Two of the experimental metal five-piece explain why they strive to create music so diverse and unpredictable as well as delving into the world of film and coming up with bizarre song titles.

Iwrestledabearonce's current line-up

Iwrestledabearonce’s current line-up

Listening to music that contains screeching guitars and thundering drums? It’s likely some form of heavy metal. With a broken down section, clean then distorted vocals? Probably metalcore. Weird timings and a jazzy style? Undoubtedly experimental prog rock/metal. Added seagull squawk, mariachi part and grindcore vocals shifting into a bit of soul? Then it’s got to be Iwrestledabearonce.

Having made a name for themselves with a unique brand of music that’s rooted in metal but scrapes the surfaces of plenty of other genres, Iwrestledabearonce have been coming up with ridiculous song titles and even more ridiculous songs for over six years now. Last year they underwent a significant change as original vocalist Krysta Cameron departed, swiftly replaced by Courtney LaPlante. Along with bassist Mike ‘Ricky’ Martin (who joined in 2009) the two of them explain why they continue to forge such unique, off the wall music.

“Before I was in the band I knew Steven [Bradley] and John [Ganey, both guitars],” says Ricky. “Our bands all played together and were both just tired of bands that played the same all the way through the song. We don’t listen to just metal, we listen to every kind of music so that was one of the big things; ‘Let’s see how different we can make some of the songs sound.’ Like you could put on one part of the song and it’d be like ‘Guess what? This is the same song as this’ and somebody would be like ‘Doesn’t sound like the same song.’ I think it’s just mostly having fun with what you’re playing too. It’s not fun to play one song and it’s just the same feel all the way through. We think it’s fun to get weird!”

(c) Henry Laurisch

(c) Henry Laurisch

Anyone who has heard their newest album Late For Nothing, the first with Courtney, will understand just how weird it gets. From Steve Vai lending his speedy licks to one track, to the following song being probably the most serious they’ve ever sounded, it’s a mixed bag and more predictable than previous releases, but still works well. The odd song titles, such as ‘Letters To Stallone’ are present as ever.

“We just try to write a song and when someone comes up with an idea they’ll record it on the computer and call name it a stupid name,” Ricky continues. “They’ll send it to somebody and it’ll be like ‘Titty Dick 102’ then after we record the song we’re like what shall we name it? Well ‘Titty Dick 102’ is going to become…‘That’s A Horse Of A Different Colour’.”

Courtney takes over: “But like the one we released with pre-orders, ‘Firebees’, we were like ‘We’re naming a song ‘Firebees’ no matter what!’ because it’s a huge inside joke. But there’s one song I made that’s a really heartfelt song and Steve was like ‘So what do you want to name this one? Mr Silk Underwear?’ And I was like ‘Nooo! This song is about like dramatic failings and I’m not naming it that!”

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

It ended up being ‘Mind The Gap’ much to her relief. Before she hooked up with Iwrestledabearonce for good, Courtney was in Unicron along with her brother, and constantly told they sounded like Iwrestledabearonce which she puts down just to the fact that the band had a female singer not afraid to scream.

“Basically in my old band my brother would make a song and I had to match that song. So he and I went from like listening to Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine to System Of A Down to Between the Buried And Me, Protest The Hero and we kept getting heavier and heavier and my brother’s like ‘This is metal, this is screaming music. So you’ve to learn how to do that.’ So I did and unfortunately it’s recorded and I’m terrible [in the early days].

“You just have to go for it and eventually you need to learn how to do it properly so you don’t hurt your voice. I don’t do it properly so my voice is very tired right now, sometimes I forget and it damages it. I think it’s just the same as learning how to sing properly.”

While Unicron do differ from Iwrestledabearonce they crossover in terms of the unorthodox style they both attest to. It’s this and the fact that Courtney’s got a great vocal range, as demonstrated on Late For Nothing, that means she’s  perfectly suited for the bear wrestlers.

Late For Nothing

Late For Nothing

“Me and my brother, Jackson, in the band that we started, there would be times where my brother would be like ‘Ok, and then let’s have this happen in the song’ and I’m like ‘Jackson that’s too happy, we’re supposed to be serious.’ It would be like a super-happy pop-punk thing and I’d be like ‘Jackson that’s going to throw people off’ and he’s like ‘I don’t fucking care, let’s do it.’ It’s more fun that way. We all like happy, fun music too and I feel like we all don’t take it way too seriously.”

It’s not just with music that Iwrestledabearonce like to experiment, they’ve also branched out into the world of film, releasing ‘A Beary Scary Movie’ late last year. Part scripted, part reality it’s a mix of horror, comedy and the unexpected.

“It was just kind of all of our idea,” says Ricky. “The guy who does a lot of videos for us is just as dumb as us so he comes up with weird shit and then we’re like ‘Let’s do it!’ The thing is he put the thing together with stuff missing. He’d be like ‘Here’s what’s going to happen in this scene but, I don’t know what you guys wanted to say or do. Just try to make it funny.’

“Then we showed up to do the movie and we had a day to practice and then he would pretty much be like ‘So…what would you say if this happened’ and we’d be like ‘I don’t know, shut the fuck up dick!’ or whatever and just be talking shit and he’s like ‘That’s funny, I like that. Let’s do it!’

It wasn’t an easy process but on the band’s part took significantly less time than recording an album, shooting for one whole week, sometimes doing 15 hour days.

“We shot it in an empty warehouse where they built our set, because it was a good place to do it that’s cheap. So if you watch it there’s scenes where we’re sweating our asses off. We’d be like ‘We have to do that again, everybody wipe down!’

An obvious omission to any new fans of the band is that of Courtney, but that’s because it was just before her time. There are, unsurprisingly, plans to do another one with Ricky keen to get her involved, but Courtney’s got some ideas of her own.

“I said I want to do it,” says Courtney, excitedly. “I want to have a horror movie but it’s a musical. [To Ricky] Remember that’s my idea? I want it to be scary but then like [starts singing] ‘We’re running from the ghosts, we’re running from the ghosts’ Haha!”

“I want a choreographed dance scene, that would be great,” adds Ricky.

But can any of them dance?

“If the Jackass guys can dance, we can dance,” he laughs. “We’re built for Broadway!”

New York better watch out!

Ahead of his sixth appearance at Ghostfest, Martyr Defiled’s frontman Matt Jones discusses the importance of having a message behind the music and never taking a holiday.

(c) RAWR. Photography

(c) RAWR. Photography

“Erm… metal, metalcore, death metal, deathcore, call it whatever you want. It’s heavy and we do some shouting and stuff.” That’s how Matt Jones explains the music Martyr Defiled create and in reality it is; full of heavy breakdowns, screaming guitars, deathly vocals and blast beats galore. Unless your idea of relaxing is being thrown into a brick wall time and time again; chill out music this is not.

But it is engaging, headbang-inducing and those with a taste for extreme music will love it. Having started back in 2007 the band have spent the last few years honing their skills and sound as well as releasing debut album Collusion in 2010 and recent EP In Shadows in 2012.

For vocalist Matt Jones his ventures into music started, like a lot of musicians, when he was a teenager (although playing in a band with a rather odd style). “I started my first band when I was 13,” says Matt. “I was in a screamo band and we did Weezer covers and stuff. That’s how I got into being in a band but I’ve always been into my music.

“I got into metal through mates at school and then all of a sudden I was into a lot of bands and there were a lot of bands I was going to see. All of a sudden you’re a part of the scene, a part of the community of people that go to shows. You just go from hanging about with the kids at school who listen to Iron Maiden to being that dude going to the show with four people there with the band that you found on Myspace.”

Don't expect to see him here soon

Don’t expect to see him here soon

Hailing from Nottingham, Matt was also involved in other areas of the music business for some time. “I ran a venue in Nottingham for two and a half years so I was very involved in the music scene there. It’s died off a lot at the minute but there’s still Rock City and venues doing stuff in Nottingham, which is cool. There’s always a show to see.”

At the moment the band is still part time (in a sense) with all the members working other jobs when they’re not touring.

“Well it’s full time outside of work if you know what I mean? We’ve got jobs but it’s a hobby and a passion and a joy to do so no-one’s complaining about taking time off work to do shows or being skint to do it because it’s what we love.”

This dedication to music means some sacrifices must be made, specifically using all his holiday from work playing gigs.

“I haven’t had a holiday in about eight years. A holiday for me is going away on tour, having a laugh with the boys and I’ve got, should the band finish tomorrow, another 50 years to go to bloody Magaluf and Majorca and sit in the sun. I’d rather be out having fun with my boys.”

(c) RAWR. Photography

(c) RAWR. Photography

As well as wanting those who hear Martyr Defiled’s music to go away and buy it, and have a good, and probably chaotic time when seeing them live, there is a message Matt tries to convey through his lyrics. Like a lot of heavy music it’s not exactly ‘everything is swings and roundabouts’ or the ‘I’ve got too much money’ that a lot of rappers like to boast about.

Collusion, the first album is very politically charged, very Orwellian and dystopian in its message; that we’re slowly slipping into some horrific social situation with powers very unevenly balanced,” explains Matt. “But now I try to write stuff a little bit more close to home, a little bit less vague than just ‘this is the world and it’s shit.’ The last single we released ‘Lifeless’ is just all about apathy.

“You know, how we all turn round and go ‘oh it’s so bad how the kids get paid 4p an hour to stitch a t-shirt.’ Then we go to Primark and buy ten. The apathy, the pure mind-numb feeling that we don’t care or that we don’t want to care about anything, about the consequences of any of our actions. That’s what that message was portraying. I mean, that’s something I like writing about, the fault of the human condition I guess.”

Does this mean he thinks artists such as Andrew W.K. who only sing about partying and having a good time are a waste of space?

“I think lyrics about having a good time have got their place, I’m not going to turn round and tell anyone that what they do is bad because it doesn’t have a specific meaning. For me it is important to have a message and that’s a personal choice more than sort of something I feel because I have to.

“I’m all for a bit of Attila, you know, Andrew WK where it’s literally just about having a good time and talking some shit. That is what it is and it’s fun when it’s fun. And the same with messages, they are what they are and they have their place. If a band chooses to pick a message then ace, if they don’t choose to pick a message then it’s not going to change my opinion of someone.”

Check out Martyr Defiled on Facebook
and RAWR. Photography too

 

Bassist Max Lavelle joined American death metal outfit The Black Dahlia Murder last year but his career and interest in playing bass and extreme metal started well before that.

Imag (c) Natalia Balcerska

Image (c) Natalia Balcerska

Boston based bass player (a tongue twister if there ever was one) Max Lavelle has played in a fair amount of bands since he took up the instrument many years ago. From Twisted Sacrifice to Trauma Concept, none of them sound particularly joyful; the comically named Compost Pile is probably the least aggressive (although it’s unlikely they sang about gardening and eco-friendly issues).

It is of course his time in Goratory (albums include Orgasm Induced Diarrea and Sexual Intercorpse) and deathcore stalwarts Despised Icon that he’s most known for. And now with one of Amercia’s finest modern day death metal acts: The Black Dahlia Murder. Like many metal musicians it’s a similar story that drew him into the world of extreme music.

“Rock music and metal was always attached to my soul,” Max explains. “From a young age I was always interested in finding, like, obscure and underground bands and death metal, heavy metal in general, just really gripped me from a young age and I just tried to pursue it. It’s what I’ve always listened to and it’s just part of my scene, what I really like to listen to.”

“I would say my major influences from a pile, I guess would be like early Metallica, Megadeth, Cryptopsy, and much earlier, all that Carnage stuff,” he adds. “Death Metal, like early 2000 New York death metal pretty much.”

Image (c) Natalia Balcerska

Image (c) Natalia Balcerska

By trade Max is actually a graphic designer, running a little company in his free time, whether at home or on tour, but music is now his full-time occupation and has been for a few years. His previous gig in Despised Icon came to an end in 2010 when the band called it a day, but after touring with The Black Dahlia Murder while their previous bassist contemplated his future, he officially joined in April 2012.

About to release the first album Max appears on, Everblack, he may not have been involved in much of the writing (so can’t be held responsible for song titles such as ‘Phantom Limb Masturbation’ or ‘Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn’) he did have a special helping hand in laying down the bass.

“Recording was great. All the guys I worked with were really professional and really easy to work with. When we were producing the bass tracks I was actually working with Bart Williams the previous bass player,” he explains. “To work with him was great because we were really speaking the same language, in the same tones and could just talk about the bass parts, you know.”

To those uninitiated into the extreme metal world the common ‘it all sounds the same’ or ‘it’s just noise’ claims that show no appreciation for the work the musicians put into their recordings can get a bit frustrating. Max explains there’s a clear difference between playing with The Black Dahlia Murder than Despised Icon, and despite both sometimes being tagged as deathcore, it clearly isn’t the case.

“The music styles are a lot different. The material with Despised [Icon] is a little bit more rhythmic, more just kind of heavy stuff. The Black Dahlia Murder is a more melodic bass, there’s a little bit more melody with the Black Dahlia stuff.

If death metal and deathCORE (geddit?) were fruits

If death metal and deathCORE (geddit?) were fruits

This is more like comparing apples with oranges here but some stuff with Despised is a little bit different to the Black Dahlia stuff but whenever you’re playing something that’s a little bit more melodic it gets a little bit more difficult because you have to be really aware of really playing on points. It’s fluid and the rhythm’s a little, it’s not as kind of ingrained as some of the really traditional death metal stuff.”

His love of rhythm is just one reason he chose to pick up and continue with the bass.

“A lot of my friends learnt guitar and my father was the one that bought me my first bass when I think I was nine or ten years old. Guitarists are, you know, [one every] half a dozen. I figured I’d just play bass and get good at it. I really liked being unique, there’s a lot of rhythm. I mean I really like bass. I think bass has a really good personality. It’s a really good instrument. It really suits me well, I feel very comfortable with it and how I feel about it.”

With a summer set to be spent touring across America on the Vans Warped Tour, Max has plenty to look forward to and it doesn’t look like he’ll be packing it all in to go join Coldplay any time soon.

“We’re just going to keep going until none of us can do it anymore. We’re just going to keep going 100 miles an hour, we’re just going to keep going and hopefully people will keep supporting us. That’s what people can expect from us, to always be around and to always give it 110%.”

Check out The Black Dahlia Murder on record, but also on Facebook

Images (c) Natalia Balcerska

In the current economic climate it’s getting harder and harder for people to find paid work, and that includes musicians. Rather than give up though, there are plenty turning to busking as an option.

But how many of them see it as a viable career choice? Driving The Music set off down Northumberland Street in Newcastle to discover why people willingly stand on one of the North East’s busiest streets and let the general public judge their musical talents.  

Funky keytarist Steve Cooke explains why he champions an instrument some see as just a novelty, the inspiration for his political lyrics and being signed to a label that literally does nothing for him. 

Steve Cooke

Steve Cooke

Few musicians can legitimately claim to have been praised by one of Hip-Hop’s true pioneers. Even fewer can from Teeside and whose main instrument is a keytar. But that’s the case for songwriter Steve Cooke, based in Stockton-on-Tees, whose music on Soundcloud has received positive words from Afrika Bambaataa, one of the originators of breakbeat music.

Influential in the early years of Hip-Hop, the Bronx DJ has also spun a few of Steve’s tracks on his radio shows, proclaiming them to be ‘funky’. Luckily, this is how Steve himself describes the music, as combining “sharp-witted lyrics with sleazy funk, geeky electro and spiky new wave influences.” He may have only started working as a solo artist in 2010 but the seeds of Steve’s musical path were sown long before that.

“It evolved from getting into music in my early teens during the early 1980s,” he says. “Being inspired particularly by the electronic/synthpop and new wave movements of the time, and then experimenting with low budget electronic keyboards, drum machines and suchlike.”
 
“I aspired to write my own material for a long time, but rarely got round to finishing anything until a particularly productive period while a postgraduate student in the early 1990s. The catalyst for that was acquiring my first sequencer (a Yamaha QY10) and a four-track recorder (Amstrad Studio 100), which allowed me to program complete arrangements in a way that hadn’t been technically or financially possible before.”

His assortment of keytars

His assortment of keytars

After performing some of his musical creations in a few different short lived bands, he went through a “creative depression” as the millennium hit. It wasn’t until 2010 that the determination to perform live, this time as a solo artist, came into fruition. A year later Steve purchased his first keytar (or strap-on organ as he calls it) and incorporated it into his live performances.

“I found that standing behind a regular keyboard, always having to remain in the same place, limited my ability to assert a presence on stage and develop a rapport with the audience. The singer-pianist model may work for more intimate, ballad-style performers but it doesn’t work so well for a solo artist with a big sound like mine.”
 
“It may be regarded as a novelty by many people,” he adds, “but instead of resisting that aspect, I’m happy to go along with it. On the one hand, I try to demonstrate that the keytar is a serious musical instrument by using it show real musicianship; on the other, its novelty makes it interesting simply because it’s different and I play it in a way, and using sounds, that people who identify the keytar with the 1980s might not expect.”
 
Those who still think its inclusion is just a gimmick may be surprised to find the keytar often proves itself useful offstage as well as on it. “Although the keytar is essentially a regular keyboard with a shoulder strap, I find that the different angle of playing leads me to compose music in a different way too and am increasingly using it for composition and recording.”

Performing with Andy X

Performing with Andy X

The freedom provided by the keytar means audience participation is a big part of the Steve Cooke live experience. Sometimes fellow singer-songwriter Andy X will join him onstage for backing vocals and Bez-style dancing, but when he’s unavailable Steve will invite an audience member or someone from another band playing up onstage. 

“If they’ve not heard my stuff before, they’ll be nervous and that in itself creates interest among their friends. But they usually get the hang of the songs pretty quickly and it’s fun seeing that happen.”
 
Those who prefer to leave the performing to the professionals aren’t safe though. “I use a wireless system with my keytar, which means I’m able to leave the stage if I wish,” he warns. “At some point in a gig I’ll walk into the audience area and invite two or three people to have a go on the keytar during an extended breakdown section of a song. It does at least show that I have actually been playing the instrument, for the benefit of those who imagine electronic music is just a matter of pressing a button. But the element of surprise also causes amusement and most people are happy to join in, whether they know how to play an instrument or not.”

Keytar element aside, Steve is also known as a protest singer, with his lyrics covering mainly political and social topics with a satirical slant. The likes of ‘Job Club’ and ‘Scorpion Farm’ cover unemployment and the circumstances it forces on people, highly relevant to the current situation in the North East.

Key-ping it funky

Key-ping it funky

“I don’t tell people what to think in my lyrics but try to encourage them to look at issues in a different way, to raise questions. I don’t always write alone. I am not the most prolific of lyricists and have worked with several poets and lyricists on material, setting their words to music.”

Collaborations have included Adrian Mitchell, David Bateman, Mike Starkey, Trev Teasdel and Paula Wright. Despite the serious areas touched upon in his music, Steve is quite down to earth regarding the impact it has upon others, admitting it’s unlikely to sway someone’s political beliefs after just one listen.

“Although I write of political issues about which I feel strongly, and would like to influence people’s views, I am not naïve. People don’t change their opinions because of a song. I can only hope to encourage them to look at things slightly differently, to point out absurdities, contradictions and hypocrisies, to increase their scepticism about what our rulers tell us. Where audiences do share my socialist/progressive politics, or agree on a particular cause, I would hope to help promote camaraderie and solidarity.”

Any And All Records

Any And All Records

It’s not just getting his views across and aiming to broaden listeners’ minds that makes him strap up and give his fingers a work out. “I do enjoy live performance, probably more than I enjoy writing and recording,” he explains. “I love provoking a reaction through a lyric, even if it’s just a raised eyebrow. That doesn’t involve compromising my art as it would clearly be easier to get applause and cheers playing cover versions. But regurgitating the classics simply doesn’t interest me.”

While it may at first appear that Steve’s signed to a label, Any And All Records, this can be a little deceiving. It’s not a real record label (in the traditional sense) as absolutely anyone can ‘sign’ to them, even your pet goldfish. They allow you to use their name on any promotional material/releases but the catch is they don’t do anything for you. They won’t pressure you to meet deadlines, but neither will they provide funds or advice for recording.

“They encourage artists to think beyond the standard ‘signed versus unsigned’ model, which judges music according to its validation (or not) by capitalist corporations. As a result of the digital revolution, we’re moving into a post-label era, with increasing self-production and self-release of music,” says Steve.

This explains why all his music is only available on Soundcloud so far, even though some songs have had a few thousand plays. He’s hoping to put a CD together in the next year, however. “Even if it only puts a few quid back into the kitty and contributes toward the cost of an expensive hobby, it would be great to have something real to sell to audiences at the end of a gig.”
 
Keeping his feet firmly on the ground and not professing to be the next Elvis, it’s good to see a musician not intent on resting a lot on mere hope or giving a bog standard answer that they ‘hope to play more gigs in the future’. Which musicians don’t?

“Being realistic, I don’t expect that being an overweight middle-aged Marxist performing satirical songs with a strap-on organ will ever provide me with a viable living. But I would like to perform my music to new and bigger audiences, and use it to support causes that I believe in.”

Check out Steve Cooke on Facebook and Twitter and Soundcloud

The North East rapper explains what made him want to create the video game infused hip-hop he does that has taken him from Sunderland to Florida and back, and why he’s currently assembling a live band for B-Type.

Giving Gameboys a voice

Giving Gameboys a voice

Much like Sean Paul showed you don’t have to be black to be Jamaican; Eminem has been a godsend to aspiring white rappers the world over. Proving skin colour has no impact on rapping ability, despite some peoples misguided beliefs; he’s paved the way for British artists such as Plan B, The Streets and, unfortunately, ‘Professor’ Green.   

As the whole Hip-Hop/Rap genre has evolved there have been various off-shoots, most notorious in the UK scene was Grime, which spawned the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle. Rap has since been combined with all sorts of genres, including the ill-advised rap-metal, but also the 8-bit/video game music blend that is nerdcore and a huge inspiration for Sunderland outfit B-Type.

“Like many people my age, I was brought up with the melodies and songs that came from my Gameboy’s little speakers, probably more so than the radio,” says B-Type’s founder and rapper Steve Brunton. “8-bit has been omnipresent in my life. As I grew older, I found myself more interested in music than video games, but finding the chiptune and nerdcore movements really felt like coming home.”

After his time in comedy-rap project MisterB, where Steve had been learning the ways of hip-hop, how to flow and music production came to an end, and having also left the band Superpowerless, he formed B-Type. “I was looking for a new project to perform live, as playing live is my passion. In reality, B-Type was born from a need to perform on stage.”

Source of inspiration

Source of inspiration

His decision to rap rather than form another knock-off Mumford And Sons, but with video game inspired sounds came fairly easily. “I’ve always heartily enjoyed writing and poetry, and composing a flow, rhyme schemes and lyrics is richly rewarding. Plus, being able to freestyle is a great party trick.”

“A lot of the sound’s appeal is based on nostalgia. If you look at local music scenes, many of the bands are playing the music their parents played when they were young, the songs they heard in their youth. It’s the same with me. I find the opening bars to the Tetris theme just as iconic as the first few chords in ‘Wonderwall’. Also, the sound is easy to associate with something I find key in writing and performing music: fun. When you hear 8-bit it’s associated with games, and combined with the call and response audience interaction tropes of hip-hop, it tends to make live audiences game for a laugh.”

It’s not just video games and 8-bit music that’s inspired B-Type’s sound though, as Steve lists Lupe Fiasco, Deltron 3030 and MC Frontalot as some great lyricists. Bloodhound Gang’s humour and energy is also something he hopes to incorporate into his own live show as well as influences from Scroobius Pip and nerdcore/chiptune acts Supercommuuter and I Fight Dragons playing their part.

Their roots may be in Sunderland but that doesn’t mean they only stick to touring the local scene. “There have been many strange and wonderful places we’ve played,” says Steve. “Immediately springing to mind was playing a set in front of a crowd, half of which were on a bouncy castle! Other highlights include playing Superbyte in Manchester, a yearly chiptune festival, and Nerdapalooza in Florida, USA, which I have been lucky enough to play a few times.”

“Last year we broke on to the convention circuit, which is a very strange animal indeed; playing to a crowd of people dressed as anime and videogame characters. I’ve also been on a few unusual bills, including doing an acoustic hip-hop set to open a metal night, competing in a battle rap event, performing in an abandoned mansion, as well as in a comic book shop’s car park!”

Promo for a nerdcore show in Brixton

Promo for a nerdcore show in Brixton

While playing an event the other side of the Atlantic is mightily impressive, B-Type have come up against a few challenges. “There have been many problems on the B-Type journey, not least of which is money and location. We get offered lots of gigs, but unfortunately can’t afford every single show, travel and accommodation. We have a loyal little fanbase, connections, and a decent live sound, we just need a little kick to get up to that next level.”

The future should hopefully provide that little kick as B-Type finalise their live line-up in order to start playing more gigs on a regular basis. Steve hopes this will make them more accessible to crowds more used to traditional guitar bands but without losing their 8-bit elements.

“It’s safe to always assume we are about to launch a new EP or album,” he says. “My bandmates and I are pretty prolific when it comes to song-writing, and thanks to the miracle of home recording, we can get decent sounding demos out there and up on my favourite music site bandcamp.com ready to be downloaded! We hope to continue to grow our own club night ‘Materia Junkies’ which has recently moved into Plugged Inn, as well as book a small North of England tour in the summer.”

With the band currently consisting of Chris Binding, Lottie Kordbarlarg and Cyberbyte (all of whom have other musical projects worth checking out), and having released a new EP and video in the past month, B-Type look like they could be stepping up to the A-list anytime soon.

Check out B-Type’s Facebook

For a FREE download of B-Type’s 4-track album head over to their Bandcamp page.

Music producer and founder of independent record label Ex Libris Records, Andrew Gardiner explains how he set it up and what urges him to continue working in music. 

At work

At work

Ask anyone with any connection to the North East what the music scene up there is like and they’ll probably regale you with tales of how many great bands it’s producing. With successes from the likes of Maxïmo Park, The Futureheads and Mercury Prize nominees Field Music, who all recently emerged from it, they’ve got a point.

Aside from the bands that are keeping the scene healthy, an often overlooked yet crucial element to any music scene or business is the importance of record labels that help bands and artists take the next step. Newcastle’s infamous Kitchenware records (home to Editors and The Lighthouse Family) may have shut down last year, but there are still an abundance of independent labels flying the flag in and around the Toon.

Until the past few years one of those labels was Ex Libris Records (currently on hiatus since 2010) set up by Andrew Gardiner and his friend Luke Page.  Influenced by the DIY approach taken by Washington DC based hardcore label Dischord Records (home to Fugazi and Minor Threat) Andrew initially started in the music business while living in Portrush, Northern Ireland.

“Ten years ago I had the pleasure of running a punk collective in Portrush,” says Andrew. “The proceeds from that were spent on an 8-track; the records made on that machine in my parents’ front room brought together an impressive group of talented people, including friends from England, to make recordings that demanded a label be set up.”  

It was his belief that the quality of music being produced deserved to be shared with others and the only way to ensure this happened was setting up a record label (remember, this was in if not before, the early days of MySpace).

Now defunct

Now defunct

After moving over to Newcastle they continued their endeavours, taking a wholly DIY approach to the label as they invested a lot of their own time and money into it. “We set ourselves up as a limited company, coding our own site [now defunct], getting records pressed onto CD, making the sleeves ourselves, sending out press shots, and promoting shows for our roster.”

Of course, starting out over ten years ago, at a similar time to the launch of MySpace in 2003 and years before Youtube, the developments and relationship of music and the internet proved challenging for Andrew. It impacted upon many record labels as artists no longer required their backing to get their music out of their bedrooms and into other peoples.

“It has become easier to do what a ‘label’ entails by releasing records digitally as there are fewer overheads, less risk, and more immediacy in getting things done,” he says. “The internet has become a more accessible place via social networking sites and Bandcamp. One might even suggest that labels operating on the level of Tiny Lights are fast becoming an obsolete model:  what can they offer bands that bands cannot already do for themselves?”

Which may provide an insight into why Ex Libris records is currently on hiatus, although Andrew puts it down to his and Luke’s interests elsewhere; Andrew with his music production business and Luke with his fiancé.

Regarding the ever-hyped Newcastle music scene Andrew agrees that it is indeed in fine health and a well kept secret full of eclectic bands, venues and promoters. However, it’s not a complete wonderland for anyone wanting to create and promote music in the North East, as is sometimes suggested.

Available on Ex Libris Bandcamp

Available on Ex Libris Bandcamp

“[The Newcastle music scene] is also very insular. Like any artistic scene, there is a fishbowl quality to everything here that feels quite small.  At Ex Libris, we were fortunate to be made very welcome as newcomers to the place but there was still always a feeling of being an outsider, which is inevitable in any small city.  If you were to look at the Belfast scene, it would be no different.

“It can be tiring if you are a true enthusiast who happens not to have the right friends in the right places.  It can leave you feeling a little stonewalled.  Then again, I might have felt just as uncomfortable being the toast of the town. I’m proud of what Ex Libris achieved during its run, but I would have been interested to have seen what would have come of it had we been operating in somewhere a little less parochial.”

Despite these qualms Ex Libris stayed fully in action until 2010 and even though it may seem as dormant as Mt St. Helens pre-2008, just like that volcano there is always the chance of a new explosion. “Just because it is on hiatus, doesn’t mean it’s ceased to exist,” he explains. “I’m excited to be archiving much of the material released from the 2005-10 period on Bandcamp, therefore providing a stable online presence for curious passers by.” 

Having ploughed lots of time, money and effort into Ex Libris records to end up leaving it on hold, you could be forgiven for assuming Andrew has left the music business entirely. But he hasn’t. He now works as a music producer over at Unimbued and his motivation to work in music continues to thrive.

“The drive to do it is instinctive.  It bubbles up and happens regardless of whether I want to or not.  And so bands, gigs and recordings continue to accumulate.

“If there was one primary interest that I’ve acquired in the last couple of years, it circles around the question of how to earn a living from your craft.  While this focuses more on my music production skills, it’s still a thorny issue.  You have to try to break into certain circles, make certain creative compromises, and weather financial hardships that most peers don’t experience in their normal day jobs.  

“Yet being part of that process of making something, that was once not there at all, can still make you feel like it’s Christmas.  I see it as the duty of the artist to not keep that thing to themselves:  that’s just selfish.  You need to put it out there and let others love, hate or be indifferent to it. That’s important.”

Check out music from Ex Libris over at http://exlibrisrecords.bandcamp.com

Andrew now works at Unimbued