This week sees the official launch of PRODUCT, a record label with a difference…
The first we heard about PRODUCT was on arrival at our Static Gallery-based office one day a few weeks back. Gallery director Paul Sullivan, wearing a barely concealed boyish grin, had just taken delivery of a big box of records.
He couldn’t wait to tell us what they were; his enthusiasm was infectious. Explaining that, along with Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley of Clinic and artist Sam Wiehl, they had founded a record label, and this delivery was their first recording.
His enthusiasm swiftly became our enthusiasm, and last week we sat down with Sullivan and Wiehl to discuss the project, what it’s about and why, in 2013, they thought now was the time to launch a label.
Sullivan began: “[Art happening] Terminal Convention (Nov 2011) in Liverpool was the start. Sam, Static and Clinic were all part of that live event, and we had a conversation around that. Subsequently we worked with Clinic again [with last year's Production Line], so it’s been an ongoing series of us working together.”
Continuing, he said: Hartley and Ade were talking about some idea of a label, so we just basically sat down and said ‘okay, what should we do … what do we want to do?’
Agreeing, Wiehl elaborated: “Coming together over these events, there’s always been a discussion of how we might do something that collated all these various events/happenings … “the label was perhaps an idea of doing a bit of both – some way of releasing, curating, creating… The idea of the potential to do more made people quite excited.”
What about the obvious question, though? Enthusiasm is a great motivator, but will only get you so far; in an age where there is no longer a clearly defined model for making a record label sustainable (never mind profitable), how will PRODUCT operate?
Wiehl, seemingly ambivalent about money, steps in: “it doesn’t need to operate in any kind of commercial way, it’s just an opportunity to collaborate with each other and other people, and to release things. We don’t have to feel like we have to make ‘x’ amount back on this to put the next one out; the next one might be a photograph a set of instructions or a video – we have no idea where it will go which is the really exciting thing.”
Clearly reading from the same hymn sheet, Sullivan picked up where Wiehl left off, saying, “we don’t want it to be a burden you’re tied to – it’s very much organic in that respect. What is a successful release? It’ll probably be the release [itself] rather than to be financially successful. It’s gonna be quite eclectic. It’s gonna be great.”
And what of those releases? PRODUCT 001, The Curfew Tower, is a 40 minute composition comprising of Ex-Easter Island Head, Alan Dunn, Jinx Lennon, Sophie Coyle, POINT FIVE, CLINIC; Dan Simpkins/Penny Whitehead, Damon Fairclough, Jeff Young, Paul Simpson, Easterjack, SINGERSONGWRITER; Liam O’Callaghan, Paul Sullivan and Tenzing Scott Brown (with each artist creating their own sleeve art) was released via ebay auction, and the remaining copies go on sale at the official launch event from 7.30pm at Static on Friday.
Interestingly, it doesn’t exist in a digital format – it can’t be skipped through to the next track in the fashion we’re all so used to doing now. To listen to this, you have to have a physical copy, a record player and a previous generations’ listening stamina. “You can’t skip or delete elements you don’t want,” says Sullivan, “it’s got its own narrative … with reasons and histories of people involved, coincidences, etc, etc.”
Wiehl is keen to point out that this won’t be a vinyl-only affair however, clarifying, “the label won’t just be releasing on vinyl. There is a financial cost to [that]. But that’s kind of liberating – who knows what the formats will be?”
Indeed. With PRODUCT 001 out, there’s already talk of the next thing: “There are various projects by Ade and Hartley … then I think there’s definitely a Liverpool compilation, and we’ve started talking to people who want to be on it,” says Wiehl. “There’s no linear path … there are ideas about instructions – an architectural plan being released.”
Wiehl continued, “the idea of what constitutes a release is interesting. I don’t necessarily feel it needs to be music, or what is considered music. It doesn’t need to be audio,” he continued. How are these ideas agreed upon, we wonder: by consensus or different members of the group bringing ideas to the others?
Both, as it turns out. But, says Sullivan, “when you put people in a room, things just happen.” Wiehl adds: “our responsibility is to put things out – the worst thing we could do is [just] talk the talk – we’ve got to be confident and release things.”
Most compelling for us, once you get over the initial excitement of the idea of launching a record label, is the diversity that PRODUCT are not only interested in, but are already striving to offer. There seems to be few constraints. As Sullivan says, “[we're] interested in having an idea at any time and making it come into existence.”
One more thing, we ask, Columbo-like. Where did the name come from? Was it a comment on the subjugation of the modern-day recording artist? “No,” says Sullivan, the beginnings of a smirk forming, “we threw some names around in the back garden of the Grapes [pub]. Product emerged and everyone thought ‘sound, that’s cool.’”