Drum & bass always has been and probably always will be very passionate about it's roots. It's hard to talk about its beginnings without talking about black crack, plastic, plates or simply vinyl. It's the talking point that will never go away!
Every time I write one of these features about vinyl (and there's been a few!), I always think to myself "OK, that's enough now, I can't possibly write another one of these without repeating what I've already discussed before", and I have to say I'm thinking exactly that now! However, it seems to be a forever present current affair within drum & bass that never seems to go away.
Recently, vinyl distributor S.T. Holdings made an announcement that they were going to be restructuring the way they manage their label roster and as a consequence dropping some labels with others leaving on their own terms. You can see this just below.
"We're scaling it back.
When STHoldings started in 1998 it was born out of a love of independent music. We set out to build something that empowered the underground independent artist and gave them freedom to focus on their art.
Looking at the situation today, things have changed... the ethos is getting lost & STH and it’s labels are dissatisfied. Personally I do not feel that STHoldings can and should continue on it’s current path. I have decided to hit the reset button and for STH to return to it’s roots. It is time to get back to what matters… underground music.
Starting today, we are only going to work with a small number of approximately 30 record labels that reflect this ethos. Regrettably this means that some labels are being let go, to whom I am sorry." - Andrew Parkinson (S.T. Holdings / Surus)
Maybe predictably this was the catalyst for alot of people on social media wading in with criticism, which on the surface of it all is OK I think as that's really the function of social media - acting as an open forum for views to be expressed. What I quickly noted was that none of the actual labels involved had any negative criticism that they wanted to express, and this did cause me to consider a few things. Firstly, everyone has alot of idealistic views, and these aren't always (or often) rooted in the reality of actually knowing how much work goes into actually releasing a record on vinyl format or what the relative rewards are (or are not). This is something people start doing out of love.
As someone who has released a few records on vinyl and worked closely with several labels on PR campaigns, I know it's not necessarily a particularly profitable affair if you're not shifting large amounts of units, and lets face it, this a niche product. The real reward is contributing something to the greater whole, creating something from love that other people can appreciate. Wherever you are in the chain, be it artist, label owner, the guy who does the artwork or anything in between, you started doing this out of love for the music and the format.
Now, roughly a week after that original statement I notice that I'm not the only person who has similar thinking. It remains a subject incredibly close to peoples hearts. Narratives Music's head honcho Blocks certainly had some thoughts that he needed to express on the matter.
"Read some moronic statuses on here over the last week regarding the 'underground' and the record industry. To the people a) moaning about vinyl even though they don't buy or release vinyl, and b) laud themselves as underground only because no one gives a fuck who you are... Get off your high horse and if you're still bitter, then read a book, get a new job and above all, do something other than cluelessly chat about the industry. With a bit of industry of your own, who knows what could happen." - Blocks (Narratives Music)
It's really hard to gauge how each individual label is effected by the continued shifting of the vinyl landscape, but as ever it doesn't seem to deter new entrants who are coming into the marketplace who are full of passion and vigor for the format. G.H.O.S.T is an absolutely perfect example of this, writing, producing and releasing their own music for the first time in beautiful hand finished packaging...
"The opportunity arose via Rico at SRD to put the music out ourselves. We really liked the idea of having the chance to do everything, so we decided to go for it and started Goldman Records. Our ethos? Well, the label is a way for us to release our own music in the package we want; having full control over the creative direction." - G.H.O.S.T (Goldman Records)
Another outfit that continue to invest in vinyl is Detuned Transmissions' DAAT who are about to release their second 12". It's a release that has seen amazing support from well outside of drum & bass' comfort zone, from sources as far ranging as Mixmag and BBC Radio 6 Music. It's this kind of wide support that gives the record exposure to as many people as possible.
"We've got to keep pushing vinyl. Sure its expensive, but in my mind the reasons to keep doing so outweigh the increased price and arduous process. When massive corporations have consolidated and centralized the artistic output of sound artists across the world, we've got to go with the option that leaves control in our own hands, and allows us the freedom to dictate how our music is seen and heard. Add to this the contributions of visual artists and engineers that carve the product into its final shape using a process that's been handed down for generations. Each decision that gets made by all parties involved is preserved on a tangible object that solidifies and distributes these contributions in a much more visible way than a digital release ever could.
The meaning of vinyl has certainly changed in this time, but it remains the gold standard on which artists like to see their music released, so it still serves the purpose of awarding perceived importance and worth. Ideally we'd be 100% vinyl, but its impracticable right now, so we'll continue releasing the main bits on vinyl as we can." - DAAT (Detuned Transmissions)
We're going to be watching very carefully to see what the next twist in vinyl's story will be. In the mean time let's enjoy it for the amazing medium that it is.