Playlist: Rocket Recordings

Rocket Recordings: Shit & Shine album 54 Synth-Brass, 38 Metal Guitar, 65 Cathedral

Joshua Potts extols the virtues of a record label appealing to the outer limits of psychedelia…

Rocket Recordings, by its very nature, invigorates one of the most mutable angles to great music without succumbing to a definition. It has followed the thread of its trade, yet is secretly telling you to try something else, making a quiet fuss in its corner.

The Bristol/London-based label dodges stagnation by appealing to the outer limits of psychedelia. But see, even that phrase sounds hackneyed. ‘Psychedelic’, depending on your point of view, is a byword for progress or retrospection, an excuse to box up everything with an ounce of fuzz, the current saviour or demon in the pop-as-art debate. Opinions about psychedelia are as far ranging as the genre’s mercurial legacy, yet it’s hard to deny trends tripping at the fringe of popular music for the last 50 years, surfacing when the gods of commerce declare once more that aural autuership is dead in the water.

Its recent resurgence comes after a genre-bending decade that saw electronica leave the idea of a traditional four-piece looking limp, hobbled, and all too predictable by comparison. Accusations of novelty are being overturned by a public hungry for digital experimentation, with bands adopting the radical production techniques of the 1960s as a blueprint for the modern psych album.

“The digital market has blurred our relationship to the past, forced us to stay curious, made ‘being difficult’ ok”

Future classics, in the vein of Pet Sounds and Ogden’s Nutgone Flake, are marrying harmonies, whimsy and Technicolour sound to the beats of late-90s rave culture. Garage and folk music are throwing their two cents in; ditto the avalanche of bands (Warpaint, Melody’s Echo Chamber, The Horrors) taking the three-minute pop song down eclectic routes to national airplay. The digital market has blurred our relationship to the past, forced us to stay curious, made ‘being difficult’ ok, all while staging an electric coup designed to bring synths and guitars to an understanding of one another.

Psychedelia, subsequently, can also mean ‘compromise’ – it has a certain brio about it, a spirit of adventure that fits well with people who don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

Rocket Recordings certainly doesn’t think too hard on the ins and outs of psych initiation. In fact, they don’t even like talking about it. “We never had any underlying aims or philosophy,” co-founder Chris Reeder told The Quietus two years ago. “We just wanted to put out damn fine records.” Conceived at a Heads gig in 1997, Reeder and close friend Simon Healy joined forces to shake the listening habits of the day, releasing a slew of 7” vinyl pressings that were loud, outrageous, and significantly uncool.

The Heads were counted as allies in this opening salvo: Rocket put out an early version of ‘Spliff Riff’, which would turn up on the band’s Tilburg album almost a decade later. The duo would hand pack singles through long nights to the punishing soundtrack of whatever was catching their attention at the time, a ritual Healy has admitted to fuelling Rocket’s love of groove and repetition.

“Support from John Peel and an increasing interest in the artistic qualities of their records gave Rocket cause for zeal”

By having a hand in a song named after reefer, it’s easy to see why the label initially had to dodge associations with ‘stoner rock’, psychedelia’s oft frowned-upon cousin. But support from John Peel and an increasing interest in the artistic qualities of their records gave Rocket cause for zeal. Some of the artworks featured on later albums are stunning: the cover to Teeth of the Sea’s Your Mercury depicts a heat-baked motorway worming under a polygon tower, while Gnod’s Ingnodwetrust reconfigures the Pope (patterns obscuring his face) as the jolly figurehead of policemen meeting out criminal justice.

The music, too, continues to dodge conformity. From Hey Colossus’ retentive hellscapes, the twitching id of Lay Llamas, and Liverpool’s own Mugstar, the label’s roster is as comprehensive a guide to underground psych as you’ll find anywhere, never settling for an easy hook or abbreviated run time. The sounds are chaotic – to some impenetrable – and cloaked in territorial darkness.

 ”A pre-order of Gnod’s latest album comes with a 40 minute (!!) bonus suite”

Inevitably, Rocket’s raison-d’etre has adapted to the changing currents of music consumption. The old reliance on 7” singles has given way to online promotion, which rewards fan loyalty with extra tracks and other goodies (a pre-order of Gnod’s latest album, for instance, comes with a 40 minute (!!) bonus suite). Conceptual projects take centre stage, along with the label’s activity on actual stages; they curated a slice of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia last year, while keeping a relationship with the Eindhoven Psych Lab on the cards. For their 15 year anniversary, Rocket compiled their best bits as a thank you to the underground community for sticking with them past the honeymoon period. The release, Crystalised, certainly bodes well for the future of the label, cherry-picking punts that have brought records like Goat’s World Music to a mass audience.

For all of Rocket’s conscious shunning of the in-crowd, it’s reassuring to know psychedelia is more than a playlist for Topman changing rooms, that the genre is humming where few are looking for it. An unwillingness to compromise carried The Beatles, The Small Faces, Love and the rest to heights of pop that are rarely scaled, or even attempted. The c-word, though, is in danger of warping such music into an excuse, either for digital swot points or as experimenting for experiment’s sake.

I still feel massive affection for the mainstream psych scene and have no doubt it’ll keep throwing bands of outstanding quality our way. But I’ll spare some of my thoughts for the guys who were tripping on their own, with friends, in rooms and on stages, before my mind had begun to float downstream.

Joshua Potts

News, disography, videos and store at

Shit & Shine’s new album 54 Synth-Brass, 38 Metal Guitar, 65 Cathedral – ‘reassembling disco, abstract electronica and noiserock into elegant new shapes’ — is out today (digital download, CD and album)

Posted on 16/03/2015 by thedoublenegative