Over the last past eight months Brighton’s once thriving vinyl trade took a few painful blows, with the closing of the much loved Rounder Records after fourty six years of trading, as well as the demise of Edgeworld Records, a haven for all forms of leftfield music.
Restoring the equilibrium however, Well Rounded Records openend their doors to their first batch of customers over the New Year period. In January we had the opportunity to chat with owner, and Well Rounded figurehead Ash Marlowe, as well as store assistants Dom Hughes (877 Records founder) and Chris Butler (Richta) about the opening of the new shop, and whats in store for Well Rounded as a whole over 2013.
SL: You posted a status from the Facebook page about the kind of excitement that you used to have about record shops when you were in your late-teens/early 20s and that you thought it was unrealistic to see that energy again, but I get a real sense that there is an increasing passion about record shops these days and this is reflected in the raise of vinyl sales. With the price of your vinyls, do you have an ideology about keeping it low, similar to say how Fugazi had a cap on how much their music would sell for this reason?
A: The only thought I’ve given to pricing was, well, there’s going to have to be a certain margin that we add on to the stuff we buy for to make it viable for us to sell the records at all. But you obviously keep that as low as possible so the retail price doesn’t become too high.
With domestic UK labels or European labels, you can get them cheaper than say if you’re importing records from America and Holland for example. A lot of domestic records now are somewhere between £6.50-£8 and imports can sort of start around £8.50 and go around £10.50 very occasionally for certain labels. That’s a rough breakdown.
Then there’s the second-hand stuff of course. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been putting in stuff that’s overspill from my own collection and every record that I’ve ever bought I’ve bought because I thought it was good or at least potentially interesting. We’re put second-hand records out in the shop after we assess their worth not just in money terms but also musically. We’re not putting anything out there that we don’t think is of a quality or standard, it hits it’s target whether it’s a dirty grime riddim based thing or a sort of dub-technoey thing from Berlin or something like that. Whether it’s a Villalobos record or if it’s a old garage record, we reacquaint ourselves with what it is.
C: We listen to basically everything that comes into the shop.
A: Yeah, so the prices for those, some of them will go out as cheap as £2 and we are selling a few that way which has been good to see. Things I’ve got at say a boot fair for a pound and I picked it because I could see it was clearly a vintage US house record just by looking at the labels and understanding what to look out for there, and then realising it had a couple of dubs by Murk or someone on the B-Side and thinking “Oh that might be good I’ll give it a punt.” We sold one recently that it was in that vein of New York garage-house from the early 90s. That sound has made a big resurgence through the clubs lately so it’s relevant to today again. I think, down south here anyway….
SL: So to what extent do you think that the shops popularity comes from your tastes specifically?
A: I can make an interesting point on this I think, which is that a lot of people were working at shops and then new genres evolved and they ignored them, and almost hated on them for as long as they could. I’m thinking of Dubstep in particular here.
There were dance specialists in Brighton and a few of us, including Dom here, were aware of Dubstep coming in, and were getting what we could but there were limits to that – we couldn’t get labels like DMZ and stuff, and I would go into record shops saying to them; “look, there’s me and a load of other people round here who really want to get these records on these labels, these are the guys who distribute them blah blah blah, could you just consider…” and they didn’t get it. But eventually they had such a demand coming in off the street that they did what I told them to do several months earlier and creamed cash off a style they didn’t have any respect for. They barely knew what speed to fucking play it on, trust me. It was led by the enthusiasm of the people, not the shop.
Because I’ve always been a punter and a fan and an avid collector, in my shop you’ll get that from behind the counter. I’m as excited about the new box of records as you are or should be, or I would hope you would be. The other day we had a couple of guys in when a particular box landed and it’s just a small shop, you know, but we had two guys there I was just like “oh hang on a minute we’ve just got a box, a few things here might interest you” and they each both bought a fresh, straight out the box, record that they had no advance notice of, and they also bought a record each that they selected for themselves.
SL: It was quite refreshing the other day where you were playing some Juke and I think a lot of record shops don’t sell any Juke or if they do it’s in a tiny little bit. I mean, it’s not as if Well Rounded are known for Juke necessarily but it was refreshing to hear something so different to what you’d expect to be playing.
A: You’ll hear a Grace Jones album or a Prince album from time to time as well. The whole thing about it is, as broad as we can be, we’ll go there happily. I don’t put any barriers on it, personal taste wise, it’s all elevated to an equal status. Garage, Dubstep, House, Soul – once a certain thing has been achieved in any genre it deserves level respect really. I’m saying this because I’m coming to these realisations – anyone who buys a record now deserves a pat on the back.
SL: What about the label side of Well Rounded? Whats going on this year generally?
A: I’m carrying on with the three labels, the schedule stretches out quite far already, and there’s a lot of artists to fit in, I’m talking to lot of different people but we’re at different stages.
I think we’ve got some fantastic music to put out this year of course. I’m also gonna be releasing more of our own producers, the actual family of people closely connected to Well Rounded, that have supported me or been there getting involved at different levels over the past three years or so. Chris works for the shop but will also release on the label as Richta.
SL: 877 have also released a remix by Donga & Blake in the past?
D: Yeah, on the first release there was a remix of one of my tracks, and actually probably more interestingly coming up is a various artists ep called Well Rounded Rebel Alliance. As Ash said it features tracks from Well Rounded in-house producers and friends selcted by myself for 877.
C: It goes off.
A: Yeah there’s some dancefloor damage from Klic & Riskotheque.
D: And a much deeper sort of housey track from Donga & Blake.
A: There’s another tune that features Richta here an’ all. ‘Skeleton Grin’ is this kind of odd techno track. It’s got a spoken word vocal by me which was a stream of consciousness thing I just wrote down at the time in the studio, which seems to basically be about people that deliberately present themselves one way when their real agenda is something they hide.
C: Unconsciously quoting William Burroughs. (Laughs)
D: I guess to bring it back the scene in Brighton, there are obviously examples of us doing stuff together but I wouldn’t say there’s like a real strong scene like there might be in Bristol or somewhere like that. But with the shop and the labels, and us doing this EP and various other things like that hopefully we’ll be working more in that direction.
A: I’m quite nervous about certain aspects of it, because the reason we don’t put loads of our own music out is because you think to yourself where does this fit in basically. Seems to me that a lot of stuff out there is quite conservative. I can only really speak for myself really, but I don’t go to make music with any idea about what we’re trying to do. I observe we’re just trying to find something to launch a creative process, and you never know what that’s going to be. So sometimes you’ll make a track but you’ll never make another one that sounds even remotely like it again. So that idea of there being like enough consistency to what you’re doing that you can almost ‘market’ yourself as an artist becomes really hard. Even putting one EP together - we’ve had to do a various artists EP and come up with The Well Rounded Rebel Alliance concept so that three things that were conceived separately but deliver a considered diversity can come together on one record. I mean it could be the best record of this year who the fuck knows. It’d be good to think that it might be. It might be the definitive statement and everyone just stops making music after that. (Laughs) SL: Is that similar to how the Cash Antics series works? Whats the breakdown with Well Rounded between the Housing Project and Well Rounded Individuals?
A: I can go into more depth about the individual remits of each, but to be honest I just wanted to get more records out. Its not gone too badly but its not necessarily advisable strategically. I think I’ve probably put a lot more records out in three years than other labels have achieved, but that comes at a certain price I think sometimes. You find records coming out a bit too close to one another sometimes with ones that are delayed too long. In the record manufacturing process it only takes one break in the communication chain or one thing to go wrong sometimes and you find your release put back a month or something. Sometimes you get a project that just for some reason becomes the weird project that got away, and you’re almost tearing your hear out thinking ‘We cut it four months ago, where’s the fucking record?’
D: If your manufacturing vinyl, in my experience it never goes as straight forwardly as you’d like it to, there’s always a delay with something.
A: There are exceptions but when the easier releases happen you’re just like ‘This one went nice and easy, thank god!’. But yeah it was just a way to be able to put more records out and I’m still pushing for that subtly. I work with distributors and I’ve found that there’s distributors that definitely see potential in what we do, and I think we’re regarded quite well. So we’re not without people that want to distribute our label, but at the same time there’s only so much freedom they can afford to give me, so sometimes I have to be a bit more creative, like this thing with me doing these WR Edits 250 white label editions, that’s effectively launching another outlet to get more of these tunes out.
SL: Do you think artwork is important? What’s the concept behind the Well Rounded logo and labels?
A: The Well Rounded labels were something I asked a friend to do – I said I wanted something colourful and hand drawn, and I had something in mind that was a bit like an old Joe Gibb’s reggae label from Jamaica, but he just came up with what he came up with and I don’t know what it was that appealed to me about it, it’s weird. With me there’s a lot of letting go and doing things instinctively, not over analysing certain aspects because I feel it’s boring – it’s more ‘why not, let’s go with that, fuck it’ than sitting around endlessly moving things round backwards and forwards to get the right precise fucking angle right – that wouldn’t have been something I was interested in. Once we had the original label design, we just did a couple of slight deviations of the text on the first few releases. We hit Cash Antics 1 and we let Deadboy design that, gave him free reign to do what he wanted, and then when we came back with Donga & Blake we started experimenting with the backdrop to the logo, and as we went on further we then stepped outside of that with Submerse where we adapted the logo and made it look like a Moving Shadow label as that label’s output had been a big influence on him. We started to look at our identity and then the concept of the record, and play around with certain things. The Kidcut 10” is luridly orange, there’s an implied acidness to the way it’s presented – as it’s essentially a rave record. But then you have another release, where maybe the concept of the art was developed separately from the music, where our artist has done something physical with crude prints of the logo, like screwed it up and unraveled it or folded it over and unfolded it, or cut it up, photocopied it and taped it back together – things like that.
The same chap also does Well Rounded Individuals, and on Individuals I guess for him it’s less about there having to be a particular link between the artwork and the record, but once again certain things have crept in, like there’ll be scribbles of pencil.
With Well Rounded Housing Project it’s a different design team – one of the guys who does it is a friend I’ve known for a while, I knew about his love of geometric shapes, intense technical illustrations – shapes, crystals, this that and the other and it was just something that we’d be babbling on about. I sometimes get from it a sense of locating a spiritual centre within the technical. There’s a lot of background to our daily lives that works in cycles, patterns and how things relate to each other. We are all our own planet in a sense….
SL: We were talking on the way here about the description of the label how that’s a really important part of whether you pick something up when you’re searching through a crate. At some shops they have these really lazy, wry descriptions of music that make them sound like they don’t care about what they’re selling at all. I saw a description the other day that said ‘the thing that all the hipsters went crazy for last year’ – why is anyone going to buy that if they read that?
A: I’ve found ways to deal with it, if you’re intelligent or creative enough you don’t have to lie. I’ve re-discovered phrases like ‘love it or hate it’. Certain records come out that you think that about, but you can still understand or appreciate what it is about it that’s drawing attention.
C: You can be respectful even if it’s not to your personal taste. You can still write something on that label that appreciates what is good about it to the people that like it.
A: We were doing some ordering the other night and I was showing Chris certain things. Some of those records would probably be records that would possibly be a bit more commercial or accessible, and you have to try and put yourself in the mindset of a young listener, a teenager – what would they think of this? What would I think of this? That’s just as important; not just being highbrow about it, don’t be snobbish about a record you’re stocking. You’re happy to take my money but-
C: –you’re looking down your nose as you do it.
A: I worked in a shop before this where staff put comments on labels like ‘ripping garage spuzz-punk’ or something. Somehow we ended up stocking a Franz Ferdinand album, and it took a while before I noticed that our description of their debut album said something like ‘complete fucking pile of total shit’. To be honest –
C: -they were right.
A: I was a bit like ‘well we probably shouldn’t be doing that’ but then again I see the writer’s frustration. I’ve had problems because I’ve always found that a lot of the music I’ve thought was really good was either overlooked or marginalized, and I think that’s always true. With bass music and contemporary dance music – often whoever is being the most loudly lauded you’ve already been following, and it gets a bit predictable like ‘well of course James Blake is fully singing now’, and it’s all become very ‘sit down at the Barbican’’. Fine, you know, I don’t care, because there are loads of new things – artists and people- emerging all the time. I think you can invest as much or as little into it as you want; I mean it’s there – there’s a lot going on right now.
C: I think the thing is, however broad any individual’s taste is - and Ash has got extremely broad taste - there’s still going to be stuff that’s outside of that and you don’t want to rule out selling that in the shop, because if that’s what somebody else is into then we want to be able to give them what they’re after as well.
A: Although I think I’ve just contradicted that a little bit, but yeah.
C: Only because you’ve given Franz Ferdinand as a very extreme example…
A: I think some producers go on a sort of trajectory as well; and it’s like OK, now you’re at this level, do you need my support as much as the guy at a lower level? If they’re still making music that challenges the stuff that you’ve appreciated in the past then you’re going to acknowledge that happily. But I just think sometimes it gets to a point where it takes on the shape of something that’s a lot more managed and promoted and actually marketed, rather than it just being underground music that’s filtering out into the natural network for it.
C: To take your James Blake example – I remember hearing some of his early releases towards the end of the Dubstep days. I heard you play them Ash, and we all agreed that they were really fucking good, I personally don’t know much what his stuff sounds like since then. If he was to tomorrow release something that we agreed was a deservedly big release then we wouldn’t hesitate to get it in – it’s not like we write people off because they get recognition.
A: No no no, but sometimes it does mutate into something that is so widely distributed that it doesn’t really need support from shops like us.
I am looking at domestic labels, I’m discovering some and I double back their stuff if I think it’s good, even though people may not have heard of it until they come into the shop. It’s going to take us perhaps recommending it to them, like these two labels Shifted Focus and Blind Jack’s Journey, labels like this, where because they’re manufactured in England they don’t cost us a lot to buy. Even though we haven’t sold out of the first Blind Jack’s Journey release I’m still totally backing these labels. I hope we can help to promote this music because it strikes me that it’s exciting on some level. It peaks my interest.
Update: Since this interview Donga sold out of Blind Jacks Journey ‘Dream House 1.1’ and is now happily selling ‘1.2’.
For some of the best wax in Brighton, visit ‘Well Rounded Vinyl Vendors’. Mon-Sat 11:00-18:00 and Sunday 12:00-17:00. Above Rare Kind Records, 1st Floor Trafalgar Street BN1 4ER