Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Speech Debelle’s blame report

Following her Mercury Prize win in September, Speech Debelle obviously expected an easy ride for herself and her “Speech Therapy” album. After all, she reckoned, the album had received damn good reviews and now, with the Mercury under her oxter …

Thu, Nov 26, 2009, 11:17


Following her Mercury Prize win in September, Speech Debelle obviously expected an easy ride for herself and her “Speech Therapy” album. After all, she reckoned, the album had received damn good reviews and now, with the Mercury under her oxter to give her a dig-out, blockbuster album sales, sold-out shows and all of that razzmatazz would be hers.

But none of this happened. “Speech Therapy” did not progress far enough beyond its pre-Mercury sales tally to threaten the sharp end of the charts. Debelle’s live shows did not really move beyond the small rooms (and even at that, she couldn’t fill them). Just over two months after her Mercury night on the tiles, Debelle seems to feel that it’s all gone a little flat and now, she needs someone to blame. Voila – she fires her record label, boutique hip-hop imprint Big Dada.

She claimed in an interview this week with BBC 6 Music that she was “disappointed” with the people she had worked with. “I wasn’t on a big label and the machine wasn’t there”, she said. “Even though the album won the Mercury, it was still only able to do what the label was capable of doing, which just means that I’m more prepared for next time.

“The Mercury Prize was on a Tuesday, and the Friday there were no more physical albums in the shops. So on the Mercury weekend, which would have been my biggest-selling weekend, people couldn’t get it.”

To back up her claims, she cited a “4,000% increase” in her Amazon sales and wondered why there wasn’t a similar bump in physical sales. It’s not known if anyone has pointed out to her that the number of high street outlets for physical sales has actually fallen somewhat in recent years.

She blasted Big Dada’s “distribution network” for this lack of sales. Big Dada is a subsidary of Ninja Tunes and is distributed by PIAS, the company which also distributes such labels as XL, Domino and Rough Trade and works with such acts as Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Basement Jaxx, Radiohead, Dizzee Rascal, Vampire Weekend, Friendly Fires, The xx and many more. However, none of these have ever, to the best of my knowledge, blamed the “distribution network” for lack of sales.

A veteran Irish promoter once remarked that when a show does really well, it’s all down to the band, but when a show flops, it’s the promoter’s fault. You could apply this thinking to Debelle pointing the finger of blame at Will Ashon and Big Dada. It’s not Debelle’s fault that her hip-hop album with its bittersweet sound and songs about family unhappiness, life on the edge and general social unease didn’t sell – it’s Ashon and his label’s fault.

Naturally, she overlooks the fact that Big Dada actually signed her, spent time and money developing her and her sound and then released the album in the first place. According to Debelle herself in many interviews to plug the album, there wasn’t exactly a queue of labels seeking her signature in the six years it took her to get the songs together.

Now, though, she says she’s ready to jump into bed with another label, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any takers for that proposed album (“a mix of Ray Charles, a song like “Georgia”… the atmosphere of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and the drums of J Dilla). After all, if Debelle couldn’t get arrested after all the media hoopla after the Mercury win, does she really stand a chance with album number two? Even a Mercury win doesn’t necessarily mean every radio station on the dial is going to play your tunes off the air. And without radio (and TV), Debelle’s never going to shift a colossal number of albums, no matter if they’re on display in every supermarket aisle in the land. A label is only as good as what it has to work with and Debelle may find few willing to give her the same leeway and encouragement she received from Big Dada. As the saying goes, a good workman never blames his – or her – tools.

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