Launch Successful: Celebrating 15 Years Of Rocket Recordings
Daniel Dylan Wray
, December 2nd, 2013 08:07
With the Bristol/London label turning 15 this year, Daniel Dylan Wray caught up with its founders and asked its roster to talk us through their favourite tracks from the anniversary compilation, Crystallized
Founded drunkenly at a Heads show in Bristol in 1997 by Chris Reeder and Simon Healy, Rocket Recordings are now turning 15 years of age and to celebrate, they've released a compilation LP, Crystallized. It showcases both the wealth of talent and variation already housed on the label through such artists as Teeth Of The Sea, Gnod, Hills and Goat as well as other artists that have caught the label’s eye and seem to embody the label’s cacophonic surge of forward momentum, mind-fuckery, and a restless strive for experimentation, such as Sheffield’s finest purveyors of rhythmic noise, Blood Sport, the churning Swedish chug of Uran or the twitching psych-funk of The Lay Llamas. It’s a celebration of a label and time period that illuminates its past achievements not by looking back or by re-releasing old material but by embodying the qualities that have kept them going for 15 years and brought them to this juncture: releasing new music.
Says Reeder about the label’s birth: “We never had any aims or underlying philosophy when we started, we just wanted Rocket to put out damn fine records that sounded and looked great. We were huge fans of the US underground so labels like Sympathy For The Record Industry, Amphetamine Reptile, Alternative Tentacles, SST, Wax Trax!, In The Red and early Sub Pop. John O’Carroll, who runs the label with Reeder, also recalls the early days: “I seemed to remember long evenings being sat around houses folding sleeves and putting records together, there was a ritual element to the event, music blaring in background, playing each other the latest purchases, opening up new worlds. This is how I started with the label, maybe that’s where our love of repetition came from, hand packing sleeves over and over again in time to the music. Then I turned my skills to creating sleeves and getting involved in the visual side of production, an aspect which has always been a hugely important for us and that was in place from the very beginning.”
“To be here after 15 years in our eyes is pretty amazing," says Reeder. "And have there been difficult or challenging moments? Yes, lots! And yes, we have been very close to collapsing on several occasions. We were actually taken under the wing of Invada Records for a few years, and it was them that really helped us back on our feet and gave us the foundation to build on to where we are today. We owe them a lot."
Shares some personal milestones hit throughout the 15 years, O'Carroll says: “I always got great enjoyment out of being able to do it for yourself, nobody owned us, so for that reason it was just pleasurable to see something physical whatever it was, then as a bonus to meet so many bands and people who were like-minded. As the artwork was so integral to our work I was always thrilled when the two came together, so as examples: Teeth Of The Sea’s Your Mercury and Master, Gnod Dropout With The White Hills II, Serpentina Satelite's Mecanica Celeste, Gnod's Ingnodwetrust, Collision’s 01, and of course Goat’s World Music to name a few.”
Likewise, Chris recalls some of the label's most memorable moments over the years: “I would say the first one was getting lowbrow artist Frank Kozik to design our logo. John Peel opening his show with our second Sawdust Caesars 7". The first time I held and heard the amazing The Heads – Sessions 02 record (it is now in Record Collector's Top 10 most collectable records of the 90s), working with the great Arik Roper on our Mammatus album and of course seeing Goat playing in front of 10,000 odd people at Glastonbury was a very special moment for us! But to be honest the biggest achievements have been the friends we have made from the bands we have worked with. We really have been blessed by meeting very like-minded people, and would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank to the members of The Notorious Hi-Fi Killers, Teeth Of The Sea, Gnod, Oneida, Hills and Goat as they have all become very close friends and allies through the label.”
Of Crystallized itself, Chris tells me how it came to be: “The selection process started out just by asking the bands on Rocket, so Gnod, Teeth Of The Sea, Goat, Anthroprophh and Hills to record us something new. Then came the idea to throw the same request out to friends like Shit and Shine, Cherrystones and Vision Fortune. But around this time of compiling we discovered Uran, Lay Llamas and Blood Sport and we really liked what they were doing so we asked each of them to do new versions of tracks that we loved, and that is what they did. We didn't want the comp to just be about looking back, we wanted some newer bands on there too to celebrate the future, so their inclusion was important to us. Then the final addition was Rollbars, a project by Latch from Lillydamwhite and now Gonga and Paul Allen from Anthroprophh and The Heads. We feel it is quite a bonkers collection of songs, and we are extremely proud of its outcome. Also, the sleeve concept by Luke Insect has to get a mention - we have always been a fan if his work so to get the opportunity to work with him was an honour. Also have to thank the skills of James Plotkin as he did a stunning mastering job. He had a tough task of taking lots of very different songs and making it work as one album.
John on the finished LP: “I think 'Crystallized’ is an apt name for the process. It was important to us not to look back too much, I think people’s tastes either stick closely to music that meant something in their prime and they sort of can’t get out of that, or they are constantly seeking the latest trend, not sure where we fit into that, so this record just became a statement that shot off in many directions.”
We asked some of the artists on the LP to talk us through why they liked a particular song on the record; listen to the tracks and read what they have to say below:
Teeth Of The Sea's Jimmy Martin on Gnod's ‘Holy Empire’
The Salford satyrs have been excelling themselves of late, as the twisted consciousness of their hive-mind delves into murkier and more unforgiving territory. ‘Holy Empire’ is among the first recordings I've heard since they morphed their sound into a binary death rattle, and sounds not unlike like the skeleton army from Army Of Darkness embarking on an evening of cutting a rug to minimal techno under a Turner-esque apocalyptic firmament. This electronic direction has rubbed a few of Gnod's admirers the wrong way, but this is all part of this band's appeal - a band uncomfortable with the predictable, justifiably horrified by a landscape in which the word 'psychedelic' oft means a wah-wah pedal and a few nicked riffs from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and intent moreover on cracking heads as well as enlightening them. And thank Gnod for that.
Blood Sport's Nick Potter on Vision Fortune's ‘Forgot How To Swim’
It's a microcosm of Crystallised and everything great about it - abrasive, unpredictable and wild. I’d not heard their mixtape before listening to this track (but had their album on constant repeat), so I was pretty surprised when the steel drum came in, but it’s such an effective intro. The operatic keyboard sounds seem bizarre at first, too. However, when you hit 2:00 and everything’s pulled together, it sounds incredible. We’re obviously massive fans ourselves of effected vocals, and I think it’s an element that’s often overlooked in experimental ‘band’-based music. If you’re putting your guitar through all those pedals, why not do the same with the voice too? As such, the vocal line was another favourite part of the track - the way it sort of dips in and out of 'tune’ adds another sinister layer. It’s equally impressive too that they’ve made a track that really matches the sonics and uneasy mood of the past album without any guitars at all.
Gnod's Chris H on Shit & Shine's ‘Please Don’t Share’
A rotten filthy loop and little regard for editing is what Shit & Shine are known for, this is one of those $&$ tracks. From the very start as the loop fades in, you know that you are now entering their world - the world that they are in, in which that loop has been running for a very long time before you have got to hear it - it is only now that the lens can be focused and what it catches are the natural occurrences, the rhythms of life, the trips and the ghosts of that loop. Velocity drops and missed hits that would send most producers running to their nearest editing suite like they had followed through on a fart are celebrated. You can imagine the look of disbelief on the faces of your close friends who have been worrying about your mental state as the loop goes on and on and on. You're wanting to dance, them looking genuinely scared. Listen close and you might learn something about life, there are many valuable lessons in there that are plain to see. They just don't give a fuck about what people think about what they do and you can smell it a mile off. That is why they win, and why they keep winning our hearts every time.
Hills’ Hanna on Uran’s ‘Emp’
The throbbing pulse of Ura’s ‘Emp’ along with the bass line is enough to swim away in this song. The closeness of the pop melody and analogue-sounding synth takes it to another level. This song has the perfect length (and still gives a hint to what the experience is watching them live, where that wonderful beat just goes on and on and on) and the energy stays on top all the way through to the end. Still the soft and fluffy cloudiness is there, making you feel very light. It would be perfect to listen to when running or swimming or something.
Cherrystones’ Gareth Goddard on Shit & Shine’s ‘Please Don’t Share’
It is a visceral beast that barks and bellows into the dark night like an untamed animal lurking on land at sea, shredding and energising all in its path - I say this for a good reason, as every gig I have seen this troop - this expanding army - play they have served up good and never left me hungry, only shaken and feeling alive! I love that as a communication to an audience, I want to feel involved in a spectacle, a performance rather than an act! And any musician, artist, painter or creative that can transport you to a different or unknown space in your own mind is doing their job well. I love the filter use and pan on this track, it reminds me of the best hardcore and metal I've not heard as yet - the overall pounding riff is like a Viking ship rowing through a storm with intent to invade, or a transmutation of Sega software making out in Tron, smoking chronic. I hear Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock free jazz accents in this as much as the aforementioned metal and hardcore settings. To be completely blunt: I feel its transmission - its potency. I feel this and each time it is played I rewind and play again.
The Lay Llamas’ Nicola Giunta on Hills’ ‘National Drone’
‘National Drone’, by Swedish kraut-psych heroes Hills opens with a weird and fast reverse sound that seems to twist you into a mysterious sonic nightmare haunted by Davisian ghosts, Dark Magus-era, echoing meditative voices, hard-psychedelic sacred flames and a group of primitive percussionists playing their stuff through bones just extracted from an animal carcass. A wild sounding layering that leads you into some kind of ancient pagan ritual officiated by scary hooded people into a gloomy cavern. You’re still there, hiding and trembling, looking at that bloody show but it’s too late: they realised that you are there.
Vision Fortune’s Austin Peru on Shit & Shine’s ‘Please Don’t Share’
My brother Alex and I went to see Shit & Shine ($&$) last summer in a small dingy basement with no air conditioning and a weird smell, it was brutal. Alex swears he saw Craig Clouse asking for change outside, but it could have just been Richard Bishop. We love the track ‘Do Not Share’, especially because it features the default samples of the Roland SP-404 sampler. We really like this sampler, it features 12 large pads, three control knobs and a lovely big display. It also has 29 effects, including Subsonic, BPM Looper among others. It also has a handy built-in microphone for sampling ‘on-the-go’, CD-quality sound and expanded sampling time. Twelve-voice polyphony is a huge bonus, as are the real-time loop recording and sample-editing tools. You can also import/export WAV/AIF via SD card slot, although we very rarely use this. A number of musicians we love use the SP-404 as part of their production and performance, like Jel, Odd Nosdam, Alias, Jneiro Jarel, James Blake, Samiyam, Ras G, Teebs, Grimes, Beck Hansen, Radiohead, Ellie Goulding, El Guincho and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. We love them nearly as much as $&$.
Crystallized is out now; get hold of it digitally at Rocket Recordings' Bandcamp