, Hard Hold, even Sampa the Great’s The Great Mixtape.
Despite his feats, it hasn’t been all floss and fancy for the courageous label manager. “You'd be surprised how little you make on most releases – 9 out of 10 are a loss,” Gould says. “I think like any business the bottom line is you need to be prepared to take risks and losses to build something the way you want. It’s 100% worth it, but there are 1,000,000 better ways to make money in the industry than running a label for against-the-grain artists.
“I do have a romantic notion that the music we work with will have a larger and longer lasting cultural impact and that by supporting the community it will in turn support us and we will have no need for profitable records but rather more important and necessary records.”
Gould’s ethos exemplifies the focus of the story – there’s no hint of major label greed in Melbourne’s music underbelly. Budding artists are privy to a conveyer belt many aspirants would sell a body part for, nevertheless, an appetite is something no one can design. Record labels will take a hit for you, venues will open bandrooms for you, radio stations will broadcast you and artists will lend gear to you.
Smooch and Hysterical Records are recent exemplars of the notion – the best rewards come to the best adventurers so where there’s a will there’s a way – from the wise words of Rich Stanley, “Plug a guitar in and turn the amp on. Find other people who do the same. Play along at the same time.”
By Tom Parker
Many of our indie record labels will be on show on Saturday April 22 for Record Store Day so make sure to check them out.