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130701 – Label Focus

Ian Lawton spoke to Dave Howell of ground breaking FatCat subsidiary 130701. He filled us in about the history of the label, its ups and downs, its second wind, forthcoming releases and whether we should call it post-classical..

How long have you been with FatCat and how did you get involved with them?
I used to write a fanzine called Obsessive Eye and they used to stock it in the shop back in the days when FatCat was just a record store in Covent Garden. I got invited to come and start helping out part-time pretty much as soon as the shop closed and Dave and Alex set FatCat up as a label, which i think was Autumn 1997. So I’ve been here now about 21 years.

How did 130701 first come into being? What was the impetus for starting the label?
It started purely as an outlet to release the first album by Set Fire to Flames, who were a big collective of musicians from Montreal, including 6 or 7 from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. For certain reasons, they wanted it to be on a label separate from FatCat, so we set up 130701 for that purpose an named it after the date we set it up (13/07/01).

Have you been involved with signing all the artists to 130701?
We all have, really. Anything that’s suggested has to be agreed on and it’s been a product of several people’s suggesting and then discussing things. I guess that I’ve overseen the overall look and running of the imprint since starting it, so I guess I’ve been the gatekeeper. And over the past few years, it’s been pretty much my sole focus. I only look after the occasional FatCat release nowadays. 130701 is a full-time label now, rather than just a FatCat satellite that puts one or two records out here and there.

How did the label start to develop after the first releases. Was there a long term vision or did it naturally evolve?
Initially, it happened naturally and completely unplanned. We formed 130701 purely as a place to release that first SFTF record. Then Sylvain Chauveau came along and it seemed like it sat next to SFTF pretty nicely, so we put that out, then another SFTF album, then a year or so later Max Richter came along and he felt right for 130701 too. So around or maybe just before that point we began to envisage a concept and aesthetic for the label that would set it apart from releases on FatCat, and we came up with the idea that 130701’s identity would be based around artists using traditional classical instrumentation (piano, strings, woodwind, brass, etc) in a new or different way. It could go wherever it wanted, but it had to have some basic grounding in classical instrumentation or approaches. It gave some sort of logic or structure to what the imprint would be, whilst allowing a really broad range of possibilities.

It wasn’t a hectic release schedule that you undertook at first but you have obviously had very good quality control. Were you very choosy about what you put out?
We’ve been incredibly choosy. Because it’s been run alongside FatCat, and is just another strand of that label, it hasn’t needed to put out X amount of releases per year or to pay its own way. So we’ve only taken stuff on when we feel it’s of a really high quality and is something that is artistically interesting and a really good fit, and I think that’s been a real strength. I’ve turned down so much stuff, some of it people who were already well established or who would do really well sales-wise or sync-wise, but just didn’t feel like the right move or the right fit for us.

130701 started to become almost synonymous with what people have been calling post-classical music or neoclassical (which is a more problematic term). What do you think about those tags?
Well, it’s a difficult one for sure, knowing what to call this thing, because generally once you start to define something then that term can get used really lazily and things can soon get reduced down to a much narrower spectrum of possibilities. I have zero background in classical music. I never grew up with classical music and still know very little about it. I can’t rightly recall if the term ‘post-classical’ came from me or Max Richter, but I think we started using it around his first album for us, The Blue Notebooks. I know when I started using it I did so as with a conscious reference to Simon Reynolds original coining of ‘post-rock’ – people using rock instrumentation for non-rock ends and alongside other technologies. At that time (mid-90s) post-rock actually encompassed a whole range of artists tunnelling away in different directions – from Stereolab to Tortoise, Bark Psychosis, Main, Pram, Seefeel, Flying SaucerAttack, Laika, Disco Inferno, etc – all superbly unique and inventive. So Simon’s term wasn’t attempting to define a particular sound or style, but rather an approach. And I thought of post-classical along the same lines – as artists using traditional classical instrumentation in non-traditional ways and alongside different sounds and technologies. Of course, post-rock became a lazily misused term and resulted in an avalanche of what were actually pretty conservative, narrow, derivative-sounding bands. I think the same thing has been happening with post-classical. It’s become a swamp of people aping stuff like Nils Frahm or Max Richter, using a similarly narrow set of melodies and dynamics. But I still use the term post-classical, because terms are someway helpful to help give people an indication of where they are, and it’s still supremely important to me that 130701 clings on to that original idea behind the term and pushes that width of possibility. If you look at signings like Resina, Maarja Nuut & Ruum, Ian William Craig – those are people who are pushing most people’s definitions of what post-classical might be. They don’t sit in this easy, easily definable space and I think that’s the healthiest approach to take, cause it keeps swirling things around and keeps pushing music on and keeping things interesting.

Who would you say are, as it were, the spiritual forbears of 130701. What labels or composers and musicians?
Completely going away from the idea of genre for a moment, I was hugely influenced by labels that had a really strong sense of identity and a kind of strong ethical and an aesthetic core, a sense of vision and caring that made you feel like they were more than just someone making a living selling music. Things like early Rough Trade, Factory, SST, Creation, 4AD in the ’80s, MillePlateaux, late ’60s Electra. Just in terms of a sense of integrity and really high quality control both musically and visually, those kinds of labels are the ones that stuck in my head and made a big impression.

In terms of where the label sits musically, there was one particular band in the ’90s, a Kentucky-based outfit called Rachels, who were on Touch & Go, which was basically a punk label, but were releasing this odd, hybrid chamber type music with piano and strings. I had never really experienced that before, seeing a strings trio and piano at a gig. Before that, I always associated those instruments with a kind of stuffy, highbrow world that I felt no connection to. So Rachel’s opened up a door there for me and the feeling that actually those instruments could resonate with someone who’d grown up through indie bands and noise and electronic music.

You were largely responsible for bringing the work of both Hauschka and Max Richter to the attention of the world. Where and how did you discover those artists?
Max just got in touch around 2003 I think. He’d not long previously released Memoryhouse on BBC’s Late Junction and they’d really struggled with it so he was looking for someone else to release with. I guess he’d seen what we were doing with Sylvain and SFTF and also felt connected to a lot of the other stuff on FatCat and he got in touch. Hauschka came in via Max. i think he’d supported Max at a show and Max advised him to send some music to us.

I’m imagining there was a flood of demos that arrived after the success of those artists?
Not initially, no. On those early releases, there wasn’t really a scene for this music or a space to rack it in stores, and it was still hard to sell. It probably wasn’t until 2010 – 12 or so that more and more people started getting involved in making this type of music and we started to get a few more demos. The flood has only really been over the last 3 or 4 years.

You had a flurry of releases at the beginning of the decade and then there was a lull in activity, followed by a recent re-activation with the signing of a lot of new artists. Why was that?
We were involved in a joint venture deal which went badly sour. I’d signed both Dustin O’Halloran and Johann Johannson on 3 album contracts through that deal. We had a sudden upsurge in 130701 activity, a big 130701 tour and finally it felt like there was a scene and an audience for this music and other labels like Erased Tapes, Bedroom Community, and artists like Nils and Olafur Arnalds, etc were coming to the fore. Midway through 2012, with the wave feeling like it was cresting, FatCat ended up in this big legal dispute and unable to even account to our artists, so within a year or so, we ended up losing them all – Johann, Hauschka, Max, Dustin. It was pretty gutting, as you can probably imagine and it took a few years to find the energy / inclination to re-start. But we had the 15th anniversary of 130701 coming up in 2016, and a year or so before that we started hearing some great new things like Dmitry Evgrafov and Emilie and Resina, so I just got back in the saddle with a renewed determination to prove we still had something to say. And within a year or two we were working with an output we’d never had before. I mean, from the start in 2001 up until that re-ignition in 2105, we’d only put out about 18 records. In the 3 years since then we’ll have put out 21!

Can you tell us something about the newer signings to 130701 and why they were signed to the label?
Dmitry Evgrafov and Emilie were the first ones we signed. They’re both pianists and both using electronics but in very different ways. Dmitry is an amazing pianist. I love watching him play, he’s so fluent and natural and his music is very adventurous. Emilie’s playing is a lot more complex and she has this very classy, sophisticated way with the electronics she uses. She worked at Bleep for a couple of years whilst studying composition at Goldsmiths and I think she was open to and absorbed a lot of ideas there. What she does feels unique to me, very different to any of her peers. I think she is getting better and better and I think she’ll be the next one to start breaking into the film world.

Resina sent in a demo that just really enchanted me and was actually exactly what I was looking for. The 130701 output post-SFTF had been so piano-dominated and there was just this flood of pianists and I was really keen to move away from that into different areas – strings, brass, percussion, cause I felt like that would open up fresh possibilities. So Resina fit the bill perfectly. And again, she is super switched on and a very deep thinker and someone that I love to watch play and who I believe in completely. Olivier Alary is a very old friend and just someone who’s incredibly talented and a genius with sound. You don’t get asked to work for Bjork if you don’t have something about you. Again, his sound and style is both wide and unique and also totally sumptuous. Ian William Craig I stumbled on a few years back and was just totally floored by. He broke the mould of what people expected from130701. he’s a classically trained singer but also uses guitar and piano and processes his voice through a chain of broken / modified tape loops. I love him to bits.

Finally, Maarja Nuut is someone I tried to sign a few years back but it’s finally worked out on this new album, which is a collaboration with a fellow Estonian, electronic artist Ruum. It’s an incredible marriage of Maarja’s violin and voice carrying this deep, old Estonian folk tradition into some totally unique and strange interzone of electronics – thoroughly modern whilst also really deep-rooted. The latest signing is another pianist, Shida Shahabi. There’s something really warm and simple and pure about her playing. It also has this deeper frame of reference – I can hear krautrock in there for example, and non-western influences. There’s a really lovely character that comes through.

So i guess that gives you some idea of the new blood and this continued attempt to open up adventurous spaces and keep things shifting and finding a balance between piano-based stuff and things that pull away from that. I’m also really pleased that now we have a really good, strong female representation on the label with Resina, Emilie, Shida, Maarja. It’s something I’d been thinking about and trying to implement for quite a while, actually and there were 4 or 5 others I’d tried to sign.

There has been an explosion of music and releases in 130701 territory. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right? Is it harder now to keep carving out your niche, so to speak?
Not for me. I’ve always had a really strong and clear idea about what i like and what i’m looking for and I’ve always tried to find artists that are really strong and have their own unique voice and aren’t merely imitative. I’ve always tried to find people who are doing things a little bit differently and that continues to be the motivation to keep the label healthy and relevant.

Where and how your music is presented in a live setting seems to be important to you. The Resina, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Shida Shahabi tour this September takes in Church if the Annunciation in Brighton and the lovely Union Chapel in London amongst other venues. Is that mostly down to promoters or something that the label has a hands on role in?
A bit of both, really. I think this music sits really nicely in those spaces, and those also happen to be spaces that promoters into this kind of music are using. They understand the context of presenting this music.

What have been the most ambitious events staged by the label?
We haven’t really staged many events ourselves, really. I guess the biggest was the ‘Transcendentalists’ tour, back in 2012, when Johann Johannssonn, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka played the Barbican and a bunch of other big European cultural venues. It felt like everything was just starting to come together at that time and that was an amazing show / line-up which I think people still remember. The Brighton Festival showcase at the Spire in Brighton a couple of years ago was quite ambitious in a different way. That was a bit of a gamble because no-one had really heard of any of those artists before and I think they’d only played about 6 live shows between them! So it could’ve been a huge mess and left us and the Festival with egg on our face. But the Festival people were hugely supportive (as they always are) and we spent a lot of time decorating the venue and working with a projection specialist to make a really great looking event. Seeing people’s jaws drop for Resina’s set was ultimately very gratifying..

Which records have been the biggest sellers for the label over the years?
Set Fire To Flames first album was a really big seller at the start. Obviously Max’s albums did well and Johann’s Miner’s Hymns was a good one. Digitally, Dmitry Evgrafov has done incredibly well on certain streaming sites.

What are the records on the label that you’re most proud of and are there some that you don’t think got the reception they deserved?
I’m proud of each of them. I guess the ones I’m most proud of are probably the Set Fire To Flames albums and The Miner’s Hymns, just because creatively I think those were just particularly amazing projects to be involved in. the ones that didn’t get the reception they deserved? Resina’s new album got a good response, but I think it deserved a lot more. She’s incredible. Sylvain Chauveau’s Une Autre Decembre also should also have got a lot more coverage than it did. That’s a brilliant album.

You were obviously affected by the tragic death of Jóhann Jóhannsson early this year.
Yeah, it was very tough. Johann was an amazing artist and just a really lovely person. He was one of the few who managed to achieve what he set out to on projects and had such a huge sense of integrity in his vision. the fact that he did that and also was making huge success in Hollywood is pretty incredible. I’d known him for 20 years and he was always massively driven and always really interested in finding new things, new stories. He was absolutely at the top of his game and it’s just such a huge loss. I’ve no doubt he would’ve kept raising the bar and taking what he did to new levels. We’d signed Johann on a 3 album deal back in 2011, though we only ended up doing the one record. It’s my biggest regret that we never got to do more more together. I wrote a little personal eulogy to him here –

You’re also a graphic designer. There is a classiness to the artwork on the label’s releases – do we have you to thank for that?
Thanks, that’s very kind of you! Actually, almost all of the sleeve artwork has gone through our designer, Dave Thomas, who also oversees most of the FatCat releases too. I wouldn’t call myself a graphic designer, tbh. I have a degree in fine art and I used to do a fair amount of the artwork for FatCat in the earlier days, but when you start to a&r a dozen or more projects, then your time to do stuff like artwork starts to shrink and DLT is such a great designer that I was more than happy to have him take over the reigns. Saying that, I have set a lot of the visual context for the label – I designed the label website, the logo, and still do a lot of the label ‘branding’ stuff. But pretty much all the individual projects go through Dave and his understanding of texture and print and typography are incredible.

The aesthetic at the start was to have all the covers based on black & white photographs. That lasted for about 10 years, then I think Hauschka was the first artist to push away from that on his second record, which is a cover that I’ve never been able to love. After that we couldn’t really keep insisting on the photographic element, so it lost a bit of that unifying element, but I think mostly all our artists have a good aesthetic sensibility and we’ve managed to keep everything looking good.

It’s all about simple, fairly clean and classy design and the typography sitting really nicely on the sleeve.

What events and releases are on the horizon for 130701?
We’ve just released a new EP from Dmitry Evgrafov last week,. Next week, we have a short, 4-date UK label tour, featuring Resina, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch and Shida Shahabi. Alongside which we’re doing a limited edition EP, featuring 2 exclusive tracks from each of the three artists, which is hand-stamped and numbered and we’ll be selling at shows. In October, there are albums from Maarja Nuut & Ruum, and also the debut LP from Swedish-Iranian pianist Shida Shahabi. Then in November, there’s a new record from Ian William Craig. Beyond that, I’m hoping there’ll be some time for a brief rest, cause the past 6 months have been insanely draining!

Could you give us 5 tracks from your catalogue that you would recommend to anyone coming new to the label?
Sure. here you go:

Johann Johannsson – The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World

Set Fire To Flames – Steal Compass / Drive North / Disappear OR Fading Lights Are Fading / Reign Rebuilder (Tail Out)

Max Richter – Infra 5

Shida Shahabi – Abisme

Maarja Nuut & Ruum – Haned kadunud

Many thanks Dave

The dates for the Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Resina and Shida Shahabi shows are as follows:
27 Sep – Church Of The Annunciation, Brighton
28 sep – Rough Trade Bristol, Bristol
29 Sep – Union Chapel, London, UK – LUNCHTIME show entry by donation
30 Sep – The Hot Tin Faversham, UK

Ian Lawton presents Trainspotters on 1BTN, fortnightly Monday mornings. Facebook page for the show is here and the podcasts are here or can be subscribed to in the iTunes Store.

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