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SuperFi Records

SuperFi Records is a UK label that has been responsible for a slew of releases by the likes of the recently-reviewed Trencher, Houston, Fig. 4.0, Biblical Proof of UFOs and Red Ghetto Sun. Plus, they’ve got some incredible-looking stuff on the way, including a Melt-Banana/Narcosis split 7″, an Orthrelm/Trencher split 7″, and an LP by the brilliantly-named High Tone Son of a Bitch.

SuperFi’s head honcho Kunal was good enough to take time out of his seriously hectic schedule to give us a detailed look at the machinations behind all this stupendous action.
Why the hell did you call your label that?

That’s a good question, because it’s not a very good name, is it? I’m sure there was a Urusei Yatsura song called that, and at the time I thought it sounded pretty cool. You know – not hi-fi, but SUPER-fi! It also seemed nice and familiar-sounding, which was later confirmed when I walked down the high street and saw the actual Superfi stores that I must have subconsciously stolen the bloody name from. It was too late to change by then – I’d registered the Hotmail address! By the way, it has a capital F as well as a capital S. Cheers.

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

I had some time and money on my hands, and just started. Er, that’s it really. I also had absolutely no clue how to go about things, so I simply considered it a really expensive experiment. I put an ad for demos in a couple of issues of Melody Maker, citing Kyuss, Fugazi and Coalesce, and got sent quite a lot, very few of which sounded like any of those three bands or were anywhere near listenable. One was by Red Ghetto Sun, who were a trio from San Francisco, and I took a couple of songs from the CD they sent and got them made into 302 7″s during the spring of 2001 (I think).

Then I did another 7″ (Houston/The Babies Three split) that summer, followed by the CD by Biblical Proof Of UFOs (a grrreat name that I have enjoyed typing out hundreds of times) the next spring, followed by yet another 7″ (Milligram) that autumn, and then there was a two-year hiatus whilst I was planning loads of stuff. That was broken by yet another 7″ (Stand/Fig. 4.0 split) that took about 5 weeks to totally sort out. About a year after that I’m now in the slightly stupid position of having about eight releases either coming out right now or in the next few months. As you can probably tell, there’s never been a grand plan, and I doubt there ever will be.

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

Well, first of all, I have to give a shout-out to Rich Perry of Speedowax Records, even though he’s about as techno-savvy as an OAP and probably won’t get to read this. Anyway, when I was younger and living in Birmingham, Rich worked behind the counter at Tempest, which was my favourite record shop, and when I said I was starting a label he would give me little bits of advice, so I want to thank him for that. I guess he’s also slightly responsible for my formative musical tastes, as he was the one getting in the records that I would in turn buy.

Any label that puts out good music inspires me, but I don’t think I have taken direct cues from anyone. SuperFi’s a bit too scattered in terms of purpose at the moment. I mean I don’t release stuff from one particular genre, like Southern Lord (arguably) does. I don’t concentrate on one geographical location, like Dischord does. I just put out stuff I like when I want to. I also like a lot of different types of music, which I think is reflected by the seemingly random bunch of records I have put out, although I think I am now focusing more on the slower and heavier, or noisier, types of hardcore – which I find is not covered especially well in the UK.

One label I think can do no wrong is Hydrahead. I’m pretty sure I own most of their output, and there’s not a single stinker in the lot. They’ve gone through a bit of a rough patch recently, what with their mainstays either splitting up (i.e. Botch) or moving onto other labels (i.e. Cave In), but they bravely forged ahead and signed more unknown bands, and it’s paying dividends, especially in the case of Pelican who I like a lot. They also like to support terminally unpopular bands that have been going a long time. The recent Craw album Bodies For Strontium 90 is easily one of the best rock records of the nineties. Also, the art is almost always amazing, and complements the music beautifully. Keelhaul, Knut, Mare, Oxbow, Jesu, The Austerity Program, Harkonen – an incredible roster.

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?

I try and keep my label’s website packed with all the information that anyone could ever need – what I’ve put out, info on the bands themselves, how they can get their hands on the records and so on. I’d say I use the web, especially e-mail, a hell of a lot more than writing newsletters and sending them out, but at the end of the day, people still have to physically send me their money for m e to send them their records.

Actually, I always thought that mail order was a strange concept when you get down to it. You send off money to some person who you have probably never met before, and hope that instead of stealing your money, they send you a record or CD in return. It’s an honour system, and I am glad I come across as trustworthy enough for people to do this with me.

I still get people (usually younger kids) writing to me after seeing an ad somewhere, and that’s also very cool. I think it’s important to keep that link, because the assumption that everyone has a computer or regular access to the internet is pretty false. People seem to take the web for granted nowadays – finding out about new music, and getting in touch with the people involved has never been easier.

Incidentally I was kind of lying about people having to physically send me money. Online payment sites (e.g. PayPal) link a virtual account up to your credit card, so you can pay other people with PayPal accounts, which is especially useful when dealing with people outside the UK.

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

Weren’t people taping albums for their mates years before any of these lawsuits began? Of course they were, it will always happen, there’s nothing you can do about it. The web has simply upped the scale of this, ensuring that a vast array of music has the potential to be exposed to people who would otherwise have to rely on radio and TV (organisations that have an agenda that has little interest in what constitutes quality music) to find out about music. Also, if it hadn’t been for the internet, I would not have been introduced to the vast majority of music that I love now, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people, so I am all for downloading!

Perhaps I am doing my bit to combat downloading by putting out music predominantly on a format that is relatively tricky to pirate (i.e. vinyl). Obviously, I would prefer that someone buy my record rather than download the tracks over the internet, but that’s balanced out by the fact that potentially millions of people could hear it, and I find that heart-warming.

Although it is all about the music, I think the whole package (the artwork, the record itself) makes it special. An MP3 is a bit of an abstract concept – a piece of data on your hard drive inside a casing – whereas a 7″ is something you can hold and examine and own. Maybe that’s the collector nerd in me talking, I don’t know. I’m quite happy to put out records for the 500 or so people who still value the real deal.

Also, it seems that record sales are actually up despite all the downloading going on! What’s the problem here?

Also, the RIAA sued a 12-year-old girl (I think). Fuck them.

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?

I’ve definitely come into contact with a whole slew of awesome people via the daily running of this label, be they band members, label owners, punters, writers, whatever, so I feel an affiliation with them, definitely. Where they live doesn’t really matter to me. I think the term ‘scene’ is a bit of a dirty word. ‘Scenester’ is an insult for a reason. It smacks of cliques, rivalry, exclusion and insularity. I can’t think of a better word to replace ‘scene’ right now, but I’m on the case. Collective, perhaps?

I think the idea of local musical communities serves very well in places like the USA, where the vast distances involved are just too impractical for bands, labels, shops etc. to try and cover. Having points of contact all over the place makes more sense. In the UK itself, there are lots of great labels and bands, and I feel an affiliation with them to an extent, as we’re all battling against being ignored by the music fans that are still in thrall of the US ‘scene’.

Regardless, I know that if you bother to look past your own doorstep, there’s an incredible amount of stuff out there. You’d be amazed where punk/hardcore/indie bands can turn up – Singapore, South Africa, Guatemala, Korea… the list goes on. There’s a global scene, man!

At the moment, I live in Bristol. There are loads of good bands of all styles round here, but most of them don’t seem to play outside of Bristol, or indeed want to do that. Maybe it’s a confidence issue. Hopefully that will change.

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

Oh yeah, all the time, I am missing out on vital daytime TV watching. At the moment, running this label is just an expensive hobby that I love doing, so there might be periods of inactivity, but nothing too drastic.

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?

Most of the time, it’s been me asking the bands. I am always surprised at how eager even the (relatively) big bands are to get their music out into the real world. Seriously, if you like a band and fancy putting out a record by them, just e-mail them!

I still enjoy getting demos, and they do get listened to, so please send them in. Some of them are pretty funny.

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

I am very pleased at the continuing rise in popularity of slower, heavier music. The Melvins and Neurosis both have a really devout cult following (which I am part of), and records like the Isis, Pelican and Khanate albums are held up as great works of art. Taint are from Wales, and they have been going for ages without a great deal of success, but in that time they’ve honed their music into this unique, densely negative, epic, stoner, punk-hardcore – brilliant. They are recording their first album really soon, hopefully someone good will pick it up.

Mare I’ve mentioned before, because they just signed to Hydrahead, but they deserve another reference because the song(s) I’ve heard from their demo (at www.mare.ca) are just spectacular. Full-on crushing doomy hardcore, that suddenly switches into a triple-vocalled choral chanting section.

Minsk is another new band occupying much the same territory – their recent CD has 4 songs in 45 minutes! Conifer have a cool name, and are totally sludged-out fug-rock. Kill Yourself are definitely the UK’s best live band. Paper Cut Out I haven’t seen yet, but I imagine they’d also be a close contender. They don’t like their first 7″, but I fucking do! Total herky-jerky random noise-jazz-pop-skronk-core. Obviously.

Das Double Muslim Machine are almost as good as their name. I was sad when J*R split up. I was going to re-release Lair Of The Minotaur’s demo as a 10″, but sadly Southern Lord swooped in and signed them. No hard feelings though! They deserve it. Imagine Celtic Frost, Melvins and High On Fire all mixed up, with a severe mythological bent to the lyrics – total war-metal! The Dames are a trio from Minneapolis, and I cannot think of a band that is so good at welding melody to pure rock fury. Big Collapse are less spiky, but the songs will stick in your head forever. Lords (not to be confused with Lords from Nottingham, who I haven’t heard yet) are from Louisville, and do this totally righteous whacked-out rocking shit, like Rye Coalition or Jesus Lizard or something. Big Business are ex-Karp, which means very good in my book.

There seem to be a shedload of great Irish bands around too (in, er, Ireland, of course) and I wish they’d get more attention. The N aut, Serpents, The Holy Riff, Easpa Measa, The Killing Spree, Bastard Youth, xKnifedx, The Kabinboy, Debt, The Dagda, Scatha and Scald bring the noise, whilst The Dudley Corporation, Tycho Brahe, Redneck Manifesto and Large Mound hold up the quieter end of the spectrum.

God, I could go on all day. Then again, I still listen to rap-metal.

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

Well, when it comes to the records I put out, they’re more important to the bands so it’s important that they turn out how they want them to. If they want to do the art, then they can do it, and if they don’t mind me sorting it out, then I do that. A lot of these band types seem to have studied graphic design or something like that at college, so they’re usually quite keen to do it themselves (or get a talented friend to do it for free), which is fine by me, saves me the hassle.

Seriously, getting my head round technical printing specs and jargon is beyond me, and most printing places have no clue what a 7″ record is, never mind that you want to print a sleeve for one. If you know of a good printer, e-mail me!

I do like it when the releases on a certain label all have a certain look (e.g. Tzadik, Hydrahead, Gravity), but in my opinion, when you’re in the shop checking things out, it should be the band that you should be noticing first, not the label.

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

For vinyl I use GZ Digital Media in the Czech Republic. They are easily the cheapest plant in Europe, and they have a lot of options for heavy and colour vinyl. I only recently discovered that they are quite bad with regards to pollution, which is a shame, but then I’m pretty sure that most of the plants in this heavily chemical-based industry suffer from this. I’m always on the lookout for other pressing plants, but I have had no complaints with GZ (except for one total pressing fuck-up with one 7″ that was quickly sorted out), so it’s a case of better the devil you know at the moment.

A lot of the other ones around Europe basically farm out the work to GZ anyway. If you want to do a 5″ record, the only place that does them in Europe is Eldorado in Germany. Their other products come highly recommended too.

I’ve only done one CD (on my own), but if I do anymore I will be sure to use Key Production who are based in London. CDs are dirt-cheap nowadays, and there are so many places that do them, but the guy I know at Key (Aston) is a punk label owner (Boss Tuneage) himself, so he knows where I am coming from. It’s cheap, though probably not the cheapest, and the CDs come out sounding and looking great.

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

Actually hiring someone to actively promote my stuff is totally out of my ‘budget’. I’m quite happy to provide a few MP3s and a description on my site, although getting people to go to the site is another matter. I really dislike spam, so I might leave the odd message on an internet forum, but I don’t want myself or someone else ramming unwanted information down everyone’s throats, otherwise people will probably be put off.

I’ve found that many people don’t seem to pay much attention to reviews, which is strange as that’s how I often find out about good, new stuff. I still send review copies out, but it can be hard to find magazines that you think will not only like it, but also publish on a regular basis. The same goes for webzines, of which there are too many.

John Peel has played some of my releases on his show, so he rules. I fear the day when he decides to call it quits.

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

I think it will continue in its usual cack-handed random manner for years to come, or months at least.

Got any advice for the prospective new label mogul?

Here’s a few pointers off the top of my head:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask around for advice.

2. Don’t be a cock. I don’t understand why some indie labels treat their bands so shittily. It’s like they want to be as bad as the majors. If you wanted to make lots of money, you wouldn’t do it by putting out punk records, especially on vinyl.

3. It will take you several releases before you’ve worked out everything that’s going on, so make sure you’re using money that you don’t mind not making back for a while, if at all!

4. The hardest bit is getting your records out to the general public. Getting shop distribution (via Cargo or Shellshock for example) is all well and good, but they take a big chunk of the money per unit sold, that is if you sell any units. I like trading with other like-minded labels, mainly ‘cos any money I make will probably be spent on more stupid metal CDs. I’m just cutting out the middleman.

5. If you’re going to put out records by a band that is the hot flavour-of-the-month, make sure you shift them all in that month, otherwise you will be stuck with the leftovers for years to come. Also, why are you even listening to them in first place? They are probably a load of bollocks.

6. Don’t forget the postage per record when you’re working out your costs! I always do, it’s bloody annoying.

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

This is an impossible question to answer, but I shall give it a go (several in fact).

Of all my fantasy releases, the one most likely to actually occur might be a split 7″ between Corrupted and Thrones. That would RULE! Corrupted are big Joe Preston fans apparently, so maybe I should make some enquiries…

A Fugazi record would be an obvious choice, but they do their own stuff, so fair enough.

Something by Shellac perhaps? On a wax cylinder – the ultimate analogue format!

A re-release of Earth’s 2 album, remastered for extra droning-ness. It would have to be a picture disc with the landmasses of Earth on it, and actually be the same diameter of Earth (the planet) in order to accommodate the grooves in the vinyl. Maybe they could hook up a giant stylus to the Space Shuttle so that everyone could hear it.

A triple 7″ (one each by Chariots (from London), Chariots (from USA) and The Chariots (also USA)) packaged in a special sleeve that folds out origami-style into an actual chariot, for which the three 7″ records act as wheels. I haven’t really heard these bands; it’s just that their names lend them to being part of an origami chariot.

Most of all, I’d like to direct a philosophical science-fiction movie and get The Fucking Champs to do the soundtrack. Seriously.

SuperFi Records website