Label Focus #6: Upset! The Rhythm
Started towards the end of 2004, Upset! The Rhythm was born out a frustration of seeing several acts playing on inappropriate bills. Though an initial venture into event promotion (with over 90 shows in three years), in 2005 U!TR established itself as an independent label of no little respect.
Releases to date include an ace EP from No Age (review) as well as material from BARR, KIT, Death Sentence: Panda!, Trencher, John Maus, Leopard Leg and more.
DiS spoke to U!TR’s founder Christopher Tipton. If you’ve ever queued for a decent gig in London, he’s probably handed you a flyer...
What was your key focus when starting Upset! The Rhythm, and how did it turn into a record label?
Upset! The Rhythm was started to provide a platform where an eclectic mixture of musicians from all over the world can play, on thought-provoking bills, at shows that have a sense of fun and occasion. The only criteria for the shows that we book are that they are shows we want to see ourselves. This has led to us booking tours, specifically to get the chance to work with some our favourite artists who would not be able to tour the UK otherwise. After gathering together some friends and people I had met at other shows we tried to put on a Deerhoof show who, as unbelievable at it sounds now, couldn't get anyone to put them on in London. We put them on with Trencher, Birds of Display (a Birds of Delay side project) and Sin of the East. The label has been a natural extension of this work, initially growing out of relationships we had formed with musicians we met through our events.
U!TR is starting to establish itself, but how have you managed to succeed where so many fail in keeping their labels afloat through changing circumstances, trends and scenes in music?
We are careful about what we release, how the releases look and we want to make the whole package the highest quality we can. We have always believed that D.I.Y. doesn't have to mean amateur. We work hard to sell our records everywhere, we have worldwide distribution, and we sell through our own mail order via our website. We enjoy the continued support of independent record stores and distributors, and we always have our records available at our shows. We sell in dual formats where possible, but sometimes artists want vinyl-only releases. I suppose we are a boutique record label with a strong identity, and this allows us to avoid the general anxieties in the wider music industry about declining record sales. Trends and scenes don't even come into the equation – we release music by artists that we are passionate about.
How does the D.I.Y. ethic you seem to incorporate within the label work?
Regarding the releases, we do everything ourselves, where possible. We lay out artwork in conjunction with the artists (who are themselves mainly responsible for the artwork). We organise the mastering and the production. We have been known to make the sleeves, sticker the records and put them in bags and boxes. We do our own press, we get our own radio airplay, make our own magazine adverts, have designed and maintain our own website and mailing list. This way of working came from our events promotion, which has always been about putting all our energies into creating something that we can be proud of and that exceeds the expectations of the artists. The releases have always been intended to be releases that stand up on their own. We try hard to promote our events and our releases to our audience as we hate elitism in music. We want people to come to our shows, to see all the amazing new music that's out there and to feel like they don't have to be constrained by trends or scenes. We are incredibly enthusiastic about the records we release and we are proud to be irony free about our work.
What are your favourite releases on U!TR to date?
The T.I.T.S/Leopard Leg split double LP was our most audacious release. It brought together two far-flung bands that sounded completely different, but seemed to come from the same place musically, that are kindred spirits even. It sums up a lot of what U!TR have been trying to do. There is always a special place for Death Sentence: Panda!, because they were behind the first record we released and they continue to push their music to new heights. But all of the records are favourites, otherwise we wouldn't release them.
What role does the digital world play within U!TR? You seem to place an importance on the physical item with the finely produced products U!TR have previously released...
We just have a mailing list and a website, from which we provide free mp3s. We use flickr and YouTube to document our shows. Exciting new music appears on vinyl and it always has. I think it always will. We understand that downloading is the way things are going and we do want our records to be as accessible as possible, and have been looking into our options. But the physical records will remain the priority.
What advice do you give anyone looking to start a record label?
The most important thing is to be optimistic. Follow your heart and do your own thing. Work with artists that you believe in, remain true to yourself and be consistent, but don't stagnate. Try to understand as much as you can about the processes involved in making and selling records. Remember that you are dealing with people's art, and at a fundamental level, their lives. Be honest to them and to yourself. Remember Hunter S. Thompson: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
As a closing point I'd like to make it clear that we are just a conduit. Some promoters and labels like to be arbiters and curators of higher cultural value. I just like to think we reflect a part of the wealth and diversity of great underground music that is out there. If we lead people to look a little bit further into it, and explore their own tastes, then that's brilliant. U!TR wouldn't exist without the artists and the audience that continue to support us, and they are the most important parts of U!TR. All hail!
Currenly on U!TR’s stereo...
First Nation, First Nation (Paw Tracks); Mika Miko, 666 (PPM); Bird Names, Wooden Lake (Opaque Things); Raccoo-oo-oon, Behold Secret Kingdom (Night People); Dan Deacon, Spidermanoftherings (Car Park); Fabulous Diamonds, debut 7" (Nervous Jerk); Blues Control, Puff (Wood Cyst); The Smiths - Rank (Rough Trade).
U!TR’s online HQ can be found here. Upcoming U!TR shows include KIT, No Age and Mika Miko at London’s Luminaire on June 22, and Marnie Stern with support from This Is My Condition and Chops at the capital’s Barden’s Boudoir on July 12. Click to the website for full gigs and tours.
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