It’s almost impossible to explain how important labels like Damnably are to our beloved world of independent music. It’s perhaps a little peculiar to consider that we often attach as much importance to record labels as we do to the actual music that binds us all together as music lovers. We place trust in the ethos of labels, their identity and approach. We admire and respect the effort they put into getting music out amongst us. We need them to flourish and for that to happen they need our constant support.
Born in 2006 Damnably is a London based label but is international in its scope. Run by George Gargan and Janice Li the label has just launched a new subscription series which offers incredible value to music lovers. Overblown caught up with George from Damnably to learn more about what the subscription series offers us and along the way we learned so much more about what makes this label tick. This is a music lovers treasure trove. Explore the links, watch the videos and discover the music. There’s just so much here to love.
Overblown: After 11 years of putting on shows and releasing records what’s the thinking behind starting a subscription series?
George Gargan: Well we want to do more releases and specifically more vinyl, as fans keep requesting it and bands really love coloured, transparent or splatter effect vinyl so it’s a way to help fund that noble pursuit, but also to host all the sessions, live recordings, live videos, demos and fun new content (like band hobbies videos).
O: What can you tell us about the releases that you’ve got coming up?
G: There’s a minimum of 12 releases over the course of a year but it’s very likely there will be more. We announce the new releases quarterly and the first 4 are:
American Werewolf Academy – Dead Without Dying and Gleefully Detached – 12″ transparent green vinyl.
The Magic Words (Lisa Walker from Wussy’s solo lo-fi outing-remastered by Matt Barnhart) 18 track Cassette & T-shirt Set bundle.
But it’s no secret that there are also new releases coming from Otoboke Beaver, Say Say Me, Wussy, Former Utopia as well as some new awesome signings and we will have different vinyl/merch options that members get first pick of and all our previous catalogue as downloads and 2 physical releases.
O: Is the series a mixture of singles, EPs and albums or are you focussing on a specific format?
G: It’s 2 tier so digital only or physical + digital and it’ll be mostly albums but a few split singles and an ep with CD’s / Tapes versions too. This year is the first we’ve shipped vinyl to Japan, Korea and America so demand is picking up.
O: How do you go about choosing the bands you want to work with for the series? Do you feel there’s a common thread between the different artists you put out?
G: There are 2 of us at Damnably. Janice is British born Chinese so she grew up listening to a lot of music from Hong Kong, China and Japan and she knows tons of bands I’ve never heard of but she likes solid lyrics and things that really stand out but she also works in Film so that takes up a lot of her time.
I’m older and grew up listening to John Peel and Andy Kershaw on BBC Radio 1 via my elder brother who was a punk, then new wave. He’d tape Peel and take me to gigs when I was 14/15 and I began taping Peel or Andy Kershaw myself and assembling my own taste from the an extraordinary wide palette. Consequently I grew to love Surf, Slowcore, Garage, Punk, Indie-Pop, Grindcore, Folk, Country, Cajun, Calypso, World music or transgressive acts like Harry Pussy who broke music. I heard some of the acts we’ve released/booked on Peel like Shonen Knife / Dick Dale / Julie Doiron / Chris Brokaw / Codeine / Come / Bitch Magnet / Shannon Wright / Scrawl / Uzeda / Spraydog.
Wussy we found from Chris Brokaw’s best of 2008 list (Myspace) I think and Leggy I heard on Ken Katkin’s Trash Flow Radio show (Cincinnati WAIF but he was a Homestead Records boss) and literary shouted to Janice across the flat to come and listen. Cincinatti has a lot of good bands – Smut are another really amazing act that are Seam fans and Chris from Leggy drums in them too.
I’d say there are no set rules or genre but most of our bands feature exceptional guitarists who are mostly self-taught. That tends to lead to more unconventional chord patterns and off kilter song structures and timing because they don’t know what the rules are. Akiko, for example, who writes the Otoboke Beaver songs taught herself and doesn’t like formulaic structures and considers the high and low frequencies, allowing for space rather than a verse chorus structure. Lyrics too and just something that’s original and from the heart. They are all pretty funny too.
O: In 2017 you’ve brought bands like Say Sue Me and Otoboke Beaver to the UK. How did you discover these bands and how far can Damnably cast it’s net to discover new music?
G: Chance! I noticed Say Sue Me’s name on the The World Underground zine and it was a live recording, and the band name seemed a bit odd so I investigated and felt something there as the first track was ‘My Problem’ so I then jumped to the ‘Electric Muse’ bandcamp and bought ‘Big Summer Night’ EP and have not stopped listening to them since. Maybe if it wasn’t ‘My Problem’, I might have missed them as it’s has wonderful opening lines and a rolling bouncy rhythm.
Otoboke Beaver’s video randomly appeared on YouTube and I was blown away. Again a weird name and I had to watch a few times as the music was pretty different and I couldn’t tell what was going on. I did literally email them straight away and it took ages to get a reply and then ages to convince them that their releases were unknown here (pretty much anywhere outside Kyoto) and would be of interest to the wider world which turned out to be a great understatement.
Say Sue Me are rare as they do 60’s straight surf like Dick Dale or The Ventures but also their own form of indie-rock inspired by Seam, Pavement and Yo La Tengo which reminds me of indie-pop bands you’d get on Heavenly but with added twang and black comedy. They didn’t know there was a 90’s Surf resurgence, so they have not heard Man Or Astro Man, The Phantom Surfers or Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Plant which I find fascinating as I just imagined surf bands are bouncing off that generation of Surf but no!
This year we actually went to Chengdu in China to see Panda Bears and a band called Hiperson who are amazing. Chengdu is the 4th biggest City in China with a population of 10 Million and not really a tourist destination so much, so it was really an eye opener as I’d be the only white person around. Hiperson do very interesting poetic art rock which isn’t so far away from Shipping News or Fugazi in places. We just like good bands so it doesn’t matter if they come from Chengdu, Cincinnati, Kyoto or Barnsley really.
O: How important a role do you feel independent labels such as Damnably play in the music scene these days? Subscription series such as these suggest listeners still focus on labels rather than just the artists, that they still have a lot of trust in whatever a label might choose to release. Is that true in your experience?
G: I am obviously biased, but I think they are vital. When I was young I would lock into a label and repeat buy from 4AD, Homestead, Heavenly, Factory, Touch & Go, Simple Machines etc and I do think the 1 or 2 people running an independent label can tap into a motherlode or create a scene around them as Sean Fortuna Pop! did here or Touch & Go in Chicago, Dischord in DC. It’s hard to think of Joy Division or New Order without Factory, even if they lost a load of money, that was a very groundbreaking label.
Sean Fortuna Pop! said in interview somewhere and I’m paraphrasing here that he’d beat a Major label hands down for speed, contacts and just ability to make things happen fast for a new band. It’s true indies can have all the right connections already in place and the buck stops with Sean or any tiny indie boss, so invariably indies work harder than someone on a wage that’s gambling with someone else’s money and not personally invested. Often I’ve got zero cash when a big tour is about to begin as I’ve spent everything on travelodges, merch, van etc. I doubt Sony sub labels are going to fill in a bands Songkick / Bandsintown tour dates but a small indie will. You wouldn’t hear of most artists without an indie helping them and bigger labels will lift a band from a small indie if they look like a going concern.
I’d say the small indies are like getting water from the stream, it’s direct (possibly a bit unfiltered) compared to getting bottled water from a major that’s coated in plastic, bland, disposable and polluting the planet. I do think powerful labels can manufacture taste with the help of a pliable media (like Radio 1 playlisting some new act and it being played 8/10 times a day for a month) and that’s why so many mediocre acts are huge because the public are force fed bland music. If Radio 1 did a ‘reversal month’ and playlisted Say Sue Me or Xetas, then those acts would get much bigger. I don’t believe these bands are only digestible by an elite, anyone could like them-like Joy Division when I was young were relatively unknown, I’d give mates at School or on building sites tapes and they’d get into it and now they are part of cannon and popular culture like Nirvana.
My favourite labels now are 12XU and Comedy Minus One who are run by Gerard Cosloy and Jon Solomon respectively. Gerard also co-runs Matador and was the boss of Homestead (Dinosaur JR, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Swans, Live Skull, Nick Cave period), a WZBC radio dj zine writer/editor. He’s pretty much like an X-Men label boss.
Jon ran My Pal God Records, and booked a music venue and tours for bands and amazingly has been a radio dj for 30 years on WPRB.
Both have so many years of experience and amassed such a monumental knowledge of bands that their labels are shitting gold basically. Gerard finds (or they find him) the most amazing bands like Xetas, Obnox, Gotobeds, Snooty Garbagemen and Jon has Bottomless Pit, Mint Mile, The Karl Hendriks Rock band who are some of my favourites. There’s also our friends Mingyu, Ran & Bebe in South Korea Electric Muse (Say Sue Me, Bitgwasoeum, Billy Carter, bbdTRIO), Bela at Anyway Records (Jenny Mae, The Kyle Sowashes, Connections ) in Columbus, Guy at Chapter in Australia (Dick Diver, Kath Bloom, Frida Hyvonen, Tenniscoats ), Andi at Fettkakao (Plaided, Lime Crush, Tirana) in Austria, our neighbour Shaun (Vacilando 68) and loads of others. If these labels did not exist, the cities they are in and a lot of lives would be culturally poorer.
O: How can people get involved in the series. Costs etc…?
G: We’re doing a minimum of 12 releases over the year in 2 tiers:
£60 for digital which includes all our previous catalogue
£120 for physical and that includes postage for UK plus 2 bonus physical from our catalogue (plus all the digital).
EU and the rest of the world is a little more expensive but we can do an ‘all at once’ cheap shipping option if people ask us.
Find out more on our bandcamp https://damnably.bandcamp.com/
O: Damnably has been a labour of love for 11 years now. Did you foresee it lasting as long as it has and what has it meant to you over that time? Do you envisage still running the label another 11 years down the line?
G: God no, when I first put on a Peel night at The Windmill in Brixton (thanks to Tim) with Lazarus Clamp, MJ Hibbett, Wintergreen and Former Utopia, I didn’t think it would happen again let alone become an entity that ate up so many years, so much money, floor space but also gave us so many new friends, the best gigs we’ve ever seen and the chance to travel and meet so many other label’s, promoters and bands around the world. Bands are like an extended family and its hard to describe the bond but it’s very close and means the world to us.
I hope I’ll be around in another decade, there are so many learning curves to navigate that after 11 years I only just about feel able to run a label now and Janice will tell you
I still don’t.
It’s a weird trait thing but I was at Andrew Law’s (my old art teacher) funeral a few months back with my childhood buddy Andy who I had not seen in 20+ years and he reminded me that I’d make everyone mix tapes and was ever so excited to pass on the gift of new music back then in the 80’s and he said I was doing the thing I’d always loved and had the perfect job, which is true and the subscription club is just a way to keep passing on that good stuff.