Influential antifolk label Blang Records grew out of a series of gigs at the legendary (and sadly missed) 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street. The DIY imprint turns 10 years old next month and to celebrate they’ve put on a series of shows at the new 12 Bar on Holloway Road and are releasing a compilation of some of their favourite acts to have featured on the label over the past decade: Lucky Dip features Joyzine faves such as Thomas Truax, Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences and, of course, Sergeant Buzfuz, the long-running project of label founder Joe Murphy. We caught up with Joe to talk about the label’s origins and where its going next as they head into their second decade.
Why did you decide to start the Blang nights?
I used to play the old 12 Bar venue in Denmark Street and wanted to play there more regularly so asked about putting on my own night there, which guaranteed me a monthly gig.
Blang was often credited with bringing antifolk to London – what made the antifolk scene special? Do you consider it to still be going strong today?
It started with the NYC antifolk crew. In the late 90s and early noughties an amazing set of people all seemed to congregate together around a few venues in New York. They were all unique in some way, they were writing stories, they were eccentric and they all knew each other. It was quite a scene. You had Jeffrey Lewis, Lach, Dufus, Diane Cluck, Major Matt Mason USA, Thomas Truax, Randi Russo, The Moldy Peaches, Prewar Yardsale, Joie Dead Blonde Girlfriend. They all sounded different but shared the same spirit and seemed to write and perform because they needed to in order to survive.
How did the transition from club night to label happen?
After three years a crowd of British performers who were attracted to the storytelling, humour and eccentricity of US antifolk were coming regularly to the Blang nights and it was time to start a label to release the best of these acts. No-one else would have touched most of them
Are there any other labels that you looked at for inspiration?
The post-punk ones for me. Zoo, Postcard, Fast Product, Factory, Rough Trade and then Creation.
How tough was it to get started?
Running a label is a slog. I had no money and it started with two acts, my own band Sergeant Buzfuz and David Cronenberg’s Wife. We were going to self-fund but then JJ Crash joined in helping me run the label and he started funding DCW. I’d already run another label, Audio Gland, for the first two Buzfuz albums so I’d learnt the ropes already. It takes time.
Is there a particular ethos that you work to? What do you look for in a band when deciding whether to release their music?
We look for great songwriting and we only sign people who we see live and knock us out. We like people with an edge to what they do and we like storytelling in songs. People who have something to say about things.
Tell us about your first ever release.
The first Blang release was Fruit Machine, a compilation CD of 26 acts who’d played at the 12 Bar nights. It still stands up today and is a great record of a moment in time.
Who have you released since? Are there any releases that are particularly special to you?
We’ve released various waifs and strays and the special releases are usually the ones in the pipeline. We have some great things on the way which we need to keep quiet about for the moment.
Has running a label changed much in the past 10 years? For better or worse?
It’s much harder to sell physical records now. It’s also harder to get reviews in magazines and papers for a small label without a big budget. But there are more websites and now blogs to spread the word through.
Do you have any plans for future releases that you can share with us?
Top secret releases aside we have new release coming through from Paul Hawkins and The Awkward Silences, Crash and the Disasters, Slate Islands, Milk Kan with Emily Capell guesting and some solo songs from me as Joe Murphy.
If you could sign one band (current or past) to Blang, who would it be?
The Go-Betweens. No, Joy Division. No, The Sex Pistols. Syd Barrett. I can’t answer this question. To be honest I’m very happy having Sheepy onboard, best pop band in the country by a mile.
You’ve a series of gigs at the new 12 Bar Club to celebrate your upcoming 10th anniversary – what can we expect from the shows?
Having a long-standing connection with the original venue, what are your thoughts on its closure and on the emergence of the new 12 Bar?
It’s a sad indictment of the times we live in that cultural jewels like the 12 Bar and Denmark Street in general can be sold to the highest bidder. 36 years of right wing governments. And counting. No value for culture. Would never happen in France for example.
Finally, do you have any advice for anyone thinking of setting up their own label?
Yes. If you’re a rich kid wanting to release records by groups of bearded men in Hoxton before finally throwing in the towel and living on your trust fund I’d say please don’t, we have enough rich people indulging in culture at the moment (that goes for literature and acting as well as music, and probably other arts too).
On the other hand if you’re someone with something to say about the world and want to blow up the music business and love visionary artists and you have passion, intelligence and spirit then give it a shot as we need you. Having said that it’s hard running an independent record label in this day and age.