FEATURE: North East Labels Round-up | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Faced with an assault from nature and a government who can scarcely conceal their contempt for the arts, 2020 has been a year in which the North East’s scene has thrived amidst unprecedented obstacles. This has not merely been true of the artists themselves, but also for our fine community of DIY labels. Run by a band of fanatics (whose prospects of financial reward have sunk lower than ever), these imprints have persevered despite the absence of gigs to showcase their wares, bolstered by a groundswell of support along with initiatives such as Bandcamp Fridays, in which the platform have waived their usual cut from online sales.

Having kickstarted the year in style with an eclectic and adventurous album from Nel Unlit, Butterfly Effect have enjoyed a particularly strong innings, supplementing it with another long-awaited debut from James Leonard Hewitson and this month’s collection of Christmas carols courtesy of Benjamin Amos. Much the same can be said of Treetrunk Records – a DIY pursuit in the truest sense which has reflected the creativity of founders David Turnbull and John Edgar, presenting a succession of outstanding releases from Fax Machine, Lovely Assistant and The Dawdler.

Between a cluster of micro-scenes, North East hip-hop and electronica have arguably never been in ruder health. This surge over recent years has coincided with the emergence of Kaneda Records, who’ve supplied further delights from perennial favourites such as Badger, Holy Braille and Cass Lamb. Their sterling work has been boosted by contemporaries such as Soft Verse and Win Big Records, whose wares have included a fresh Real Terms outing from head honcho Lewis Thompson and gloriously DIY indie rap from Eli Hermit, respectively.

Underground noise, meanwhile, has long been a North East forte, thanks in large part to a community of imprints who rank among the nation’s finest. Heading this hub are Box Records, who’ve enhanced their burgeoning reputation with rip-roaring riffs from London’s Luminous Bodies and genre-mashing psych from Birmingham’s Dorcha, not to mention a blistering debut from Newcastle’s own radge punks Blóm.

A sense of collectivism underpins much of our local noiseniks’ success, and in the case of Panurus Productions this spirit extends to their output. Heat Death Of The Sun’s new record, for instance, marries droning electronics with free jazz percussion, while Always Check Your Mirrors is a collision of the restless collective behind The Old Police House. Elsewhere, ex-Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska man Chris ‘Jude’ Watson has used Infinity Mirror as a vehicle for lengthy improv pieces as both Forest Mourning and Black Holes Are Cannibals, and Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings have preached quality over quantity, offering a pair of stunners from cinematic ambient maser Dextro and primal sludge upstarts Lump Hammer. The latter represents a joint venture with Cruel Nature Records, who’ve enjoyed an especially busy year with a total of 26 physical releases. Their roster features a vast gambit of rowdy delights, taking in everything from New York electro-punks Lip Critic to gnarly London noise duo Modern Technology and Newcastle post-hardcore firestarters Ballpeen.

If volume or variety are what you seek, however, two labels stand head-and-shoulders above the rest – namely Opal Tapes and TQN-aut, who’ve amassed a frankly ludicrous 80 releases between them. Perhaps the finest example of the pair’s shared experimental philosophies came during the former’s TUSK Virtual online takeover, which pitted owner Stephen Bishop in his Lacrima guise alongside Iranian electronic producer Sote and Swedish drone duo Thet Liturgiske Owäsendet. Through months of perpetual monotony, the enduring enthusiasm of they and folks of their ilk has proved not only laudable, but wholly indispensable.

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