Welcome to the fourth installment of [under_], the regular feature that shines a light on independent and DIY record labels from around the world. So far we've been to Los Angeles, Tulsa and Hebden Bridge. This time we're going to London to speak to Bomb Shop's James Birchall about the label's busy year, its disparate array of releases, how Birchall intends to expand their repertoire and the Chancellor of The Exchequer's disappointing lack of interest in funding limited edition noise cassettes.
Tell me about how Bomb Shop got started.
The very, very beginning was back in the late 90s while I was at university in Huddersfield. It started as a loose collective of people organizing events, putting out vinyl, uploading MP3s over 56k modems and bouncing off the edges of what was a fairly straight-up modern music degree. I've always been a bit of an idiot like that -- I tend to rebel against whatever system I'm currently entrenched in, even if it's a beneficial one. We organized an alternative festival running alongside the annual Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. They had [Karlheinz] Stockhausen, [Harrison] Birtwistle and [Iannis] Xenakis; we had Warp artists, face-melting techno and X-rated wall projections. There wasn't much crowd drift from them to us, weirdly.
I should add that under the new structure of student funding, Bomb Shop would almost certainly not have happened, and George Osborne wouldn't have access to all the limited edition noise cassettes he loves so much. Think on, George.
How did Bomb Shop evolve into the label it is today?
When things went digital we pretty much went with it. We stopped producing vinyl, stuck to digital only releases, [and released] no physical products. The label moved to Manchester, then Paris, then London. The whole virtual/digital label thing was pretty cool; the idea that you could produce, supply and distribute music from anywhere.
There was always a hole in our operation though -- a huge, cassette-shaped hole! We were missing the value of the tangible object, and when it came to re-examining how to work that side of things back into the label we decided not to go down the whole jewel-case CD route, or even the mass-produced vinyl route. We were really enjoying the DIY output of labels like Not Not Fun and Winebox Press, and we decided to invest in some printing, dubbing and copying equipment and start making stuff at home. It's the best move we ever made! We're ten homemade releases in, including books and music, and we've got loads more coming. Plus, we've learned how to do stuff like bookbinding, tape spooling, quick ways to dry fake blood onto cassette shells...loads of useful stuff.
Your output is pretty disparate. You've done noise, country, electronic and punk. Does Bomb Shop have a particular philosophy?
Well, unfortunately it's a cliché, but good music and art. We enjoy a really wide range of stuff, so it finds its way into the label. There have been moments when we've looked at the music we have coming up and thought, "Should we be starting a sub-label for this stuff?" but I'm glad we never have. I can trace lines through the whole catalog: Fierce County's raw country sound reminds me of early Animal Collective, which is not dissimilar to the Rough Fields sound, which has techno and bass elements. There are a few really noisy tracks on the Rough Fields album too, linking that to Ambrosia(@)...who in turn have punk tendencies that links them to Pairs and also God Bows to Math.
I think people are really starting to get past this whole "solid walls between genres" thing. It's beginning to matter less and less which section your releases end up in, either in the shop or on the page. It's even getting to the point where we know we can send any of our releases to any of our media contacts without thinking "oh, that guy doesn't really do noise, he's more into bass" or something. The brave new world of modern music without boundaries is upon us! Maybe.
How do you discover and engage with the artists you release?
For a long while we didn't release stuff by anyone other than ourselves and some very close friends. It wasn't until relatively recently that we actually started approaching people whose music we'd like to release. Even now though, there's usually a connection involved -- like, we've played shows with the artist, or just hung out together. The only completely out-of-the-blue artist on the label so far is Pairs. I found them online and was hugely impressed, so I took a chance and got in touch with them. I don't really find approaching people nerve-wracking, but even if I did, Pairs are such cool people it wouldn't have been an issue. There are a couple more signings on the cards right now from outside our immediate circle that we initiated in the same way, but I'd say for the most part we're still a really scene-driven, family-like label.
What are your hopes for the future of the label?
Just the usual: grow ponytails; buy Porsches; hold album listening parties in exclusive sushi restaurants in SoHo; invent a musical storage format which ultimately leaves the consumer disappointed and out of pocket; go to Haiti to make a video; fall off a yacht; never be seen again. Living the dream, man, living the dream.
Seriously? 1) buy vinyl lathe, 2) take vinyl lathe to stone building on hill, 3) make records and send them back down the hill to people who understand. Is that better or worse than the first answer?
Please tell us a little bit about the bands you've chosen for us to listen to.
Pairs are a noise punk duo from Shanghai. Xiao Zhong plays drums and screams/sings, and F plays guitar. They're utterly self-deprecating, but their music is shockingly good. They drift fluidly from tear-your-face-off punk to epic, dreamy indie.
Rough Fields is my project. It brings all my influences together: bass, noise, folk, modern classical, techno, shoegaze, minimalism... it's a pretty confused sound!
Ambrosia(@) have released two cassettes on Bomb Shop, both of which I rate as some of our finest moments. They make drone/noise/ambient stuff, but with a sort of underlying nightmarish punk fever. Their album will hopefully be out before the end of summer.
God Bows to Math are a NZ post-punk band. That scene has really exploded over the last few years; there's so much great music emerging from it and GBTM are right on the forefront. It's so heavy, practically metal, but then at the same time reminds me a bit of Pavement or Sebadoh.
Finally, there's an example of the electronic side of our family with an Elias Linn/YTAC collaboration. The Linn name usually means techno or slo-mo house (or "knackered house," as Andy Stott put it), but there's a sort of microcosmic detail to the tracks. On this occasion it's a half-speed 140bpm bass thing thanks to YTAC, a name responsible for most of the really 3AM type bass stuff on our label.
Your playlist is lookin' mighty bare, hoss.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
John Cage 4'33"