With an ethos that is reminiscent of legendary labels like Factory and Zoo and an authentic-come-unconventional take on Recording; Speedy Wunderground have garnered a burgeoning reputation for breaking the bands of tomorrow.
Combined with a curiously fast approach to making records, they’ve become the go-to label for the sounds of the future.
Pierre Hall hasn’t always worked for Speedy Wunderground. The label boss, who also works for [PIAS], met producer and ‘Speedy’ founder, Dan Carey (above left), through a friend in Manchester many moons ago. Now running the label on a daily basis, the self-confessed A&R guru spends his time looking for the best new bands and artists to work with their label.
“It started with producer Dan and his engineer Alexis (Smith, above middle),” he begins. “I wasn’t involved in those days and it was a lot different back then. Dan is a huge producer; he’s worked with Kylie, M.I.A and Franz Ferdinand to name a few.”
As well as the aforementioned, Carey is also a Mercury-nominated producer. Last year he appeared twice on the shortlist; for his work on Fontaines D.C’s ‘Dogrel’ and Black Midi’s ‘Schlagenheim’.
Whilst he enjoys his time producing full albums, Pierre (above right) says the label was born out of Dan’s irritation with the extensive album cycle; it often takes months before he is able to share his work.
“I think he was frustrated with how long it would take for a record to come out,” he says before pausing.
“So he wanted to do something spontaneous and it initially started as a way for bigger artists he worked with to do smaller releases and projects – that’s why the first couple of releases were Steve Mason and Natasha Kahn, who was in Bats For Lashes.”
Carey also recruited a house-band to work on some of the early tracks; in the spirit of old Motown record labels.
“He liked the idea of having a house-band on all of the records. He was working with Toy at the time, who were signed to Heavenly – they helped him put out the first couple of releases,” he said.
It was not long after that Hall was recruited by Carey to work with the label. “I lived in Manchester with my mate Ollie, who introduced me to Dan through his own band, Boxed In,” he said.
“When I came down to London, I just started helping him with Speedy. As well as running the label, I’ve brought an A&R side to it.”
During that time, the label shifted to become a breeding ground for up-and-coming bands.
“It’s also a really good way for new bands to test their relationship with Dan,” he begins. “A lot of the bands who work with Dan and ‘Speedy’ go on to collaborate with him on their albums; the likes of Warmduscher, Black Midi and Squid. The label has become an A&R launchpad, but it’s a really great way for Dan to keep one foot in the underground.”
Pierre says that it’s rare that you get a label where the boss is also the producer; he believes there is a constant thread that runs through every record – the sound, the studio, it all comes full circle.
“Even though the artists are different there’s a kind of sound that runs through it. The Main things are authenticity and spontaneity, that’s the approach Dan is really keen on,” he says.
“The way we work is different; I’ve never been to a recording session, I’m not needed there. Apart from when I recommend a band, the first time I hear a record is when its finished, which is quite nice for me.”
The same goes for the bands and artists who work with the label; they aren’t allowed to listen to the recordings until they are mastered and changes aren’t allowed whatsoever. It’s this process that has brought the label significant attention and whilst they’ve stuck to traditional methods as close as possible, it’s impossible not to move with the digital world.
“Back then, there was a lot less pressure in terms of sales and stuff because we were so limited in what we could do – we could only make 250 seven inches. When we first started out, the records would never go out digitally – we’d only do that for the compilation at the end of the year,” Pierre says.
But with the advent of radio and streaming, it’s now equally as important to the label to release digital copies.
“A lot of the bands are new now – so they need to be on those playlists. There’s still no pressure because the bands aren’t tied down to us for more than a single.”
We’re up to number 12 in our QUARANTINE SERIES and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.
We have so many more to come from our favourite friends & artists.
Full playlist link to them all so far here https://t.co/SVS6veEBX2 pic.twitter.com/h4p4dPGFtz
— Speedy Wunderground (@SpeedyWunder) May 2, 2020
This approach to recording is very reminiscent of legendary labels like Factory, who purposely avoided signing the bands whose records they released. Though, there is no worry of a Tony Wilson-style meltdown here; the labels rapid expansion in popularity has artists all-over-the-world pining to work with them.
One of the major draws being the unconventional working style, combined with the label’s 10-point-plan that is strictly adhered to, although Pierre says they have relaxed some rules in recent years. “We allow bands to have lunch now,” he laughs.
“But we do stick to it pretty strictly. Everything is recorded in a day and then mixed in a day, sometimes we’ve managed both in one day. We’ve recently signed Tiña, who has released a few singles with us. Their album was recorded in true Speedy fashion, it was done in three days.”
It’s the constant stream of ideas and influences that run through every record that makes the label so unique. “Dan still loves to put the Swarmatron on every record, we still have smoke and lasers,” he begins.
“We have broken the rules on lunch quite a lot and on some occasions have repressed – just recently we released a track with The Lounge Society and that was the first ever repress since Black Midi.”
It’s the recent successes of these smaller-niche bands with almost cult followings that come as no surprise to Hall. He says despite the obvious lack of promotion younger bands receive, proof is in the sales that there is a growing audience in far corners of the country.
“You sometimes find with these younger bands, especially those outside of London that the records go so quickly,” he says.
“The Lounge Society was crazy, they haven’t had any radio or press so it makes you think there has to be a lot of kids up North, maybe inwardly looking at the label and thinking it’s a cool thing. They’ll get excited about the band they think no one knows about, putting a record out.”
When asked how the label go about finding the smorgasbord of talent they work with, Hall says it’s a combination of keeping your ear out, listening to demos and making the most out of the tight-knit music community.
However, they’re never short of offers. “We get so many offers. In my day job, I hear a lot being in the industry but we also get a lot of demos – Dan listens to everything, but I find it hard to listen to every single thing we get,” he starts.
“They don’t all come through me, a lot come via Dan and you get certain periods where there is a run of bands that link to one another; we had Black Midi, Squid and Black Country New Road all within months of each other. There’s also places like The Windmill, which is a big part of what we do. It’s a small world though, one band often leads to another.”
It’s the ear and tenacity of producer Dan Carey that led the label towards Calder Valley up-and-comers The Lounge Society. “They were one of the ones that just emailed Dan and he listened, then forwarded it to me saying how much he loved it. I also loved it,” he says excitedly.
“We emailed back and got it sorted. It’s quite funny, they’re all so young that they weren’t allowed to come down by themselves – they had to get an adult to come with them.”
Hall tells me that on the day the band travelled to London to record, their school friends were taking mock exams. “They had to get permission from the headteacher to have the day off,” he laughs.
“How cool is that? The day their mates are doing an exam they were with one of the hottest producers in the world, recording their debut single.”
The band themselves couldn’t speak highly enough of their counterparts when I spoke with frontman Cam Davey. “Somehow they make recording a single stress free,” he starts.
“We tried demo-ing Generation Game a few times in the past and it just didn’t sound quite right. It was too nice. Dan and Alexis managed to capture the live energy which is what it needed.”
It’s that particular single that’s just had its physical release pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis; the factory that presses their records is temporarily closed. The lockdown has still been a fruitful time however, with the label releasing a track every three days via their Soundcloud in what is known as the Quarantine Series.
“One of the reasons Dan has started doing this series, is because he can spend so much time in the studio; we’re only putting them on Soundcloud but that’s because we’re using a lot of artists tied into contracts so we can’t actually sell them,” he explains.
Hall believes it’s a great time to be putting music out; the label arguably making more music in isolation than beforehand.
“He’s making all these tracks and sending them out to collaborators, and as well as sending them to people we know, we’re also sending them out to people we haven’t worked with,” he leads.
“Dan was going back through his emails the other day, and we ended up doing a track with a girl called Heartworms that was kind of totally out of the blue. We’ve got loads in the pipeline, it’s going to keep going until this thing is over. We’ve been lumped in a lot to this post-punk thing for a while and it’s good to get an opportunity to get weirder.”
Main image courtesy of Holly Whitaker, with thanks.