Speedy Wunderground at 10: A Decade of Wunder

dan carey, pierre hall and alexis smith of speedy wunderground

If you think of yourself as a new music fan, or someone with a particular penchant for the weirder side of rock music, you’ll be aware of the meteoric rise of Speedy Wunderground. Recent recipients of “Best Small Label” at the AIM Awards, Speedy’s output over the last decade has been phenomenal, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.

The brainchild of producer-extraordinaire Dan Carey, alongside Alexis Smith and Pierre Hall, Speedy Wunderground has built itself a reputation that many other record labels would absolutely kill for.

Gone are the halcyon years of record label supremacy, the singular vision of Creation Records or the glorious heyday of Warp, Rough Trade and Sub Pop. Labels are viewed with a justified cynicism, having diverted their focus on money-making and capital, rather than uplifting the artists they claim to represent. These capitalistic tendencies, however, seem to have bypassed Speedy. They posses the old-school romance of an indie label which is so often missing in the modern music industry.

This reputation didn’t just spring up overnight. Speedy has a meticulous recording process and what is, effectively, a manifesto for their recording artists to adhere to:

  • Recording of all records will be done in one day and finish before midnight. The recordings will be a snapshot of the day.
    Mixing will be done the day following the recording, also in one day only. This will prevent over-cooking and ‘faff’.
  • There will be no lunch break during recording and mixing days.
    Overdubs will be kept to a minimum allowing the recordings to be free of clutter.
  • The recordings will appear in limited runs of two hundred and fifty – five hundred 7”s, which will be in the shops as soon as humanly possible following their completion.
  • The core of each song will be a live take recorded in the dark with smoke and lasers and somewhere on each record the Swarmatron (a handmade, analogue synthesiser) will make an appearance.

This selection of rules has been a recipe for success, launching Speedy into the mainstream. Their early works with Kae Tempest, Loyle Carner and others garnered the label with critical acclaim amongst musos and fanatics alike. Things seriously kicked up a notch with the birth of the Wunderground/Windmill scene: a trio of uncompromisingly brilliant weird and wonderful singles, Black Midi’s ‘BmBmBm’, Squid’s ‘The Dial’ and Black Country, New Road’s ‘Athens France’ were smash hits in the burgeoning post-punk scene.

Not only were these bands labelmates, but they were playing regular shows at Brixton’s iconic Windmill venue and forming incestuous supergroups amongst their members for one-off speciality shows. This microclimate of post-punk with elements of art-rock, post-rock, avant jazz and much more became something of a trademark for both Speedy Wunderground and the Windmill alike. The legendary status that these two pillars of post-punk have achieved is nothing short of miraculous, and having a single on Speedy Wunderground has become something of a rite of passage for up-and-coming leftfield artists, as has a headline show at the fabled Windmill.

Several newer bands have achieved one or more of these goals, with outstanding recent Speedy Wunderground output coming from The Lounge Society, Deep Tan, O., English Teacher and Tummyache. Each of these cuts is of course different, but the ‘Speedy’ just bleeds in through the sound, and many of their limited releases go for silly money on Discogs. They’ve nailed the look too, and the weird little logo is a mark of quality: seeing it stamped on the back of a 7” is always a thrill, because you can be safe in the knowledge that whatever you’re about to drop the needle on will certainly be interesting and weird in the best way.

a rough n ready upload from Speedy Wunderground’s inaugural session

As Speedy collaborators bands achieved ascendency to the 6 Music playlist, and a level of mainstream popularity, so did Speedy. Aided and abetted by Dan Carey’s prolific output as a producer, working again with Kae Tempest, Bloc Party, Fontaines D.C. and many many more. Carey oversees proceedings like a mad scientist, putting his unique spin on some of the most popular alternative releases of the last few years. His influence on the wider leftfield and post-punk scene can’t be understated. Speedy Wunderground EPs and album releases followed their hit roster of 7”s as the label flourished, and they’ve truly established themselves as a marker of quality in the industry.

A regular feature of Speedy 7”s is Carey’s dub remixes, featuring as the B-side to most cuts (as long as the reverse wasn’t required for ‘part 2’ of the track), allowing Carey to play with the form and subvert even the most subversive tunes. To celebrate their tenth birthday, Speedy is releasing a fantastic compilation: ‘Speedy Wunderground, The Dubs – Vol 1’ is a hefty box set of ten 7” singles, made up of the jewels in the Speedy crown, showcasing the dub-mixes of their salubrious singles. Kae Tempest, Loyle Carner, BC,NR, PVA and many more feature in what is an utterly joyous collection.

These could be right out of the record box of Don Letts, and the mixing and production quality is off the scale. The whole thing is a testament to the boundary-pushing quality that runs throughout every single Speedy Wunderground release. The ethos and journey of Speedy Wundergroud is rare in an industry so cyclical, but their rise to prominence and cult success is a glimmer of hope in what can be a relentlessly gloomy industry.

Photo credit: Holly Whitaker

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