THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING JOE: AN INTERVIEW ABOUT ‘ONI RECORDS’

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At the end of this month, the Barnsley label, Of National Importance Records, releases its second full-length compilation album, the second since the label’s launch in 2009. This follows what is probably a pinnacle year for the label and it’s owner Joe. Truly outstanding EPs were released by both Aztec Doll and The Exhibition and in the dawn of the new year, the near perfect and long-awaited album from Post-Punk/Post-Rock elders, The Black Lamps.

Misophonic Minds: Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture features 19 tracks of music from the town (although as I write this, Joe is working on getting a 20th included), featuring a number of regular label acts, debut tracks from new acts and a number of names new to the label who may already be familiar to fans of the local scene.

Aside from a very small handful of other acts, Pusher, Servers, Cavorts, Redmist Destruction and Hands of Gretel, ONI Records really is releasing the best music coming out of Barnsley right now and it wouldn’t surprise me if they carry on doing so, well into the future.

And so, on the eve of the release of Misophonic Minds, I speak with label owner Joe at length about his contribution to Barnsley’s thriving music scene, I find out about the ins and outs of running a small label in a small town and I find out about some of the bands he’s worked with and the key releases from the ONI catalogue.

• It’s five years since your last full length compilation, Things That Aren’t There: A Corner Of Barnsley Counter Culture. I’ve heard that this marks the end of a chapter at ONI Records..?
Very possibly yeah. I’m going to have a rest from it for a bit and get some other stuff done and then see if I fancy picking things up again in a year or something. I’m not going to pretend like running a little label is the hardest thing anyone has ever done but it sure takes up a lot of hours; every time a release is approaching anyway. When you have a proper job on top of that, it doesn’t leave you much time for clicking through Wikipedia and the like. It’ll probably just be a bit of a sabbatical. I think there’ll be lots of good stuff coming out of Barnsley soon. It’ll be great to see what the former members of Imoko Set and The Exhibition come up with, The Black Lamps second album will happen one day I imagine, and McCarthy Vigil and Aztec Doll can probably go on to do anything. I’d probably find it hard not to do something with any of those bands if they wanted to work with ONI.

Things• Things That Aren’t There: A Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture was released in 2010 and featured 17 tracks. A few of the bands and individuals included are still active today and appear on the new compilation. What were the stand out tracks or acts on that original compilation?
Well at the time I felt like Cocean, The North, The Exhibition and Imoko Set were the best things around in Barnsley – to my ears anyway. The latter two both contributed two of the best pop songs ever recorded by a Barnsley band since the town was founded in 1012. McCarthy Vigil and Goodbye Good were also two cracking and musically interesting bands that weren’t getting much attention at the time and both of their tracks were sort of exclusives I think.
I’m really chuffed that this time around probably 15 of the tracks on Misophonic Minds will be unreleased and unheard at the time the compilation is released and some of them were even recorded specifically for the compilation itself. I can’t be more grateful for that really. To make another point that also doesn’t answer the initial question, there were two other good fun bands that I wanted to be on that compilation that couldn’t, for reasons I can’t remember, and have disappeared or waned since; Green Man Says Go! and Lines in Sand.

I actually came across Green Man Says Go! when I was living in London. I went to see Alec Empire (of Atari Teenage Riot) play the Camden, I think Underworld or The Electric Ballroom. It was announced this young band from the north were supporting. Anyway, once on stage they said they were from Barnsley. They were fantastic and were way too fun and happy to be supporting an angry Berlin Digital Hardcore pioneer. I was dead chuffed, bought a CD off then and have since misplaced it.

• I notice that both compilations start and end with the same song – This Is The Language, which was originally recorded by Imoko Set. On this new compilation it is recorded by Diskettes Fore Minor. I assume that as a deliberate move?
Jamie Briggs from the band tells me that the latter version was recorded during the period inbetween Imoko Set and his new band Tender Firs and that ‘Diskettes Fore Minor’ is an anagram of both band names. It’s a bit good isnt it?
Very good and very deliberate yeah. I think it shows nicely how that one band progressed to the other and the track is probably a fitting beginning and end too. Misophonic Minds is also the first release we’ve done with a digital booklet and that was created by Jamie from Tender Firs too. It’s a nice little collection of artwork and information to counter what’s lost from the lack of a physical format.


• Despite the quality of the music on Of National Importance Records, it samples only a small section of the Barnsley Music Scene. However, you have always been extremely selective about whose records you release. With the compilations, you allow yourself to be less prejudice and find music that fits the ONI mould, rather than just your own tastes right?
You’re very right in saying that it only samples a very small section of what’s going on in Barnsley and even with the compilation, the truth is the same. The Debut Records compilations proves that too – I think of the 40+ artists that appear on their compilation, maybe only three of the same appear on Misophonic Minds.

The Barnsley music scene is clearly big for such a small town – though maybe only in the number of people making music. You probably could see the compilation as being a little less selective but it’s also a chance to release stuff from bands and musicians that I otherwise wouldn’t have the time or money to do so. It definitely still is selective though. There’s not a track on this compilation that I don’t personally like. Lots of labels like to say, whether it’s true or not, that they’re open to any genres of music but that’s obviously not the case with ONI. This compilation is a slice of the Barnsley music scene defined by some filters that I’m not really conscious of, and I hope that by picking a selection of that music and putting it together, people with a like-minded taste will think “fucking hell, there’s stuff going on in Barnsley”. There’s loads of good music from Barnsley that’s not included here though and a good place to find out about the rest of that stuff is obviously Alternative Barnsley. I’d also like to say that there is stuff that ONI has released that I wished it hadn’t. Earlier on like.

• Which new acts were you looking forward to including this time round?
I think rama zu was one of the best live bands I saw last year. Very original and interesting but unfortunately I don’t think that particular band is either of the members’ main focus and I’d love to see them gig a little more. Also Explorers Society are pretty fancy and I definitely look forward to hearing their debut album. I saw both those bands for the first time at an Alternative Barnsley gig too (The Exhibition EP launch and Black Lamps gigs respectively). As previously mentioned, it was exciting to hear Tender Firs and Film for the first time and tracks from Bruja and Sarah-Jane, who I think are ones for the future, all young musicians with a lot of potential.

• Have you had many acts approach you wanting to be released through ONI, but you’ve had to turn away for various reasons?
Yes! Mostly, the reason I can’t is due to time and money though. And that’s with the bands that I actually like. If that’s the case, I’ll usually try and help a little and maybe give a few humble pointers so they can do it themselves – it’s not hard. It’s also been suggested to me before that I should try and work with certain bands because they’re likely to do well or be good for the label. Thing is, you end up listening to the music endlessly on repeat and emailing hundreds of people to tell them how good that music is and if you don’t actually believe it yourself then you’ll probably go to hell. I also get a couple of emails every month from Norwich based singer songwriters asking for a “deal”. I think the label is listed in the Unsigned Guide you see and at the time of the listing, I asked if they’d mention that it only works with bands who rehearse within walking distance of my flat. As you have to pay for the Unsigned Guide, I’ve never been able to check whether they did include that or not.

• Things That Aren’t There was, I think, the first compilation which looked at original Barnsley music for twenty-five years. Bites and Stabs and Torn In Two on Torment Records came in the late 80s sampling bands such as Party Day, Silent Scream, The Second Coming and Mark Jackson. Again, a number of the individuals included still perform today, four of them you’ll know as The Black Lamps. You could compare the music you release now to that of the post-punk scene of the mid to late eighties.
Well, I did not realise that at all but if it’s true then I’m pretty pleased with that. Welled up a bit then. I suppose Aztec Doll and The Exhibition are both well influenced by post-punk and the members of The Black Lamps pretty much invented post-punk I think. It’s a style of music that I like a lot. I ran a very short-lived night at [Carter’s] Old No7 once which was named Shot from both Sides after the Magazine song Shot by both Sides. Nobody ever pointed out to me that I’d got the title wrong. But then nobody probably cared. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with anything. The few bits of Party Day that I’ve heard are brilliant but it seems impossible to find anything of theirs, physical or digital. It would be very cool if someone would re-release those compilations I suppose.

I have digital files of most Party Day and The Second Coming tracks. I think they were ripped from an Eastern European website a few years ago. I’d love to see them re-released.

• Talk to me about The Exhibition and Lyndon and Liam from The Black Lamps. They are a few acts that have been with you from the start.
Well I’m very grateful to all of those people. The Exhibition were pretty much the first people I worked with. I’d tried and failed to start the label a year earlier with a band who eventually decided against the proposal and went for it on their own – because why would you let a student who has nothing to show give it a go ey? Well The Exhibition did. At the time I got into them they were actually a very cool band called Western Front with a few different members (See: NL5002 and Old Rope). I didn’t actually know any of the members so we arranged to meet in a well known Wetherspoons, all wearing cravats, and I imagine they were just as unsure as I was about what might come from it. They’d just recorded a demo with Dave Sanderson at 2fly and I asked them to do a single to release as a 7” vinyl. They came up with The Crown, which is one of my favourite ever songs regardless, but if you listen to a song like Bright New Worlds from the demo they’d just done and compare it to The Crown, it’s a fucking amazing step forward. It’s almost The Bends to OK Computer. It went from there really and I always felt they could go on to do anything in the studio. Always been a fan of that group of musicians anyway and I’m sure they’ll go on to do something interesting.

Black LampsThe Black Lamps was different because I wasn’t aware of that band for a long time. When I was putting together the Thing That Aren’t There compilation, I’d asked Liam Stewart and Lyndon Scarfe to be involved and I think it was probably Liam who said he was in this band called The Black Lamps; I’d had no idea. It wasn’t until a few years later when we put the Pareidolia release together that The Black Lamps first became involved with ONI. It seems silly that they weren’t involved in Things That Aren’t There – maybe they hadn’t started recording anything though. The significance of what Liam, Lyndon, Dean and Greg have contributed to the Barnsley music scene has only become apparent to me since. I think it’s a shame that there’s not much sense of a history of music here, but’s that’s the way it is. There’s not too many bands making music now that are much aware of The Danse Society and those post-punks bands you mentioned earlier, whereas in places like Leeds and Sheffield maybe people are a lot more aware of what’s come before.
The idea that became Pareidolia was originally to release split single to sort of increase the audience of the music by crossing fanbases or whatever and it eventually turned into me asking my six favourite local bands to be involved. The Black Lamps sent this great song which was a cut from the debut album, which they’d already started working on, and then that just sort of naturally led to ONI releasing the album when it was complete. It was my privilege really, I’m very thankful that they trusted ONI to release it. Lyndon and Liam in particular have always been very supportive of the label and new bands in general I think and the whole way in which we released that album is a great show of their ethics I think. Apathy is dead.

Alvarez• You played a key part in Alvarez Kings early days, releasing four records by them. This week they finally announced that they signed an international deal with Sire Records/ Warner Bros, with a worldwide EP release in June. All down to you right?
The success of Alvarez Kings really is down to me and I can’t stress that enough! That’s a joke. Alvarez Kings have been plugging away as that band for longer than probably any other I’ve personally known and not only do they deserve everything they get but they genuinely have earned it all themselves. They’re a great pop band I say and again I can’t be thankful enough for having worked with them. They’re not from Barnsley though. I believe bass player Paul did get his musical education at Barnsley College and that man knows how to write a bass line (see: You, Me, Them, Us and Man Behind the Curtain). Maybe those hand screen printed copies of The Sequel single will be worth something one day.

The Crown• What would you say have been the key ONI releases?
Well the first things was a 7” vinyl single with The Exhibition. A fucking 7”! That was my favourite of the early bits. I did have to live off 10p noodles for a year to fund it though. Then the Pareidolia CD was a great step in terms of quality and getting more bands on board and I loved the artwork and packaging for that. The Black Lamps album is of course the biggest and most complete thing ONI has released and it all went down quite well; the most successful release in terms of both the press and reviews it received and the places all over the world it has sold. Those three are good ones.

• You’re like me in so far as you like to stay hidden behind a computer. You get a lot done in doing so – while keeping some anonymity.
Yes, I don’t really like my name or face to be associated with label but it’s out there anyway so it doesn’t really matter I suppose and nobody other than me actually cares. I often like to sign off emails as Dave or Thomas just to throw people out but this did once get me into some legal difficulty. Mostly my distaste for this comes from the fact I only really do stuff with bands that I know on some level. It’s probably best to work that way at this level I think. And I think it’s also probably harshly discouraging to have to say no to some budding musician. Thomas does the A&R anyway. Also it’s a good idea to note that there is not that much ONI can do for a band that they can’t do themselves.

• How much time and work is put into releasing a new EP. Can you talk me through the process?
A fair bit. The only bit that I think is a mystery to anyone is undertaking a decent press campaign. And I’m no expert but… once you’ve recorded your music and sorted out what format you’re going to use you really do need to wait at least a month and maybe even three, depending on how ambitious you are, before you release it. It’s often hard to convince bands to do this though as obviously you just want to share the music with people. If you do want to get some nice reviews and pieces about your release on websites and blogs then you really do need to hold off uploading the music for public consumption though. There’s no point releasing something and then asking websites and journalist to review it as most won’t be interested. It’s not “news” to them if it’s already out. They want to be writing about something for their readers that the readers can’t find out for themselves. So once the music’s ready and you’ve set a future release date, you need to put together a press pack (physical or digital or preferably both) and start sending that out. This is where the time-consuming bit comes as you then spend the next month or three writing emails to every blogger, journalist and website you can find that mind find some relevance or interest in your music. And a fraction of those will find any relevance or interest in the music. If you send out a mass/generic email then the fraction will be even smaller. When I was at uni I wrote a dissertation on independent labels and learnt a lot by interviewing some very nice chaps at some of my favourite little nearby labels; Philophobia Music, Gizeh Records, Brew Records and the now terribly defunct Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation. Also if anyone is looking to release something physical themselves they should have a read through the Bearos website here: http://www.worldoffox.com/bearos/resources/resources%20index.htm

• So this is your last release in a while. Has the last five years been what you expected? What’s been a ONI highlight?
Well, I didn’t really expect anything so from that point of view it’s all gone great yeah. The Black Lamps album is definitely a highlight, The Exhibition’s lengthy set at the Polish Club for the Carry to the End launch, The Pareidolia release day with Pusher, and I briefly got on stage with The Black Lamps once and tried to press some buttons in sync with what the rest of them were doing and that was a bit of a thrill. Also I was involved in King Street Krawl (Long Division Festival, Wakefield) last year and witnessed somebody successfully barter down the price of a T-shirt bought from the fabulous Philophobia Music by offering a soft conker in part exchange.

Misophonic Minds: Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture is released via Of National Importance Records on the 27th of April 2015. All profits from sales will be donated to the charity Willow Foundation; the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfill uplifting and unforgettable Special Days.

Misophonic Minds is Of National Importance Records 23rd and final release before the label goes on a lengthy sabbatical – for the remainder of 2015 at least. Download price is just £3. For full credits and details on the artists involved in the compilation see www.ofnationalimportancerecords.co.uk/music/misophonicminds

Visit https://ofnationalimportancerecords.bandcamp.com/album/misophonic-minds-another-corner-of-barnsley-counter-culture on the 27th to download your copy.

http://ofnationalimportancerecords.co.uk/
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