Monday, 8 August 2011

Interview: Mind On Fire

“People have asked what Mind On Fire is before and I’ve always kind of struggled – it’s a monster...”

It’s been a long road since humble beginnings as a crew of bands looking for gigs back in 2004, but Mind On Fire Collective’s Joe Webster believes they’ve finally understood and tamed the beast that has kept growing over the years. Persistence and steady evolution (“We’ve not had a five year plan or anything like that – we just followed opportunities as they’ve come”) has been the key to laying the groundwork across a range of artistic and musical disciplines.

“I feel like we’re at a point now where we can say: 'this is what we do: we’re a record label, we run a website, we run occasional events showcasing experimental music from all around as well as having a big emphasis on pushing local music',” he adds, looking back over the years since he and his Mind On Fire Band bandmates took the first steps along a varied musical path. That path has meandered from podcasts to radio shows, promotion to performing, DJing to recording, with all manner of musical collaboration in between.

To start with, all that was a pipedream. The first strides down the Yellow Brick Road were merely seeking to gain self-sufficiency and avoid the venomous Pay 2 Play snakes at all costs. Webster explains: “We were at odds with that [P2P] and never really felt comfortable with that sort of scene. So when we started to do clubnights and collaborate as Mind On Fire (MOF), that was very much part of the ethos. We were an alternative to that Pay 2 Play scheme.”

“We were all playing in bands in our teens with a few friends and it just seemed like commonsense really that once we were ready to start doing gigs, the natural thing to do seemed to be to book a venue and put a gig on, so we put on a few gigs, not even realising that what you’re supposed to do is make a demo and send it off to real promoters!”

They themselves soon became real promoters, booking a mixture of local bands with the occasional headliner from further afield. To begin with, Webster recalls that often a multitude of tastes was catered for across one night, but soon they realised that success in this was erratic and not everyone could quaff their intense cocktail of sounds all in one dose. It’s one of the toughest tasks of the niche music promoter to strike a balance between what you’d like to see and what’ll draw in an audience, but a MOF Mint Lounge series managed to squeeze jazz/funk, hip hop and electronic bands onto the same bill with consistent success (“that stands out as some of the best stuff we’ve put together”).

Whether good or bad, they’ve tended to be memorable: “There’s been some hilarious moments! We had Shitmat getting thrown out of Music Box in his underpants because he’d been hanging off the rafters by his feet, swinging a chair at the crowd. I had to run around the club to find his trousers to take to him outside! That was pretty good!”

“Some of the standout shows have been Onra and Martyn at Mint Lounge and the series we did at Deaf Institute with My First Moth last year where we had Kelpe, Lone, Lukid – E-Man’s visuals for that were some of the best stuff we’ve had at anything.”

It’s not only this diversity of scheduling that has helped the Mind On Fire name to become synonymous with an eclectic array of local independent music. This month will see the release of the first single on Mind On Fire Recordings, but they’re no strangers to distributing recorded music. A series of compilation CDs, CD-Rs and digital releases have helped to define the extent to which the MOF are prepared to unearth and highlight originality and proficiency in non-commercial music. Danny Drive Thru, who is headlining the next Now Then Manchester showcase at Dulcimer on Thursday 11th August, is the first musician to command sole attention on a Mind On Fire Recordings vinyl pressing with his ‘Psychedelia Smith’ / ‘Violence Makes’ split.

The prospect of embarking on a venture into the notoriously unstable territory of music sales could be a daunting prospect. But the Emerald City is in sight and Webster is nothing but pleased to see it around the corner; the culmination of seven years' work is near – a fact that will be marked by an October celebration gig.

“I’ve always found it quite exciting actually; how it’s developed with digitals and stuff. I think it has democratised music a lot. We’ve known that it’s a scary time to be trying to start a label selling vinyl and we know that the margins aren’t good and that sort of thing, but that’s not why we’re doing it, you know, it’s for a love – not just a love of the music – but we wanted to have that tangible product, the whole thing with the artwork and everything.”

Webster’s reasoning is unsurprising given the tendency of MOF to support the arts broadly. En route, they’ve worked alongside Sketch City, Herbal Sessions and most recently produced the Hear No Evil See No Evil publication / compilation combination with onefiveeight. Unafraid to explore different visual styles, Mind On Fire have made E-man (aka Cycloptics) a mainstay of live VJing at their shows. But one of their most distinctive artistic elements so far is the range of design for event posters.

“We always made a point at first of having completely different artwork for each event – for the flyers we never had any proper logo or branding for at least the first 3 or 4 years there was no set logo. So we might get a kind of theme going for a series of events but we commission different artists to do different flyers so if you look at our flyers it’s chaos!”

All of which indicates the wider sense of kinship and collaboration amongst the Collective. Webster is keen to point out the introductions that MOF have facilitated over the years (“We’ve had artists who’ve played at the same event then started working on tunes together”) but even within the Mind On Fire group itself there’s a certain fluidity that over time has seen faces come and go. Whoever is involved, there is always a sense of genuine democracy.

“We used to try to decide everything together and then realised that it was impractical – we still do a lot together but for specific events or projects someone will take a lead on it. But then for the releases and stuff like that there are a lot of meetings and arguments with everyone wanting to get their input in.”

One recent decision was their next physical output after the imminent Danny Drive Thru record. “We’re chatting to Paper Tiger about doing a 12” for them but there’s no set date on it yet,” Webster reveals. The production duo transform into an eight-piece live act and have already caught the eye of Jus Like Music Records, who released their debut EP ‘Worldwide Takeover’ last month. In the meantime there are a few live shows courtesy of Mind On Fire with Thursday 11th August’s collaboration with Now Then Manchester followed by a website launch for Upper Space chalked up for late August, the aforementioned seventh birthday bash and then an enticing Ghostpoet headlined gig at Deaf Institute. All of which suggests that, despite finding its niche, the Mind On Fire Collective won’t be resting on their laurels; there’s still plenty of road ahead yet.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Courtesy of Mind On Fire

Now Then Manchester will team up with Mind On Fire for our next show at Dulcimer on Thursday 11th August. Below, Joe describes the event...

First up we’ve got Danny Drive Thru, who’s the next release on the label. He’s an awesome beat-maker and he’s been doing it for quite a long time so I’ll be really excited to hear some of his stuff. The last few times he’s performed with G-Kut, so it’d be good to see him flying solo. We’ll have the record there as well – it’ll be the first time it’ll be available.

With the Mind On Fire Band we’ve done a lot of stuff with TNC before so we know those guys pretty well but that new Dayse & Aver EP blew me away – I think it’s one of the best records this year and I think it’ll be pretty hilarious pulling it off in here (Dulcimer)! We’re working on doing the D&A EP as a full live set so we’re quite excited about that. We’ve not really started jamming yet so it’ll be a good few months off. But it’s in the pipeline anyway.

And then Vieka [pronounced Vee-Ecker]. We had those guys on at Sounds From The Other City and they were really good, Chantelle’s got a great voice and they do this awesome loop-pedal wizardry. Joe Luckin’s too good on the drums for his age – it’s not fair!

Then there’s MOF DJing and Ben from the label, who goes by the name Zoir [pronounced Zo-ear], is going to DJ some of his own productions – maybe doing a live Ableton set, that’s the plan. Bargain at £3!

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