The world of pop is littered with stories of corruption – Alan Freed, the Pistols at #2… Scottish music’s tale of underhand dealings is less earth-shattering, though the tale of a certain act whose chart rigging scheme saw them buy so many copies of a single that the local Megastore’s stock went into minus figures is a particular favourite.
Around that time, there was a journalist who liked a band he reviewed so much he went onto manage them. Fair enough. Of course, he then continued to review them, in glowing terms at every available opportunity. And, rightly or wrongly, got lambasted for it.
So here’s where I come clean. Around 2001, I think, I was working for an early mp3 company called Vitaminic – they were an international version, if you like, of peoplesound, and who eventually took over their rival. At that time, however, they were the biggest in Europe and were expanding so much that they took on ‘agents’ to promote the company around the UK – signing up recording studios, labels and even colleges to offer upload facilities for mp3 versions of newly-completed songs.
I took on the Scottish ‘post’ and traveled around Scotland, including to of all places, Cowdenbeath. I say “of all places”, but the reason was that the recording studio there, Substation, was widely regarded as one of the best of its kind with everyone from Mogwai to Snow Patrol to Super Furry Animals making hit albums there. There I met the co-owner at the time, who signed up to our scheme, and, “by the way”, gave me a demo of his band.
I was, frankly, amazed, at the music on the CD, and the fact that something so innovative had come from Scotland was a source of great delight. The irony was that the CD was already out in the USA to some great reviews from the underground press, and as it turned out, had been picked up on via the internet by a Californian label who had heard the mp3s on BeSonic – which was, I suppose, the US equivalent of Vitaminic,.
Anyway, that album has been re-released – the original review from is this music? is below – and comes, as if full circle, via Edinburgh’s KFM Records, who have released it exclusively on downloadable mp3.
Unlike Devil In The Woods and Vitaminic, Cruiser still exist (as do BeSonic, much to my chagrin). There have been many personnel changes, but the new lineup are working on new recordings, some of which can be heard on myspace and at the KFM site. The album itself has been remastered and had its running order tweaked, and contains 4 bonus tracks recorded by the last-lineup-bar-one, when the band were signed (as far as we could tell) to Some Bizarre Records (home to Soft Cell and a host of other electro acts).
I’m not managing the band now (I don’t think – the deal with Stevo Pearce at Some Bizarre was never clear!), but in the interest of full disclosure, the guys from the band still put on our regular is this music? gigs in Dunfermline. However, in football parlance, they do say that jounalists are like fans with typewriters. So maybe just this once the the rabid meanderings of an over-enthusiastic writer can be excused. If there was one band from the early part of this century who sound as fresh as they did 7 or 8 years ago then that band is Cruiser, and their current material suggests that today they might well have another 5-star album in them.
Cruiser – Northern Electric (Devil In the Woods, 2001)
A band who either pioneered or went against convention – signing to a US label (this only appeared in the UK some 2 years later) and thanks to the label boss chancing upon MP3s of the band, years before the web became clogged with a billion sound files. NE is a remarkable album, steeped in Scottish tradition with pipes and drums, but with modern triphop beats and samples and electronic lines punctuating the sound. ‘Personality…’ and ‘International Space Station’ are the landmark tracks but the 15 seamlessly merge together to make a unique listen. SMCH (review taken from is this music? #13 **?)) from the all-time Top 100 Scottish albums feature)
totally wired – November 2002
(from is this music? issue 1 !)
So the internet’s killing the music industry? Not necessarily the case, if you talk to independent bands. Kevin Lynch told us how Dunfermline act Cruiser got themselves a US record deal simply by putting some tracks on the web. “I had heard that US companies used the MP3 sites regularly – the advantage being they could choose who they listened to and not be so at the mercy of loads of demo tapes. A friend of mine in Baby Mammoth also told me they had sold 10,000 copies of their album through their own website with no official industry backing, like pluggers and publicists.”
With so many sites out there it’s not easy to decide what ones to target. Cruiser decided that a scattershot approach might work best. “I spent a month uploading Cruiser tracks to every well known site I could find (peoplesound, besonic, vitaminic) though for some reason I neglected to use MP3.com! I suppose by getting signed so quickly, I saw no need to expand the free MP3s floating about.” The rest, as they say, is history. “After a month I received an email from a very enthusiastic Mike Cloward (head of Devil In The Woods). I thought it was too good to be true at first. But the rest is history. Mike like many of his US counterparts use the web a lot. (For the reasons mentioned earlier!)”
So did the other websites yield any other contacts? “On BeSonic we met many like minded bands, and got to number 1 on every continent. I don’t know how they counted it, but it was nice to see your music number one in Africa and other exotic locations. Peoplesound had us in their top ten one week, and we were listed as number 7 in the best of indie bands section (above Mull Historical Society!) In most cases we found the MP3 companies actually got in touch with us to say how much they liked us – mad or what?”
So, the web did what the band originally intended. But the internet still has a part to play.
“We try to limit the amount of material out there. At one time every Cruiser track in existence was available free to download. When you start releasing records, that has to end. But we do pick a track or two and tend to use them all the time for free downloads. It is a good way of letting more people hear about you and maybe buy your records, most MP3 sites get a lot more traffic than a home page. Ultimately the web allows bands to pretty much control their destiny and not be at the mercy of a few seconds of busy A&R folks time.”
And the usual tales of dealing with record companies don’t seem to apply in this case.
“I would advise putting their tracks up on every MP3 site they can find. That way you can get the maximum exposure from the combined traffic that these sites get. A nice logo and a stated direction of where you want to go won’t do any harm either. Tie that up with a homepage to direct all the traffic to, and install your band on as many search engines as possible. Leave no opportunity unexplored, and you might just catch someone’s attention.” Cruiser’s album ‘Northern Electric’ is now available in the UK, or hear the samples for yourself at www.cruiserland.net