INTERVIEW: Sunharmonics | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The North East’s “biggest electronic music festival”, Northern Lights, was scheduled to descend upon Newcastle this month attracting international artists and huge exposure. That is, before it suddenly folded three weeks from the date. While Newcastle festivals have a history of falling at the last hurdle (Ignition 2014), the news as a great blow for electronic music in Newcastle, which in many respects remains marginal and underrepresented. While popular nights at Riverside and Hoult’s Yard gather some steam, the grass roots electronic scene tragically paddles in the liminal space between bedroom production and a lack of sufficient venues.

One pair who hope to change this are Sam Telford and Ruairi McGuiness of DIY label, Sunharmonics, an initiative eager to kick-start an electronic collective in Newcastle. Founding the label late last year, the duo’s experience, punk ethos and ambition render Sunharmonics an exciting hub for emerging electronic artists.

The initial spark of the label originated in London, when sound engineer Ruairi McGuniness walked away from 12 years of film and television work after freelancing for EMI and doing sound design that contributed to a Royal Television Society Award winning short film. The reprieve for Ruairi in this case was opening indie coffee chain Coola Boola in Jesmond, which was later listed as one of the Top 50 coffee shops in the UK by The Independent. It was behind the coffee counter between customers that Ruairi developed his relationship with barista and future Sunharmonics founder Sam Telford.

“One of the trends I seem to have with people I have hired is that they are interested in music and it’s something that often comes up between customers” Ruairi said. “When I interview baristas, telecasters and the Pixies often come up as a stock question but the thing with myself and Sam is that our taste of music is so diverse and we both listen to pretty much everything… except jazz.”

Before meeting Ruairi, Sam ran a popular music blog, Muffin Music, reviewing vinyl releases and has released his own ambient material under the stage name Bionn. In co-founding Sunharmonics, Sam hopes to build a community that combines a blog and traditional label formula to widen perceptions of electronic music and attract emerging artists.

He says: “A previous iteration of the label was the free Radiohead model, as that we way we thought people that would come to us would be more genuine, as there is a lot of money talk even at such a low level in Newcastle. The only financial goal we have now is that the label makes enough money for it to support itself but I still want to attract the type of person who already has music so we can push it forward.”

“When I interview baristas, telecasters and the Pixies often come up as a stock question”

Sunharmonics was named nonchalantly as Sam and Ruairi “bandied words around” and listened to John Hopkins; the artist has had a large influence on 22-year-old Sam. “Immunity was an important record for us because it combined many different aspects of electronic music such as hard techno. We will be having some more of that abrasive, aggressive stuff on the label but Hopkins was the man who brought all that together under one roof.”

For Ruairi, the main influence for Sunharmonics was the legacy of Warp Records, “who released everything from Aphex Twin and Grizzly Bear to Boards of Canada.” “The main thing with Warp Records was the focus on quality and the way they moved away from being a genre specific label. Inspiration wise, we are very interested in that and we don’t want to box ourselves into being an electronic label.”

Although the pair have ambitions to push their eclectic roster onto the Newcastle live scene next year, their present battle plan is to assemble a collective of music makers who produce music but lack the capacity to distribute and promote it. “Being a bedroom producer can be like the loneliness of the long distance runner as you are sat there staring at a screen for months on end and not getting any feedback,” Rauiri says. Sometimes you need a cold pair of ears to listen to you music to make those decisions with mastering and mixing.”

Sam, a self-confessed Jonny Cash fan, also describes the label’s approach as a throwback to Sun Records “where you could cut a record for three dollars and go in the studio for a day and get three takes and pick the best one.”

He said: “Sunharmonics is going to be the closest thing to that where we can get you out there and it’s never going to be like that with a major label, especially because the company is so small and if you do communicate with us it will be with myself or Ru.”

Sunharmonics also aims to be accessible to artists, with a bi–monthly release schedule that “runs like clockwork,” and tracks being sold for £3.50 through online distribution channels before lapsing to a free model after three months. There are also plans to develop of a “stems community” where artists can enter remix competitions, with the results being curated and promoted by the label.

At a grassroots level, Sunharmonics is labour of love that is actively trying to drag a North East electronic scene from the depths of obscurity. In taking those difficult first steps, the pair have strong convictions about the future of Sunharmonics and with a foray into hip hop, interest from New York artists and big plans for the live scene, the future looks promising for the electronic trailblazers.

“We’re not investing any money into this and we have no expectation of money coming out because of the state of the music industry,” says Rauiri. “However, none of that takes away from the enjoyment of what we’re doing and what the people we are signing are trying to do. The end game is releasing interesting music that as consumers we would go out and buy ourselves.”

Sam said: “I think electronic music is a little unrepresented in Newcastle but you can build it from the DIY where people are more receptive rather than trying to attract people from larger clubs. If you have good material we can make it move and most importantly make it move quickly, putting that last bit of gloss on it, getting it out there and seeing what happens.”

Find out more about Sunharmonics and their activities at their official website.

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