All City Records on the record
Many of you may already have read my piece on All City Records which ran in The Ticket last Friday. Like many of you, I’ve been an admirer of the Dublin-based label with some 50 releases to their name, including …
Many of you may already have read my piece on All City Records which ran in The Ticket last Friday. Like many of you, I’ve been an admirer of the Dublin-based label with some 50 releases to their name, including great cuts from Krystal Klear, Heralds of Change (Hudson Mohawke and Mike Slott), Onra, Dam-Funk, Ras G and many, many more, for quite some time. It was great to talk to label chief Olan O’Brien and get his views, especially on how it’s digital rather than physical sales which are keeping All City in clover, something you never hear label bosses talk about. Naturally, Olan had a lot more to say that what made it into the final piece so you’ll find some more bits and pieces from our chat in a noisy cafe after the jump.
On the early days…
The internet made it easier for us to make connections with other like-minded people and that made the label a a feasible possibility. Also when you’re running a record shop, you’re meeting and talking to distributors every week so you have an idea of how the actual nuts and bolts of selling records works around the world.
We did a couple of Irish hip-hop records with Ri-Ra in 2003. We knew he’d a record in him and we released it. We printed up 300 and got another 300 because the pressing plant made a cock-up, but we’ve sold them all, which is pretty good for a Irish hip-hop track, especially because it was sort of at the end of the Irish hip-hop thing.
On the Heralds Of Change and hip-hop….
I met Mike (Slott) in 2005 and he was living in Glasgow where he was hanging with this people who were very progressive in terms of their musical ideas. By then, I’d given up on hip-hop completely. I’d no interest in major label hip-hop. The beats and the sonic qualities were interesting but the dudes themselves were not. It was hard as a grown-up to empathise with them. Hip-hop is a pure capitalist form of music. The people who make it want to get paid. If they’re going to get paid for making quality music, they’ll make quality music. If they get paid by being on Twitter all day, they’ll be on Twitter all day. Hip-hop is a pure nostalgia fest nowadays. You go to gigs and it’s just classics. It’s as dead as disco.
There was Mike and Hudson and that opened up a whole new world. They were on the cusp of this beat scene and it was just around the time that Myspace had started so you could instantly check out people online. It didn’t matter where you were. I was in Dublin, Mike and Hud were in Glasgow and the distributor was in Glasgow. It was a little network bubbling away.
The first time I heard Hudson, he was an 18 year old kid and the demo was unbelievable, genius. I don’t think I’ve anyone come close since. He sees the bigger picture. I was ‘finally, I can build the label around this’. I wouldn’t have any great ambitions to take over the planet. I understand to run a label you need decent acts and when the two lads came along, I knew it was something I could use a building block.
The great thing about the Heralds’ record is the artwork that came with them and the progression in sound. The first two were hip-hop tracks and the next two more abstract. It was supposed to lead to an album but by the time we got there in late 2007, Hud had signed to Warp. There was no way we could make an album.
On making the label add up….
The average run would be between 750 and 1,500 and they go. We’re nearly at 50 releases. There’s the Onra album and the compilation and the rest are singles. Our aim is to release one or two tracks a month. But you can end up then just looking for things to release, which is a big problem. You become a working label where you have to get something out to pay the wages and the bills. I don’t take a penny from the label. Twelve-inches are a lot more fun than albums. Albums are a lot more about marketing and the business behind it, whereas you don’t stress too much about twelves.
I wait until the record is right. Right now, I’m waiting for on half a record for a release and I’m like ‘oh fuck, I might have to pull this record’. I’m thinking do I pull this or do I put it out when I’m not that happy with it. The answer is always don’t put it out. There’s no point because you’re just damaging your own reputation.
It’s a really small market. You almost know everyone, which is kind of scary. There is a network of 20 here, 20 there who will buy the records. But digitally, it’s huge. You get these cheques from iTunes every month and you see that some dude in Taiwan has downloaded your stuff and you wonder where on earth they found out about you. Digital keeps everything going and makes sure everyone gets paid. The physical product is just promo, a flyer for the digital sales.
Vinyl does the break-even but digital will make up. I’m still sending the Heralds of Change quite big cheques every few months for stuff we released years ago. People can illegally download stuff and I’ve given up trying to police stuff after a couple of years, but people still choose to pay. I’m fascinated when I heard labels say they can’t make any money from digital. For me, digital is doing very, very well.
In 2009, we only put one seven-inch and one CD, which was in preparation for 2010. We’d done the seven series in 2008 and it was like ‘OK, where do we go from here?’ We could have put out a load of beats, but that’s the last place we wanted to go.
When I look back at the labels I respected like Factory, Rough Trade and Def Jam, they’re their own men. They don’t have to answer to other people. That’s what I wanted for All City.
On how the All City catalogue has grown…..
Because I’m a record collector and dream in catalogue numbers, I always wanted to put things in context. With the Heralds, we have four twelves and it made sense as a series. Then, we have the sevens and a bonus one, so that was eight releases. Then, we did ten ten-inches and there’s twelve twelve-inches. I also like to have an idea in my head what they’re going to sound like, more a coherent package than a certain sound. Of course, they won’t and they’ll jut in and out but when you take the releases and the artwork, they will make sense. I wanted to design the whole thing for a kid in 20 years time who picks up one of these records and wonders what the hell is it and what it was part of. I’m never too bothered about how records fit in now because I’m always imagining how they will be appreciated in a few years’ time. If you have a killer sound and killer artwork, I hope it will make sense to people in time and make them realise that it’s part of this bigger thing.
Most of the music I’ve always liked has been old. I find most music redeems itself in the future. Maybe big beat hasn’t, but essentially, at a certain stage in history, you’ll realise that the act were really onto something. It’s why we always have revivals. I think it was Tony Wilson who said it happened every 18 years so it’s time for hardcore or early 90s house. I’m sure the jungle revival is only around the corner. That’s not I’m trying to do, though. I just want to create something which people might be into at some stage in the future.
On the Collaborations series….
The collaborations thing came about when I talked to Martyn about two years ago and he said he’d like to work with Mike (Slott). It’s a very atomised process now. There’s no interaction, it’s very much a solo thing, you don’t get producer bands. You can hear it in the music, this is me, this is my sound. Everyone’s a producer. It’s easy to make music but it’s tough to make really good music.
I thought it would be good to get people to work together to see how it would turn out. The Martyn and Mike tracks sound different to anything either of them have done before. But it took two years! This series is already an absolute nightmare. I’m dreading it. I have the pairs but Jesus Christ! There’s about four on the boil so we’ll see which ones come through. I don’t know if we’ll get this series done because it might take five years. But I have plenty of other stuff to release while I’m waiting, though. There’s a series of Sun Ra remixes, a series with some guys from New York and more stuff from Onra and Mike.
You get a lot of loudmouths coming to you and you get guilted into putting their stuff out because people say ‘oh he’s a nice guy’. But you have to chase the good guys because they’re the quiet ones. It’s universal. I can’t even think of one killer dude who’s constantly making noise at me. You have to push them and hassle them. If you rely on people who just come to you, you’re just going to get shite. I listen to every single demo at least twice which is driving me mad because I’m listening to a lot of bad music and my ears are going all over the place.
On Krystal Klear….
He grew up in the shop, he was in the shop from the very first day it opened. He was a graff writer who was in his music as well. He’s always been into Eighties for as long as I knew him so he was ahead of the curve. He got to meet Mike and Hudson early on and Mike taught him how to make beats, that’s where his education came from. He’s proof that we grew something out of the shop and that there’s interesting progressive stuff coming out of Dublin.
On being a label based in Dublin…
We run a tight ship. Everyone gets paid on time, everyone gets their statements on time and I have a good rep for that. It might sound like a basic thing, but it’s not widespread so it’s appreciated and makes it easier for me to go back to people. I wanted to see if it was possible to run it a world-class label out of Dublin and it is. Often, we we use Irishness as an excuse for being late, ‘we’re Irish, relax’, but I want to do things properly. The best compliment for me is that people don’t know where the label is based. I’m proud to be based in Dublin, but it’s not the defining charasteristic for the label. I didn’t set up the label as a postcode label. I respect what people like Alphabet Set and Kaboogie and Mantrap have done in releasing their mates but that wasn’t my aim. I come from a hip-hop background so I’m attracted to New York and Los Angeles and the other. Irish hip-hop doesn’t interest me, I don’t see an interesting take on it here, no disrespect intended.