Exciting new music alert – this week saw the release of Killing Moon‘s latest compilation, and we’ve been listening non-stop! In collaboration with Radio 1′s Ally McCrae, New Moons: Volume II is jam-packed with 26 lovingly selected and equally brilliant tracks, featuring an array of emerging artists who’s names you’re gonna need to remember. We had a chat to Ach Dhillon, founder of Killing Moon to talk about compilations and the inner workings of a record label…
Killing Moon started out as a blog, what inspired you to turn it into a label?
Actually the intention was always there to turn it into a label; the point at which that was going to happen was very much the grey area. I had been working at various labels in varying capacities since my last year of university in 2006 prior to starting Killing Moon in 2011-ish. The reason I wanted to start the party as a blog first was three-fold. Firstly, I wanted to understand blog culture – in my mind before the blogs there were internet forums like Drowned In Sound and Punktastic hosting a flourishing new music community where you’d find a shitload of Myspace links to check out, then blogs like Transparent (who indeed were/are also a label) started to become the primary flagbearers of new music, or indeed become scenes within themselves – and I thought the best way to do this and immerse myself in this culture was to just become one. Secondly, I had plenty of built-up angst from my formative years as an A&R person given that every time I found a new artist that I got excited about, I apparently wasn’t allowed to talk about it otherwise “the competition” would find out about it too. So I had a small point to prove that this is a rather archaic view of modern A&R, and perhaps if we show some love to a new artist without any solicitation or validation from elsewhere or indeed any financial motivation, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to rely so much on the charm offensive if we then wanted to work with that artist in some capacity as they could, quite literally, see in black and white what we think of them. Thirdly, I guess much like a band, you need a community (or by analogy a fan-base) that takes you seriously, who then just might take your releases seriously in turn.
I think during my time at other indie and major labels, I had eventually realised the people who are happiest working in music (some people refer to this as being successful) are the ones that start their own thing in stark defiance of the idea that you need anyone to validate such a hopeless operation from the get-go, and disband any idea that there is indeed a set career path in music. Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records. Simon Raymond and Bella Union. John Peel and Radio 1. These are all characters who didn’t give a fuck about the so-called rules (by reputation, at least), or indeed the business, and just did what they love. They just wanted to do something that was worth doing, which funnily enough involves knocking the idea of getting off the soup and bread line anytime soon on the head. I find that truly inspiring. I also really look up to labels like Transgressive, Wichita, Neon Gold, Chess Club, Big Scary Monsters, Alcopop and a bunch of others, and the way they champion new music beyond the realms of just releasing the record. They put on shows, tours, have their own blogs, buddy up with other like-minded brands. So the concept of running Killing Moon as a label out of the blog isn’t really a new one at all, but rather we just try to do it as best as we can.
What have been the most rewarding, and challenging aspects of setting up a label?
I’ll start off with the challenging aspects. No one gives a shit about you or rather what you are trying to do when you start out. You are a drop in the ocean. Sometimes I feel the indie music community can be as elitist if not more than the major labels, and perhaps this idea of trying to assert one’s brand as the coolest of the cool can evolve into a licence to become rather convinced of one’s superiority. Then again, that’s a problem that has plagued the music industry since it was conceived as such, and ironically in this day and age of social status being paramount, probably the biggest appeal of the whole thing. So the most challenging thing for me was just to get out of bed and convince yourself that this whole thing is worth doing when you know you’ll basically be laughed at for a bit. Other more practical challenges involve operating every aspect of what a “traditional” record label does – distribution, manufacturing, online promo, plugging to radio, trying to organise a live plot around a record release, convince the lawyers and managers involved that you’re not a moron, drafting the licenses for the release yourself (law degree and LPC comes in pretty handy here, kids) – with zero money to chuck at it. On top of that, trying to maintain the various other aspects of what Killing Moon does – the blog obviously being at the heart of everything, our now-rather-substantial live remit, and now our big-ass artist management roster has me running in circles and/or chained to a desk, or rather my parent’s loft where this whole thing started back in the day.
The rewards are substantial though. When it starts to go, it really fucking goes. What really makes my day is that we can make a difference to a new artist and the new music community; we don’t want to latch onto the buzz, rather we want to start it. We can take an artist that literally nobody has heard of, often on the basis of one track, and go about a crafty way of making a lot of people then give a shit about them. We are constantly learning (or at least trying to) about new ways of undertaking new projects – for example, I didn’t actually know how to release a record prior to putting out my first on Killing Moon in late 2011. We very much enjoy learning by doing, and making a million mistakes on the way. The career-enabling and educational aspects aside, my other big personal reward is seeing people rely on Killing Moon for their livelihoods. We’re a very small and close-proximity team, and right now I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We’re mega excited for the release of your second compilation ‘New Moons: Volume II’. Talk us through your work process when putting together a compilation…
Ha, awesome. We’re all pretty excited too! The fun bit is right at the start, and relatively simple (but can be the most time-consuming, if you’re a musical bigot like me). Pick some new bands that you like (having your own label and blog helps here). Pick a track from each of them. Put it into a playlist. Give it a name. Get some kick-ass artwork done up from a mate of a mate. That’s your compilation. Ally and I were kids in a candy shop when it came to this bit.
The hard bit is the licensing. In this instance, we had 26 bands appearing on the track listing. Perhaps we got a bit too excited there. Take the number 26, multiply by the number of people in each band, add-on their respective managers and/or lawyers and/or labels, and that’s how many people you have to deal with to get the relevant clearances to get this thing going. It wasn’t at all difficult in terms of dealing with the relevant parties – everyone was an absolute pleasure to deal with (if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be on the compilation) – more that it was just a lot. A whole loooooooooot of admin. I decimated the caffeine population of West London during the month of August. Then you have to deal with the promotional aspect, and trying to make as much noise about the thing as possible. Like this interview for example. We’re trying to encourage as much direct interaction with the bands appearing on the compilation as the whole point revolves around bigging them up, but if that involves bigging ourselves up then so be it. As long as people are checking it out, y’know?
How did the collaboration with Ally McCrae come about?
I met Ally a couple of years ago during my first-ever visit to South By South West in 2013. A friend of mine Ben Soep (who later became and still currently is Killing Moon’s product manager) invited me to see a band he was working with called Paws who we had featured on the blog the year before at The British Music Embassy, and introduced me to Ally. We kinda hit it off straight away, I think this was largely to do with some weird mutual admiration we’d developed for each other despite not having met before. I think they call that bromance. Internet bromance. Towards the end of 2013, Ally and I were enjoying a leisurely hot drink near our office in Hammersmith and we were talking about end of year lists. All these music websites, blog, record labels have end of year or ones to watch lists, but for some unfathomable reason a lot of these artists and bands are just forgotten about over the festive period. So to address this in 2014 we thought a cool way to re-validate these artists to the rest of the world would to bundle them all up in a compilation and inject them onto social networks; really just to keep them “relevant”. It worked a little bit too well. The compilation not only became our fastest-selling release, but served as a springboard for the careers of Racing Glaciers, Fickle Friends, Laurel, Slaves, Bloody Knees, Fatherson and a bunch more. Then we thought a cool idea would be to get these artists performing live together; so the first Killing Moon tour happened in May 2013. We thought it might be great idea to do the whole thing again, which is really more a testament to just how many fantastic new artists there are around and constantly cropping up over 2014.
Can you give us the lowdown on some of the artists on the compilation?
Why, sure. I’ll try to keep it to a few because I clearly have a habit of yapping on endlessly. And I certainly could when it comes to the artists on this compilation, there are just so many great ones involved.
Taymir are a kick-ass rock band from Holland. They look like Taking Back Sunday, are baller like Arctic Monkeys, and rock like The Von Bondies. Right now they’re coursing their way through Europe but I’ve been talking to their management and trying to get them playing London soon which I honestly cannot wait for.
Money For Rope are a true juggernaut of a live band. We ended up booking them to play at our joint venture with Live Nation at The King’s Head in Haggerston. I was in a foul mood but these guys really cheered me up when I saw them play. They have two drummers, for the love of science. There’s a real sort of psych-rock element involved, like The Doors, but a bluesy kind of attitude on record. We ended up putting out Ten Times as a free download soon after this show, and the band ended up playing just before Jungle and Royal Blood on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury. We thought it’d make a perfect addition to the compilation.
One Bit are something special. They’re a two piece from Liverpool that sum up pretty much everything I admire about dance music – given that I’m a bit of a rock person, it’s bands like this that make the genre a bit more accessible to the indie crowd I think. What I love about this track in particular is the unsuspecting drop; its minimalist, but has as much of an impact as a growly dubstep track. The vocals are pretty sublime as well.
John Joseph Brill is a pretty special artist, and now a very dear friend of mine; we met earlier this year after he had sent me a track called Muscle & Bone and I subsequently featured it on the blog. I was a little bit heartbroken at the time and one of the main predications of the tracks that appear on the blog is down to whether I can personally relate to it or not. Bloody hell, could I ever relate to this. Turns out the song was about something completely different, but the sombre nature of the lyrics and pace of the track still appealed nevertheless. It had to go on there. If you ever get the chance to have a conversation with this guy, take it. He is one of the most interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever met, and I think his music reflects that.
Oh Volcano are probably my favourite artist out of the tracks that Ally picked for the compilation. We had featured Oceans on the blog earlier this year as well, but to be honest I had forgotten about it (which only serves to reinforce the point of the compilation generally) until Ally played it again. A really clever vocal pattern and tickling the more interesting realms of electro-pop has probably led to me playing this track the most.
What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to a young artist, trying to break into the music industry?
Stop trying to break into the music industry. The greatest artists around today – in my mind anyway, other people can and often do think differently – are the ones that just concentrated on making the music and writing the best songs they possibly could do. Then they just keep doing that; constantly learning and improving their craft, so by the time that idiots like me come across it I have no way to fault what they’ve created and will probably feel like there is something I can do to get involved. I think it is important that those separation of powers exist; for example I doubt most artists would like the idea of an overzealous A&R guy or marketing bod telling them how write songs, so conversely I would almost instinctively kick back at an aspiring artist telling me how to run my label, although I try to welcome new ideas despite my ostensible stubbornness as much as possible because it would be stupid to think that I know everything about everything. Of course, knowledge is power, and understanding what various people do in the music industry is quite important – it took me about 10 years to figure out what a label actually does, alongside the million other facets that exist like management, PR, plugging, booking agents, promoters, blah de blah blah – so really it’d be a bit silly not to take an interest in this respect, but personally I think concentrating on one’s vocation is probably more important. You want to be an artist. So be an artist. Don’t be a de facto music industry exec at the same time. It’ll drive you mad and derogate you away from the reasons you might have wanted to do this in the first place.
If you could bring back one song from your youth to be a big hit, what would it be?
Hey, I’m still young (kinda)! There were and still are plenty of bands that I seriously love that a lot of other people don’t, and at the same time there are a lot of pop artists that I love. This is a tricky one….
I’m gonna go for a band called Symposium, and a track called Serenade The Idiot. It was the b-side to a single called Bury You. After the demise of Symposium, a band called Hell Is For Heroes was born. I think this track in particular alludes to the direction they were headed in.
To Celebrate the release, Killing Moon are putting on a show THIS FRIDAY in London at Camden’s Koko as part of the NME Takeover series, buy tickets HERE!
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