FEATURE: alt.vinyl | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As befits a man who is in one sense a businessman (although that business is there to serve his absolute passion for experimental music), alt.vinyl’s Graham Thrower is a great communicator. In our 45-minute chat, I barely had to probe him at all; his thoughts on everything from the mechanics of running a small label to the ethics of releasing ethnological field recordings to – of course – the joy of vinyl came clearly and fully-formed. I started by asking for a little background to alt.vinyl – his move to Newcastle to escape the capital and get involved in a buzzing music scene, the label’s origins as a shop in central Newcastle and the birth of the label a little later.

“Like a lot of people, I was passionate about music, always going to gigs in London, ever since I was a kid. I decided I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and support independent music.” He admits that his ideas of ‘independent’ music in those days were comparatively mainstream (comparatively being the key word) and it was the influence of the shop’s staff – including Richard Dawson and Ben Jazzfinger – and the bands coming into the shop that opened his ears to the real outsider stuff. “What I had was a lot of people who were all passionate about music, all musicians, all playing in multiple bands, and all really knowledgeable about areas of music that I knew little about, so I found myself going into a world of improvised jazz, world music recordings, noise and drone and American hardcore.” As the shop began to deal more directly with distribution and Thrower became more immersed in the kind of experimental music released by small and micro-labels, he also got involved in releasing small-run lathe cuts, “people like Astral Social Club, Volcano The Bear, United Light, Demons and Robedoor, all that sort of stuff. At the same time, I was also keen to pursue people who were doing interesting stuff locally, so we put out a :zoviet*france: lathe, Richard Dawson’s first album, although on a different label – it was the only release on Downbeat before it became alt.vinyl – and we just moved on from there. At the same time, my interests moved from the mainstream alternative to the REALLY alternative – underground outsider, whatever the hell you want to call it – and I became aware of a huge number of people running labels like mine, a huge number of artists who were struggling to make it their day job and a huge amount of talent that people didn’t know about. So what I wanted to do, through the shop and the label, was to bring that to more attention, help the artists get more gigs, and hopefully they wouldn’t have to stack shelves as a day job but could be artists full time. And I suppose having had the shop for six years by 2010, we realised that most of our audience was online. By this time, Richard was keen to become a full-time musician and artist and not work in a record store any more so we decided to move online and to focus on the label. The shop was great while it lasted, I loved it, but it came to a natural end as I became convinced that the label was the way forward.” alt vinyl 2

With this autumn’s releases taking alt.vinyl’s catalogue numbers into the low sixties and with the industry taking some real knocks in recent years, Thrower is candid about the vagaries of running a label but enthusiastic – with caveats – about the power of the internet to promote music and create a global, if virtual, community.

Anyone who’s held an alt.vinyl release in their hands will be aware of the attention to detail that goes into it (Thrower appreciates the utility of the download and art of the vinyl record and has little time for CDs), and one of his criteria for any release is not only that everything is carefully and beautifully produced but also that it is as close to the artists’ idea of it as possible, because “if I’m going to have some meaningful role in the whole process, let’s at least make the label creative and additive.”

His absolute creative control means that the alt.vinyl A&R policy is a beautifully simple one: “Just stuff that really needs to be heard by people. And that can be pretty broad – stoner folk, free jazz, drone, improv, noise, electronic experimental stuff… I would never say anything definitely couldn’t be an alt.vinyl release, but it’s more about ‘does it grab me?’. And if it does grab me but it’s outside what alt.vinyl would normally do, I start to think ‘how could I get that out there?’”

We talk about releases he’s proudest of and he immediately mentions :zoviet*france:’s fantastically presented 7 .10.12 box. “Ben and Mark have a very, VERY clear idea of what they’re after, and when we finally had the finished box, when it was all assembled – because we spent days and days assembling them all in my house – Ben just looked at me and said ‘it’s exactly like it looked in my head’.” Other key releases for Thrower are Rhodri Davies’ Wound Response, Dawson’s The Glass Trunk and Phil Begg’s Midnight Doctors project, all of which he saw as hugely ambitious albums by artists he watched develop. “I love that – you see what these artists did when they started recording, and then each album is more ambitious than the last.”

At the same time, a relatively little known release by young Buenos Aires duo Riel sees him glowing with enthusiasm and pride. “In terms of changing their lives a bit, the release with Riel was important, the fact that they – two Argentinian kids – were being released by a British label, on vinyl, actually opened huge amounts of doors for them in Argentina… Commercially, it didn’t make any sense for me to do it at all, but if I was being really hard headed and commercially minded about it, I wouldn’t be trying to release these sorts of artists anyway… ultimately, I’m doing it because I’m passionate about it. And the advantage of it being just me, is that if there’s something I’m really passionate about, I can release it and nobody can say no.” www.altvinyl.com See our gallery of alt.vinyl covers below:

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