How should a punk rock label be judged? Should a label be judged solely by the quality of the bands it has on its roster? Should they have a particular, identifiable genre or be eclectic and wide-reaching in their scope? Do we judge on their business acumen and the longevity that you only get through careful management of finances in a tough economy? Or do we prefer those who shun the “corporate” epithet, remain fiercely DIY and sail close to the wind as it’s considered more “punk rock?”
As usual in punk rock, there are arguments upon disagreements about quarrels and the types of label out there are run by communities as varied as the music they put out.
The DIY labels are not merely mimicking the big boys.
Those who set up these labels are not doing it for financial gain (there isn’t any) or global recognition (there isn’t any). The DIY label has a more important role, and while it is foolish and naïve to completely disregard the need for careful financial management in order to stay viable, the influence and desire to drive the community is often far more central to the ethos of the DIY punk rock label.
Here is a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of some of the labels that we at Umlaut Records feel have had a positive impact.
Fat Wreck Chords
Let’s be honest here and get this out of the way nice and early. Whatever your view about this label now, and the opinion that perhaps their best years are behind them rather than in front of them, there can be absolutely no denying the HUGE influence that Fat Wreck Chords has had throughout the entire genre. The list of seminal Fat Wreck bands is far too long to put here, but needless to say that they provided a gateway into punk rock for so many people who are now playing in bands that we all know and running labels which may be appearing on this list.
And while we’re on the subject of the big boys, it would be remiss to overlook a selection of the biggest. These could easily fill a list of their own, but it’s far more interesting to have a look at what is happening in the local scenes. The punk rock scene can be very nostalgic and every generation has its crop of influences. That’s not to say that we, as a community, can’t also be forward looking and optimistic about a future for the scene. As with Fat, the above labels have all launched countless bands into our collective consciousness and whatever the opinion of those who typically shun the mass market, their influence cannot, and should not, be overlooked.
Make That A Take
An absolute behemoth of the DIY label and a major influencing factor in the genesis of Umlaut Records. They work tirelessly to promote their bands, to promote their shows and to effect change within their community through charity and outreach. This year will be their 11th annual, “Book Your Ane Fest,” and it is an absolute highlight of the year for both bands and punk rock fans from far and wide. The bands they put out are always interesting. Similarly, the shows they put on and the touring bands they host are always impressive. The MTAT brand is viewed with great esteem by bands, fans and other labels and they are fully deserving of every ounce of it.
Another label which is incredibly proud of the community they help to support through their music. You simply can’t ignore a label that boasts Pizzatramp, Roughneck Riot and Wonk Unit. A Manchester based label, that has similar ethics to MTAT in that they don’t wish to simply be a machine that sells records, they want to help a whole community to share the music experience, whether that’s through records, shows or tours. Some of the best bands on the circuit are working with this label and you should definitely check them out.
Our good friends over at Lockjaw have been really helpful in the starting of Umlaut. Rob, of Darko fame, and his team run a tight ship, and have an exceptional ear for great music as well as an impeccable work ethic which sees Lockjaw pulling in some incredible bands, including the UK release of Belvedere’s last release. They are based in Guildford and, as well as Belvedere, they have also released Almeida, Antillectual and The Human Project. They do this simply because they look after their people and work relentlessly to promote and shine spotlights on the acts that approach them.
Another great UK label from whose experience and friendship we’ve benefited. The guys at Double D (as nobody calls them) are equally adept at attracting the big talent, having released the likes of Hogwash, Larrakia and Local Resident Failure. As well as putting together exceptional comps, they also host the annual “Might as Well” Fest in London, which is another staple of the punk rock calendar.
This is a label that is on the up and up. Based in Bristol and boasting Austeros, Caves and The Smith Street Band amongst their releases, they are also doing really exciting things along the south coast and beyond. They recently opened a shop in Bristol which I understand to be something of a physical celebration of their own output as well as other fantastic artists you know and many you probably don’t. They are run by Kay and Andrew (of Bangers fame) and are one of the main players in the UK scene.
Going stateside for a moment to relish the label that is Bird Attack records. They’ve put out bands like 88 Fingers Louie, Adrenalized and Authority Zero as well as some of our own local talent in Almeida, Darko and Fair Do’s. Their podcasts are a must listen to people who enjoy this music and their representation at events like the Manchester Punk Festival, Punk Rock Holiday and Fest are always interesting. Plus their footage is always excellent - these guys are truly engaging in terms of trying to reach out and get people to listen to what they’re all about.
Holland is a beautiful country and is home to some of our favourite DIY punk bands and Shield Recordings has been at the forefront of it since 2004. Slinging such releases as Astpai, Pacer, Atlas Losing Grip and, friends to Umlaut, Sweet Empire and Dowzer. Passionate punk rock peddlers and thoroughly decent people, Shield are an excellent gateway into bands from the continent that people may not have heard of before. Believe me, there’s some great stuff out there and these guys frequently remind us of this.
Going even further afield, Waterslide records have been operating in Japan since 1996. Japan has a long and fine history of punk rock culture and Waterslide have been playing a massive part in the perpetuity of the culture. Punk rock fans are usually quite mentally itinerant and don’t consider little things like geographical boundaries when it comes to seeking music to enjoy. Waterslide have many bands on their roster that people may not have heard of (as well as many that you will have - Antillectual and Dowzer for example.) For those looking to explore, you could do a lot worse than checking out their releases.
Check out Umlaut records store here and their Facebook page here.