Feature: Distraction Records – Artist Q&A
One of the region’s most successful labels, Distraction Records turn 10 years old this month. Boasting a roster of ‘music for the strange kid at school’ Distraction’s inventive approach has ensured its survival in an increasingly tumultuous industry. Rather than us banging on about why Distraction deserves a moment of your time (or money) we thought we’d let the artists grill label boss Darren Hubbard to get answers to all their burning questions.
Monkeys: meet the organ grinder…
“How many other labels would let you have absolutely no text or logo on the front AND back of your record? Or how many would put up with years of your to-ing and fro-ing, changed schedules, barely perceivable tweaks, and still not give you a deadline to finish your record by? Who else would spend a hot, hungover weekend trawling the dusty corners and cheap boxes of Newcastle’s record shops, swapping old, faded paper inner-sleeves for brand new ones, just so that your record can be exactly the way you want it to be; partly destroyed before it hits the shelves?” – Chris Tate, d_rradio
Q: Chris Tate from d_rradio
Chris Tate: If you could release a record by anybody in the world, who would it be?
Darren Hubbard: Actually, given the choice, I would like to ‘sign’ Bruno Mars to an exclusive six-album deal, then not release any of it, thus ensuring that the trilby-sporting little prick’s future lame cod-doowop reggae output is forever thwarted. But seriously, at one stage of my life I would have stabbed a gran to even hear a genuine copy of the KLF’s The Black Album sessions, never mind release it. Apparently it was the yin to The White Album’s yang, all stadium-techno with ballsy Extreme Noise Terror guitars. However, I’ve built it up so far in my mind that if the tapes did leak out, it would be a sorry disappointment. So I’ll plump for the third My Bloody Valentine album please. If you’re reading Mr. Shields, give me an e-mail. I can’t promise you an advance or owt, but I’ll give you 10% of the stock pressed.
CT: Do you ever re-visit demos that you have previously dismissed, or do you know at once whether it’s a winner?
DH: When checking out demos, I am a 9th dan black belt of the ‘Seven Seconds Rule’. This, also known as the Youssou N’dour & Neneh Cherry Rule, is where you are able to know within seven seconds of the first track playing whether anything’s worth pursuing. 90% of demos I get sent are knocked back after that amount of time, with 95% not lasting the full track. 98% still get thrown in the recycling anyway. The other CDRs and links I keep and send a nice mail and we may or may not keep in touch. So really, there’s not much chance of revisiting demos that I’ve dismissed, because I’ve already deleted the message or destroyed the CDR so nobody else can hear it.
The ONLY demo that I want to revisit was by Fuck Buttons two years before ATP Recordings got their hands on them, the CDR of which I lost and can’t remember what it sounded like. I remember thinking, aye, it sounds alright, but didn’t get around to mailing them. Then they released Street Horrrsing and that was fucking brilliant. Bastards eh?
CT: What would you do if you became obscenely rich tomorrow?
DH: The budget for the Big Oaks Monster Turd album would be stupidly huge. Honestly, I’d advertise it during Corrie. And I’d pay you all your digital royalties quicker.
Really, I’d just do what I’d do now, but on a bigger scale. I’d be free from my proper job, so I’ll have more time to dedicate to the label that, for all intents and purposes, is really just a expensive hobby of mine. I love doing this. Having more money would enhance it, and I wouldn’t have to resort to doing things like reusing stamps and jiffy bags to ensure I don’t lose money.
That third My Bloody Valentine album would come out on Distraction, anyway. I also have my eye on some new blinds for my front room.
CT: If there could only be one format from now on, and the choice was yours, what would it be?
DH: You would expect me to say vinyl, but the world’s going to run out of oil and there’s going to be some grannies paying British Gas an absolute premium to keep their house warm because some dick like me wants to reissue Necro Deathmort’s back catalogue on black wax. So disregarding tapes (pain the arse, really), 8-track cartridges and wax cylinders and any other utterly stupid format, we’re stuck between CD and digital. And when you have digital, there’s little point sometimes having a CD, so the winner is…vinyl! It sounds the best, having a vinyl playing relies on you actually focusing on it rather than having it as a background soundtrack, you can’t go into record shops and buy mp3s, nothing beats the feeling of removing a record from its freshly-smelling sleeve and plopping the needle on it for the first time…ah man, vinyl rules. That granny will just have to have something else to warm her house up with.
“Daz’s enthusiasm for Warm Digits right from the start was a big catalyst in us sticking with and developing the project; for instance, it helped us focus on getting an album recorded and finished in the knowledge that he was interested in putting it out. We owe him an awful lot. I think the thing I appreciate most is that he keeps that endless enthusiasm for the music he loves, while at the same time making everything happen very professionally. He waited months for me to get the fake creases in the right place for the Warm Digits album sleeve…” – Steve Jefferis, Warm Digits
Q: Steve Jefferis from Warm Digits
Steve Jefferis: What are the good things about running a micro-label now, when the landscape for selling music is so different from when you started?
Darren Hubbard: Providing a ‘service’ to artists whose music you love who wouldn’t necessarily have the time or knowhow to go through the rigmarole of releasing their stuff. I’ve made a shitload of new likeminded friends out of it, it gives you a warm glow to provide a stepping stone to artists who have gone on to play festivals, get appreciated by your heroes, all that jazz.
SJ: What’s changed for the better over the last few years?
DH: Downloads, definitely. Labels aren’t dying at all; the ones stuck in the past have died because they’re still conforming to an outmoded business model. But new labels are springing up all the time, and online-only ones are among my favourites are the mo; Comfort Stand, La bèl netlabel, half of Hidden Shoal’s stuff is download only, and I don’t ever think I’ll get bored with WFMU’s Free Music Archive.
But back to the point. A few years ago, I ripped off V/Vm’s idea of making available everything that I had released so far for free as downloads on the Distraction site. Sales had grinded to fuck all, so I had nothing to lose. Then people started to pass around mp3s of Distraction stuff and pay for the record itself because they wanted a proper copy. I made a few hundred quid from that, and that spurred me onto releasing the self-titled d_rradio album as free mp3s a couple of weeks before the shop release date, the sales of which basically saved the label. I still release everything as mp3s for free beforehand; it’s the best form of advertising we have as a micro-label who cannot afford adverts in the monthly mags. And people are actually buying mp3s via Bandcamp and iTunes, even though a half-clever Google search will net you the goods. Without downloads, we’d be fucked. Downloads have definitely changed things for the better, although not everyone realises it.
This reminds me, I need to sort out your digital royalities…
SJ: What about the ones that got away? Are there any wished-for Distraction releases that never were?
DH: The best one was in mid-2003 when Steve (Strode, who I used to run the label with back in the day; now recording as Fret!) received a CDR with five songs from Maximo Park. He did me a burn and we thought the songs were cracking. Around the same time, we received a CDR from noisetronica laptop act Dressed In Wires that was also awesome. We released a 12″ picture disc by Dressed In Wires. Maximo Park signed to Warp the next year. Nuff said. No regrets though; in a decade’s time that picture disc is going to be regarded as a lost classic, and Maximo Park would probably have still been playing the Dog & Parrot because we still hadn’t gotten our shit together when it came to releases.
Another release that seemed like a good idea for approximately two weeks was when I saw a YouTube video for the American Software Publishers Association (SPA) called Don’t Copy That Floppy. Don’t Copy That Floppy was their attempt at thwarting software piracy back in 1992 by featuring SPA stooge and bubblegum rapper MC Double Def DP, warning kids about the perils of copying a disk of Tetris or some shit in iambic pentameter, complete with stuttering Chak-chak-Chaka Khan bits. Check it out, it’s mint. Anyway, I got pissed on Glen’s Vodka one night and fired off a mail to the Software and Industry Information Association (who owned the copyright) asking whether they were interested in licensing it to me so that I could release it as a vinyl, housed in a nice floppy disk like Blue Monday. They were up for it, and even went to the effort of tracking down the master tape for me. By then though, I had woke up one day and thought, nah, that’s a shite idea, and didn’t reply to them, poor sods. Just as well really, if they knew the amount of dodgy software on my laptop, they’ve have binary egg on their digital faces.
SJ: What was it about Warm Digits that first tempted you to work with us?
DH: Because you fucking rock bells, dude. You were the only exceptional band around at the time that I thought “fuck me, it’d be great if I could release something by these”, and, to be fair, I’m a sucker for a killer bassy synthline, shit hot drums and snowgazey guitar. A no-brainer for me. It’s essentially the same as wanting to work on every other Distraction release: this is fucking brilliant, therefore I want to release it.
Q: Matthew Rozeik from Necro Deathmort
Matthew Rozneik: Have you ever been tempted to start a micro label dedicated to the worst demos you’ve received?
Darren Hubbard: Yes, yes I have. The worst aspect about running a label is wading through the cornucopia of horrible demos that get sent to you, and I have a little collection of ten or so of the lowest of the low. Savage Garden covers, six CDs of shitty Hed Kandi house, badly-recorded acoustic bullshit, the list sadly goes on, every single one of which makes me want to jam my house keys into my fucking ears to make the pain stop. I’ve also planned once or twice to put on a weekender of the most turgid local acts, turning up before it starts, erecting a massive backdrop behind the stage saying “GASH WEEKENDER”, then fucking off home again. We also had a “release” of sorts planned around six or seven years ago, based on the Aphex Twin remixes album 26 Mixes For Cash. It was to be called 26 Mixes Of Gash, and we managed to turdpolish about a dozen or so local bands’ tracks before boredom set in. All of this is, sadly, 100% true.
MR: Should we feel sorry for the music industry, or are most labels walking fossils with no grip on the future of music?
DH: The latter. I don’t feel like I’m part of a music industry, even though I trade ‘produce’ and ‘units’ for cash and Distraction certainly does have its place in there somewhere, albeit maybe as part of a dirty protest. There’s always going to be music, even if there’s not going to be a music industry, and the music is what we’re in it for, right kids? There’s always going to be a music industry though, as long as there’s money and sounds, just that the majors aren’t fleecing people as easily anymore. Fuck ‘em.
MR: Josef Fritzl sends you a demo of some of the most shit-hot beats you’ve heard in years. Do you release it?
DH: Won’t happen, obviously. But I’d consider it, yeah. The thing is about murderers, paedophiles, and Nazis and shit, is that you can be sure that the music that they make is absolutely rotten. Ever heard Charles Manson’s MOR stuff? Bollocks, man. Any white power stuff is the shittiest music ever, even without the cross burning connotations. Gary Glitter is self-explanatory and I’ve always been indifferent towards Pete Townsend from the Who. The ONLY exception is my favourite nonce Jonathan King, whose pop ditties these days are far better than his 60s and 70s output.
We were actually in a sort-of similar situation when putting on Whitehouse in Newcastle in 2004. We got a lot of resentment in certain circles due to the fact that William Bennett had chinned a lass in the Morden Tower in their first Newcastle gig in 1983. The 2004 Whitehouse was a much different beast then the 1983 Whitehouse (i.e. no shitty shock tactics), but that didn’t stop people getting in my face asking me why I was happy about putting on a woman-beater. Raping your own children in a cellar for twenty years is probably worse, admittedly. . .
MR: You’ve never once asked to hear our material or see our artwork in advance, or interfered in any way with our releases, even though you spend a serious amount of your own money on them and the end result may be a steaming pile of horseplop. Are you a mentalist?
DH: Ah, but that’s the thing: I already know it’s going to be great. Being a conduit for an artist’s vision is fantastic, and I’m well aware that I haven’t got an artistic bone in my body, so I’m happy to play to my strengths of, y’know, being a record label without saying, hang on guys, that needs a middle eight. Typos and punctuation mistakes on my records though? They can fuck right off until they’re correct.
Q: Paul Heathcote from Sansava, Moira Stewart and Summer Night Air
Paul Heathcote: How much money have I cost you?
Darren Hubbard: Figures off the top of my head here, but around 75 quid as a Sansava member, 250 quid for Summer Night Air, and 150 quid as a Moira Stewart member, so nearly 500 quid. Probably. Could be more, could be less, but it’s around that figure.
PH: When is the recording of a cake being played on a record player coming out?
DH: Ah, this was another ‘one that got away’. Some background here – two Record Store Days ago I won a cake courtesy from RPM record shop’s tombola, baked by the lovely Anna Casey. The icing on the top was in the shape of a ten-inch vinyl, complete with centre label and everything; it was a work of art. I thought it would be a good idea to gently take the icing off it, put it on my turntable and play it. I also shot footage of it with a camera too, and fucked my stylus over royally after four minutes of playing.
And then came the even stupider idea of taking the audio footage, and pressing a few (bakers?) dozen records from it, and releasing it in a 7″ cake tin. It was actually DIST20 for a whilte, while I played the audio back in the cold light of day and it is pretty much unlistenable.
So, to answer the question, there’s no plans to release it! Yet.
PH: Was there going to be a Distraction record released on meat or did I just dream that?
DH: Yet another off-the-cuff remark I made while pissed, although I didn’t take this idea as seriously as the others. I thought that it would be a good idea to release something by my noise ‘band’ Russ Abbotoire on limited edition pork chop, simply because nobody else had done so. You fuckers trust me with your releases; you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
PH: Once I was listening to Parts by D_rradio, I was so distracted by it that burnt my fish cakes (twice). What things has your Distraction releases distracted you from doing?
DH: What things haven’t Distraction releases distracted me from? I always interrupt WHATEVER it is I’m doing to tend to record label stuff. Right this moment, these questions are distracting me from going to bed.
I’m interested in the fishcake thing though. Did you burn your fishcakes on two seperate occasions, or was it the same fishcakes in the same night? Did you burn the same fishcake twice, or was it two different fishcakes? Or were there more than two fishcakes, and the others were either fine or a bit undercooked? And did you still eat the fishcakes afterwards? Do you prefer them to fish fingers? I prefer fish fingers, like.
PH: Distraction artists covering other Distraction artists, which songs would sound the best/worst?
DH: Warm Digits would do cracking covers of Mushi Mushi’s stuff, Sequins Save Lives and Not DnB in particular, as would Necro Deathmort. d_rradio would do great things with some of the more sedate songs on the Warm Digits LP, and the Sansava song. And I wouldn’t mind hearing Tempelhof cover most Distraction stuff. The worst ones would be the Big Oaks covering anything. Bless them.
PH: How many Distraction artists does it take to change a light bulb?
DH: Two. One to change it, another to wonder where the fuck their digital royalties are.
PH: Will you put out something by my new band please?
DH: Depends if they’re any good, and whether you want them released on pork chop. Do you do noise?
Q: Paolo Mazzacani from Tempelhof
Paolo Mazzacani: Talking about our personal experience, we can still remember the first message you’ve posted on our MySpace profile with which you asked us to send you other unreleased tracks. That was the beginning of Tempelhof relationship with Distraction. Which other bands did you meet in this way? Do you still check the web regularly looking for the next great band to release?
Darren Hubbard: Yeah, I still remember asking you for more tracks to listen to on the back of the demo of Song for Lily on myspace, a studio recording of which found its way onto the Tempelhof album. Most things that we’ve released come from the North-East area, simply because I go to shedloads of local gigs and there is (was?) a lot of good stuff to choose from that didn’t already have a label. Necro Deathmort caught my attention as well via a myspace message from Matt (Rozeik), saying they’ve got this album completed and do I fancy sticking it out as a web release or summit; I wanted to go the whole hog with it because it was storming. Everyone else who we didn’t know already, came via a CDR through the post.
I’m still checking out bands regularly on the web, but as a music fan first, label boss second; and if I think I could get a brilliant release out of it, I would approach them. But then it’s exactly the same as checking out a band live in that regard. The web HAS saved me from checking out a whole bunch of shitty bands though. Hooray for the internets!
PM: Picture discs, double vinyls, individually painted 12″ vinyls…in the last 10 years Distraction has been brave choosing to release out of the ordinary formats for its bands. Does it still make sense? What about digital releases?
DH: Yeah, it makes absolute sense – if you’re going to release something, and especially if you’re going to knock it out on the internet for nowt beforehand, at least make an effort with the physical formats so that the punter gets something a bit special, rather than a fucking jewel case. God, I hate jewel cases. Fancy some snapped bits of glass with your CD sir? Why, here’s a jewel case. Jewel case cunts. Digital releases are fine an’ that, but I started buying records in the acid house era (at ten years old!) when the seven and twelve inch vinyl were king, so I’m still clinging onto my luddite instincts really. Vinyl sales are actually on the up right now, which is encouraging, but eventually there’s going to be a time – and a lot of people don’t want to hear this – when vinyl goes in the way of VHS tapes, and digital will win out. We just have to take it on the chin and adapt. Which brings us to our next question…
PM: What does an independent label have to do to survive in a file sharing era?
DH: I have NO IDEA, and nobody else does either. And isn’t that the exciting thing? Literally no-one knows what the next great leap in technology will be, but you can be sure as all hell that instead of embracing it, most labels will moan and say it is killing the industry. Mind, I’m doing alright, so I guess the answer is: be like me.
Q: Simondo Topless from Dressed In Wires
Simondo Topless: When you cark it, we’re all going to club together and pay to have you stuffed and mounted on a plinth as a commemorative goodwill gesture. What pose do you want to be in?
Darren Hubbard: Textbook Daz pulling a Les-Dawson-dressed-as-a-woman face, right hand holding a pint elbow sticking out at ninety degrees parallel to my neck, clad in KLF t-shirt standing on a pile of burning demo pile ashes please.
Distraction Records celebrate turning 10 years old with a corker of an alldayer on Saturday 21st April at the Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle, featuring Warm Digits, Necro Deathmort, DIST18, Jazzfinger, Tempelhof, Dressed In Wires, Summer Night Air, Fret!, DJs and visual artists.
- Distraction Records Unleash A Monster Turd