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Distraction Records

Distraction Records’ website promises “diverse musical excursions”. What started as putting on gigs in a DIY manner around Newcastle-upon-Tyne somehow transmuted into an actual label that operates smoothly and silently, delivering all kinds of varied delights manifesting themselves as musical joy. From releasing woozy post-rock to bizarre and challenging electronica-cum-breakcore, a wide-ranging platter has always been part of Distraction’s offerings. Or something.

Distraction say this is performed with the aim of offering “a challenging alternative to the monotonous gutterswipe cluttering up the music ‘scene’.” Mmm, gutterswipe is a good word. We’d prefer to point out that their latest release is by Dressed in Wires, and it’s a 12″ picture disc entitled The Big Black Cock Of Death. Invoking the inspirational words of the mighty Bill Hicks will always win us over, so we asked Steve from Distraction to answer some of our less mundane questions.

Why the hell did you call your label that?

It was inspired by the last line in a note left by an ex-friend, ‘thanks for the distraction…’.
Years later when trying to think up a name for the label, I found the note, and it fitted nicely – the idea that we’re trying to provide people some kind of distraction from the day-to-day mundane existence, and in turn providing ourselves with the same.

It’s also a term that’s bugged me since pre-school. That I’m apparently easily distracted.

How did you get the whole thing started? How long have you been running now?

It all started back in April 2002. Basically, it evolved from a group of friends, all involved in various bands, music experiments, taking part in each others projects. Generally quite an incestuous affair. I don’t think you could call it a scene. It was basically just a way to exercise our creativity.

Through this, a fair bit of material was getting written and we thought it might be fun to put some of it out, just to see what reaction it got. Rather than each of us releasing our material separately, we hit upon the idea of launching a sampler CD with a couple of tracks from each artist, which would in turn launch the label and take it from there. We also made sure that the tracks flowed, so although there was electronic music sitting alongside Americana and lo-fi, it felt like it was part of a whole.

The sampler was called Prise Yourself Loose And Listen and was a lot more well received than we could ever have expected, even though it was largely all home-recorded and put out on CD-Rs.

Using the same DIY approach, we decided to start putting on our own events to showcase the acts and also any new talent that we came across. As a result, Distraction has become both a label and an events/promotions organisation.

The first six months were taken up with me (Steve) running the show, but then Darren got more involved and now it’s run by both of us.

Have you been inspired by any labels in terms of style/ambition/enthusiasm?

I think anyone who’s releasing their own music, be it a DIY label or just a band or individual, is inspiring.

I was very inspired by the mid-80s indie scene, in both the UK and USA, and I’ve always been a big fan of fanzine culture (I use to run one myself), along with obvious labels like Creation, Factory, Dischord, Warp, Chemikal Underground, Static Caravan, Jeepster – the list goes on.

What kind of a role has the internet played regarding your label? Some people these days operate exclusively via the ‘net, whilst others are still very much mail order based. What’s your stance?

The internet is a great promotional tool and it definitely helps small labels and the DIY scene. In effect everyone is equal.

Is downloading killing music? Do you harbour any strong feelings sympathetic to or against the RIAA?

No. No.

Do you feel an affiliation with other labels out there? Is there any kind of community or so-called ‘scene’ – be it local or not – that you feel linked to?

There are definitely other promoters and labels who we admire and share some community with, but we still pretty much feel like the strange kid at school, especially as much of the local material that we release and promote, doesn’t really fit into any of the local ‘scenes’.

Has there ever been a time when you felt like calling it a day, that the label was too much trouble?

Yes, especially when times are particularly busy and it starts affecting your personal relationships. But I know that if I did call it a day, it would only be a matter of time, before I would be doing something similar again. And I haven’t got too cynical or jaded – yet.

Where have you found bands you’ve released stuff by so far? Do you get demos etc sent to you? Do you ask the bands or do they ask you?

Either from seeing them perform, or most often from demos. We get hundreds of demos, links etc sent to us. All of which are listened to. But as our site says, if you don’t hear from us, then we’re not interested. I’d like to personally reply to everyone, as I always appreciated feedback when I was sending demos out, but we just don’t physically have time to reply to everyone.

Speaking of which, do you have any hot musical tips for us at the moment?

There’s some good music coming out of the North East at the moment (The Unit Ama, Lake Me, Mushi Mushi, Jazzfinger, Tears Of Abraham, Guessmen, amongst others), with some quite diverse scenes. It’s a good place to be, with a thriving underground. But if I had to pin-point one artist, then it would be… Dressed In Wires. Awesome. Makes electronica that sounds like Sonic Youth in a fist fight with Mark Stewart and Maffia, whilst Whitehouse and Prince Far-I shout the odds. His live act is also a sight to behold. Every performance is an event and totally unpredictable.

He also happens to have a special Distraction release coming out very soon…

Who decides the artwork for your releases? Do you have a major say in the matter, or do you let the bands decide?

We let the bands decide on their artwork and what they want to do with the release, but we do review it and will comment if we feel strongly about anything. We did knock back the artwork for one release, as it was just too near the edge for us to deal with. I reckon it would have seen the end of the label and my daughter being taken away by social services, if we’d gone with it.

Who do you use to make and print your records? Would you recommend them to others?

We use GZ Media in the Czech Republic. Very recommended, with very good customer service. When we released the See My Sound 7″, 500 vinyls were ‘lost’ by the shipping company. GZ dealt with it well and re-pressed them without question. They also pulled out the stops to get our next release (a split 7″ between Lachrymose One and Sansava) pressed up before they closed for Xmas so that we can get it out in the stores in the New Year.

What’s your opinion on the importance of press and media coverage? Do you have any particular policies on how to get it?

Press and media coverage is important to us, but we treat it as a promotional tool rather than a way to get our opinion across. Our approach to get it is simple: speak to people. Phone a journalist up and pimp yourself. There are some journalists in the North East who have been very supportive of what we do, and so have contributed to furthering our reputation and success. Obviously it’s a two-way thing, in that they’re helping us, but we’re also giving them interesting subjects to write about.

That aside, I’m also a strong believer in the power of word-of-mouth and self-publicity. So you cannot just rely on the mainstream press alone. You do need to get up and get out there and promote yourself. And if you really believe in yourself and what you are doing, you’ll do that.

Do you have any Grand World Domination plans for the label, or is it a case of natural evolvement?

Obviously we’d like to be as successful as the labels that inspire us, but it’s very much a case of natural evolvement. We do put a lot of effort into what we do, so there is drive and ambition behind it. It’s just not so calculated.

Got any advice for the prospective new label mogul?

Go with your gut feeling and don’t be afraid to take risks.

Finally, what would be your dream release – which band, which format, and how would it be packaged?

Er, tough one that. Thinking about it, I would like to see the unmixed tapes of The Stooges Raw Power released on all formats, as the version that is on general release (that was mixed by Bowie) is just so weak. Iggy re-mixed the album in the 90s and it’s a bit better but nothing like the unmixed session tapes. I managed to get a bootleg copy of them a few years back and they’re just so raw. Really live up to the album’s title.

Other than that, the unreleased The Black Room sessions that the KLF worked on that were supposed to be the yin to The White Room‘s yang – they were working on those tracks at around about the same time that they were working with Extreme Noise Terror – and have been unheard of ever since. Although maybe it’s best if we never heard them, in case the disappointment is too huge.

Distraction Records website