Racing out of trap 2, hot on the heels of tMx 23’s New Independent Renaissance, comes the New Pop Revolution: “Blue Skies Up” – V/A (Dogbox Records).
It’s been said a million times before, I’m sure, but compilation LPs make the world go round, & as everyone knows, you can’t beat a good round up to put things clearly into populist perspective. Luckily for them, when it comes to populism, Dogbox Records have got their kennel in order & are barking up the right tree.
“Blue Skies Up” collates 16 disparate artists painting stunning contemporary vistas through the medium of popular music. Some you will have read about in the pages of trakMARX before: the principally wonderful Luxembourg, the eminently suitable Boyfriends, the perfectly crafted Lodger, the impossibly delicate Sweethearts or the electronically enigmatic Swimmer One. Others may be making you acquaintance for the first time: Planetakis, Jonny Cola, The Schla La Las (one of Delia artROCKER’s many groups), Bib, Robots In Disguise, The Laurel Collective, The Bridge Gang, The Bleeding Hearts, Nakeru, Piranha Deathray or Morton Valence. Regardless of your familiarity, one thing is for certain, no contempt will be bred within earshot of “Blue Skies Up”.
Two multi-play weeks into it’s tenure in the space between my ears, “Blue Skies Up” is locked down & I am hooked. I have no choice but to sit up & beg. This New Pop Revolution is invigorating. It spins me right round, like a record, baby.
trakMARX - Dogbox was founded in 2004 - 'by two fed up teenage girls'. Would you care to expand on that?
Lisa: We were bloody fed up! Fed up with CD:UK packed with pop music designed by committee. Fed up that although there's as much talent out there as there ever was, you couldn't read about it in the mainstream press or hear it on the radio. But most of all, fed up with hearing our Mum telling us that when she was our age, the Human League and Adam and the Ants were getting to number one. We just decided we had to do something about it.
DBX: Pop groups - from The Beatles to the Cure and even groups like Blur – used to make music for everyone that teenage girls and boys just happened to like. Do you remember when Smash Hits had Morrissey and Pete Burns on the same cover? Can you imagine that now? Can you even name two contemporary singers that come anywhere near? The closest I can think of, very sadly, is Morrissey and Pete Burns. It all started to go wrong when bands started being marketed directly at teenage girls, manufactured by focus groups and therefore about as exciting and useless as Tony Blair. But to answer your question: if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
trakMARX - What is the ethos behind Dogbox Records?
Alex: There’s a lot of idealism. It’s basically that we love pop music for its own sake. We’re a record label, not a record company - the difference is important. We want to get to a position of being able to do this full-time, to be able to get great music to ever-larger numbers of people, but we’re not about to do that by asking people to sign their lives away. Artists put as much time and effort into what they’re doing as any label, and labels ought to recognise that in the contracts they draw up. I’m being a bit vague here, aren’t I? OK, trust, cooperation, fairness, fun and utter belief. Does that sound a bit New L$bour?
trakMARX - The current UK independent scene is at its most vital since the heady days of the Cartel & the idealism of the early 80s - discuss.
Alex: Lisa knows nothing about this. She wasn't born. I’m a bit young too, really, and DBX is in Sweden at the moment, so I can’t ask him. Hmm. OK, well, yes, I don’t think it’s surprising that you’ve suddenly got all these little labels starting up, but I think it’s a great shame that so many of them seem to be very insular, indie for indie’s sake, and lacking in ambition. I guess it’s the difference between growing your own vegetables and setting out to change the entire structure of food production. It’s still a good thing, but the wider impact is quite limited. The independent scene needs to think BIG.
trakMARX - Which classic independent label do you see as the ideal template for Dogbox?
Alex: Somewhere between Mute - which other indie had a band like Erasure? - and Factory, but I’m not about to spend £30,000 on a table. Idealism has never been more important.
trakMARX - What did you make of our new independent renaissance piece (DANCE TO THE RADIO - tMx 23) in the last issue?
Lisa: It said it all, really. The cocaine-addled old guard have had their time and failed catastrophically. British pop is on its knees. The last British act to have a number one in America was Elton John, for fuck's sake. This new generation of labels recognize that the only thing that matters is quality.
trakMARX - Which of the new breed of real UK independents do you rate & why?
Alex: I’m just going to say Angular. There are other labels doing exciting things, but Angular have such personality, such identity, and they’re not afraid of pop music. And they were a big influence on Dogbox right from the start.
trakMARX - "Pop music has been treated appallingly over the last few years, & we're all to blame", says your press release. Why? Exactly?
Alex: Well, you’ve only got to look around you. Pop music has become a dirty word, and for good reason. There are certain exceptions - Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine, Gorillaz’s Feel Good Inc and the Delays’ Valentine all stand out for me, and it’s difficult to entirely hate Girls Aloud, but they’re really the exception that proves the rule. Everything has become, to state the fucking obvious, ridiculously over-manufactured, which has led to a huge indie backlash. The trouble is that that backlash has entirely focused around an idea of “authenticity” over quality, so you get massive ghettoisation, hopeless scene after hopeless scene, and no real quality control. Pop music should be about connecting with people, and I simply don’t accept that either the Pussycat Dolls or Dustin’s Barmitzvah really achieve that. They just temporarily fill a void, like a Pot Noodle does.
trakMARX - With the advent of MySpace, MP3s, Webzines & other electronic media, isn't the death of the traditional record label only a matter of time - or will the society of the artifact survive?
Alex: To be honest, the traditional record company can’t die soon enough, from my point of view - at least in terms of how most of them have come to operate. I do believe it’s possible to run a label as an artistic enterprise, rather than a business one. The society of the artifact will survive if those artifacts are worth having. It’s not enough to stick a half-decent track out on a lump of plastic with a couple of filler B-sides and a glossy photo. An album or single should be a thing of beauty in every sense. It should be something you want to stroke. If it’s not, it’s not worth paying good money for.
Lisa: Labels have to exist, in some form or another, because the average listener can't spend their entire life listening to random bands on myspace until they find something decent. Let's hope people are prepared to buy beautiful things from small labels because otherwise it will be very difficult for those labels to survive, but I don't see any reason to be pessimistic about it. Fans are prepared to pay for t-shirts and gig tickets, so why shouldn't they be willing to pay for a beautifully packaged 7" on Dogbox or Angular, even if they've already got the tracks?
trakMARX - Fantasy Roster time: Top 5 groups/artists - living/dead/long gone - that would ideally be signed to the Dogbox Records Fantasy Roster?
Alex: Off the top of my head, Saint Etienne, Pulp, Sex Pistols, The Long Blondes and Betty Boo.
Lisa: Clor, Roxy Music, Brakes, Gorillaz and Prince.
trakMARX - What's the immediate agenda for Dogbox?
Alex: First off, we’ve got free download singles coming out on April 17th by Bib and Piranha Deathray, both of whom are amazing. Then there’s Blue Skies Up, our attempt to reclaim the entire pop music scene. We hope we’ll be successful. After that, we’re putting out Luxembourg’s fantastic new single, We Only Stayed Together For The Kids, and hopefully their debut album too, unless a major steals them away from under our noses. Apart from that, we thrive on uncertainty – but expect exciting releases soon from Swimmer One, Morton Valence and Piranha Deathray. We can’t guarantee they’ll be on Dogbox, since we don’t “sign” artists in the traditional corporate way, but we’d certainly like them to be.
Guy Debored – tMx 24 –04/06