Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Baptists & Bootleggers presents ...Of The Wolves

Times haven’t been easy for the recorded music industry since the turn of the century. The millennium bug hit hard and there’s no popular solution in sight. Punters are being shown a series of unhealthily prohibitive legislation all with designs on disabling online freedoms.

And then an email from a project like Baptists & Bootleggers pops into your inbox.

Baptists & Bootleggers is a new Manchester record label that also, in a sense, separates its output from the internet, but instead of harbouring intent on devious commercial gain it has poured all of its heart into a tangible product. The result is a rejection of mp3 norms and a nod towards the concept album. But, more than a mere album, it becomes a concept experience. Music, art, literature and live performance all free of charge for their audience’s enjoyment.

The record is a gloriously packaged one-off; a keeper in a world of throwaways. While opening, you’re filled with increasing wonderment and desire to satisfy your curiosity. But there’d be no point producing such superficial sheen without following it up with substance.

Based around the 1930s film of Dante’s Inferno, a fiery adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s epic verse Divine Comedy, the experience is afforded hinges to guide its creativity. Five musicians interpret the same 8 minute 12 second video clip, making the largely instrumental five-track LP entitled ...Of The Wolves the focal point. Electronic duo Borland set a moody scene; ‘Nightmare’ is almost an onomatopoeic title for a track progressing through phases from unnerving calmness to industrial pounds and filthy scuzz.

Veí contrasts that dive into dystopia with the undercurrents of hope flowing through the cleanly ‘Decaying Bodice’ before Stagger reaches into your inner ear and leaves the recalcitrant disharmony that is ‘& The Flaw’. It descends back into a sci-fi world where klaxons and shudders reign and you’re left to fend for yourself on street level in Blade Runner. Dafydd Jones, aka Crown The Wolf, visits a similar theme, but instead entwines a loftier, galactic tone with nagging running dialogue. The record is rounded off with psychedelic prog rockers Go Lebanon lambasting their initial starkness with suffocating swells of racket, erupting densely, viciously and vigorously.

It’s both surprising and reassuring that five musical artists could provide such a range of ideas originating from the same source and that is perhaps the most rewarded aspect of the project. But the Baptists & Bootleggers experience is the sum of its parts; Paul Hallows, Dan Watson, Edward Williams, Jess Higgins and Matthew Walkerdine all illustrate their readings of quotes from Divine Comedy – an abstract collection impossible to decipher without having read the same passages – and Dan J Luck and Dave Firth imagine prose (morbid, reflective and ethereal) based on the recorded music.

Veí’s debut EP also falls out of the sleeve. To say it’s his debut isn’t to belittle his digital release through Mind On Fire Records last year, Thank You For Talking, but the feeling that this is his first debut proper does serve to back up the idea that a recording as a physical product still holds a certain allure. Veí recently ditched the assembly of gadgets that made up his looping orchestra and one of his first outings with a trimmed live luggage was at the first Now Then Sunday Soirée, at which he wrapped his ambient glitches snugly around the visual serenity of a Limbo computer game walkthrough film. The tracks are recognisable from that show, which has been an obstacle when linking Veí’s previous recordings to past improvised performances.

Taken as a unit, the EP is varied enough while remaining distinctly the work of the same artist. ‘Faceplant’, a standout, evokes Four Tet’s knack for matching samples of acoustic guitar finger picking with processed beats and harmonies. It’s almost his ‘Everything Is All Right’. ‘Internetiquette’ harnesses a gently mechanical steadiness of pistons, shuffling like brush strokes incongruous to a solemn piano lilt, while ‘When We Were Things’ carves a path through fragmented electronica.

As for sleeve notes, they’re printed onto a piece of tightly woven material; no paper cuts trying to prise these words away from a plastic case.


So far, the project has been aided by Umbro’s art funding scheme, but label co-founder Callum Higgins says that they were never expectant of or reliant upon the financial support: “When we first came up with the idea of Baptists & Bootleggers we hadn’t even considered applying for any funding, everything was going to be split costs between ourselves and the artists that wanted to work with us. And even when we thought about funding we never actually thought we'd get it. We were pretty shocked when we did to be honest.”

He continues, “Once we'd decided we were going to give the funding a shot we started putting in a lot of work. The only way we'd succeed in proving to people that spending their money on making things to give away for free is a good idea would be to prove that we were serious about it. We put in a lot of hours putting together budgets so we knew exactly how much we needed and didn’t ask for any more. Although it turned out that they liked our idea so much they decided to give us more than twice what we asked for.”

But given the support there is now an added security to the near future with other releases in the pipeline and a more stable platform for affiliated artists, who are already being recognised further afield

But is this a model that others could copy? “Not necessarily,” says Higgins. “It’s something we want to do because we and the artists we work with believe in free art and free music and we feel it's a good way to give back to the people that support your work. But that's not to say we're against the idea of people making a living doing what they love.”

Jonn Dean, aka Veí, shares the sentiment that artistic continuance should take precedence over money: “I've been in bands and making music for the last thirteen years and over that time I've realised just how hard it is to make a sustainable career within the industry as a recording artist, especially without compromising on the music you ideally want to release.”

He continues, “It also really frustrates me whenever I hear more established artists (some of whom might never actually need to earn another 'cent' in their lives) complaining about file-sharing ruining the industry, etc, when I know countless and more talented artists who would love the same amount of exposure and success, but who also have to strike a balance on a daily basis between holding down a day-job whilst finding time to write, perform and promote the music they love.”

With the broad experience behind this first outing for Baptists & Bootleggers, Dean describes an altered perception with the monetary valuation removed. He pinpoints “a sense that people interested in the release genuinely want to own it, which is a feeling a lot more rewarding than me trying to flog an EP to people for a few quid after a show.”

And Higgins hopes that the want to own the Baptists & Bootleggers output will continue from this early groundwork. While the ...Of The Wolves project can hardly be labelled uninventive, he admits that they stayed fairly safe in terms of working with people they know and could trust, but now that the seed has been sown, they intend to guide the growth of many an artist in the future.

“For our first release we decided to work with artists, writers and musicians who we already knew and whose work we were fans of. As this is our establishing release we felt that the people involved were important as it would reflect what people can expect from us in the future.”

“We have quite a few releases lined up, some of which we can't reveal at the moment but they're pretty exciting. But we can tell you about our first mainly literature release coming up, we've been working with online publication Kollektivnye to put out their first print edition in March.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Logos: Courtesy of Baptists & Bootleggers
Photographs: Paul Green

Go Lebanon, Borland and Veí will all perform at the Baptists & Bootleggers launch gig at Islington Mill on Thursday 9th February. Entry will be free, as will your copy of the ...Of The Wolves package.

1 comment:

  1. “a sense that people interested in the release genuinely want to own it" - agreed