Independent Label Market Tomorrow!

Plus! Wire frontman Colin Newman speaks to us ahead of his part in Independent Label Market this weekend

Wire frontman Colin Newman will promote the labels Pinkflag and swim ~ with a stall at the Independent Label Market this weekend. The event, which takes place this Saturday (April 2) at Old Spitalfields Market, will also include stalls from iconic labels such as Warp and Heavenly, as well as our very own Quietus Phonographic Corporation. The stall will be in partnership with the indie labels Without Consent, home to tQ favourites Fat White Family, and Strange Attractor, the publisher of our own John Doran’s Jolly Lad.

Ahead of this weekend’s event, we spoke to Newman about the upcoming event, as well the history of his label and his intentions behind it. For more information on this Saturday’s Independent Label Market, click here.

What were the inspirations behind launching swim ~ & Pinkflag?

Colin Newman: When Malka and I moved to London in ’92 from Brussels we already had our own studio and an interest to work as independently as possible from the whole world of major labels and even large independents if we could. The initial plan was to be like a production company, not that we had any idea what that might entail, but a conversation with Daniel Miller from Mute pushed us towards being an independent label in our own right. We had to learn everything from scratch, although Mute helped us a little bit in the early days. Our debut release was Malka’s first solo album, Rosh Ballata, which sold quite well and got great reviews.

We progressed through a series of our own projects under different names and very soon started working with other artists to the extent that swim ~ was pretty much our livelihood until the late 90’s when Wire came back upon the scene. I was pretty reluctant at the start to get involved in running Wire’s label but in the end it just made sense. swim ~ was always centred on the output from our studio, not just our own projects, but quite a few other releases were actually made there.

Wire took this to a logical conclusion with Pinkflag; the label is owned by the band but I run it. The label only releases music by Wire and all of the releases featuring new music, and even some that feature old music, have passed through the swim ~ studio. Both labels use the same resources and the years of experience gained running swim ~ have vastly benefitted Pinkflag. Since 2000, swim ~ has only really released stuff made by Malka and I in various combinations so both labels can be seen as a veritable cottage industry, both production house and record company.

Why is it important for you to control the means of retail?

CN: I don’t know about controlling the means of retail. It’s really more about how to make stuff that comes out of the studio into something financially viable. It’s kind of classic really. Actually back in the 90s and the last decade I was also a part of Posteverything which was kind of an online shop for physical and digital sales which apart from being somewhat ahead of it’s time was also unique in providing curated content. We ultimately failed because none of us had a real retail mentality but at one point a customer could have bought a production made in our studio directly from our own retail outlet. Apple have been very successful with this strategy.

Even without that last bit of ‘retail interface’, I honestly don’t understand why more ‘established’ artists don’t self-release. In some ways we have been really spoiled with Pinkflag. Records made in our studio and released on the band’s label regularly make end of year charts, sell handsomely and make Wire a viable unit financially. Those releases along with the band’s tours & DRILL : FESTIVAL have really transformed people’s perceptions of Wire in the last few years. Considering neither swim ~ or Pinkflag have any employees that’s no mean feat.

What does it mean to you to be able to sell direct to fans?

CN: Well as far as Malka and I are concerned direct sales are the bedrock of the relationship we have with fans and customers. In spite of the disappearance of Posteverything the relationship with mail order remains key especially with Pinkflag, who have produced special editions of releases, or stuff you simply can’t get anywhere else like the legal bootleg series.

Pinkflag’s large mailing list makes this kind of thing possible. I don’t get the chance to get behind the merch desk so often at Wire gigs but do enjoy it when I do. I see the ILM as an extension of that and, of course, we’ll have stuff for sale you’d never find on a gig merch stand.

Are there any special treats you’ll be selling on the day at ILM?

CN: Both labels will be fishing out some rarities, things which are in such low supply they are considered collector’s items. For Pinkflag that means stuff like the 70’s box set or Read & Burn 1 & 2, etc. From swim ~ that means stuff like the first Githead EP and loads of old vinyl which you can’t really get anywhere else (which proved very popular at the last ILM we did).

For sure we’ll also dig out some other even less likely stuff like white labels and the last t-shirts of a particular batch if we manage to get organised. We’ll also have some bargains too so it won’t be all about collectors’ prices. However, one thing we won’t be able to sell will be the upcoming Wire mini-album, Nocturnal Koreans. The release date is not until April 22nd and I don’t think the shops will be very pleased with us selling it so far ahead, even if we do have stock.

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