Making Global Local: The Best Of Finders Keepers & An Exclusive Mix
, April 20th, 2010 13:23
From Communist Hungarian Funk to Lollywood pop, no-one broadens your horizons like the Finders Keepers label. Our many-teeted lizard scribe Jonny Mugwump talks to Doug Shipton about five years of great releases
This year Finders Keepers Records is five years old. Since its inception, the label has reissued and uncovered a vast and diverse range of music taking in Persian funk, Welsh folk, proto-feminist Czech cinema soundtracks, German library music and Pakistani electronic pop. And that’s just for starters. It's grown into something of a dream for those of us who are hungry for unheard sounds - entirely reliable and completely unpredictable. The music alone would be more than enough reason for celebration but they should also be worshipped for a profoundly anti-snobbish attitude. Every release is stuffed full of impeccably researched notes charting cultural histories and large personalities - Finders Keepers are educational without assuming anything on the part of the listener, and they side-step dodgy notions of high and low culture. One of their releases can bring you both sophistication and childish lunacy, often within the same song (Vampires of Dartmoor and Science Fiction Dance Party being two of the most brilliantly absurd records I’ve ever heard). Their passion is palpable in every release; this canny bunch of obsessives do nothing to disguise the love and enthusiasm for what they do. It seems to me that their success boils down to knowing that something sounds great - every release gets the same treatment regardless of its commercial worth.
Doug Shipton runs the Southern end of things from South London (his business partners Andy Votel and Dom Thomas take care of business in the North West). Talking to him, you immediately get a sense of why the label has such a strong identity. Doug is passionate, incredibly knowledgeable and erudite but also realistic and down-to-earth. He admits to being a bit of a hustler but at the same time his passion is to be shared - after blasting me with some ludicrously tantalising forthcoming sounds from Russia and Indonesia, we head out for a drink to discuss the first five years of this wayward micro-empire.
How did the label come about then?
Doug Shipton: I’d always been a long-term fan of Twisted Nerve since I was in my teens - my brother used to bring home all the Badly Drawn Boy EPs from university and I loved the second one and then became a really big fan - bought all of Mum and Dad, Alfie and whatnot. I grew up in Kent and went to university and ended up doing some work experience with Nerve - doing some sleeve designs. I met Andy there and did that for a couple of years and then did some other stuff press stuff here there and everywhere and then I got a job at Cherry Red. I stayed in touch with Andy and would see him when he was DJing and whatnot and eventually he came to me about doing a folk compilation which turned out to be Folk is Not a Four Letter Word. I pitched it to my boss at Cherry Red and then we decided to set up a label, Delay 68 and release it that way and that did really well. We followed that with a sequence of other albums and then halfway through my time with Cherry Red, Andy asked me if i fancied doing a label he had in mind called Finders Keepers Records. He had released an album in the late 90s on Fat City Records called Finders Keepers and wanted to take this further. Dom Thomas who was Andy’s partner at B-Music and childhood friend was also involved so it was obviously "Yeah wicked, let’s go do it."
And the first release was the monumental, genre-straddling concept album L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches by Serge Gainsbourg’s genius arranger, and the man responsible, for Histoire de Melody Nelson, Jean-Claude Vannier?
DS: Well, the way we work at FK we kind of... we started to release records we had that we really thought the world needed to hear and Andy and Dom both knew the Vannier record really well and Andy is such a complete Gainsbourg nut he has every record that he has ever released bar one. We started off with the first few releases that led from our own record collections and then it’s always a bit of a breadcrumb trail really - one release leads to the next and as things have progressed and then with the Pakistani releases (The Sound of Wonder) well, that whole catalogue has opened up to us and we have this endless access to trawl through the vaults.
But to get back to Vannier, yeah it was a statement of intent and it was a risk I think. The story of that album goes back a lot further with a few interested parties who just weren’t prepared to take the risk. But, it’s the Holy Grail to some people and we managed to get great quotes from Jarvis Cocker, Tim Gane from Stereolab and Jim O’Rourke on the sleeve who were all huge fans. I think it can be a hard album to accept- we always called it anti-girlfriend music [laughs]. But Andy has a fair amount of respect and credibility within the industry as a producer and digger and coupled with that particular album we already had an indicator of where we were going to take it and so we’ve become an accidental world-music label, slightly off-kilter, not your humdrum bubblegum pop or psychedelic music - it’s something a little deeper.
Is there an aesthetic or a guiding principle behind what you do then? FK is really incredibly eclectic...
DS: You can expect the unexpected. It’s almost selfish what we do - we don’t build it in mind of how much we can sell or anything like that. These are the records we love, this is what we DJ when we out and we don’t release anything other than for the reason that we love it.
But there is something distinctive i think and that’s that most releases are quite... fun, for want of a better word. It’s hugely respectful, culturally aware but gratifyingly without austerity.
DS: Well that’s the personalities involved and we see it as presenting like, a document- it’s not critical or analytical or academic in any way. And we do everything with quite a sense of bravado. This ties in with what we do with B-Music [the DJ wing of the collective] - it’s about music that’s good, but on paper it won’t necessarily be. So for instance, Turkish funk which will immediately isolate people as they’re not going to understand what’s being sung and in Britain well, we’re an island with an island culture and part of that is to reject stuff that we don’t understand. If you look at the way popular music spreads across mainland Europe, we just take what we want and it’s almost criminal in a way- there’s no real difference between the big classic US and UK psyche and prog bands and scenes so why should there equivalents or even peers from say Hungary or Turkey be taken any less seriously?
Something that I love is how these releases, and especially the compilations that hoover up songs from literally all over the word, disrupt the standard rock canon. The Sound of Wonder was Finders Keepers’ first foray into Lollywood- picture house pop music from Pakistan and recently there was Pomegranates which collated folk/ psyche and funk from Persia. Fit to burst with exciting, innovative and beautiful music, they’re equally rich in information, exquisitely designed and make a mockery of the UK/US axis of boredom.
DS: Well i think you can appreciate them on so many different levels - I’m working on a compilation of music by a Tamil film composer called Ilaiyaraaja who has released a lot of albums. And you can trace the lines - you can hear he has his ear half-cocked towards the west and drawing in all these influences from the 60s, 70s and 80s so it’s not that far removed...
You have the influence from his own cultural background right?
DS: Exactly and as I said before, if you read a lot of the liner notes for the releases, even if you hear some of the sounds and you can trace a line to classic English and American bands... I mean some of these acts did escape from their homelands, well not escape you know what i mean but some of these bands did sing in English so they escape their cultural binds and can get over here. So, it’s about educating, well not educating people but filling in holes of knowledge. For instance with Sarolta Zalatnay (subject of a blinding funk/rock FK compilation from a couple of years ago) she was involved heavily with a lot of English bands, brought the Spencer Davis Group to Communist Hungary, had an on-off thing with Brian May, was engaged to one of the Bee Gees at one point so these characters and bands they’re all there in the annals of rock history but as with any other history, people pick and choose what to remember and what goes in to the books and so people get left aside...
How much of an impact does the web have on allowing an endeavour like this to work?
DS: Well they’re a lot of different factors involved there. Given the globalisation of music with the internet we are exposed to a lot of different markets now - so you might have purists who are into prog/psych and those old classic scenes or bedroom DJs and kids looking for beats and breaks or samples and we don’t necessarily try and cater for that - we just do what we love and there are enough people out there to sustain a scene like this and to buy those records.
If you look at the catalogue we have now, if you were to try and pick out a linearity, i just don’t think it’s possible. We move from Czech vampire film soundtracks to Turkish funk, Polish prog and so on.
With Well Hung [rock/funk produced in Communist Hungary] these were people working under Communist rule so there’s a lot of limitations on what could be done, how they could have worked and how their music could be released. Same goes for the Tropicalia scene with someone like Os Mutantes singing all these ridiculous lyrics and it’s purely a very subversive fuck you to the establishment. I don’t think the industry necessarily focuses on the human angle - a lot of these musicians, through building their own fuzz pedals and fusing their own sound are risking life and limb, prison and exile just to move things forward. I guess it happens with every generation and any kind of music scene- it always progresses and flourishes in different ways and is always met with derision from one perspective and lauded by others. In some ways you could say it’s kind of like a potted history of outsider art.
Is there a lot of stuff you can’t release?
DS: There is a huge amount of detective work and that’s the best part of the job though. And then you get to work with these people who hugely admire and get to put some money in their pocket. With some like Selda and Vannier there was a huge amount of apprehension as they just cannot understand why people would want to listen to this music so far down the line. We have this pool of information that we all share. It can take anything from weeks to years to track down artists, producers and labels. With Selda, it took so long and Andy had a lead to this woman who he was emailing back and forth and it turned out in the end that it was her and she had previously told him that Selda was dead just to throw him off the trail! With Christine Harwood, I had tracked down her producer who was quite famous called Miki Dallon and she was in a senior position at a record label but she was so embarrassed about this record she would email or only talk on the phone after office hours so nobody knew. And at the time she recorded it, she hated her voice so much she destroyed all the copies of the album that she had.
What next, you’re moving in to publishing and DVDs?
DS: Well, I can’t say too much yet but hopefully it will be by the end of the year. I think people who know the label and have the records will know that there is a very heavy counter-cultural aesthetic to the label from literature, from film, from art and from graphic design and we’ve grown to such an extent not that we can dip our toes into a few of those things. Hopefully this will open some eyes and people will be able to join the dots between a lot of contemporary culture and the roots - film posters, long forgotten novels that went on to become films... we’re quietly excited about it - it should be an exciting venture. We have one book potentially in production and two films but I can’t say anything else. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s really interesting moving in to those worlds.
That can’t have been an intention when you started?
DS: Well, we’ve done a lot of film screenings and of course all the liner notes and we’ve never really thought about treading softly into any particular area and it feels like a logical step to us.
You brought Vannier over to perform L’Enfant Assassin… in full in 2008 and the wonderfully warped Jean Pierre Massiera played last year with Chrome Hoof and Magma...
DS: Massiera was just a dream come true to us. Going back to the outsider art thing, Andy coined the phrase ‘second-class sound’, which i think sums these artists up a bit better. Outside of their own cultures, they don’t often translate very well. But Massiera was light years ahead of the crowd. Andy called him the French Joe Meek and if Meek can be considered in a certain light then why not Massiera - it’s just as creepy and crazy. He [Votel] was key behind the gigs happening. Vannier did another gig in Paris which included Brian Molko [Placebo front man] and there’s been a resurgence, which is so gratifying as often there’s not a great deal of money involved in these releases, so for someone to get the credit and attention and adulation for what they’ve achieved is brilliant. And this comes just from us reissuing something and putting it out there for people to find.
Also, some of these people were so prolific, almost out of control really, just doing what they wanted with no boundaries and surely that’s what music should be about- no restrictions, always pushing things forward?
Quietus Writers' Favourite Finders Keepers Albums
Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders
You can’t deny the commitment to their cause displayed by Finders Keepers: Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is a 1970 Czech New Wave film that, until 18 months ago, was only available as a bootleg. You just need to hear its bizarre soundtrack, full of ecclesiastical chanting, pastoral Eastern European folk, music box lullabies, shocking bursts of crashing church organs and spritely runs on a harpsichord, carnivalesque celebration, atonal drones, whispered intonations and a main theme that sounds bizarrely like a variation on ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’. It’s a disorientating and at times disturbing experience, more than capable of conjuring up cinematic visions for those who’ve never seen the film, surely the sign of a great soundtrack. But, while it almost certainly makes one want to see the film, it also exists as a separate entity. Divorced from memories of their origins, many soundtracks lose their context, but ‘Valerie’ creates its own, much as The Wicker Man’s did. That Vashti Bunyan, Espers, Broadcast and even Tim Burton acknowledge their debt to both the film and its music says a great deal, but that Andy Votel claims to have spent 12 years tracking down the master tapes says even more about Finders Keepers. You’re unlikely to put ‘Valerie’ on between MGMT and Scissors Sisters. You may not even listen to it often. But that’s not what Finders Keepers are interested in. You get the feeling they simply can’t help themselves: they just had to find and release ‘Valerie’. And some of you are going to hear it and know exactly why...Wyndham Wallace
Emma Tricca's lovely album Minor White was released last year, with minimal fanfare and a press release that made surprisingly light of the fact she was discovered by John Renbourn. Minor White is a record of wonderfully subtle finger-picked folk, not as one-dimensional as many in the same pool thanks to Tricca's Italian heritage and a life spent wondering Europe assimilating its many traditional flavours. A mixture like that is more or less what makes Finders Keepers so magnificent a label.
Minor White, however, is nothing on the triumphant compilation Willows Songs, an album exploring the dark side of English traditional music. This deleted LP is meant to represent the songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man, and includes Magnet's original instrumental version of the album's title track, to which Britt Ekland's body double famously writhed. A true understanding of modern folk's lineage is proven by the inclusion of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and 'Oranges and Lemons', while it's good to have a version of 'Miri It Is' out there that isn't by Circulus. Barnaby Smith
Welsh Rare Beat 2
Slightly less celebrated but, in this reporter’s opinion, superior followup to the first volume of this compilation series, which again focuses its attention on the archaic glam, folk, pop and psychedelia released on various Welsh labels in the 1970s (volume one concentrated on Sain Records exclusively; these 22 tracks come from a variety of more fleetingly extant imprints). As it was in the country’s mother tongue, hardly any travelled beyond the border, meaning that for (non-Cymraeg) esotericists these joints are as exotic as yer proverbial Eastern European vanity label biz. Meaning, also, that The Beta Band couldn’t have straight up lifted the melody of ‘Higher and Higher’ by AD 73 for their own ‘Dry The Rain’, even though it sounds like it. Right? Noel Gardner
L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouche
Listen to Jean-Claude Vannier’s L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouche (The Child Assassin of the Flies) and you’re reminded that the now firmly entrenched kitchen sink approach to music has roots extending far beyond the digital boom.
Having arranged Serge Gainsbourg’s cinematic slow-funk masterpiece, Histoire De Melody Nelson, Vannier followed it up with L’Enfant, his 1972 solo debut. Brilliantly mad, L’Enfant... is a giant sound collage of a work that leaps from heavy psyche rock and funk to jazz, cabaret, classical, choral, pop and more. Yet even those words don’t do it justice. L’Enfant... is simply the sound of music being boldly and ingeniously set free, and its fans include a number of more recent iconoclasts who owe this essential album a massive debt. Charles Ubaghs
In 2000 I went to Istanbul as part of a group of UK journalists who were the guests of the Turkish tourism department. This was part of a scheme to repair some of the damage caused between the two countries after the murder of two Leeds United fans after a football match in Galatasaray. After a particularly fine lunch and much raki I went with the Deputy Minister for Tourism to the Spice Markets. I stumbled into a record shop and grabbed a handful of Anatolian pop albums and demanded to know if they were any good. He looked at me and roared: “Fuck that shit. This is the greatest album ever recorded!” And thrust a copy of Def Leppard’s Hysteria under my nose. One of the interesting things about FK is the way that they decontextualize music from both its original source and refuse to slot it neatly into a new one by assigning a high or low art tag or a particular use, such as piece of kitsch, DJ tool or sample pallet. So for me, for example, 'Kozan Dagi' is a much better song than 'Love Bites'. John Doran
Long before Hungarian celebrity Sarolta Zalatnay was persuaded by her porn director husband, at the age of 54 to have a pneumatic breast enlargement operation and pose naked for her country’s Playboy. Long before she became a household name for appearing in the Hungarian version of Big Brother. Long before she started a three year prison sentence for fraud in 2005. Long before all this, in happier times, she was a mainstay of the Hungarian funk rock scene roughing up the breezy Carnaby Street vibe of the late 60s with the heavy rock sound of provincial UK and her own tough persona. Known to her legions of Hungarian fans as Cini, she was a bona fide star as this great anthology attests. John Doran
Every single song on this killer compilation is DJ gold dust. It opens with the fuzz funk of ‘Ringasd el Magad no. 2’ by Anna Adamis and Gabor Presser which opens with a burst of hectic Buddy Rich drum set abuse before settling down into a stone to the bone groove and warm, hypnotic riff that slays 99% of all dancefloors. Ludicrously catchy pop psychedelia from Omega Redstar is up next in the form of ‘Egy Lany Nem Ment Haza’, which comes on like an Eastern European Os Mutantes. And that’s before we get to the scorched larynx Janis Joplin meets Babe Ruth meets Lita Ford righteousness of Kati Kovacs and ‘Add Mar Uram Az Esot!” John Doran
To me, Gluckskugel perfectly encapsulates everything wonderful about Finders Keepers. Bruno Spoerri had a tangenital relationship with Can through collaboration with keyboard player Irmin Schmidt whilst utlising synths, tape and found sound to compose radio and tv jingles, soundtrack films, documentaries and radio plays and contributing sonics to PR campaigns. Gluckskugel is a collection of various pieces of music that can leap from the sublime to the ridiculous within the blink of an ear. Take 'Les Electoniciens' which was a PR disc for a fork lift truck company. In 5 minutes Spoerri moves from machinic ambience into a frantic cosmic blaxploitation groove replete with kick-ass Eddie Hazel style pyrotechnics which then breaks down into Forbidden Planet-esque dynamics only to bring back the funk albeit with a winding-down stutter for the conclusion. All with the sound of the truck itself running through it. Spoerri is some kind of nutcase, as adept at handling cheese as he is at dishing out truly poignant ambience or freaking out with factory sounds. Avant-fromage at its absolute finest. jonny mugwump