EOY 2018 PAGE 1
We have no idea what we're doing. But we need only think back to our earliest days, in the latter half of 2017, to see how much our first full year in business has taught us.
We consistently get asked by newcomers in the shop, “How long have you been open for?” - every time replying with "er...about a year and a half" and having to check ourselves - it feels like a decade ago that we first loaded into this rickety former hair salon (!), all hands on deck, pasting together the skeleton of a record shop till the wee hours of the morning, mouths full of warm lager and cold kebab, heads full of VERY rational anxieties that we didn't dare articulate for fear of jinxing the whole frigging enterprise, waiting for our fittings and furniture (any furniture!) to arrive, making pitiful meaningless piles - PUDDLES - of records to go in racks that may or may not turn up, knocking over half drank cans of San Miguel (not sure why San Miguel) with every other movement, and wondering where the overpowering smell of DEAD BODY was coming from (turned out to be a box of records from Penultimate Press). It felt ridiculous to open when we did, with no counter and no clue, but the “plan” was always to just get on with it, build as we go. FALLING FORWARD...
Yes, more than a year has passed and we still haven't mastered the basics of shopkeeping but we've put on shows, thrown parties, got a label going and found ourselves distributing many others. There have been weddings and births and badly timed trips to America. We haven't known whether we're coming or going, to be completely honest with you. We've just kept buggering on.
As anyone who has regularly set foot through our door in 2018 will have observed, our humble abode is in a constant state of evolution. Tiny increments of progress - so tiny. We learn by our mistakes - and what mistakes. We continue to make it up as we go along, the world within our four not-entirely-firesafe walls playing host to our experiments in carpentry, our shortcomings in botany, digressive staff meetings that achieve staggeringly little and, most importantly, a steady flow of good folk - that is to say, YOU. It goes without saying that a shop is nothing without its customers (oops, said it), but really - the fact that this operation is still afloat, albeit possibly sailing full-steam towards a giant fucking iceberg on the horizon, is down to YOU, our friends and patrons, you and your dogged determination to come and buy records from us despite there being no obvious practical reason that we're aware of for you to do so. So THANK YOU.
To those of you who have yet to visit our premises, or didn't know we existed before reading this, come and see us IRL if/when you can. We are a record shop. We sell records. You can listen to them all. We're located in Hackney Downs, London, about ten minutes' walk from Dalston Kingsland station, about fifteen from Hackney Central. For more information, including our reduced Christmas/NY hours, go here.
Anyway, despite all our apologist, pseudo-moaning, self-dep updates throughout the last 12 months, it has been an incredible year over this way, and whilst trying to condense it all into some kind of navigable ramble is impossible, below is a vein attempt - think of it as one of those awful round-robin letters that awful families send (thanks sis!) in lieu of christmas cards, boasting of fancy foreign holidays, favourable exam results, successful prostatectomies and other "achievements" that mean precious fuck-all to anyone else. In other words... indulge us.
To take the edge off our monstrous self-regard, we've included some 2018 notes/lists/observations from a few friends and allies in close orbit. The resulting chorus of baws will hopefully give you something summat to sink your teeth over the festive period beyond roasted foodstuffs and intra-family psychological warfare.
Let's get on with it. Can’t remember how we came across Jolly Discs, they never forced anything on us (hint!). Pleasant surprise to find that most of their output is recorded at producer/co-founder Guy Gormley’s flat round the corner from the shop. Playful, eccentric, utterly uncontrived sounding (and yet made with obvious care), it’s a label with its own sound - how often can you say that??? - and were happy as Lårry to give a vinyl release on our shop label to Special Occasion’s (Gormley and David Gray’s) The Word (originally a Jolly Discs CS). See also Enchante’s Mind In Camden, particularly for the slouchy, sleepy-eyed Dancer remix of ‘Dream Frequency', Never’s self-titled tape - really GOOD SONGS which, like Special Occasion’s, will outlive us (not hard!) and them.
Enter Thomas Bush. His drunken keyboard, West Midlands meta-karaoke/free-folk epic Old & Red, originally self-released on CD, was an unassuming, deeply eccentric TRIUMPH, seeming to see England for exactly what it is: an inexhaustible site of hauntings and myth and metaphysical potential, yes, but also one of endless boredom/bathos/banality, endless ENDLESSNESS, where the closest thing we have to ecstatic pagan ritual is queuing up for a cheese & onion bake from Greggs. We're not doing ALBUMS OF THE YEAR, but come on, this was definitely ALBUM OF THE YEAR. [As a sidenote, in a(nother) year where the amount of VINYL being manufactured and peddled amounted to ecological atrocity – it's estimated that around 10,000 baby dolphins died cos their airholes got blocked with surplus Coil reissues - those artists modestly releasing their work on CDR, tape, even the once-abhorred USB stick, were to be applauded. Even if the words “This is the first release on my tape label, can I leave some copies with you?” still fill us with dread.)]
Now that Diät's guitarist Josh has moved back home (WHAT MAKES HOME HOME?) to Sydney, the former best-band-in-Berlin appear to be no more, although (for us at least) some good came of this: with help from peripatetic painter-punk (ALLITERATION BABY) Robert P., Josh made a tape of songs as a leaving present for EU-marooned mates, Done One, attributed to Itchy Bugger. We wasted no time in emotionally blackmailing him into letting us do a vinyl version of it as the first release on Low Company’s in-house label. More accurately, we decided to start the label just so we could put out this album. We shouldn't big up our own stuff but sorry, Done One is special. Since then we gather Josh has recorded a follow-up (if he doesn't call it Done Two we'll kick off), and Robert has cut an album of 39 Clocks-ish thwock’n’roll as Bobby Would that we’ll be putting out in the new year.
Robert and Josh also resurfaced with fellow Nitzschean Superman of Dustbin Rock, Jasper, for Heavy Metal's third LP, this time on Harbinger Sound and breaking "new" ground by channelling grooving, groin-led early '70s rock’n’roll (think Sticky Fingers meets The Door & The Window), with room for a droogish cover of Cameo’s 'Word Up’ - placing them in the esteemed company of Korn, Gun and Little Mix (i.e. exactly where they belong). R. also found time to turn out an album of high-velocity, brutally economical one-two stomp with Muscle Barbie, it too released by Harbinger (which, between this stuff and the Ceramic Hobs and Kanker Kommando retrospectives, would have a fair claim to being called our label of 2018...IF WE WENT IN FOR THAT KIND OF THING). The arrival of Ver Hobs' Black Pool Legacy - an acrid, profane, invidiously psychedelic tour of the (you may've heard) DEEPLY TROUBLED British psyche, Monty Python meets the Brainbombs - coincided with the LDN heatwave and brought with it a comparable payload of delirium and discomfort and DELIGHT. Can’t count the times someone in the shoppe stopped to ask in disbelief, "Is this still the same record?". The only thing that came close, in terms of seditionary DIY mind-scramble, was On Guard, Horn O'Plenty's collection of rare and unreleased "music" by (The) Mudguards: a properly f****d and irreducible bricolage of end-of-the-pier agit-pop, industrial cut-ups and demolished-man techno-raga. (Visits from Nick'O'Horn'O'Plenty, and the life-lessons drolly imparted, were among this year's CUSTOMER-FACING highlights. Welcome any time.)
Some of you will know we made some Trotterish inroads into the distribution business this year. Peddles included John T. Gast's two BTEC Version 12"s: STRONG white label hit-and-runs that spanned UK steppers-cum-lo-NRG/new beat ('Angela'), widow-maker grime ('Drith') and blissy, bleary Detroit-hued techno (‘Club Version’). Good story about the hand-scribing of these platters too but sworn to secrecy sadly.
Nowt to do with us or are haphazard wholesale operation, but two releases Gast's on own 5 Gate Temple label also of note: the 7" from TNT Roots and that flash drive (jah baby) of sublime heathen chamber music from Gossiwor (a collaboration with Danish princeling MC Boli, whose stiff and stately string/woodwind confections as Boli Group made even the dreariest autumn afternoon pon the shop floor feel like a Michael Nyman movie viewed at half-speed (IN A GOOD WAY)). In broadly the same cosmos (I suppose cosmoses are broad), Lolina’s previously digital-only The Smoke made it onto vinyl, a sly po-mo pop dérive concerning “a private detective disguised as an art and design student from Central Saint Martins”, with staggeringly on-point production - hands down the best thing she's ever done, solo or otherwise (apart from maybe 'Smitten'), and effortlessly joining the ranks of the all-time great albums-about-London (Lolina is our Madness lol). Tribe of Colin’s ultra-mucky, paranoid, decelerated gear continued to divide our staff - although all would agree that, heard in the context of this Radar Radio set, it CLICKS - while Colin and Gast also collaborated as Docile on The Trilogy Tapes, bridging the bashment phuturistix of JTG's Carla dal Forno versions and the paranoid pagan jeep beats of his Young Druid CD…all shimmying pied-piper tension and (obviously) NO RELEASE. The new school of broken-dreams London tekno in full and foul-tempered effect +++
Gast gone brung the Disciples-In-Space vybz to our First Birthday Party too, on a bill that also included FWENDS old (out to Mummy Mark) and new: the Wah Wah Wino crew, who rocked up in the Wino Wagon with sizeable entourage, FisherPrice dub siren and a few carriers of £5 prosecco - and proceeded to collide 60s psych singles into Pinch records into innumerable low-bitrate 90s UFOs. Those boys themselves were a def highlight of the year, pretty much the living embodiment of all that we hold dear [keep it in your pants!] and consistently using the shop as beermat/doormat on their visits to London...Coincidentally, this was also the year that the wider world lost their shit over their label, the Wino-D 12" becoming Britain's second biggest-selling title behind The Greatest Showman OST.
Our chart above (IT’S NOT A CHART) scrupulously avoids archival releases that aren’t especially revelatory, by which we mean, reissues of established classics or comps that mainly tell you things you already know. For instance the entire Felt reissue campaign, which saw Lawrence and crew’s 10-LP corpus – including the all-instrumental makeweights – remastered, re-pressed, and in a couple of instances re-edited/re-packaged. We didn't learn anything new from this, to tell you the truth, but hearing all the albums together, in sequence, did confirm that Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty is their untouchable masterpiece, with a sound and mood every bit as distinctive and sustained as that of, say, Unknown Pleasures. Subdued teenage psychedelia – no snares! - that returned us afresh to our very own LOST DOMAIN. Also essential for any UK indie groper were Fire’s reissue of Television Personalities’ late-period misery-mod epic Privilege, and Felt/TVP progeny Apple Boutique's outrageously foppish (that hair!) Love Resistance 7", originally a 12" on Creation. With strong showings too from Vital Idles and (archival again) Skygreen Leopards, it’s perhaps no coincidence that this year we instituted an “INDIE” section in the shop rather than trying to get away with filing everything under “POST-PUNK/DIY”. Say it loud: bed-wetters and PROUD.
Almost forgot: Creation was at the centre of a POLITICAL FIRESTORM in Low Company this Autumn, when a female customer asked Kenny what the Pensioners On Ecstasy record on our wall was. "It's a compilation on Creation," said Kenny. "It was the label Oasis were on," he added, innocently enough (you might think). The customer's partner, however, outraged at the NERVE of this out-of-control MISOGYNIST PIG behind the counter, took to social media later that day to call him out for "mansplaining". Kenny, you'll be pleased to know, was docked a day's pay and banned from any kind of customer interaction for the rest of the month. He knows he must do better. Actually the worst sleeper-knob of a punter this year was the South African bloke who droned on at us for ninety minutes about the size of his record collection and then gave us a four-star Google Review, presumably docking us one star for not being on board with his racist jokes.
As far as racks go (wait, come back!), the one we probably tended to least this year was DREAM / POP / AMBIENT, 2017 having been one long semi-passive orgy/overdose of PYJAMA MUSIC. As such, anything emanating the HEALING POWER OF RELAX tended to get short shrift in no-nonsense cut and thrust of 2017. LOL. But there were some goodies skulking round the edge of the pool: Suba’s Wayang, a dub-me-crazy collision of fourth world ambience, polyrhythmic techno and bombed-out breakbeats from 1995, was a knockout, sounding like some unholy meshing of Jah Wobble’s Lago Years, Smith & Mighty, Liquid Liquid and emybronic Goa trance, and 12th Isle made us come over all Kinski with the superior mountain synth drift of XYR (and then knocked us sideways with a salvo of rusted dub-techno/depressive B-boy gristle from Best Available Technology - which couldn't be mistaken for Balearic if you fed it five eccies and forced it into white trousers and flip-flops).
We had a lot of fun in the shop with the Civilistjavel! LP - particularly whenever someone had a stab at pronouncing it. This enigmatic solo project (si-vi-list-yay-vil people!) might've died alone and unknown in a private DAT archive, had the elusive Swedish gent responsible not sent us some rips out of the blue and asked if we wanted to do anything with them. Woss Svensk for KISMET? It was an honour to have a hand in the release of this extraordinary material - existential electronics of the highest order. The first edition with hand-made sleeves is long gone, but the re-press is still available, and second volume of material from the same cache of recordings will materialise some time in 2019 - hold tight high-lonesome arctic tekno cru!
At this juncture we would like to pay tribute (poor choice of words, she's not dead) to Estelle, OUR STELLA, who throughout 2017 gamely took on job after job that the rest of us were too scared, or lazy, to even contemplate: be it attempting to impose order on our chaotic tape inventory, hand-stamping Itchy Bugger and Pessimist and Special Occasion records, gluing Civilistjavel! sleeves into shape, or photographing vegetable samosas. Any hand-made aspect to the records we released or distributed, chances are it was Estelle's hand what did the making. Her reliable and absolute contempt for 90% of the people who come through the door of a Friday afternoon also continues to provide us with much AMUSEMENT and spiritual BALLAST. Employee of the year. Thank you.
Speaking of the workforce/chain-gang, this was the year than KENNY finally tied himself to the mast of the leaky ship Low Company FULL-TIME, instead of just fitting us around his hectic schedule elsewhere (thank you Reckless for letting us have him, and for all the GOOD HABITS you instilled). This exciting new chapter in the LC chronicles very nearly came to an abrupt and tragic end. At the height of summer, an al fresco staff meeting (I know what is this fucking Marie Claire) descended into a monumental piss-up that ALMOST COST KENNY HIS LIFE when, business taken care of, the feckless wee man attempted an early-hours cycle ride home to Catford (we did protest although in retrospect we should really have INSISTED). He made it about 50 metres up the Kingsland Road before he came off his bike and was rushed - in pain and insensible but still in one piece - to hospital. He broke his arm and his wrist, but luckily he escaped with his life. Lesson learned - don't live in Catford.