Celebrate 20 Years Of City Slang With A Spotify Playlist From Christof Ellinghaus
, December 3rd, 2010 10:04
It's the 20th birthday of City Slang, so The Quietus spoke to label founder Christof Ellinghaus and asked him to make us a Spotify playlist
All hail City Slang! Today, we at The Quietus are celebrating 20 years of the independent record label set up by Christof Ellinghaus in Berlin, Germany 20 years ago. Since 1990, City Slang have been responsible for releasing killer records by the likes of Hole, HEALTH, Yo La Tengo, Tortoise, Calexico and Caribou.
So, to celebrate 20 years of City Slang, we asked Christof to create us a Spotify Playlist of the songs that inspired his label. You can listen to the tracks he selected by clicking here.
We also have an interview with Christof - and if that wasn't enough, some of the roster also wanted to pay tribute to the label.
Daniel Snaith, Caribou: Christof is the dude. It's incredible after 20 years of releasing records that he still has so much excitement and enthusiasm for music. The excited phone calls I've got from Christof when he's listened to something for the first time have been highlights of working with City Slang and moved me that someone cares so much about what he's doing and the music I'm making. In fact, everyone at City Slang is awesome - it goes beyond everything being really well run. Everyone there shares an excitement. Working with them and getting to know them all it feels more like a group of music loving friends.
Joey Burns, Calexico: With a willingness to experiment, a heavy dose of style and a dash of humour, Christof Ellinghaus and his staff at City Slang Records have managed to keep the ball of reinvention rolling for what a label can be. I think the label is a great example of bringing new ideas and creativity to all the facets of the businesses. As a result of enjoying time together both on the professional and personal fronts, Calexico and City Slang share a deep friendship which we are sure will last us all another 20 years.
Our interview with Christof is below; and you can see the image gallery by clicking the picture at the bottom of the piece.
What was the inspiration behind setting up City Slang?
Christof Ellinghaus: I think seeing my homies... I was originally from a very small village in West Germany, and there was a bunch of people there writing a fanzine. Then they started putting out 7" and records, and in 1989 they got involved with all the Sub Pop people. So, this label [they created] called Glitterhouse Records - they were the people I grew up with, and I got high with fr the first time. The guy who ran it was six years older than I was, so when I was just a 16-year-old idiot - which what you are when you're 16 - I was discovering the joys of getting high, and the altered state meant listening to different kinds of music. So, these people were my role models. And I thought, 'If they can do it in this village (and I'd moved to Berlin in 84), I can probably do it too'.
What really triggered it was that the Flaming Lips sent me a cassette and said 'Help me find a label, we need a real European label'. I listened to it and called them back, and said 'This is amazing, why don't I put it out?' They were like, 'OK, we've signed to Warner Brothers anyway for the next one so this is the last one on Enigma, or Restless, or whatever that US company was called'. So they let me put it out.
With that first Flaming Lips release - was it hard to get things off the ground?
CE: Well, it coincided with a German label... I had this little booking agency and I was booking bands for tours - sometimes all over Europe, and sometimes just the German leg. I started doing that in '88, and then in '89 I found myself booking the early tours of the Nirvanas and the Mud Honeys of this world... and the Flaming Lips was one of them, and Yo La Tengo, and The Lemonheads. Then, in the very first weeks of 1990, a German independent label that you'll never have heard of had sold 250,000 records of this horrible German punk band, and had loads of money and wanted to branch out with more labels and imprints, so they asked me if I wanted to run an imprint for them.
I kindly passed, but when the Lips cassette showed up, and I remembered this and thought 'Maybe I should go back to them and say I can run a label for you with your money and your structure, but I'll bring the music'. That lasted about a year, and then they didn't have any money anymore. But it was fun. They had a distribution in Germany, Austria and Switzerland set up, they knew what a contract looked like - I just really had to go around Europe and try and find distraction. I called Anton Brookes from Bad Moon and said 'Hey, you've worked on all these records from the band's we've been touring, why don't you work on my reords?'
If I look at the first year and the records that we put out - none of those records really caught on. Yo La Tengo would get token friendly reviews in NME or Melody Maker, saying "This band are so good they're being criminally ignored"... and then they'd go back to criminally ignoring them.
But then you put out some of the early Hole stuff, and grunge went on to capture a lot of people's imaginations...
CE: Yeah, people got quite excited when we put out 'Teenage Whore' and those first singles. So that was good. And that coincided with me realising that German label was slowly but surely running out of money because I spent all my time taking calls from people saying, 'When am I going to get paid'? And I was like, 'I don't know, we're doing good business so I don't know why you wouldn't get paid'. I was like, 'This is going wrong', so in 1992 I bought them out.
What do you think some of the highs and lows have been of the last 20 years?
CE: Well, the highs... obviously one of the highs was getting involved with things like Hole in the very early days. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing in 1991, so the fact that people would just toss these things at me - 'Here's the Hole record, why don't you put it out in Europe' - that was great. And standing my ground when Geffen and big lawyers came knocking and said, 'Ok, we're buying everyone out and here's your £75'. I called Courtney and said, 'All your favourite bands are on indie labels in Europe, you don't want to be on a major here do you?" And she said, 'Yeah, you're right'. So that was easy.
I think after all that, Tortoise were a big high for me musically. So they pulled me out of college rock, which became grunge, and then became a format on American radio: modern rock. All that stuff got so boring and predictable. And then Tortoise came: three drummers, two bass players... and created something magical that really opened up musical horizons for me.
How about some of the more recent releases you've put out?
CE: Well, it's usually when someone goes somewhere that people haven't gone before. And I think HEALTH are one of those bands; I really, really rate them for what they do. It's ambitious and bold, and not compromising. I love the fact that they are so on top of everything they had to do with with their stuff, from the designs to the sounds. It's a great joy sometimes, and it's a great problem sometimes. We tried to make a film with them, like Pink Floyd At Pompei - put them into this huge and beautiful theatre in Leipzig. So we were going to make this film, and they put on a performance and we had it all filmed and directed. We blew 10 grand or something, and it never got completed because the band didn't think it was up to it. [Laughs] Which is... sometimes that's something you have to live with.
Well, I guess if you're going to work with certain artists, you have to accept you're not going to be able to mould them.
CE: Absolutely. And I think the success, or the fact we're still around, is that we let people get away with it. People like to work with us because we're not like, 'We have to put this out, we blew 10 grand, you can't do this to us'. No, we let the band make the final decisions. Going back to recent releases, the Caribou record is one of the most thrilling records I've heard this year. That's what keeps me going; after 20 years, we have people like that, and we're blessed to be working with people like Daniel Snaith.
What are the future plans for City Slang?
CE: [Laughs] Oh.... try to get away with the same shit. Try to keep getting away it with it for a longer time. That's really all it is...
To download The City Slang playlist, click here.
The Heartbreakers 'Chinese Rocks'
DMZ 'Busy Man'
Rocket From The Tombs 'Ain't It Fun'
Suicide 'Frankie Teardrop'
The Gun Club 'Carry Home'
The Dream Syndicate 'Tell Me When It's Over'
Soul Asylum 'Tied To The Tracks'
Thin White Rope 'Moonhead'
MC5 'Sister Anne'
The Saints 'River Deep Mountain High'
The Replacements 'Kids Don't Follow'
Butthole Surfers 'Sweat Loaf'
The Flaming Lips 'Everything's Explodin''
The Feelies 'The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness'
Mudhoney 'I'm Sick'