A music blog from Ireland.
After a four-year saunter into the world’s rock scene, last Wednesday independent record label the Richter Collective made a sudden announcement that their time is over and all activity will cease by the close of 2012. The name that backed 27 releases and innumerable agitated live shows from Irish rock bands since its formation by Barry Lennon and Michael Roe in 2008, Richter’s news hit like a thunderbolt and what we’re left with is an impact crater of considerable size. Several music and news sources reported the news and social feeds saw a deluge of dismayed reactions from fans of the label jolted by the shock. Myself included: I discovered some of the best bands I’ve ever heard through its ranks. There have been wondering murmurs from some supporters as to what happens next but for most there’s a genuine sense of loss.
What immediate effect will the label’s closure have? Adebisi Shank have just announced a slew of tour dates while bands such as BATS and Jogging who are due to release on Richter Collective this year have assured us their albums will arrive exactly as planned. Other acts on the roster will of course still be around albeit homeless for a while maybe. With no dead rockstars, each record a moderate success in its own right and in the absence of any cruel parting shots fired into the crowd, it could be said that Richter are ending on a high.
I find it difficult to think of the label in terms of subcultures because fans of the Richter Collective are not removed from the music scene I perceive. Sure they reached new audiences but what was remarkable was the way their math rock, metal, surf rock, hardcore and instrumental rock made fans out of existing supporters of popular Irish music, people who were previously comfortable with folk, indie and pop. Nor did they take it upon themselves to embody the current state of Irish music but the consistent high praise made those albums front-runners, and the first rule of just about anything is that people like to identify with success. Bearing in mind that unsigned bands were practically second-class citizens in the eyes and ears of the Irish music media until a few years ago, such was the degree of tokenistic coverage afforded to anything less than a major deal or arena performance, for an independent, alternative rock label to reach a position of prominence amongst music critics was an astonishing achievement in its own right. They valued their acts and customers equally, charging reasonably and delivering a high standard: that they made enough money from niche artists to sally on for four years at a crisis point in the record industry is a whole other praiseworthy exposition.
As music fans reading blogs, I presume you know what it’s like when you find that new band who really stir up your listening patterns. The ones who can turn you to a new genre the way the FBI flips informants, once you’re in you’re really in, and the thirst for more songs and information becomes unquenchable. With the Richter Collective, uncovering one band led to a range of similarly talented labelmates, and far beyond. Not only to those such as Tera Melos and Fang Island on its ‘sister’ label Sargent House in America, or in Japan Lite, and also Toe with whom Enemies signed alongside to Macchu Picchu, but here in Ireland the Richter Collective’s reach broke past the specifications of genre that bound them to rock music. Naturally they couldn’t sign every new band who were doing something cool but, as it must have been in any other place in the world as bands and labels took off in their local scenes, getting into Richter bands and going to gigs regularly lead to new sounds and faces. For example Melodica Deathship, Legion Of Two, Herv, Owensie, Crayonsmith and Cian Nugent are just some of the acts who bear no official affiliation or similarity of sound and yet were brought to my attention as a result of exploring offshoots and fringes of the label’s influence.
Chances are you’re well aware of the Richter Collective’s emergence in summer 2008, maybe you bought some of the albums and we might have rubbed shoulders at gigs. Perhaps the flood of praise for bands like Adebisi Shank or And So I Watch You From Afar brought Richter to your attention (or vice versa) and you found a new interest, or you’ve been aware of these guys since way before the crystal precursors dividing the bands’ histories were in place. A new wall that can’t be seen has now been added that will encase the Richter Collective firmly in the past, barely seen but strongly felt.
A heavily-populated category on this blog alone, awareness of what the Richter Collective were doing began for me back in 2008 when, after a literally mind-blowing gig at Crawdaddy (I left with concussion), I was told BATS were releasing an album on the label the following year. Checking out Richter showed up The Vinny Club and Adebisi Shank and just like that, a bloom of colourful new sounds blotted out what I thought I knew about local bands. Already swayed to towards irregular choices by EPs from Terrordactyl and BATS that had been released on Barry Lennon’s Armed Ambitions label, I was thrilled to discover that there was a lot of good shit in the pipeline. The new label was the work of these two guys, friends who were both vegans I heard, one of them the drummer in Adebisi Shank and Terrordactyl, the other a promoter and DIY advocate, merging the respective Popular Records and Armed Ambitions that put out EPs by noisy new rock bands who’d shown a shimmer of unfound potential. At that point I’d been exploring Irish music for over a year at Hot Press and as I said in A Joyful Slog, a recent documentary on Dublin’s DIY scene, Adebisi Shank’s album launch in October 2008 was the “gamechanger” for me as a blogger. I knew in a flash a standard had been set that I would abide by forever, showing how affirmatively, blisteringly good new music could get: I was not prepared for it to get even better.
Missing BATS’ EP launch because it was the same night as my sister’s birthday. Dropping in with my camera on a Tower Records in-store performance by Terrordactyl on the off-chance cos I liked their name and loving every second of what turned out to be the only time I ever saw them live. Getting smashed to 8-bits by The Vinny Club in a muscle suit with Playstation Guitar Hero at ALT to a rapturous crowd. The free copy of the first Adebisi Shank album on CD that came with €10 admission to the launch gig at the Boom Boom Room and my kids helpfully colouring in a rather profane photocopy I’d scooped up off the venue floor. The Richter Collective Singles Club that ran for a while with cassette tapes of unreleased (thus rare) material by the headline bands. The endless slew of fabulous posters and artwork concepts from bands who weren’t just DIY, they were doing it right. Many band T-shirts, some I own, some I will own when I can afford to outbid the Internet, some I recognise like the one that led to meeting Barry Lennon by chance for the first time when I complimented his Terrordactyl T-shirt at a party. Hands-on label boss slapped a flyer for Kidd Blunt‘s last-ever gig into my hand. Enemies’ problems with the Feed Me Seedless/Bits Of Parrots 7″. The night in Twisted Pepper when ASIWYFA shared the stage with future label amigos Adebisi Shank for the first time. Hearing the insane refrains that came from Estel jamming with Mike Watt on the Untitled EP followed by The Continuous Battle of Order‘s Hornby taking Watt’s role for the launch gig in the Lower Deck. Surfing through band profiles on MySpace at ridiculous o’clock by way of Top Friends. Squarehead when it was just Roy and his guitar. Not Squares as a four-piece. Enemies setting off on tour to Japan, along with Adebisi Shank (with Mike Watt again) and The Redneck Manifesto, to play venues like the Shibuya O-Nest that even I knew of, the accompanying satisfaction I felt at broadening of horizons for these bands whose music I loved, confirming the belief I held that Ireland was producing some of the best music in the world. Shirtless men on a kitchen roof staring up at the stars. Vinny’s penchant for the best of bad popculture. Lewis Jackson’s fashion sense. The bundle offers that made me want to re-buy albums I already owned. The relationships that sprang up, other people affected by a similar enthusiasm, prompted and driven to create, like Loreana and the Vinny shirt, Niamh Hegarty’s podcasts, promoters like U:Mack and Skinny Wolves who heard the correlations to good touring bands, the scores of students who emailed with questions for college papers/radio shows/research/theses that Richter bands invariably lead to this blog. The exaltated anticipation in those early days back at Drop-D knowing that Richter had brought rock back and it was big, the sense of feeling unified with a growing, grinning horde who all wanted to hear more, and then three of us from the old D-scene assembling together by chance for what went on to be a gig of our lives at The Second Album Launch Of A Band Called…. Zappateer and Adultrock minimix mash-ups, fan-made videos, countless photographers overcoming scepticism after three songs. Speaking to BATS for AU Magazine ahead of the release of Red In Tooth & Claw, their first interview conducted amongst all five members, and thinking that despite the novelty of their experience, it would be rare for me as a music journalist to ever again have such an endless reservoir of questions for one band. Thrashing, sweating, responding. Getting into the mother of all arguments when I had the temerity to suggest Adebisi’s debut album should have been nominated for the Choice Prize, slating a load of judges’ tastes in the process. Adebisi playing Whelan’s on New Year’s Eve 2008, followed by ASIWYFA in 2010, that slot customarily being akin to The Year’s Best Bands Play The Year’s Last Gig. Being dropped home from Whelans by ASIWYFA and falling out of the van with my camera, effectively putting an end to my photography career. Standing up front at the secret show in the Mercantile a year later after ASIWYFA were shortlisted for the Choice, luxuriating in the erosion of my face, worrying slightly for the band who were due to head off to the US for SXSW but hadn’t yet got approval for their visas (they made it). Being scolded by Rory for not wearing ear plugs. Bringing my kids to all-ages gigs like Jogging, ASIWYFA and Adebisi, hearing of them screaming “these bats will destroy you!” as they cycled around the neighbourhood. Meeting Marvin’s Revolt for an interview just before they jacked it in. The logo on a red bike. Richter getting solid mention left, right and centre, in the papers and on the radio and music TV shows, proper pages, stages and set-ups being given to the acts, ballsy festival bookers embracing the collective, allaying some of the blandness that had settled from indie jangle and cock rock poseur headliners of years past. Fists pounding the fucking air, lyrics being roared. Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo and the crunch of glass underfoot on stepping over mic cable as Barry bellowed and roamed through the throng of the Mercantile. Adebisi, ASIWYFA, Not Squares packing out the Button Factory. The great day out at Le Cheile festival for an all-day summer whammy of favourite bands that ended with me wayyy too drunk, curled in a fetal position on the bus back to Dublin at 3am. Not Squares playing the show of their lives by way of a support slot to Mi Ami. A sheaf of snatched set lists. The gallons’ worth of splashes of beer upon floors that were cast from my glass because I just could not hold the dancing back. The way walking out the front door to Snakehips on headphones all but guarantees a great day. The hook in Star Wormwood that sounds like a pierced membrane. The rising trickle of anticipation that builds as albums near completion: video trailers. The mp3 teaser of Black Apple by The Redneck Manifesto, their first new song in four years. Shame that there’ll never be a Speed of Snakes album on RC. Lar playing guitar while hoisted overhead during the stage invasion at Whelans before birthday boy Vinny was crowd-surfed to the bar. Any excuse to party with Richter. Handmade Xmas cards at the Xmas bash. Walking In The Air. The night I realised I’d stood up front at an ASIWYFA gig for the last time because they had too many fans for comfort now. Elation for Logikparty on signing up with their no-wave designs, followed by commiserations when they parted ways. All these are just some of the memories I associate with the Richter Collective, many which other people share too, and it’s given me lifelong pleasure to have documented some portion under the banner of Harmless Noise.
The decision to wrap up the business must have taken a great deal of deliberation on the parts of Barry and Mick, knowing how much the bands and the label achieved in its short span of time. They showed that the cutting edge of Irish music was not a hostile place, that creativity needn’t conform to societal norms in order to be considered valuable, that change needn’t be a destructive force. They didn’t barge in but they shook things up, causing people to ask why they’d never heard of bands like this before and how much other great stuff had passed us by over the years. As it stands now, thanks to their efforts there’s a block of acclaimed releases spanning four years that contributed in no small part to a renascence of independent music here, which commanded a greater proportion of attention to alternative music, stepping past stupid diversionary notions of what was considered cool by young kids or good by old folks while at the same time introducing a ‘sound’ punk attitude to the unsuspecting media who had been lulled into sedentary softness by post-rock. It’s as if the Irish music scene needed a decade of overriding banality to make us perfectly unprepared for what lay ahead.
This may seem a small thing in the grand scale but in order to be involved in the music scene and its ruthless, persistent clamour of commercial wank I need solid proof that integrity exists and creativity is rewarded on basis of merit instead of value. The response to the Richter Collective corroborated the theory that when talent draws acclaim it must/will be recognised and acknowledged. That the same has proved true for other artists, individuals and organisations is what makes Ireland such an exciting place for new music right now. They have done us a service in highlighting that there’s still some way to go before the extent of music coverage is fair and balanced but Richter’s presence encouraged exploration and disclosed areas of activity that act as great starting points for a more varied representation of rock music. They didn’t have to start fires or blow smoke up hoops to get the recognition their bands deserved and I believe that as they moved forward, racking up playcounts, Richter changed the way people think about DIY culture and independent music here in Ireland and the effect of that spread out on a wider scale to enrich the overall reception to our country’s new bands.
The Richter Collective proved that independence wasn’t some last resort imposed on them, that doing it yourself was an option and not a necessity. The bands just played, people came, we wrote about it. DIY had done its work and that’s the beautiful simplicity of it all really. There will be labels, bands and projects galore as we move forward but the flaming brand of the Richter Collective won’t ever fade from these flanks.